At 17 years old I didn’t know a lot, but I knew that my world was consumed by the art of fly fishing. I found out pretty quickly that fishing 3-7 days a week gave me piles of experience, but I definitely wasn’t gaining any income doing it. I would scroll enviously through photos of my friends that were guiding all over the world. Imagine just putting on your waders on a picture perfect morning in a remote location, heading off for 8 hours a day and getting paid to fish! Life of a guide, right? Wrong. Okay the remote location part may be true in some scenarios and you do get some picture perfect days (along with a healthy dose of the complete opposite), but this is not a job that allows you to fish every day, or even every week.
You do get to be on the water every day, except you are not the one with a rod in hand. Being a guide means being a teacher, not a fisherman. Being an effective angler comes into play only in the manner that you can relay the information to your guest on exactly what they should be doing given the situation. There are days that everything seems to go your way, and there are days when everything seems to go against you.
So you’re floating down a pristine river, but your guests can’t cast 10 feet nor do they take kindly to your instruction? Or there’s no bugs hatching, the barometer is in the basement and the fish have turned off like a light switch while the only thing you hear is the silence of your guests wondering why they’re not bent over on the fish of a lifetime? Maybe you’re floating into a set of Volkswagon sized boulders while trying to release a fish or untangle a leader while making sure your boat is still on line? Or how about you just watched someone miss multiple solid opportunities at good fish in a row then complain that it’s slow fishing out there? Looks like might have a real job on your hands now.
Often, guiding is done through lodges. Lodges are great, usually far away from cell phone service and all the other complications of everyday life, but it comes at a price. You will work 7 days a week, you will work long hours, you will probably get in trouble for a few things along the way but that’s the way it is. It will make you a better guide and worker in general. Don’t think for a second that because you’re a guide you’re too good to have to wash dishes, shovel shit, fix fences, shop-vac sawdust off the lawn, dig a ditch across a firm gravel road with a pulaski, thread 100ft of electrical cord through 1″ pipe with a chunk of re-bar duct taped to the end while you curse your life, chop wood so your guests stay warm at night, scrub toilets, load a dozen bags of leaking garbage, so on and so forth, because you’re not too good for any of these. Lodges do not hire a large number of employees so even though you’re a guide this doesn’t mean guiding is all you’ll do.
Though I’ve probably made it sound like the worst job in the world by now, but let me assure you there are fewer ways I would rather spend my day than taking people fly fishing. Being able to start your workday by opening the throttle on a jet boat and feeling the wind in your face beats the living hell out of getting stuck in rush hour traffic, and seeing someone experience moments in fly fishing that they will never forget is an amazing feeling knowing that you played a small part in it. I have no other way to say that I am utterly obsessed with teaching people how to fly fish.
You will meet people that will turn from guests into close friends, fellow guides that will become your family, and gain a new appreciation for the outdoors, but don’t expect it to be the glamorous life it may look like in pictures. It is work, it will bring you to amazing places for periods of time which means it will also rob you of seeing friends & family for part of the year which is the hardest part. Can you work 12+ hours a day for months at a time? Can you keep a level head when every possible thing seems to work against you? Can you swallow the idea of putting down your fly rod for months at a time to help other people figure out how to use theirs? If these things don’t deter you then it might be a good fit. Guiding is an amazing job, puts a decent amount of money in your bank and carves you out a very active and enjoyable lifestyle. Last but not least, always wear a PFD.