"I'm going to be a fly-fishing guide. I might not get
rich right away, but that way I can fish every day and
get paid to do it". I have actually heard a few people
say just that. They don't have a clue about what a guide
does, and I suspect they have never observed a guide doing
what a guide does best; baby-sit clients.
You're right about not getting rich quick. In fact, unless
you supplement your income some other way, you won't rise
very far above the poverty level in most cases. I know
that doesn't sound right, considering the large bunch
of green stuff required to hire a guide for a day, but
it's as accurate as a cruise missile.
Let's look at the numbers for a minute. I'll pick on a guide
on the Bighorn River where $325 is about average for a day's
guiding fee. Let's also say you can stay employed at least
5 days a week on average from April 1st to October 31st.
That's being unrealistically optimistic, but we'll use
those numbers anyway because there's a chance for a warm
winter and you'll probably book a few trips during the
other months to make up the difference, maybe.
Let's add it up; that's 30 weeks times five days per week
at $325 per day. If you manage to keep it all, you'll make
$48,750 per year before the taxman gets you. Fair enough
wages I guess, but you won't get to keep it all.
If your trips are booked through a fly shop, they're going
to take anywhere from ¼ to ½ of your daily fee as a booking
charge that covers the cost of meals, insurance, flies and
other incidentals. That fee also covers moving your vehicle
and boat trailer from the put-in to the take-out point.
The average share the fly shop takes is roughly 1/3 of
the fee. Hmm, that brings the yearly wages down to
Now, let's look at the personal costs you'll endure. There's
the cost of a boat, spare equipment for clients who break
theirs during the day, gas and upkeep on that vehicle that
pulls your boat and makes roughly a 50 mile round trip each
day, plus the waders, boots and other clothing you'll need
to do your job. I won't add it up, but we just bit another
10% out of your annual salary.
Of course, you could try to do it on your own without a fly
shop to book your clients for you. You won't have someone
else taking a bite out of your income, but you won't have
the benefit of the clients they attract either. You'll
pay for the flies, the shuttles for your boat trailer and
car (average for that amount of time would be about $2500)
and meals (another $1500). You'll have fewer customers
because they won't be able to book a trip with you from
a fly shop (where most trips are booked). It averages
out about the same. In both cases you'll have to buy
health insurance and that usually costs more than $1000
per year if you buy the economy plan; and few shops have
a benefit plan or retirement plan.
Ok, you won't get rich, maybe even fall into the low-income
zone, but you get to fish every day, right? Not exactly.
Unless invited to fish, it's considered unethical for
a guide to fish when he/she is guiding. That means you
get very little time to fish. And, after rowing and
sweating in the sun at least five days in a row, you're
not likely to want to do it again on your day off when
you need to be working on your gear to get it ready for
It takes a special kind of person to be a guide. You'll
have to put up with all kinds of personalities, and many
of them will be difficult. It won't be just the beginner
who you have trouble with. Sure, you'll do a lot of
teaching and beginners will expect you to provide fish
on the ends of their lines, despite their lack of skill,
but they aren't the only difficult ones. You'll also deal
with people who want to fish dry flies only and won't
budge from that position even when nothing is hatching.
You'll meet people who can't see a fly, an indicator or
the ring of the last rise you're trying to point out to
them. You'll meet "experts" who can't hit the broadside
of a truck at ten paces, but expect you to put them on
fish within their casting abilities.
There'll be moaners and groaners and people who wouldn't
be happy if it showered gold coins because the impact hurt
too much. No matter what happens, no matter how bad the
weather or water conditions are, the majority of your
clients will expect superior results every day or they'll
say you didn't do your job right or meet their expectations.
I have names for those people, but I won't go into that
here. The good clients make your day, and sometimes your
week, but the bad ones stick with you for days, haunting
your dreams with accusations that you either don't know
what you're doing or you just don't care.
Of course, there will be days when everything is perfect;
your clients know how to cast and present a fly well, the
weather is great and the fish have a healthy appetite.
If those days came around more than occasionally, I'd
be back on the river rowing a boat. I met many good
clients and we had some wonderful days, even when the
fish weren't hungry. Some people are there for the
experience and catching fish is secondary to enjoying
the river and what the day brings. Too bad those people
and days are in the minority; but there is one comforting
thing about being a fly fishing guide. I can honestly
say that I met far fewer people with rectal personalities
as a fly fishing guide than I did when I guided elk hunters.
Just a couple more thoughts you might want to consider.
Being outside on a daily basis does something good for
your soul, but the weather and sun take a toll on your
body. Nothing is more beautiful than the world God
created for us to live in; and nothing is more nasty
than some of the creatures that infest this world.
Some of those creatures will be called clients. If
you start each day dedicated to the thought that you
are going to enjoy the wonders of God's creation,
you'll have many good days. Eventually those creatures
will wear on you and you'll find something else to do
that doesn't task your patience as much. If you choose
to be a guide, make sure you live each day as fully
That's it; five in a row ending with a basic view of a
career as a fly-fishing guide. Get rich quick? Ain't
gonna happen. Make a living? Probably, but you won't
make a killing; unless the killing you do refers to
mentally choking the life out of a client with a rectal
attitude who desperately deserves it. Fish a lot?
Who you trying to fool? You'll be drooling over
the thought, positive that you could hook those
rising fish; but your job is to baby-sit clients
and provide the most productive day their skills
and other conditions will allow. ~ AC