You Can’t Buy Trout

By Guy Turck •  Updated: 11/07/22 •  5 min read

As the popularity of fly fishing continues to rise and more and more well-heeled professionals with short, but successful, business careers enter the sport I’ve noticed a somewhat disturbing trend. I suppose this may have always been true, but it seems to me that there is a surplus of hyperactive newbies who have the notion that if they buy the right gear and hire a guide they’ll immediately morph into trout-slaying machines. No need to “pay my dues” in this era of immediate gratification. Perhaps it’s a reflection of modern society. If I throw enough money at a problem, the solution can’t be far behind. But the sad (happy?) truth is…you can’t buy trout. You have to catch them.

Just like buying a new set of golf clubs won’t make you the next Tiger Woods, owning all the latest and greatest fishing gear won’t help until you learn how to use it.

More important than top-notch equipment is good instruction, and that’s where guides, for better or worse, come into the mix. To get the most from your day with a guide, be honest with them (and yourself) during the pre-trip interview all good guides conduct before heading for the water. Give your guide an honest appraisal of your skill level and mention what you’d like to get out of the days activities. This is crucial information that the guide will use to customize the trip for you.

If you’re trying to catch trout with a fly rod, and want to develop solid technique, hiring a guide is simply a good first step. But it is not an immediate remedy. You should catch more with a guide than you would otherwise, but that is more up to you than the guide.

A Fly Fishing Guide Can Present You With Opportunities, But It Will Be Up To You To Catch The Trout

Realize that the “better” rivers (i.e. those with big fish in them) are almost invariably more difficult, especially if you’re not ready for the technical challenges they can present. You may well have a lot more fun, and catch a lot more fish, in  a “lesser” river – all the while honing the skills it takes to get the big ones. It’s entirely possible that your best shot at a big fish is on the “lesser” river. If you really are focused on big fish, and don’t mind sacrificing action to go after them, by all means, let your guide know that too.

If you follow the preceding advice chances are that all will go well. Once everybody gets comfortable with each other, conversation can drift away from fishing and get pretty interesting. (Last summer I had three separate clients who were present at Ground Zero on 9/11. One of them said he was one of those covered in gray soot. I believed him.) Curiously, clients often want to know about other clients. A common question goes something like this…’you must get some jerks out here, what’s the worst fishing trip you’ve ever taken?’ To help answer that question I’ve prepared the following:

Favorite-type client – Loves the outdoors and, especially, being on the water. Wants to catch fish, but if it‘s not in the cards, oh well. Big tipper.

Worst-type client – Doesn’t know anything and doesn’t want to learn. Used to being in charge and getting their own way. Insists on catching lots of trout – the bigger the better. Tip is based on how many large trout they land that day, which invariably, isn’t many.

To answer the question though (what’s the worst fishing trip you’ve ever taken?), I’d have to say it’s about a 10-way tie for first place honors. But that’s a story for another day.

I’ve actually had clients tell me ‘I don’t want to learn all that entomology stuff, just get me catching as many fish as possible as soon as possible.’ And I’ve taken numerous beginners who couldn’t be bothered with a casting lesson to start the day. Just get me out there ASAP so I can start catching fish seems to be the attitude. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. And sure enough we end up having that casting lesson after all, or covering a little entomology.

I once had a client tell me – after doing the opposite of what I’d just suggested and catching a fish nonetheless – how much he enjoyed “proving the guide wrong.” At that point I had to decide between telling him the wrong thing to do in a back-handed effort to get him to do the right thing or to just let him fish the way he wanted and see what he might be able to teach me. In the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to tell him the wrong thing to do and as a result we didn’t catch many fish that day.

I know it’s not considered politically correct for a guide to point out the character flaws of some of his clients. But those people never listened to me anyways, so why worry about it? I just wanted to point out that you can’t buy trout. You have to catch them.

Guy Turck
Jackson Hole
April 2003