Written by B. Pierce, Montana Angler
There are countless ways people discover fly fishing. Some aspiring anglers are fortunate enough to have a family member, spouse or friend who is an avid fly fisherman. Others explore the sport on their own, learning knots and throwing techniques from books and YouTube videos. Each method of entry into fly fishing has its own merits. Taking up the sport with a good friend can deepen your bonds and set the stage for a lifetime of fly fishing adventures. A do-it-yourself learner can find true moments of satisfaction in his achievements.
Another option is to hire the services of a fly fishing guide. A guide can help shorten the learning curve and get you started fishing. Whether you are new to fly fishing trying to learn the basics or you are a seasoned angler looking to challenge new waters, hiring a fly fishing guide is a worthy investment.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when booking a fly fishing guide.
A good guide will quickly assess your skills and make decisions that will help you catch fish and enjoy your time on the water. Whether you are a beginner or have been fishing for years, your guide understands what it means to be an angler. You’ve felt the frustration of wind knots and sloppy casts, but also the thrill of catching your first really big fish.
When approaching a guide for the first time, let them know your level of experience and what you want for the day. This dialogue can begin with a phone call or an email inquiry. Tell us some background on the places you’ve fished and the experiences you’ve had. If you have a specific river you would like to cruise or wade fishing in, let your guide know. If you’re interested in dry fly fishing for upstream trout, learning how to master a basic fly cast, or watching your son catch his first fish, make sure you detail your goals for a future trip.
A good guide is a happy host who enjoys his work and spending time with other anglers. Often times, these first conversations will spark a dialogue that will continue on the water, occasionally forming a lasting friendship that will provide years of unforgettable fishing adventures. Sharing your goals and expectations will help your chosen guide, shop or lodge better match you with a fishing guide who will help you maximize your experience.
Fly fishing guides are experienced anglers who know the local waters in the area where you will be fishing. They understand the insects that hatch in the area’s rivers and know which streams are best fished in at different times of the year. Guides know the shelves and springs, ponds and reefs where trout live and can point you to the best spots for success.
Once on the water, your guide becomes a valuable partner in tracking your prey. Your guide will suggest a setup that suits the conditions of the day. If there is good slip or significant land bite, your guide may suggest a dry fly or hopper-dropper rig. If the fish are feeding below the surface, a streamer or nymph setup is required. You may change gear or fishing method as conditions change, but rest assured that your guide will base these decisions on their experience fishing the waters you are on.
It pays to be curious, so ask lots of questions. Take into account your guide’s expertise and experience a wealth of knowledge. You have all day to tap the well and learn everything you can. Many fishing guides have specific areas of the sport in which they are more experienced. If you’d rather wade than drift, try to find a guide who enjoys this particular style of fishing. If you have a specific fishing area or region in mind (perhaps you’ve always wanted to fish in Madison or try Yellowstone Park), be sure to ask for a guide with extensive experience in the area you’re targeting.
The fantastic thing about fly fishing in Montana is that it allows you to pick up and learn quickly. The state’s rich trout population on rivers such as the Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone provide anglers with many opportunities to encounter trout. With a guide for the day, you’ll be able to maximize your chances of learning and take those achievements with you.
A large part of learning is trial and error. There isn’t an angler in the world who picks up a fly rod and starts catching fish right away. Whether you’re prone to erratic discards or are a little over-zealous and always pulling the fly away from a rising fish, your guide will have an answer.
Ask questions, lots of them. If you find a particular aspect of fly fishing difficult, please consult your guide. They have been there and can help you improve. Nothing feels better than a breakthrough. Whether it’s trying to catch the first fish or learning the physics behind a double pull cast, your guide can get you there. If you are new to the sport and learning is high on your priority list, please let us know when you book your trip. Oftentimes some guides have a passion for teaching or have an educational background and spend their summers working as a guide during the summer.
While fishing may seem like a fairly safe occupation, like all outdoor activities, it carries some risk. Slippery rocks, unpredictable hooks and fast-moving water can lead to unforeseen mishaps. Luckily, your guide will be with you every step of the way.
Fishing guides in Montana must have current first aid certification. be familiar with the equipment, terrain and hazards of the areas they guide; and recommended by a supplier with a current Montana license, among others. Most fly fishing guides in Montana have years of rowing and backcountry experience. You have learned to assess and mitigate risk on the water before an accident occurs and are equipped to deal with a situation when it arises.
When it comes to local safety issues, it also helps that the guides are part of a tight-knit community. Dangers on rivers such as fallen trees and difficult rapids get around quickly. You can rest easy knowing that your guide and other guides on the river put your safety first. When booking your trip, make sure you are traveling with a licensed guide. If you are in a state that does not require a license, ask about the type of equipment in an emergency.
There are days in Montana that are so beautiful you can sit back and enjoy the view without thinking about fishing. There are days when the wind blows and it rains and you fish hard all day without catching a bite. And there are those happier days when it seems like you can’t keep the fish off the hook.
For most anglers, a single fish is what counts. . . any fish. Sometimes that’s all you really want. With so many opportunities in Montana, you’re likely to find success early on. There is no guidebook guarantee If you’re looking for a trout, most will find you a fish in even the toughest conditions, and hopefully plenty more. It’s also important to understand that Montana’s diverse fisheries vary significantly in terms of fish numbers and the “catchability” of the trout they contain.
Whether you’re visiting Montana for the fly fishing of a lifetime or returning for the 20th time, hiring a guide is a great way to land that one fish that will make your adventure unforgettable. When booking a guide, it’s worth asking what a successful day might look like. This is a good way to find out what to expect from a particular guide or fishery. Fishing can be difficult anywhere, but in some places a great day can consist of three or four nice trout, in others 25 trout. Ask what a successful day might look like and compare it to your vision to see if it fits you.
B. Pierce often writes for Montana Angleran Orvis-sponsored fly-fishing expedition in Bozeman, Montana.