It’s been a great day on the water. Laughs were had, a delicious meal was enjoyed riverside, and I have pictures of some respectable Rainbow trout that were boated. As our drift boat turns toward our take out, my attention turns to my right back pocket.

My guide was an excellent host and I learned a lot about a new fishery, in the back of my mind I wonder, how much should I tip my guide?

From a guide’s perspective, a tip is both a reward for their effort and indicates customer satisfaction.  A good tip (ten – fifteen percent) generally means that the customer was satisfied with the trip. A great tip (fifteen – twenty percent), is appropriate when a guide exceeds expectations.

Reasons To Give a GREAT TIP to your Fly Fishing Guide

Pre-Trip Correspondence with the Guide

In addition to helping the trip go without a hitch, this communication is also a great opportunity for the guide to learn more about their client and their expectations for the trip. It’s exciting when my guide is interested in what I envision for my water venture, whether it’s landing my first cutthroat or just experiencing a new body of water.

I’m always impressed when a guide makes an effort to engage in a few back-and-forth emails or to call me to discuss logistics and itinerary in advance of the trip. This communication may cover a wide variety of items, but at a minimum it should address information that is vital for the angler to know, such as:
o The location where the angler will meet with their guide on the day of the trip
o Items the angler is expected to bring along, like sunblock, polarized sunglasses and a hat
o Appropriate clothing for the conditions (i.e. base layers for cooler conditions)
o Whether lunch will be provided and what options are available for different dietary restrictions (i.e. gluten-free, vegetarian)

Professionalism, Work Ethic and Attitude of Fishing Guide

A fly fishing trip is subject to many conditions which are outside of a guide’s control. In my experience, when fish are not being netted it can be easy to feel discouraged. This is where a guide’s professionalism and work ethic can make a big difference. A good guide may not be able to control the weather or the bite, but they can create a positive energy around a trip that makes a difference on even the most difficult days.

On one particular trip fishing for juvenile tarpon in the Yucatan, my guide had such a tremendous optimism. “There, there! Make your cast 11’ O’clock!”, he barreled in broken English and a heavy Spanish accent. While I only boated one very juvenile tarpon (I mean less than a pound), my memory of the trip is quite positive, largely because of the excitement and energy that my guide brought to the experience.

A guide’s professionalism is also shown by their preparation and careful attention to detail. When I see the guide arrive early with boxes chalk-full of carefully selected flies for the targeted quarry I know it’s going to be a great day on the water.

Fly Fishing Gear and Equipment

One of the most exciting things about the experience of a guided trip is getting to use really good fly fishing equipment. From the rods with the latest technology to reels with exceptionally strong and smooth drags, using awesome gear provides me with some extra confidence that I’m getting my best shot at catching fish.

Some fishing trips are more demanding on gear than others – even the best gear can fail under the pressure of a mighty King Salmon on the run. In other instances, gear may accidentally and unexpectedly be damaged. On these occasions, a well-prepared guide will have backup rods, reels and fly line on standby.

This kind of preparation can literally make-or-break a day on the water for obvious reasons. When a guide shows this kind of attention and preparation, they earn some extra points towards a great tip.

Knowledge of the River or Lake

It’s sought after that a guide be an expert on their water and the species targeted for the trip. They know the locations of the best haunts on their water as well as specific fly patterns and techniques to use based on the conditions of the day. A great guide can wield their expertise to strategically position the angler to have the best opportunities at fish.

My best guided experiences have been with guides who are not only knowledgeable but are also candid about what they know. They are literally like a living, breathing encyclopedia of their fishery. From the moment I step on to the drift boat, I try to become like a sponge to absorb every ounce of the information they provide.

Things like:
o How to read the water using both sight and sounds to locate fish
o The fish that are endemic (native) to the water body and those that are introduced
o Bug hatches and when they occur

Ability to Teaching New Things

A guide does not have to be an expert in all variations of fly casting to be effective. For most fly fishing destinations, it is sufficient to be specialized in a few styles and techniques. If I’m in British Columbia fishing for steelhead and the optimal technique is spey casting, I will surely expect my guide to be well acquainted in the way of spey casting.

Not only should my guide be a good spey caster, but they should be able to convey the fundamentals of spey casting to someone like myself, who has never touched a two-handed spey rod. Being able to articulate and demonstrate technique is a critical skillset that a guide should possess.

hooked into by casting a spider into the weed edge

With teaching, delivery is also important. A guide that is visibly frustrated with my vain efforts to correct my casting technique with a skagit line does not enhance my experience or help me catch fish. A good guide does not put stress on the angler to learn a new skill but is simply satisfied that their client is giving their best effort and enjoying their time on the water.

Every Dog Has its Day

Even good guides will have days where no fish are boated and nothing seems to go as planned. This is not always the guide’s fault. However, if a bad experience stems from the guide being rude, lacking expertise or having poor equipment a good tip may not be appropriate.

In these cases, it may be better to tip less than ten percent. Hopefully, the guide will get the message that the client was dissatisfied with their experience and learn do better. However, not tipping is frowned upon by the guiding community because a guide’s base pay rate often makes up a meager portion of their net pay and many guides depend on tips for their livelihood.

In addition, an angler who does not tip as a practice may find themselves with a poor reputation among guide services (who do share information) and may have a difficult time finding a guide that wants their business. To avoid this predicament, it’s better to tip and leave a review describing the experience.

A Few Closing Thoughts

Before embarking on a guided trip, the angler should take forethought to tip their guide. Having cash on hand is generally the best way to be prepared to tip, as paying with credit card may not be an option. The distinction between a good and a great guided experience is subjective. In making a fair decision, a customer should consider the degree to which the guide’s expertise and efforts have added value. This involves a simple assessment of how the trip was enriched by the guide.

A guide provides value by facilitating an excellent experience, providing great gear, sharing their expertise, and building an atmosphere of positivity and excitement for the trip. Considering the extent to which the guide added value in these different areas can greatly assist the customer in deciding whether their guide has earned a good or a great tip.

Read About More Ways to Catch More Fly Fishing

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