How to Book a Fishing Guide with Confidence

The power is in your hands.  You can interview the guide or outfitter as much as you want to by phone or email.  Or, you can take for granted that, based on their reputation and/or website, they will do the job. Before you make a reservation though, listen to the outfitter or guide.  Are they asking questions about you and trying to glean information about your goals and needs?  If so, then you are likely on the right path.

The first thing that everyone needs to know is, “What kind of client are you?”

  • -Just out for a good time. I want to unplug and not have to think or work too hard.
  • -I want to catch a trophy fish and get a picture worthy of the cover of a fly fishing magazine.
  • -I only want to fish dry flies.
  • -I want to catch as many fish as humanly possible.
  • -Learning how to be a better fly fisher is as important to me as actually catching fish.
  • -I want to enjoy the day, catch some fish and learn to be a better angler along the way.
  • -I want a guide who will provide me with steady feedback and attention. This is all new to me.
  • -I’m an expert and I want a guide to row the boat and stay mostly quiet unless I ask a question or need help.

The more detail you can provide about your trip goals, skill level, and personality, the easier it will be to match you with a qualified guide and for the guide to understand how to facilitate your trip.

What are best practices for a guide and angler in catch and release? Read this.

Questions You Should Ask a Fly Guide

You will likely have some questions.  You will want to be clear on what is provided, what you need to bring and the duration of the trip.  I once picked up three gentlemen at an airport for a day on an Alaskan River.  They were dressed in silk jogging suits.  When I asked about their luggage, I was told that their secretary had booked the trip and said that I provided everything.  My everything was the transportation, boat, tackle, and lunch.  Apparently, their expectation was that I provided a lot more.

Need the right gear before you go? We have everything you'll need for your trip.

Whatever questions you have, it is important that you receive satisfactory answers.  Do they sound honest?  Most people can generally tell when someone is blowing smoke or not really engaged.  When I was on the booking end of things, I would always try to be conservative, honest, and realistically optimistic.

“Yes, that is likely the best window for catching lots of trout, but conditions are always variable.”  Or, “No sir.  The time you are planning to visit is not ideal for catching limits of salmon.”  “Yes sir, it’s always possible, but we will probably focus on catch and release for trout and char if the salmon fishing is not happening. In any event, it should be fun.”

What Kind of Guide Would you Like?

If you are booking directly with an independent guide, you can get a pretty good feel for them and get direct answers to any of your questions.  If you are booking through an outfitter or fly shop who will be contracting a guide for you, it’s up to you to request a particular type of guide if you want.

Up and Comers - Some young guides are super energetic and will work really hard for you, putting in extra time and effort.  They constantly seek out knowledge and are likely fishing and experimenting on their own every time they are not working a guided trip.  Others are just testing the waters and have yet to figure out if guiding is their true calling.  For some, it’s probably not.  If you end up with one of the later, let the outfitter know.

Career Contract GuidesThese guys have made the cut and gotten enough positive feedback from past clients and their personal successes to determine that guiding is their calling.  They are generally really good at what they do, but like all of us, they have a variety of personalities.  Career guides are likely to be very professional, but they won’t exhibit the same energy as the up and comers.  If you want to fish banker’s hours, these guys are for you.  They will be ready on time, work hard to help you catch fish, and then likely return within an 8-hour window.

Second Career GuidesThese guys are trying to live their dream.  Some of them do it very well.  The fact that they have had a previous career speaks to their ability to be professional, but they are not pups.  If you get them after they have had a few guiding years under their belts, they are nearly indistinguishable from the career guides, though they tend to be a little more versed.

Career Guides who run their Own Business - These guides generally work really hard and care deeply about your experience.  Unless they want to spend lots of money on marketing, their best bet is to provide excellent service and build a repeat clientele.  You can seldom go wrong fishing with one of these guides.  If they are already booked, and they probably are, find out who they recommend.  They will steer you right.  Then book really early next time

Old LegendsThese guys have probably forgotten more than you will ever know.  Fishing with them is an experience unto itself.  You will probably get lots of great stories.  You also stand to learn a lot if you take the opportunity to do so.  Some of these guys are pretty crusty and they might still be trying to live off fly patterns they developed in the 80s that have not worked particularly well since the 90s.  Some have plenty of energy and passion and they stay relevant to new trends, flies, and techniques.  Hunt out the later.

Destination Experts – Full time or at least full time seasonal in a particular location.  These guides fish one river every day of their season.  They tend to be pretty dialed on that river.

Ever want to spend time in the bush of Alaska chasing down salmon and char? Check this out.

Regional Experts – Some guides specialize in fishing a variety of locations within a particular region.  They may not be the very best on one particular piece of water, but they can provide flexibility and can quickly adjust to conditions to provide you with the best location for the timing of your visit.  If you are planning a trip for multiple days, they can also arrange for a variety of experiences, choosing the best locations based on your skill level and goals.

How do you Find Fly Fishing Guides?

Booking Directly

If you call an outfitter or guide directly, you can talk to the individual that will be taking you fishing or at least find out exactly who your guide will be.  That’s the benefit of working with a smaller operator.

Booking through a Fly Shop

If you book through a fly shop, you will be put on the calendar and a guide will be selected for you.  If you provide details about your goals, your skill level, and your personality type and book early enough, fly shops can generally set you up with a top-notch guide.  They know their guide pool very well and should be able to select an excellent guide based on the criteria you provide.  If you don’t provide any information or you book last minute, you get who you get.

Communication is Important

From initial booking questions to your time on the water with your guide, communication is very important.  While guides can get pretty good at reading body language, words are more helpful.  Being guided is a two-way street and you can help by letting your guide know how you are feeling, if you need more help and instruction, or if you need a break.

Remember that guides are human.  While their knowledge of gear, technique, and how to match things up with local conditions may be expansive, they can’t control the weather, the mood of the fish, or your attitude and skill level.  They likely want you to catch fish and have a good time just as much as you do, maybe even more so.

North 40 Guides

Did you know that North 40 Outfitters offers a variety of guided services in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, as well as hosted trips to a variety of destinations worldwide? If you have questions or are seeking out a guided services in our regions, we'd love to talk to you.

Reach us at North 40 Fly Shops:

Great Falls Fly Shop: (406) 761-7441

Coeur d’ Alene Fly Shop: (208) 666-0506

Lewiston Fly Shop: (208) 746-1368

Sandpoint Fly Shop: (208) 255-5757

Omak Fly Shop: (509) 422-9840


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I fly fish to live (25+ years guiding). I live to fly fish (obsession). At the age of two, I captured my first Bluegill in Southern Michigan. Since then, I have never stopped looking into waters for fish. My first wild trout came from the waters of Glacier NP a few years later. I spent much of my youth chasing fish in Wisconsin, the Great Lakes and throughout central Canada. I went to Alaska in 1989, where I met my wife, started a family and spent 26 seasons guiding anglers. Great Falls and the North 40 Fly Shop are now home base. Stop by and lets talk fish, bear encounters or even my experience with Bigfoot.
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