All About Fly Fishing!

Stinky Guides And Float Trips

Should this fly fishing guide get paid? Choosing a good guide is tougher than it appears. Doc Knoll recounts this vacationer's experience at Yellowstone.

Choosing a good guide is tougher then it appears. One of the major gripes that I harbor is: when a new customer comes into my shop and pours his heart out over a recent "bad guide" experience. I find these stories are a little tough to take because some "pseudo guide" insults everyone who is honest and credible in the fishing/tourism industry.

And, for those of you who may have heard this story first hand at my fly shop, please bear with me. This is just the way it looks in print.

John and Mary Smith are a typical American couple who live in a typical small town and work at typical jobs making typical salaries. John likes to fly fish and Mary is his "fishin' buddy." I believe it was in mid-January of 2000 when I first received an e-mail from John asking for suggested fly patterns (which he would tie for his own personal use) on the waters of Yellowstone National Park. I responded with my usual promptness (since there isn't much to do in Montana in January) and, after a trade of correspondence, John was about as ready to fish the Park as anyone who haunts the waters on an annual summertime basis. So, good for John. He did his homework.

Six months quickly elapse and the Smiths pack up their RV, trek across the plains and wind up at a camp site in Grant, a lodging and camping area within Yellowstone National Park.

Tourism and scenic photos are the first items on their agenda and that particular section of their Yellowstone National Park trip proceeds without a hitch. Their night time small talk, with other "fishing type" RVers who are also staying in Grant, convinces John to hire and learn from a guide any "useful tricks" which may yield fish especially in such "intimidating" and "holy" trout waters. This talk with the other fishermen leads him to the small town of West Yellowstone. (My shop is a considerable distance from Grant).

After several "all booked out"s John finally finds a guide who will take him on a wading trip (that's no boat) for three hundred bucks. John swallows his spit that welled up in his throat (for the cost of the trip) and agreed to go the next day. I believe, to justify his mind, he ruled the cost as "learning experience."

Now remember John is a fly tier and has an arsenal of the proper flies to use in the Park in his fishing vest. I am also reasonably sure that both he and his wife, Mary, are able to fish with the best of them . . .

The following morning daylight cracks as the Smiths are in their SUV cruising to West (Yellowstone) for their rendevous with their guide. Upon checking in and getting into the guide's vehicle, they proceed to the Lamar River, located in the Northeast corner of the Park, where recent rains have made a mess out of the river. Within this silted river the visibility (for the fish) is at about eighteen (18) inches. But... the guide is persistent to fish the chalky water with dry flies. John assumes that the guide "knows something he doesn't" and as he begins to tie on a #18 red humpy (the fly of choice by most Lamar fishermen in the summer) he is quickly told that he must use flies provided by the guide. (Which Mary quickly injected, as John was telling me the story, didn't include a red humpy. And, trust me on this one . . . I've fished all over the Lamar Valley and this IS the fly of choice by the many who haunt the waters.

Two hours pass and the three are still fish-less. Mary is getting tired of the guide who continually talks "down" to them while John has used several different flies (which he added to his guide's tally) with no luck.

When a beadhead was suggested, the guide scoffed the idea of fishing "under the water." Finally John could no longer stand it. He suggested that they try another drainage . . . The guide hesitantly agreed and brought them to Gardiner, Montana to fish the upper Yellowstone which also is chalky from the silt coming from the Lamar River. (Duh.... I don't know what else to say.) The guide begins to make up "plausible scenarios" as too why the rivers of the Park are silted during the partaking of a lunch (which was provided by the guide but as Bart Simpson would say, "the crap sucked").

The guide also made a comment on the knot John had on his leader/tippet connection and suggested that he replace the tippet. John allowed this and also allowed the guide to tie on a #14 beadhead Prince (which incidentally, according to Mary, the fly wasn't tied well . . . "John can tie better Princes in his sleep.") John himself is nearly at a boil but decides to fish instead of ending the trip at this particular point.

John steps into the water and quickly gets into what is believed to be a school of whitefish. He lifts his rod tip and sets the hook. Quickly thereafter the line goes limp. The connector knot (tied by the guide) had just failed. John is promptly told that he, "set the hook too hard." Again the guide ties another tippet onto the leader and again another beadhead Prince is put to the water. Several seconds later another whitefish sucks in the nymph and the hook is set. To John's surprise he again lost the fish. After retrieving his line the curly-que end of the tippet proved the knot which was securing the nymph to the tippet material had failed. Another excuse from the guide came flowing like good wine. That was it. John said he had enough and they would call it a day. They returned to West and paid the guide (although he, in my opinion, he wasn't worth anything at all.)

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The Doc's Prescription

Were John and Mary right to pay the guide? I don't believe so . . . Then again, I do not believe anyone should be paid for anything that fails. Would you pay a roofer who gives you a leaky roof? Or a plumber who couldn't solve your leaky pipe? Then why pay a guide who sucks raw eggs. I do believe the process of fishing is a chance thing (and sometimes the best anglers strike out) but to be put on an "unfishable" river and charged for flies which you already have is unthinkable or at best unethical. The guide should have returned to the shop or at least tried a drainage which was exclusive of the Yellowstone ecosystem. Somehow, possibly through an Anglers Better Business Bureau, the fly-fishing news groups or some other way these "horrors" can be put to light. I believe it is sacrilegious for one angler to "hose" another angler or... is there no pride out there???.

I believe the same applies for outfitters and their guides who knowingly take patrons on floats when conditions are stacked against success (due to warm water or other conditions unknown by unsuspecting patrons).

Or how about people who give unsuspecting novice anglers casting lessons (when only a few weeks ago these "pros" were worm anglers and unqualified carpenter's helpers). A novice doesn't know what is correct or even "good."

I do understand the need for making a buck but there is a limit to one's greed that an unsuspecting consumer should take before "a legitimate con job" is declared.

Here, on the Yellowstone, I will not give any licensed guide any potential customer's phone number to contact when the summer heat wave is in full swing. However, why is it that I see many other guide's trucks parked at the various boat ramps when these guides know quite well that the hiring customer will most likely be shut out of fish and simply paying for a high priced scenic float. And, I'm quite certain this phenomenon also happens quite often on other rivers. I'm amazed that there is nearly no honor among some providers of float and guide trips to visiting anglers.

I'd be interested in hearing of your experiences (and not from those who will tell me "it was a lovely trip and MY guide was simply wonderful.") I just want to get a better picture of strange occurrences can happen on your "disastrous trip." All information submitted will be confidential...

Well, unless it is really funny. Naturally the actual names will be deleted.