Getting the Most from a Guided Trip

A few days ago I got an email from a customer complaining about a guided trip he arranged in Estes Park through an outfitter I will not name.  It brought to mind an article I wrote 5 or 6 years ago about making arrangements for such trips.  I though it might be worth publishing it again.

 FRA Guide, Wallace Westfeldt , with a very happy client on Boulder Creek

I recently became involved in a discussion concerning fishing guides and outfitters. Most of the conversation focused on what differentiates a great trip from one that needs to be permanently erased from memory.

At the very top of the list of favorable results was that the trip met or exceeded expectations. This means that information conveyed to the client was both accurate and complete. Moreover, the outfitter was able to deliver on the promised agenda. Everyone had horror stories about trips that turned sour due to a failure to communicate and/or accommodate expectations.

In many cases, the failure was a joint problem. The client failed to ask the right questions and/or had an unrealistic image of the trip. I’ve actually encountered clients that have never been fly fishing yet ask “how many fish over 20-inches will we catch today?” On the other hand, the outfitter may over promise or fail to explain what the client can reasonably expect.

Expectations problems occur with all fishermen irrespective of experience. On a trip to Chile 12 years ago I was told we would do some streamer fishing. I didn’t bother to ask how much and brought only one mid-weight rod and a single intermediate sink tip line. 100% of the fishing was with heavy steamers using high density sinking lines. Even worse was the fact that the outfitter and his guides did not have spare gear to accommodate clients. I had a good time but it could and should have been a lot better for the $3,800 expenditure.

You need to identify:
–the kind of fishing experience desired – be very specific about the hours you want to be fishing.

–your level of skill and experience – you need to be brutally honest
–the equipment you can or will provide.

–desirable guide services – instruction, flies, etc.
–what the outfitter includes and does not include in the cost.

The second key ingredient of a good trip is matching the right guide to the right client(s). A year ago a good friend had a guide who added virtually nothing to the experience other than rowing the boat – a $385 a day chauffeur. The client had forgotten more about fishing than his guide had learned in his limited experience. In another case, the client was paired with a guide in Belize who spoke no English. The client had never fished for Bonefish and did not know about slip striking. He hooked and lost 30 bonefish before one of the other members of his party explained the technique. The assistance provided by the local guide during this frustrating period was to say in broken English: “trout fisherman.”

You need to know:
–who will be your guide and his or her qualifications. I think it’s appropriate to ask for a resume or summary of experience from the outfitter. This should include any certifications that are relevant.
–why this particular individual is being assigned as your guide and, if this person is not available, who will fill in.
–when and if the guide will be contacting you prior to the trip. I think this is a must. Be sure to ask what skill level the guide prefers and how the trip will be conducted.
–how the guide is expected to conduct himself – does he fish, is he expected to prepare meals, etc.
–the extent of the guide’s specific experience on the water you will be fishing. Find out how often he/she fishes this location.
–what, if any, equipment is to be provided by the guide and what you should expect in the way of quality.

The final component of a good experience is to be a good client. All of my companions had a few stories about how one or more individuals made a trip miserable for other fishermen and the guide.

A good client:
–treats the guide with courtesy and respect. Every guide I’ve met wants his clients to enjoy themselves and they try their best to make this happen.
–recognize that not every day on the water will be perfect – weather is not controlled by the guide.
–be totally honest with the guide concerning your skill – it will be self evident in a matter of minutes.
–don’t try to tell the guide where and how he should be fishing.
–don’t forget a gratuity. Contrary to popular belief the guide is not making a boatload of cash. After expenses and outfitter fees the guide might make more money as a clerk. Guides do this kind of work because they love it.

–be on time and, if possible, have your fishing license and paperwork completed prior to the trip.