Posted on December 14 2015
Fly fishing guides around the world hear it over and over from their clients and friends. “You’ve got the best job in the world.” Most professional fly fishing guides, the dedicated individuals who have a long list of return clients built up over years of hard work and who sacrifice their own time on the water when the fishing is the best, would agree it’s hard to beat having an office on a world class trout stream in the mountains or on a glassy flat full of tailing redfish. For many would be fly fishing guides, however, the process of breaking away from a steady career or setting aside a hard-won college degree to find their dream job on the water is a daunting undertaking.
How exactly does an avid angler go about breaking into the business of guiding clients on outfitted fly fishing trips? Sometimes professional guides are self-taught entrepreneurs and sometimes they have the right friend or family connections at the local fly shop. The truth is, however, that even the most expert fly fishermen or women, will need a certain level of training in order to become a successful fly fishing guide. It’s important to understand that while the gear and locations may be the same, going fly fishing and guiding fly fishermen are two completely different monsters.
Extensive knowledge of when, how and where to consistently catch fish and having the fly fishing skills to do so is without doubt a crucial part of being a sought after fly fishing guide with a book full of reservations. But, it is not the only, or even the most important, piece of the puzzle. This is where fly fishing guide training schools come into play.
Learning from expert guides is the best way to become an expert guide. After almost two decades behind the oars guiding thousands of clients, many who have been fishing with me for well over ten years, I can honestly attest that the fly fishing guide school I attended was one of the best investments I ever made and I probably would never have developed a successful guiding career without it. And you should think of your guide school as an investment. Prices of guide schools vary widely and a high price is not necessarily indicative of quality training. The course content and level of training is what you should focus on when spending your money.
The best guide training schools or programs will focus not only on fly fishing skills but all the extras that make for a fun, safe fly fishing trip full of bent rods and happy clients. The syllabus for a complete guide school would include everything from extensive safety training to providing a superior level of customer service and how to develop a client base. These are only a few of the items covered thoroughly in the Vail Valley Anglers Guide Training Program.
Choose your fly fishing guide school based on the training you think you’ll need. If you are an angler who needs to brush up on fly fishing skills, going on a guided trip or two before attending your guide school is not a bad idea. If your fishing skills are already something to be admired, avoid a guide school whose main focus is simply going fishing each day with a guide. There are plenty of “guide schools” that are nothing more than extended guided fly fishing trips but lack actual real world training. If you are interested in acquiring a job with an outfitter in Alaska who runs jet boats, a guide training school that takes place at the local college and small stream outside of town may not provide the training you will actually need.
At Vail Valley Anglers we run two very distinct, intensive and detailed guide training programs designed to propel prospective guides into a fly fishing career. The first school is aimed at teaching students how to become a fly fishing guide with a focus on wade fishing. The course involves detailed classroom instruction that covers everything from how to organize and run a guided trip, gear, to hatches and moves on to safety, instructional methods, customer service and much, much more. After a morning in the classroom, the course moves outside to illustrate casting instruction, fishing methods, insect hatches and real world guiding scenarios. No stone is left unturned and this course is the result of twenty years of input from our most experienced guides.
Our second course is for the student who has completed the first course, already has some guiding experience or wishes to expand their guiding versatility by becoming a float guide. This our rowing certification course and while such training is required for any float guide in Colorado, it provides crucial training for anyone planning on guiding anywhere in the country from a drift boat or raft. This is primarily a skills and safety oriented class. Only once the basic safety and skills portion of the course has been mastered does the course move on to rowing skills that are specific to float fishing. This training program is intense with long days, lots of miles on several rivers with instruction provided by fly fishing guides with thousands of commercial river miles under their belt.
Which brings up an important point about choosing a guide school. Do your research. Who is instructing your fly fishing guide school? How many years of experience do they have? Who were they trained by? Will they help you find a job with another outfitter in another state? The best schools are taught by experienced instructors and guides with connections throughout the fly fishing world. Ask for references from former students. Stop by the fly shop to chat with the instructors before the school. Become a familiar face and let the instructors learn about yourself and your desire to become a guide.
I once guided an individual who decided to attend our guide training program only after fishing with me on a guided trip. He had fished with other area guide services who also ran guide schools and made the choice to attend our training program after experiencing a professional experience from the moment he walked into the shop, throughout the day of fishing and after the post-trip follow up provided by myself and the fly shop. He did his research and then some.
Also, keep in mind many fly shops and outfitters run their guide schools as a way to properly train new guides that they will hire each year. If you are interested in working for the outfitter whose school you are attending, think of the training program as an extended interview. A consistency I’ve noticed in the schools I’ve taught has been the most involved students, the ones who took the course seriously, displayed a responsible attitude, arrived to class early, and asked well-formed questions throughout are the ones who landed jobs with us. Take note here, that I didn’t say it was always the best anglers who were hired. Trout bums beware; you are not getting paid to go fishing as many people might think.
Guiding is a job where being willing to learn each and every day is a hallmark of guides who last more than a year or two. Students who already consider themselves expert fly fishermen do not automatically have the right stuff to become a professional fly fishing guide. Good guiding can be taught and learned and that is the purpose of a top notch fly fishing guide training program.