How to Become a Fly Fishing Guide (Tips and Advice)

How to be a fly fishing guide you ask? First off, are you going to work for someone or are you going on your own? If you work for someone then you will only need your own personal gear. If you start your own then there is a lot more you will need which I will post below.

I have been fly fishing for many years and I have had several people tell me I should start a guide service. But back when I was fishing there were not that many people that wanted to fly fish.

Most people already know how to spin fish or as some call it bait fishing. A friend of mine calls them worm dunkers, not fishermen, he is an avid fly fisherman as you can tell. Now when fly fishing is very popular, my health and age would not allow me to be a guide.

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How Much do Fly Fishing Guides Make?

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

Money? Who said anything about that? In reality, this isn’t a lucrative occupation but is one that gives you the chance to have a very fulfilling lifestyle. The late Jack Gartside said, “I don’t make much of a living but I make a hell of a life”.

How much do fly fishing guides make?

For guides that work for outdoor recreation companies or for themselves. Simply hired estimates that the average salary for a professional fishing guide as of May 2012 is about $55,000 per year. Fly fishing guides make a bit more at $59,000 per year. The most in-demand guides can earn as much as $85,000 annually.

According to the outdoor guide job description from State University, the average outdoor guide makes $75 to $150 per day. However, top fishing guides in high-demand tourist areas report charging as much as $400 a day. The guides who work for companies may make less, as they’ll be paid by the company, which takes a cut. Guides who own their own outfit keep a higher percentage of the profit.

This also depends on where you are located in the world, but after it all comes out in the wash it probably balances out. If you gross $450 per day, remove your expenses, the cost of equipment depreciation and the governments share; what you have left is yours.

The more days you can book along with the more the weather cooperates with you. The more money that you can make. But this isn’t something you get into to get rich. You do it because it is something that you love it.

Also, don’t forget the tips these can add up pretty fast. I know of a few guides that have received tips for almost as much as was charged for the trip.

fly fishing angler makes cast while standing in water

How to Start a Fly Fishing Guide Service

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

You have to be well versed in fly fishing and have a strong set of teaching skills as well. Patience is also huge. Having professional selling skills is also a big benefit. It might sound unnecessary, but a college education doesn’t hurt.

This will help give you the rounded education to be able to relate to your client base. Most of these clients are most likely to be very well educated people. Remember, in this business, you mostly do it all unless you choose to strictly work for a lodge.

What is Most Challenging about What You Do?

In its own way, each aspect of the job is the most challenging. For me, if I had to choose one, it’s the day-to-day business operations. I’d rather just go fishing. But, to stay successful I know I can’t do that.

This is What Makes a Great Guide

They know how to have some fun because fly fishing is fun. It is a recreation along with a break from the daily routine of life. As the saying goes, “the worst day of fishing beats the best day in the office.” For fishing guides, the water is their office.

Great guides understand fun and play is an essential element to a day on the water. Catching fish can be fun indeed, but catching can come and go throughout a day. The top-shelf guides are fun to be with even if the catching stinks.

Fishiness. I’m a believer that certain people are born with a set degree of “fishiness.” But what the heck is fishiness? It’s how easy catching fish comes to certain people.

I’ve seen it some people just come to catching fish more naturally than others. To be a great guide, it also will help to have an innate level of fishiness. There are plenty of great guides who fall in the middle of this scale, but they have mastered the above traits.

Ambassadors and conservationists. Fish need quality habitat to continue to flourish. Fish, along with the habitat depends on it. They cannot defend themselves against the increasing threats of climate change, extractive industries, and encroaching development. The best guides take pride in standing up for their resources.

They are members of national and grassroots organizations. They prioritize stewardship and education. Litter is hard to come by on rivers that are frequented by guides. Even though they’re just a small fraction of the users. The reason is that the best guides pick up after others.

man casting rod and fly fishing in river

What is Most Rewarding?

The most rewarding part of what I do is helping someone succeed in meeting all of their expectations. To be a part of a “therapy” program is very rewarding. Helping build some confidence in people by helping to increase their fishing skill is also very important.

The enjoyment of getting to be outside coupled along with the physical aspect of the job is an added bonus. This has me looking at each day with enthusiasm and of course, the fishing along with the fish.

When clients send you referrals and/or re-book. Then you know you did everything right. This another rewarding moment in a guides business.

Some Other Things You Will Need

If you plan on guiding on float trips then you will need several other things. Things like a boat and a trailer and don’t forget the rig to pull the boat.

You are also going to need extra Rods and Reels along with extra spools just in case of an accident. Don’t forget the flies and extra lines and leaders, as you can see this is not a cheap business to start. But it can be one of the most rewarding businesses for you if you love to fish. It just can’t get any better than that get paid to do what you love to do FISH.

If you are going to be guiding for yourself there are things to get your business started.

You should check with the state that you are going to be licensed in as each state has there own rules. The regulations and the forms vary in price from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars.

Some have guides licenses and others have outfitters that you have to have before you can get a guides license.

Here are the fees for where I live.

1st TimeApplication FeeOff-Line License FeeOnline License FeeAmendment Fee (Major / Minor)Resubmittal Fee
Outfitter$400$450$400$200 / $35$100
Designated Agent$50$160$140$20$75

The reapplication fees for a guide license in Montana is $150.00 dollars a year

You will also need to have some insurance!

I know why do I need insurance you ask here is why. There is nothing better than floating a remote river on a dory, making the perfect cast. Then watch as your fly lands softly on the water.

I asked a friend of mine about his insurance and here is what he told me. Your regular boat insurance policy will not cover you when operating for hire. You need true professional liability insurance that covers you while guiding.

Anglers Advantage offers Guide coverage as a rider on a boat policy. When he started guiding, he carried this type of policy. If I remember correctly, he said it was ~ $250 annually, on top of his beefed-up policy (increased limits and coverages).

There are thousands of people that pay for experiences like these. But even with all of the safety precautions in place accidents do happen. Guides and outfitters are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of their clients. They are open to claims and lawsuits from their clientele when accidents do occur. It is under these circumstances when you need an insurance policy to protect your business.

I found this information online for fishing guides. Beginning this month, AFFTA members in all 50 states who make a living guiding and outfitting fly fishing clients. will now have the opportunity to purchase commercial liability group insurance at a special industry discounted rate. Through this new AFFTA program, the annual premium for an independent guide is only $400.00.

This comprehensive policy will include $2 million in aggregate coverage with $1 million of coverage per occurrence. Outfitters who employ guides will be able to pay the $400 annually for their own coverage, and can then add their guides to the policy for only $175 each (with the same amounts of coverage).

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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