How to Find a Great Fly-Fishing Guide

How to Find a Great Fly-Fishing Guide

How to Find a Great Fly-Fishing Guide

We could write a whole blog about why fishing guides are great. They’re one of the fastest ways for you to learn how to be a more effective angler. They can help you learn a new area, or simply make the most out of a quick trip. They can also just be a great time on the water. But, there’s also the other side of the coin—the bad fishing guide.

It’s sad but true. There are simply some people who should not be fishing guides. Just ask a good fishing guide, and they’ll probably be able to tell you about the person who over-inflates their experience, tends to yell at clients, or doesn’t keep their boat in working condition. Regardless, you want to avoid this guide at all costs. 

That can prove easier said than done, though. One of the essential skills of a fishing guide is self-promotion, which can also include deception if done incorrectly. They may look good on paper, but be a nightmare in reality. In order to avoid this situation, we thought it’d be a good idea to jot down a few tips for finding a great fishing guide. They’re sort of like sushi—when you go wrong, you go very wrong, but if you go right, you can also go very right.

Let’s aim for the latter. Here are a few tips for finding a great fly-fishing guide.

Blue Ridge fly fishing with a guide

Reviews Can Be Helpful

Online reviews can be your best friend, but they also need to be used wisely. First and foremost, find reviews that aren’t on the guide’s website. A guide would never put a negative review on their website, so you’re only getting half the picture if you’re not looking elsewhere. From there, it’s important to look broadly at the reviews first. As they primarily positive or are they mixed?

There’s almost always going to be a bad review or two—and it’s most likely not the guide’s fault. Sometimes people don’t understand that you can get skunked with a guide, or that the deposit is non-refundable if they canceled. A few bad reviews shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but definitely give them a read-through. If they seem like just unfortunate situations, then take them with a grain of salt. But, if you read multiple reviews with similar complaints (lack of safety, bad-natured, etc.), then maybe look elsewhere.

Are They Insured?

This is a quick way to decide if a guide is legitimate or not. Either look for proof of insurance on their website or ask them directly. Either way, proof of insurance not only shows that they want to stay safe and secure in their business but also shows that they’re serious about their business as well. If the guide isn’t willing to pay for insurance, who knows what other corners they’re cutting in their guiding business. 

Look at the Bigger Picture

If the guide is well-reviewed and insured, it seems like you’re probably on the right track. From there, take a look at their overall presence—the website, social media, and online marketing. It’s definitely not a deal-breaker if your potential guide isn’t a social media celebrity, but you just want to make sure they’re spending plenty of time on the water with customers, marketing their business, and are overall active. There are a lot of guides who only fish part-time (which isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, either), and you want to ensure you’re getting someone who is experienced and up-to-date with current water conditions and fish activity. 

Cost is an Indicator

How to find a fly fishing guide

In general, you get what you pay for. If a guide is advertising their service for rock bottom prices online or elsewhere, that should be a red flag. They can only afford to do that if they’re cutting corners, not paying insurance, or simply aren’t that serious about guiding. If you’re getting a deal from a friend or special connection, that’s one thing, but if you see one guide who’s significantly cheaper than the rest, watch out. More expensive guides generally come with great service, experience, and are people who know how much you’re paying to be there—and will treat you accordingly. 

A Call is Key

If you feel good about your guide on paper, then just give them a call. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if you’re going to connect with them and if they’re willing to give you the time to ask questions and feel good about the trip. Any good guide will tell you that their job is about customer service—even more so than fishing—and you should feel that on your call. Also, try calling a local fly shop in the area to see what they say about the guide. Just be careful, because fly shops often have their own guides, so you may not get an accurate review if they’re a competing entity. 

Set Your Expectations

Lastly, it’s on you to know what you want out of your trip. If you’re looking to hook your first brook trout on a dry fly, and you’re hiring a guide in the dead of winter, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Ask the guide honest questions about the best time of year and best conditions are for catching fish. Don’t force it. Like we mentioned before, a guide’s job is to provide a great experience for you, but that doesn’t always include success on the water. Go into the process knowing that there are always going to be unknowns in fishing, and don’t punish your guide with a bad review if you get skunked. Trust us, they’re doing everything in their power to get you on a fish.

Moonshine fly fishing


The good news is that a bad fishing guide will generally fail in the industry more quickly than you can say, “fish on,” which means there are more good fishing guides than bad ones. Don’t go overboard with your research, but do your due diligence to ensure you’re getting someone who’s reputable, safe, and trustworthy. Once you have, go into the experience with an open mind and a good attitude. Being a great fishing guide is one of the hardest jobs out there, and they’re going to earn every penny of that guide fee—the rest is up to you to be a good client.

Reading next

Guide Dan Towsley Gives a Glimpse Into His Remote Wyoming Lifestyle
How to Be a Better Client: Fishing Guides Share Their Perspective


Marie Claire

Marie Claire

My brother told me there was a guided fly fishing trip to San Juan River, CO, and our friends wanted to try it. I’m glad you mention that reviews are a must; this is a straightforward approach to determine whether or not a guide is legitimate. Either check for proof of insurance on their website or personally ask them. I think I will go for his suggestion that we try to go to that place after I have researched that they are legit.

Ken Brown

Ken Brown

Really good blog regarding guides. I can attest to everything that was noted. Unfortunately, my last few guide trips left a lot to be desired. This is after doing my research and conversing with the prospective guide prior to booking. To be fair, I have had some really good experiences as well and will continue utilizing guides in the future. The good has far outweighed the bad…

Andy Jackson

Andy Jackson

Just call Daniel Massingale he’s the best! Truly loves what he does and goes above and beyond to make your trip a success and memorable!

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