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The Eddy Line: Fishing guides

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To hire or not to hire?

By Patrick Straub Explore Big Sky Fishing Columnist


1) A person who leads or directs other people on a journey.

2) A person who shows and explains the interesting things in a place.

3) A person who helps to direct another person’s behavior, life, career, etc.

– Merriam-Webster

I know a lot of fishing guides and the first two parts of this definition describe them perfectly. As for the third part, that’s entirely up to you. Learning a reach cast from a fishing guide is one thing. Personal advice and life coaching, well, that’s between you and your guide.

We’re blessed in the Greater Yellowstone area to have a network of fly shops and outfitters who have some of the West’s best guides, but before you choose to invest your money, be sure it’s money well spent. There are times when hiring a guide is a smart move, yet there are just as many opportunities when it’s far from essential.

Like problem solving and exploring? Go it alone. All but a few of our local waters are fishable, and armed with some friendly intel, some river-specific flies, and an adventurous spirit, I say get after it and go fishing solo. When you’re back in the closest town, you’re a long 3-iron from the nearest fly shop if you need to re-stock on gear or honest information.

Want someone else to provide the labor and problem solving? Opt for a guide. If you don’t have access to a drift boat or raft, your best chance to float the Madison or Yellowstone rivers will be with a guide. I love float-fishing, but my two favorite parts are: I don’t have to wear all the gear, and I’m at most two arms lengths from a cold beer in the cooler.

The rewards of self-discovery will be greater if you’re without a guide. Trial and error might take longer but the reward will be greater because success is yours and yours alone. It won’t belong to the guide who chose the fly, tied it on, and told you where to cast.

A guide offers a good head start if you’re new to fishing. I learned to fish as a kid fumbling my way along the Gallatin, so I had plenty of time to fish. If you’re here on vacation or you have to work for a living, investing in quality instruction speeds up the learning curve. Look for guides who are patient teachers and who understand the process of fly fishing: It’s a skill. Success can be had in small pieces at first, but proficiency comes with time on the water.

If you “just want to catch fish” and don’t care how, hire a guide. Local guides are on the water every day. If you communicate your desires to pad the numbers, a local guide will put you in the best possible spot on the river and help with your skills – what you do from there is up to you and your ability, as well as your willingness to learn new angling techniques.

Fun. That’s the main reason you should go fishing. And your idea of fun is just that – yours. Perhaps it’s wading into a river on your own with the current against your legs and the potential for a rising trout. Or it could be the camaraderie you get on a boat with a friend and humorous guide. Some of my greatest angling memories involve fishing with other people, but the moments I often strive for are those involving me, a rising trout, and my ability to get a perfect drift.

Fishing, by nature, is self-reflective. Choose wisely the time you dedicate to it. Whether you’re a local and you’ve been gnawing your fingernails waiting for runoff to end or you’re a traveling angler arriving at the perfect time, our rivers are full of hungry trout.

Salmonflies, golden stones, caddis, Pale Morning Duns, and Yellow Sallies are all hatching on our waters. If you already know what these insects are, get after it and hit the river, guide or no guide. If you’ve never heard of these and have always wanted to fish in Montana, contact your favorite local fly shop or outfitter.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing. Along with his wife, he owns Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and with a partner operates a guide service on the Missouri River.

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