Do I Need a Guide

I had been fly fishing for 30 years, and I had never used a guide for any trip--and I didnít plan ever to use one. Even when Mike Manfredo and I headed to New Zealand in the late 80ís and we didnít hire a guide to fish that island nation. Mike and I caught few fish the first week, but we both refused to even think of employing a guide. For years I thought hiring a guide was beneath me.

Then it happened: I had a deadline. I had to complete Great RiversóGreat Hatches in a couple months and fish more than 40 rivers across the United States. How could I ever know these waters well enough to write about them? Thereís only one way: Hire a reliable guide on many of the unfamiliar waters. In one year, 1991, I fished 40 great rivers across the United States with 19 non-resident licenses and 25 different guides. Wow! Was I wrong about using guides before. I learned how to fish the tandem (two flies) from one guide; the proper high stick nymphing technique from another; a great pattern from another guide, and on and on. I was even introduced to salsa on the trip down Oregonís Deschutes River. On Oregonís Williamson River we even had a heater in the boat to combat the cold early spring chill. More than 10 years later I still use a lot of what I learned from these guides.

Should you hire a guide? In most cases hiring a guide will help you catch more trout. If you plan to fish a big river a guide and a boat are a necessity. Your first alibi against hiring a guide might be that there arenít any guides on the water you plan to fish. Look at the Delaware River in the East as a great example of the explosion of guides across the United States in recent years. When I first fished this river in the 80ís I didnít know of one guide on the entire riveróI said I didnít know of oneóthere, however, might have been some. But, if there were any they were few and far between. Now, go to the same river and youíll find more than 70 guides trying to help anglers catch trout.

What do Kurt Thomas (phone number is 814-772-6217), Bruce Matolyak (814-234-6972), Don Bastian (570-998-2481), Mike McFarland (814-742-9215), Allan Bright (814-632-3071) and Dave McMullen (Paradise Outfitters at 800-280-5486) have in common? These are just a few of the growing number of fishing guides and excellent on the stream instructors in central Pennsylvaniaóyes, I said central Pennsylvania. In this region I estimate that there are more than 30 active guides. Some of these guides operate through a service; others do the guiding on their own. As a microcosm of this expanding guide business just look at the number of people within a short radius of the small town of Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania who cater to fly fishers. What brings anglers to this central Pennsylvania area? There is unbelievable fishing on the Little Juniata River and Spruce Creekóboth within walking distance of the town. There are at least five "bed and breakfasts," 12 guides, and three sporting goods stores within a short distance of that town. Most of the guiding in the Spruce Creek area is on private water.

Whatís the down side of this growing number of guides and guiding services across the United States? On some rivers the competition between guides and guides and guides and anglers has become ferocious. Iíve seen anglers and guides get into fights on New Mexicoís San Juan River. Thereís a second problem: More guides means heavier fishing pressure and much more selective trout. I fished the Bitterroot River near Missoula, Montana in the mid 1970ísówell before guides had appeared on this water. I can remember how I had to walk into areas and I never saw another angler in the entire week I fished that water. I returned to the same stretch in 1991 and saw guided McKenzie boats drifting past me for the entire day.

Do you need a guide? If you have only a short time to fish, unfamiliar with the water, want to fish from a boat and want to experience a memorable trip than you should consider using one. If youíd like to fish private sections of some rivers, then you definitely can use one. I recently conducted a beginnerís course on fly fishing in Mesa, Arizona. As part of that program I spent two hours on knots and leaders. One of the class members said he didnít need any instruction on knots. "I only fish with guides and they do all of that for me," he said.

How do you find a good guide? Look for recommendations of past clients or go through a dependable guiding service. The Internet is a good source for guides. Check one of the search engines and youíll find plenty of recommendations. One good source is theflyfishingreport.com. Check it out.

Donít be like me: Donít resist using a guide. They can transform an average trip into an exciting, memorable one.

Look for my new book, 101 Innovative Fly Tying Tips,in November 2002. Pre-order now by clicking on "Books" at the bottom of this page.

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