No matter how long you’ve fished, eventually you’ll want to be a fly fishing guide. They are the cool kids on the block, the ones quoted in all the magazines, the faces in every fly fishing ad, the personalities in the epic films. You simply can’t call yourself a fly fisherman unless you’ve considered trying the guide life for yourself, however briefly.
Daydreaming about becoming a guide and actually guiding day in and day out are two very different things. While the life of a guide looks totally ideal on the glossy pages of a magazine or depicted in slow-motion on the big screen, the reality is much less glamorous, and much tougher.
The Life Of A Fly Fishing Guide
Postfly ambassador Tom Rice is now only a part time guide, spending most of his days as a lobster fisherman, but he was once one of the top guides for an Alaskan fly fishing outfitter. “There’s no money in guiding unless you go up to Alaska,” said Rice. While he intended to work on a boat in Alaska, guiding was not on the agenda for Rice, not until he noticed there was a fly fishing program. “I was a deckhand and when I saw they had a fly fishing program, I started moving up the ranks until I was one of their top guides.”
Guiding at a lodge and guiding independently are horses of a different color. Either way though, passion is the driving force that keeps you out on the water, keeps you focused enough to get clients on fish, and most importantly, keeps you sane. “As a guide at a lodge it’s the same thing every day, you pick your client up after breakfast take them to the same spots, cook them a shore lunch and that’s it, every day,” said Rice. “As an independent guide, guiding doesn’t stop when you start guiding, I’m constantly searching, constantly paddling around in my drift boat looking for new spots.”
How To Get The Dream Job
Before Rice was traveling the world and guiding in Alaska and now Nova Scotia, Canada, he grew up just up the coast from the Postfly office, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “I started fly fishing really young,” said Rice. “Both my grandmother and my aunt were really into fly fishing.” The two women didn’t want Rice inside all day long playing video games so they bought him a fly rod of his own when he was six years old. “They pointed to the yard and said, ‘don’t hit the power lines,’” he said.
That early start and passion is what keeps Rice focused enough to spend nearly every day on the water, whether searching for new spots, guiding clients, or on the lobster boat. He said, “I spend a lot of days looking for new water, and a lot of those days I spend getting skunked, just looking to see if there are fish in the new spot.” All that legwork, scouting new water by yourself and figuring out the right fly patterns that will work in every kind of conditions is what keeps a guide’s business afloat. “You always have to be working to make your product unique,” said Rice.
Stand Out From The Competition
Once you separate yourself from the competition and you’re able to consistently put clients on fish, then the rewards of guiding start to make up for all the hard work. “It sounds corny, but seeing people catch fish, making dreams come true, it’s really great,” said Rice. “A couple weeks ago I had a 7-year-old kid fishing a Hendrickson hatch with me and when he caught a fish the look on his face was the best part. He caught a 10” brook trout on a 3 wt and that was maybe the best moment I’ve had in a long while.”
Of course guiding isn’t all about happy smiles and big fish. Sometimes the fish don’t cooperate and a good guide has to get his client on fish regardless, since that’s what the client expects. “I don’t think there is a bad part about guiding, but trying to fill clients’ expectations can be tough sometimes,” said Rice. “At a lodge there is a few bad parts as well, since you’re away from your family a lot, maybe for months.”
First Step To Get The Job: Fish
Think you know your water well enough to start bringing paying clients on the water and making a living putting people on big fish? First, you have to get out there and fish by yourself and fish a lot. “Fish the waters you know and don’t go out of your comfort zone,” said Rice. “Learn it and learn it really well before you start bringing people out.” Rice also said to make sure you know your equipment as best as you possibly can, including your fly rod. “Get really good at casting,” he said, “you’re there to teach people so you have to know what you’re doing first.”
Above all, as long as the passion for fly fishing is enough to make you get out on the water every day, eager to put people on fish, get them excited about fly fishing and maybe teach them a new skill, you’ll survive. “You have to have a passion for it and you have to do it for you and you alone, no one else,” said Rice.
This is part one of a series on the best jobs in fly fishing. Stay tuned for a full look into A Day In The Life Of A Full Time Road Tripper and find out if you have what it takes, coming out Friday, July, 1 on the Postfly Blog.