Big Hole River 1970 cfs, temp. 52.3, visibility 3 feet

Some things you might want to do and some things you don’t want to do when your fishing with a guide. Before you start your day have as much of your gear ready as possible. Have your rod and reel set up with a leader. The guide will check it to see if it is appropriate for that day’s fishing. The reason for doing this is to save time and get on the river and start fishing. Especially when there are two of you it takes time if the guide has to assemble the rod and reel and tie on leader and tippet. This is time that could be spent fishing. If the guide is rigging up one rod, help him out by rigging up the other rod. My favorite item is that combo rod, reel case. You can have every thing set up and just pull it out of the case and your ready to fish. When there are two of you, learn how to cast as not to be tangled up with each other. Usually it’s up to the guy in the back to watch. When you do get tangled (and you will) many times it’s a complete chop job especially when your fishing with two fly’s as we often do. After the guide has rerigged your rod, don’t be flip floppin it around or trying to cast unless he tells you to. Most of the time you will be anchored next to the bank and the fly’s will end up in the willow ten feet above your head. If you do this too often the guide will start to take sneak peeks at his watch and you know what that means. There have been times when I have tied on three or four setups and the boat never moved. Another thing that will irritate the hell out of your guide is if you have a tangled up mess and you dangle it in front of his face while he is rowing through a tricky part of the river.

The only fishing I did today was a few moments ago just above the house. I caught three on a skwala and then switched to chernoble ant type pattern just for the hell of it and instantly got a 14 inch grayling, which is a big grayling. I had a couple more refuse it and that was it for my fish fix for the day. The river is in exellent condition and the caddis should be here soon.

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Big Hole River 2260 cfs, temp. 48.7, visibility 3 feet

Guides come in all shapes, sizes, age and gender. Some come with waders that are stained and patched and have worn out wading shoes with two different color shoe strings. Their boat is scuffed and a bit untidy and has tattered remnants of fly’s on the floor and perhaps bits and pieces of yesterday’s lunch. Their vehicle is in about the same condition and has at least 150,000 miles on it. These are the guides you want. Then there are those who come looking like they just stepped out of the Orvis catalogue. They have a lanyard hanging on their neck with every imagineable gadget invented for fly fishing hanging on it. They have a brand new diesel club cab pickup with a boat in tow that is so shiny and clean it hurts your eyes to look at it. They begin to speak Latin. These are the ones you want to avoid.

Get to know your guide. Ask him questions, pick his brain but don’t get too personal. I know for myself that when people start asking very personal questions I usually respond with comments such as I just divorced my 12th wife and I’m thinking about coming out of the closet–it’s really dark in there. Ask him how long he has been guiding. A good way to tell how long a person has been guiding is when you shake his hand. If his palm is soft and smooth he hasn’t been on the sticks very long. If his palm feels like coarse grain sand paper from all the callous’s, he’s the man. If booking with a new guide feel free to ask for references. When someone asks me for references I just hand them the log book and tell them to pick a name. So far I have been really lucky and they have picked the right ones.

When you start your trip the most important thing is to LISTEN TO YOUR GUIDE. You hired him for his expertise, take advantage of it. He may not be right all of the time but most of it. Listen to him carefully when he tells you how and where to present the fly. Don’t second guess him. If he ties on a fly that is the most unbelievable thing you have ever seen, use it. The one thing that really gets my hackle standing up is when I row the boat across the river to let’s say the right bank and position the boat for him to cast there and then he turns around and casts back to the middle of the river or says “isn’t that other side better”?. I have in the years past had a couple fisherman do this repeatedly despite what I would tell them. Eventually I would put the boat in the middle of the river and let them fire at will. It would always be a non-successful day and they usually would not come back which was just fine with me. A couple years ago I had this good ole boy who told me right at the start that “ya’ll know I got a handle on this fly fishing” He wouldn’t listen to one thing I would tell him and he was a terrible caster. His three day trip turned into a day and a half when I suddenly came down with an acute attack of gastroappendectoflopolis, which is a disease not that uncommon to guides when conditions are just right. I might add that I did make a full recovery but it was touch and go for awhile.

If you have had a good day and your guide is working hard for you, tip him accordingly. If you are on a multiple day trip and you don’t tip him the first day, chances are the fishing is going to get a lot tougher.

I was not on the river today but I imagine the fishing would be about the same as yesterday as conditions were about the same. Forecast for the next five days is for a gradual warming trend with partly cloudy.

Tomorrow’s Title: Junior guides who have been mentally beat up by hard core anglers.


  1. How much is “accordingly?” Is there a percentage you could give us?
    That “tip every day” is a good thing to know. I’ve always tipped at the end of the trip. Wonder if that hurt me?

  2. Great topic, Al. I think there are some clients that either don’t understand the role of a guide, are intimidated by the guide, or believe that the guide is a simple lacky to be pushed around. In the second case, I think this could be something that’s fueled by guides who are arrogant and feel that the only way to impress clients is by showing them how stupid they are. While on the river with Carla, you were extremely patient and helped her the entire time. That’s a rare gift, indeed.

  3. Always listen to your guide…

    I was fishing with Al and my dad one day which was a little bit tough, but fun and productive as always. We pulled into some slackwater at a fork and Al tied on a Clauser minnow and told me to go punch the current where it let out of the fork. He smiled and said “I know it doesn’t look right, but I’ve caught fish on it before”. He then took my dad over to some slack water on the other side and started pitching nymphs with him. I had faith as Al had handed me many a saltwater fly before which had been very productive on the big hole. After about 40 casts, however, I cut the Clauser off and reached into my box for an olive wooly bugger. Three casts later I tied into a 19″ brown. Al came sprinting accross the river with the net with a big smile on his face. As he was scooping the fish up, he yelled “See! I told you, and you didn’t believe me, did you!” Right about that time, he saw that bugger hanging out of old Walter’s mouth. He frowned at me, called me a dirty bastard, then released the fish, smiled, cut the bugger off my line and told me to tie on the Clauser minnow. I did.

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