Erica Nelson on Finding the Right Fishing Guide
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Tom: Hi, and welcome to the "Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast." This is your host Tom Rosenbauer. And my guest this week is Erica Nelson. Erica is an Orvis-endorsed guide from Colorado. And Erica was here visiting me in Vermont, and we sat down and talked about guides, about hiring guides. How do you find a guide? How do you communicate with your guide, both before and during your trip? And how much do you tip a guide? Is it ever okay to stiff a guide without a tip? And what to do about, you know, a guide that doesn't do a good job. So, I think it's an interesting podcast and it will answer a lot of questions that I frequently get...podcast questions that I frequently get. So, I hope you enjoy it. And I hope it helps you arrange your next guide trip.
But first, let's do the fly box. And I'm going to try to answer your questions and read some of your nice comments about various things. And if you have a question or a comment for the fly box, you can send it to me at
So, anyway, let's start the fly box with the first email from Shane from Cambridge, Massachusetts. I love the podcast and all the great educational content that you and Orvis produce. I just started fly-fishing this year and had some early success, in large part, due to all the helpful advice from the Orvis Podcast and YouTube channel, and wanted to first thank you for that. I bought an Orvis Clearwater nine-foot, five-weight as my very first fly rod this past summer. I've had a great time learning to fly fish for trout on this rod, and have been fishing it obsessively. Now that I've developed some confidence in my casting and fishing ability, I'm looking to level up a bit with adding a new rod to my arsenal. I'm interested in doing some blue lining for wild brookies in our small New England mountain streams. And I'm thinking a three-weight Recon would be a great fit for that. I've heard great things about the Recon series, and it's right in line with my budget.
I'm also hoping to do some Euro-nymphing, and a three-weight seems to be a common recommendation for that as well. I've tried a little Euro-nymphing with a Mono Rig and my five-Wait. It was a fun experiment, but as you can imagine, the casting wasn't ideal. Could I use a longer Euro style rod, like the Recon 10-foot, 3-weight, for both blue lining and Euro-nymphing? Or will the extra length be too much of a disadvantage on small mountain streams, with little casting room? I'm wondering if it's too much to ask for one rod to do both Euro-nymphing and blue lining. And instead, if I'd be better off choosing one style of fishing versus the other for now, and choosing a rod accordingly. Having never blue lined yet, nor fished anything but a nine-foot rod, I'm not sure how successful I'd be swinging a 10-foot rod on small mountain streams. And if the answer is that you'd recommend two different rods, one for Euro-nymphing, one for blue lining, which of the Recon rods would you recommend for each? Any advice you can offer would be much appreciated. Thanks, again, for the super helpful content.
Shane, that's a really good question. And I guess it depends on exactly what your small streams look like. I know a lot of the small streams that I fish here in Vermont are kind of rocky tumbling mountain streams and they're actually fairly open. You know, they have a little bit of a floodplain, and they're actually fairly open, without a ton of overhanging trees. Even though there's a lot of trees on the bank. If you're casting straight up stream, which you usually are in small streams, you do have some backcast room. And the 10-foot, three-weight allows you to really hold your rod high and keep your line off those swirling pockets that might make your dry flyer nymph drag. And so, you know, a 10-foot rod wouldn't actually be a bad idea, as long as you do have that backcast room. And again, as long as the trees aren't overhanging the stream and you've got some room behind you, the 10-foot rod would be pretty nice. And then of course, you'd have a great Euro-nymphing rod, that long rod. And you can also use the 10-foot, 3-weight for standard dry fly-fishing on flat water and bigger water.
So I think it would be an okay rod, if you got enough room. If your streams are a little tighter and brushier, then you probably need another rod. And in the Recon series, my favorite, and it's pretty much my standard small stream rod, is the seven and a half foot three-weight. A little bit lighter, you know, it's a little bit lighter, shorter rod, and it's fun on those smaller fish. You know, it doesn't have to be that short. Again, most of the time, in these small New England streams, you can get some decent backcast room. Another advantage of that 10-foot, 3-weight, is it roll casts really well. So, yeah, it's longer. And if you have overhanging brush, you might have problems. But if you don't, you can roll cast really well with that longer rod. So, I think that might be fun. But, you know, if you do think you need two rods and your streams are a little bit brushy, then I would go with the seven and a half footer, and the 10 footer. So, I hope that's helpful.
Here's an email from Dylan from Denver, Colorado. I found the podcast this summer, and listening to a few every day at work has gotten me back to mid-2019. Today I listened to you interview Jesse Haller, titled, "Five Things An Expert Euro-Nymper Learned This Year." One of my favorite aspects of fly-fishing is the endless possibility to learn and improve. Listening to your conversation with Jesse Haller got me thinking about what I've learned lately. Some days, it's working on a brand new species, technique, or a piece of water. Other days, it is an aha moment about something you thought you already knew. This year, I've been fortunate enough to fish in a variety of new water around Colorado, Wyoming, and even the Bahamas. I caught my first bone fish and grass carp this year, and working on my trout spay game.
What I thought of most while listening to your interview with Jesse is how fishing a variety of trout rivers has helped me improve on reading water. For example, I spent years fishing the seams and eddies behind boulders. One particular day of sight fishing alerted me to the fact that many of the biggest fish hold in front of the rock. Something that I'm always harping on. Here's my question, what have you learned lately? Have you had any big ahas? Are you actively working on any aspects of your fishing or tying? I'm sure my fellow podcast listeners would love to hear about how a fly-fishing deity is continuing to learn? Well, I'm hardly a deity. But yeah, boy, it's a hard one to answer because I'm learning every time I go out. That's why I love fly-fishing. And, you know, as far as fly tying is concerned, I try to challenge myself with fly patterns that I've tried before and didn't like to tie. Even when I do these live tying events, I like to tie a fly that I'm not totally comfortable with. Because I want to learn new techniques.
And, you know, last year, I really concentrated on Game Changers, tying those properly, because it's a really cool fly. It's time consuming, but they're fun to tie, and they're very, very effective. You know, I recently tried to perfect the Half Pint Streamer, which I did a recent live event with Damson Dusky [SP], because I've tied those before and I wasn't happy with them, and didn't like the way they looked. So I tried to master that fly and at least get it looking to where I was happy with it. Another fly that I've been challenged by for years, I must have a Blane Chocklett obsession here, but it's Blane Chocklett's Gummy Minnow, which sometimes can be a very effective fly for small tarpan, particularly in a place that I like to fish in Belize. And I haven't gotten into that seriously, but that's another challenge that I'm going to work on.
And, you know, as far as fishing techniques, I'm still learning how to Euro-nymph. I'm still not happy with my technique and my effectiveness. I still need a lot of work there. And so I've been studying it and practicing it myself, and playing around with the different flies, and leaders, and rods, and lines. I'm still not happy with my two-handed game, particularly with getting the right line on a rod, which is complex. Mostly getting the right head for swinging flies for steelhead, and landlocked salmon, and trout. I'm still not totally comfortable with either my casting or my presentation there. And as far as aha moments, you know, I had one recently. I've noticed over the years, I've noticed and not really noticed that where you have a hatchery supported population of trout, with holdovers and fish have been in the river for a while. The fish seem to be more selective. Places like the Swift River in Massachusetts, and the Farmington in Connecticut. And some other streams. The Guadalupe in Texas. These are all hatchery supported streams, mostly hatchery supported.
I've noticed something that these trout, when they get on an insect catch, particularly when they get on midges, can be super, super selective, more selective than wild trout in the same kind of situation. And the aha moment was, well, these fish are hatchery supported. And we've trained hatchery fish to become selective because we have fed them pellets for, you know, anywhere from a year to two or three years. We train them to be selective to eating one particular kind of food, and then we dump them in a river, and of course they have to experiment a little bit. But then they key in on something. And, you know, one of the first things they often see in a stream is midges, because midges are very common and abundant at most times a year. And these hatchery fish, I think, get conditioned to feeding on midges and become very difficult because they're eating little tiny flies, and none of us like to fish little tiny flies.
So, think about that, that hatchery fish. You know, wild fish need to be able to switch from one food to another. They learn that they got to experiment and, you know, they make mistakes too. They're sampling different foods because one food doesn't last that long. And they have to switch back and forth. So, I think they tend to be not as selective as fish that were at one time raised in a hatchery. So, that's one of my aha moments. Whether you agree with me or not, I don't know. But it's an interesting topic for discussion.
Here is an email, and I'm sorry, I didn't write down the name, or maybe this person didn't give it. But it's an email. Thank you for being our Jedi Master or Obi Tom of fly-fishing. God, I'm getting a lot of compliments this week. That's how much your training has meant to me. In several episodes, where fishing for striped bass and blue fish have been discussed, there's concern that they are on the decline. In your last episode, one listener, during the fly box, from Connecticut, who has a really great honey hole was particularly concerned with bluefish. To answer that, I would like to call yours and the listeners' attention to their primary forage, menhaden,or a bunker, as they're called in New England. This is one, emphasis added, there is one commercial industrial enterprise that takes millions of pounds of the bait fish from the Atlantic, Omega Protein from Virginia. They go all the way to New England to harvest fish and have been single handedly responsible for a lot of the forages decline.
This is particularly sad, as the southern and Midwestern states have been in an ecological disaster with Asian carp, which could replace the menhadenas this company's product, and actually do us all a favor. It's baffling why more hasn't been done to aid carp harvests and suppress menhaden,as the latter is responsible for so much good economic impact, from the Gulf of Mexico to Maine. To that end, I implore you and the listeners to read "The Most Important Fish in the Sea," by H. Bruce Franklin. This should be required reading if you are an East or Gulf Coast saltwater angler. It is available on all the internet-based booksellers. I would also ask that Orvis consider adding this to its inventory of books for sale.
Well, I want to thank you so much for bringing that point up. And that is an important point. And, you know, they have restricted menhadenharvests somewhat, I don't think enough, and we're seeing more and more of them in our East Coast estuaries. So, I think there's some progress made. But you're right, so much of those game fish that we fish for, rely on these forage fish for their survival. And I have not read that book, but I'm going to order it today. And probably, I wouldn't hold my breath for Orvis to adding this book to its inventory. Orvis does not sell a lot of books. And, you know, you're better off getting it from your local bookseller, your local bookstore, or an internet-based bookseller, if you so desire.
Here's an email from Josh. I'm looking to buy one rod, yeah, I know you can never have just one, to cover the following; midsize stream fishing for smallmouth,, small lake fishing for smallmouth and largemouth from a kayak, occasional steelhead fishing and Lake Michigan trips, pike fishing, occasional inshore saltwater for small tarpon, snook, and redfish. I tried out the eight-weight Blackout at the local Orvis store and absolutely loved it. My only concern is that it may be too short for effective mending and line control on rivers. The guys at the other local fly shop cautioned against shorter rods, but not sure if they're just trying to make a sale. I contacted the Orvis technical people and they said it would be okay for occasional mending. Thoughts? Should I consider the Helios 3D instead? What would be the difference in terms of weight, action, etc., between the two rods? The Blackout was just so light and easy to cast with just a flick of the wrist, just amazing. Any thoughts you can share would be awesome. Thanks.
Well, Josh, I think that people in the fly shop were correct, and I think the Orvis people, technical people were also correct, in that, that shorter eight-weight is kind of considered, like, a brush rod. It's a great rod for fishing for snook and redfish, in the mangroves and in tight spots. It's a great rod for large mouth fishing with bugs. Great rod for smallmouth fishing, where you... You know, you don't do a lot of mending when you're fishing for smallmouth. But for your more lake fishing, you know, or your big open water pike fishing, for your steelhead fishing, and a lot of your inshore fishing. I think a longer rod would be better. I think either a nine-footer, which is a much better rod for mending. You just have more, like...that extra few inches can make a big difference in your mends. If you're going to concentrate on the steelhead fishing, even a 10-foot, for an 8-weight.
In my opinion, the 10-footer is a little bit less handy in the wind. It's great for making long cast. But if you do have windy situations, I do prefer a nine-foot rod. I think they cast better in the wind. So, it's a tossup, but I do think that for mending, you're going to have a little more problem with that shorter eight-weight than you would with a nine-footer. So, I guess I'm not really giving you a great answer here. But hopefully, you can sort out, you know, what's your biggest priority for your fishing, and then make a choice there. But, you know, if you love the rod, that's the thing, if you love a rod, you're going to make it work. And if you love the casting of that rod versus a nine-footer, then I'd go for it.
Here's an email from Jim from Hershey. Let me start out with, keep the "Native Fish Podcast" coming. I've certainly enjoyed them as have a lot of my friends here in central Pennsylvania. I can't help myself, but provide my own answer to your lead-in question from the last podcast. Why should I care about native fish? I know you were just playing devil's advocate to facilitate an informative discussion on the podcast, which I appreciate. I certainly identified with Steve's answer too. However, the reasons that I think we should care about, whether a fish is native or not, is that, as anglers, our dreams are filled with traveling to catch unique species around the world. We want the opportunity to catch a taimen, golden mahseer, marble trout, golden dorado, Yellowstone cutthroat, grayling, bull trout, Atlantic salmon, Arctic char, Dolly Varden, and native brook trout.
It's well known, at this point, within the scientific community, that non-native species decrease biodiversity and very significantly contribute to loss of species such as the different native fish mentioned above, that we dream of catching one day as anglers. Water quality and habitat are important, but they are improving in many places, where we're still losing native fish species. And we cannot ignore the undeniable negative impact of non-native fish species pointed out by scientists around the world. In short, to answer your question, we should care about native species because our sport/natural world would not hold nearly as much wonder if diverse native fish populations slowly slip away. And we are ultimately left to fish a planet for the same monotonous, small handful of invasive species, that eat and out-compete them.
I would also like to give a resource to listeners. Anyone can search Google Scholar for their favorite native fish species or state fish, and learn a lot about what water quality, habitat, non-native fish, and other factors are affecting their species of interest. These peer reviewed studies/articles are free to read in the majority of cases I've found, and are a great way to dive even deeper into the interesting conservation side of our sport. Appreciating native fish has also given me access to good fishing near home. I enjoy the fall fish, a native minnow species, three minutes from my home in central Pennsylvania. They take nymphs and crush articulated streamers. An 18-inch, 2 to 3 pound fall fish, puts quite a bend in my Orvis Clearwater and a smile on my face, when I only have an hour or two to fish on weeknights. Thanks to Orvis for being a forum to talk about issues like this within our sport. It's what makes Orvis something much larger than just simply a brand to me. Well, thank you very much for those thoughts, Jim. And we're going to continue... I've got a podcast coming up in a couple weeks, which I think you will be very interested in. And I'm not going to say anything more, but it's going to be a controversial podcast. And I'll leave it there. So, stay tuned for that podcast in the next few weeks.
Here's an email from Rob from Arizona. I was catching up on podcasts this past week, and as always, great content. And thank you for all you and Orvis do for the community. Two items from separate podcasts caught my attention, and I thought I'd make a suggestion. The first item was your call to the podcast audience to provide suggestions from a few weeks back. And the second was a comment you made about getting away from some of the more crowded water by chasing blue lines. Over the years, as I've gotten a little more confident in my fly-fishing skills, I've been more inclined to get off the beaten path, not only to find new spots, but also to just unplug from the phone and email. Now, getting off the grid is great, but it makes my wife a bit nervous, which I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that on one trip, she went into labor six weeks early, and it took a few hours to get hold of me, only after I picked up cell service while standing in Bob Jacqueline's fly shop.
The other aspect, besides being able to reach someone is safety factor. Working in the engineering and construction industry, it's normal to start a meeting with a safety moment. Sometimes it's a specific issue to what a major daily activity is, or it could be something general as making sure you stay hydrated or wear the proper safety gear. Maybe this is something you could incorporate into your show, by either you, your guests, or listeners. To kick it off, I'll go first. When heading on a trip, I always make sure I carry a small first aid kit. The contents vary a bit depending on where I'm going, but two items I always bring with me are a light foil blanket and a whistle. Both are very light and easy to pack. The foil blanket is very handy if you happen to fall in the water, get caught in the rain, or if you need relief from the sun, as we sometimes do out here in Arizona. The whistle's handy should you need help. Three short blasts signal the need for help, and it takes little energy to generate a loud noise that draws attention. Both are great to have when going out on solo trips. Thank you for everything you and Orvis do. I've learned so much from all the podcasts and videos, and hopefully, these ideas help give back and keep us safe while enjoying our favorite activity.
Well, thank you, Rob. And those are great suggestions. And I do also go off the grid occasionally. And I don't carry a first aid kit, and I really should. And I don't carry a foil blanket, and I really should. So, I'm going to add those. Those won't take up much space in my sling bag. And I'm going to add those to my normal packing list. So, thank you very much for that suggestion. I'm sure it's going to be helpful for a lot of people.
All right. Finally, we have one call from Simone from the Smoky Mountains. And it's a great call. And Simone also has some nice dog and bird sounds in the background.
Simone: Hi, Tom. This is Simone from the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. I'm a relatively new fly fisher, but I just love it. And I'm learning so much from all the resources, including your podcast. And so I appreciate that. I have a question about fish behavior. I am a longtime diver and underwater photographer, so one of the intriguing things about fly-fishing is really learning from the fish and feeling like they're teaching me more about nature. And so, I've fished a lot of the streams in the national park here in the Great Smokies, and I've had fish come up on a dry fly and tap it with their nose. And I know they do that. And then I've had a few will turn around and slap it with their tail.
And I thought, well, you know, maybe that's normal behavior. But I was fishing in the rain one morning a few weeks ago. And I had a rainbow. I saw the rainbow when it stood up on its nose and touched the fly with the nose. And then dove under and used the tail to smack the fly. I counted six times. And it was just so weird, and I've asked a lot of people around here, I've asked people that are, you know, I guess, well-known in the fly-fishing world and they're like, "I don't have a clue." I personally thought the fish was giving me a double finger, but I'm not sure. And the answers that I've gotten are not quite satisfactory. So, anyway, that's my question. It's about fish behavior. I appreciate it, and thanks a lot.
Tom: Well, Simone, of course, can never be sure why fish do what they do. Because they have some interesting behavior, and sometimes we can't figure it out. And I'm going to give you my thoughts on what happened there. Fish will sometimes, and you'll see this, will sometimes...especially if they've been fished over a lot, will nose a fly to see if it suddenly gets ripped off the water. You know, if they've been fished over a lot, they might check it out, they might poke it to see if it's natural, or it's an artificial and it's going to stick a hook in their mouth. That's pretty sophisticated behavior, but I think they do it sometimes. The other thing is, when a fly is a little bit too big... I've noticed this with naturals and smaller fish. If a fly is really big, such as a grasshopper or really large mayfly like a Green Drake, smaller fish especially will bump it with their nose and slap it with their tail, maybe to try to drown it or maybe again, to try to see if it's alive or not.
For that to happen six times in a row is quite unusual. But I suspect that your fly was maybe a little bit too big, and the fish was trying to drown it and maybe come around and then eat it. I've also had the foresight, occasionally, when fish tend to...they tend to bump grasshoppers, both natural grasshoppers and your imitations. And they tend to bump it to try to drown it or whatever. And sometimes, if you can steel yourself to not set the hook until you see the fly actually disappear in the fish's mouth, they'll sometimes bump your artificial and then come back and inhale it, if you don't set the hook. So, you know, I think that possibly your fly was a little bit too large and that's why it happened. But it's certainly fascinating behavior. And to see it six times in a row is really cool. So, I hope that answer is a little more satisfactory than the other ones you've gotten. But again, you know, we never know what we're going to see when we go out there fly-fishing. And that's pretty interesting stuff.
My guest today is Erica Nelson. And Erica is my partner in a monthly series that we do live on Facebook and YouTube, called, "Awkward and clueless." And that comes from... Erica's podcast is called "The Awkward Angler." And if you haven't listened to it, it's a great podcast, and it's one you need to add to your feed. And I'm clueless because, you know, about three quarters of the times when I'm fishing, I feel clueless. So, you know, it's kind of a way of talking to novices, new people to fly-fishing, and letting them know that it's okay to feel awkward, it's okay to feel clueless because even after many, many years of doing this, lots of us still feel clueless. So, anyway, Erica is actually here in my podcast studio today. Erica is the first guest I've had in my new home podcast studio since the pandemic started. So, it's a great pleasure, Erica, to have you here, actually in the house.
Erica: Hi, Tom. Thank you so much for having me.
Tom: It's a pleasure. And we're going to go fishing later, which is what we're both looking forward to. We're going to go chase some native brook trout. Erica's never done that. We did a rod shop tour this morning. And just to fill you in a little bit more about Erica, in case you have not caught us on "Awkward and Clueless" Erica is an Orvis-endorsed guide in Crested Butte, Colorado. What's the name of the operation that you guide for, Erica?
Erica: Yeah, I work for Willowfly Anglers.
Tom: Willowfly Anglers. And Erica is the only indigenous female fishing guide in Colorado. And maybe...we don't know if you're the only indigenous female guide, there probably are some around. Do you know of any?
Erica: Oh, yeah, there's definitely some, especially on the Deschutes. Yeah, there's some.
Tom: Okay. So you're the only one in Colorado. That's your claim to fame, right?
Tom: And since Eric is a guide, and I get a lot of questions about guides, and I'm not a guide, I've never been a guide. I've fished with a lot of guides, but, you know, I don't have firsthand experience. We're going to talk today about how to have a guide trip, how to find a guide, how to talk to a guide prior to the trip, how to behave with a guide. Because, you know, it's a team effort when you fish with a guide. It's not just a guide telling you what to do and you mechanically following directions. You might be like me and never follow a guide's directions. I drive them crazy. So Eric is going to talk about, you know, in her experience, what works best to make sure that you make the most out of your day of guided fishing. Because it's the way you're going to learn more than you would probably fishing on your own and making your own mistakes. Although that's another good way of learning. Fishing with a guide, you're going to really pick up a lot of great techniques. So, Erica, let's start from the beginning. How do you pick a guide?
Erica: Well, I would say probably just asking around. You know, asking for recommendations from people that you might know is a really great way to start. That way you can kind of get that firsthand referral or experience. I've also looked just online. Hey, I want to go visit this particular area. So I'll Google the area and fly shops, and call the fly shop and see if they have any guides. Typically, Google is a great resource, especially for reviews as well. A lot of folks that go on guided trips will leave a review, so you can kind of see what other people's experience was like as well. So, I found that really helpful, especially... And I can talk about this later. But if you can leave a review with a guide, or for a guide, that's also really helpful as well. So, just a couple of quick things to kind of consider when you're looking for a guide.
Tom: Now, I know there's reviews of Orvis-endorsed guides, which by the way, is... You know, Eric is an Orvis-endorsed guide. And it's a good way to find a guide who is vetted, who has been checked out, and is going to give you not only a great day on the water, but a safe day on the water. Safety is very important with the endorsement program. But are there reviews of guides on, like, just on Google? Where do you find these reviews?
Erica: Yeah, that's a great question. I would say... You know, now that I'm thinking about it, maybe I'm particular and partial to Orvis-endorsed guides. And so, you got me there. But, you know, I have found a couple, just of other independently endorsed. But really, it's actually kind of rare now that I'm thinking about it. So, yeah, I would, you know, again, just kind of partial to Orvis-endorsed guides, because they have been vetted. We've gone through a similar guide school, we've had the similar training. So, from my experience, that's where I've seen the most reviews happen.
Tom: Okay. But there are other places where you can see guide reviews other than the Orvis service site?
Erica: Yeah. And there's also some, you know, if you're looking specifically for a specific type of guide, one of the... I know that I get a lot of, "Hey, I want a female fishing guide." And so I've used resources like unitedwomenonthefly.com. There's, you know, a map of the United States, you can kind of search guides, female guides in your state or the area that you're traveling to. And not necessarily have reviews. But one thing that I would recommend is just reaching out to them, and really kind of having some questions. What does a day on the water look like with you? What kind of things can I expect on this trip as well? And kind of getting a feel for what they're about. You know, you can kind of get a glimpse of their energy, of the way that they speak, or the way that they're talking about, you know, hey, here's where we can go. The information that they're sharing as well. So you can actually have the opportunity to interview the guide as well, to make sure that you have the most great experience on the water as well.
Tom: Yeah, because people have different personalities, and different people are looking for a different experience on the water. And, you know, you're spending a lot of money on a guided trip, and you want to make sure that you get what you want out of that trip. Right?
Erica: Right, exactly. So one of the things that my shop does, I don't know if this happens at other shops, is, they send me the client information. And so I'm able to contact them, either texting or calling, and really just seeing if they have any questions. What are their goals? What are their expectations for the day? See if they have any questions. And so, they typically have a lot of questions of, hey, what kind of species are we catching? Or, you know, are we targeting a specific type of fish? Or are we just kind of looking to hone in some skills as well. So, it's really helpful if you're looking for a guide to also kind of, hey, what do I actually want to get out of this trip? Because you're right, they are not cheap. So, really kind of sitting down and writing out what you want to do, what you want to accomplish for the day. And that way, you're also having some preparation of what you're getting yourself into. And communicating that to the guide is going to be really helpful. Because you mentioned at the beginning, it's a team effort, right? So, how can we maximize this experience? So, really, just connecting before the trip is extremely important that I would personally recommend.
Tom: Yeah, excellent thoughts. Because, you know, you can run into a guide who will say, "Well, we're going to fish nymphs with indicators all day long. Nothing else is going to work. And that's what we're going to do." And you might say, "Well, I want to fish some dry flies." And, you know, if the guide says, "No, we don't fish dry flies." Then you probably need to find another guide, because you can always find some dry fly-fishing.
Erica: Yeah. That kind of makes me think of, there's several different guides that I work with that have... We all have different types of styles. So, I do like dry flies a lot. And I like the, you know, just plain dry dropper is kind of my jam. And sometimes people just love nymph fishing or Euro-nymphing is also another thing that...and other guides do that, I work with. And so they're probably going to be exposing the client to their style of fishing, and, you know, the typical things that we rely on when we're fishing on our own as well. So, yeah, that's super important to see what the guide is into as well. So, again, kind of having that interview approach can be really helpful.
Tom: Yeah. You know, if you only fish dry flies or always fish dry flies, going into that kind of mindset, you might miss an opportunity to learn something new. So, you know, you have to be flexible on your side and open minded as well.
Tom: So, when picking guides, a lot of people will call a fly shop that's an outfitter. And, you know, there's a guide rotation. You know, some of these operations might have 20, or 30, or 40 guides. How do you handle that in picking a guide, if you go through an outfitter?
Erica: Yeah, I would say just kind of connecting with whoever's on the phone. If you have the opportunity to... If it's local, maybe go in. And just kind of asking the shop questions. You know, and if this is over the phone, is there... You know, hey, I have this in mind or this is my skill set. This is where I think I'm at. Is there a particular guide that you would recommend for this type of style? And then the shop should know, you know, their employees, and their guides, and who to kind of connect you with as well. So, just kind of having those questions that you might think of ahead of time in order to ask to find the right person.
Tom: And speaking of skill level, one of the worst mistakes people can make, and I hear this complaint from guides all the time, is overestimating your skill level. And, you know, you say you're an advanced angler, and the guide plans a day of fishing, and has things in mind of what they're going to do. And then you get out there and you can't get 20 feet of line out beyond the rod tip. That's going to present some problems. So be modest and be honest about your skill level, when you do hire a guide.
Erica: Yeah, that's extremely important. Absolutely.
Tom: There's no shame in saying that you're a novice or you're casting isn't very good. Guides can deal with that. And they can help you out. And they can plan a trip so that... You know, you don't have to cast that well. There are certain methods you could use where your casting doesn't have to be that great. So...
Erica: Yeah. And I think from our perspective, from a guide, at least with where I work is, we get to pick wherever we want to take our clients to. So we have that freedom to... We have options. So there's small streams, there's large water, or big water. And so I kind of map out... Based on the skills and the information that's given to me in the beginning, I'll kind of plan out my day of where I want to go. I then communicate with other guides of, "Hey, I'm going to go here." So then maybe they'll pick somewhere else, so that way, we're not crowding each other. So there's a lot of planning on the guide part. And so that's really important to kind of be honest with yourself as well. You know, also, I noticed some people will underestimate themselves as well. But, you know, that's totally okay. We can kind of figure it out when we meet and just kind of talk about your style. You know, what does a day look like on the water for you, and what does your ideal day look like? So that way, we can kind of help plan that as well.
Tom: And then, you know, also, this should be done beforehand, if you have special dietary needs, or there's a particular drink that you like to have, if you prefer water, or soda, or beer, or whatever. You should tell the guide that because they need to, you know, prepare your lunch, and prepare snacks, and whatever. And if you have a special need, you either got to bring it or you got to let the guide know.
Erica: Yeah, absolutely. There was a client that went out that didn't specify their diabetes, and it was kind of a, you know, emergency situation to grab something to eat right away. So, really just kind of... Things, like, you know, health related but also preferences. You know, if you're used to going out and having a great time on the water with a mimosa, for example. Why not? Why not be festive? You know, and sometimes your guide can accommodate, or make sure that there's ice and stuff and ready for you, or bring an additional cooler if that's what you're planning on bringing. So, yeah, it's super important to make sure that you're also enjoying your day on the water too.
Tom: Do you serve mimosas on your guide trips?
Erica: If requested.
Tom: If requested, you can you can handle that?
Erica: I can hand le it. Why not?
Tom: Oh, boy, I can't wait to finish with you. I don't even know if I've ever had a mimosa, but it sounds good.
Erica: We have all afternoon, Tom.
Tom: Okay. All right. All right. So you've planned it, you've picked out your guide. So you're going to arrive, either meet the guide in the fly shop or at the boat ramp. What's important there?
Erica: Yeah. You know, whatever your logistics are, so some folks will come visit, particularly where I live is the Gunnison Valley, and they'll come from Denver. So, you know, do you need to drive back to Denver, or can we meet somewhere that's more convenient for you? And so, just kind of thinking about your logistics and communicating that with your guide. We're always...or typically, you know, we're always happy to accommodate whatever you need. Sometimes we will drive together, if you prefer your own car, especially with times of COVID. That's something that we can also talk about with your comfort level as well. So, really, just kind of considering your own logistics and kind of having that goal and that plan in mind as well, to be able to communicate, is going to be helpful.
Tom: Okay. And, you know, be prepared for weather, obviously. You know, check the weather report, and if it looks like rain, bring a rain jacket. Often, guides do have... Do you have spare rain jackets in your boat?
Erica: I do.
Tom: Yeah. Most guides do, but, you know, it's another thing to check on with a guide. You know, if it looks like rain, either bring a raincoat or ask the guide if the guide has extra raincoats, and what size they are.
Erica: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, the spare stuff that I have stashed is to fit majority of sizes. So if you're a smaller person, you might be more comfortable in your own rain gear and attire. So, definitely check the weather, but the guide should also be communicating that with you as well. One thing that's also important if you don't have waders, don't forget your socks, bring socks. It can be really helpful. If you're borrowing waders from the shop.
Tom: Oh, yeah, yeah, because you want socks. Yeah. And the other thing is sunglasses. You know, most guides don't have spare sunglasses.
Erica: I do, but they're not the most fashionable. So, again, if you want to be comfortable, that's a good piece of equipment to bring.
Tom: Yeah. And polarized sunglasses are important for cutting through the glare, but even more important for eye protection.
Erica: Yeah, absolutely.
Tom: I have a couple friends who went fishing a few weeks ago, and one of the guys put a fly in his eye because he forgot to put his sunglasses on.
Erica: Yeah, that's my biggest fear.
Tom: Yeah, it's scary.
Erica: Yeah, absolutely.
Tom: So, your eyes are... You know, I mean, a hook in your neck or your arm? Not a big deal. Guides could pop it out. There's easy ways of removing hooks, usually. But, you know, eyes are so fragile, so delicate, and so important that make sure you have your eyes protected.
Erica: Yeah. And also a good hat too. That can be really helpful because you're either in the elements of the rain or the sun as well. So that's a good piece of equipment too, to have.
Tom: Your lucky hat.
Erica: There you go.
Tom: You need to have your lucky hat.
Erica: There you go.
Tom: That's my only superstition. And my lucky hat has not been working for me lately. And I keep changing hats and trying to find one that works, and I haven't found one. All my hats are unlucky these days.
Erica: Oh, no.
Tom: But wear a hat. Yeah, wear a hat. All right. So, then what? So you get in the boat?
Erica: Yeah. I mean, this can also be a wade trip as well, right?
Tom: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Erica: Yeah. So figuring out... And there's typically a cost difference as well of, if you want to do a float trip, or if you want to do a wading trip. Fishing from a boat can be a different type of experience. I learned how to fish from a boat, and I absolutely fell in love, you know. And then when I started wading, you know, it was a lot of slippery rocks, and I found myself getting frustrated. And so, it took me a while to warm up to wading, a few years at least. And so, kind of sitting down of, what does your budget look like? And also, how do you prefer to fish for the day as well? So, yeah, if you're meeting up for a wade trip, you know, you'll typically get outfitted in wader's boots, make sure that you have the right gear, the right equipment. A water bottle is also really helpful. That way we can cut down on plastic, just a little side note on sustainability.
And then also, if you're getting on the boat, your guide will go over some important instruction on boat safety, and how to keep yourself in the boat, how to be safe, you know, if you fall in, because that can happen. Even with wading as well, because we're in different types of elements. So yeah, your guide will kind of give you an overview of what your day is going to look like. You know, also just, yeah, how to have a safe and fun day really. And you'll learn your different casting. So if you want casting instructions, if this is your first time ever out fly-fishing, that's going to be some crucial groundwork to be working on as well. Most guys also kind of want to see what your cast looks like, just to kind of give us a gauge of, hey, do you want some help with that? Or, are you feeling confident and just kind of want to hit some honey holes for the day? So, that's going to be really important to communicate as well.
Tom: And if you take a walk wade trip, make sure that you know how strenuous the day is going to be in relation to your own physical abilities. I've heard some horror stories about, you know, people going on walk wade trips and not realizing that they have to walk a mile and a half down a canyon and then walk back up at the end of the day. So, it's up to the guide and the angler to, you know, set expectations for how much physical strength or endurance you're going to need for that walk wade trip.
Erica: Yeah, that's super important. Thanks for adding that. Yeah. So there's some, you know... And that's also part of the planning as well, of where we want to go as well. So super important to consider that too.
Tom: Yep. Okay. So let's get into the day of fishing.
Erica: Yeah. So, we are, you know, kind of figuring out casting, we're figuring out what are fish eating? Are they raising, right? Or what's the seasonality? So, depending on that, the guide will, you know, rig you up of what's working. And I like to talk through what I'm doing. I find, you know, education is always important. And, you know, people are always so fascinated with what I'm doing as well. Yeah. So, you know, I would say, a good guide would just kind of tell you what they're doing and why. I think sometimes we don't always stop to ask questions, but I always find that my clients enjoy that part of that aspect as well. So, yeah, just kind of, you know, you can switch up throughout the day as well. Or if you have a preference, or if you want to try something else, that's also super open. You can, you know, hey, I've always wanted to try streamer fishing, for example. I've always wanted to try a certain style of a rig, right? So, we're there to help. You know, we're resources for you. So, ask questions. But also, if you just want to sit back, and relax, and have fun, that is totally okay, as well.
Tom: It's your day, right?
Erica: Exactly. Absolutely, yes. Yep.
Tom: You know, as long as I've been fishing, I still will always watch how a guide rigs up, particularly for nymphs. I'll always watch what knots they use, and how they rig it up, and how far apart the flies are, and where the indicator is. Because you can learn a lot.
Erica: Oh, yeah.
Tom: Even if you've been fishing a long time, you can still learn from guides. I've learned some new knots, and I've learned some new rigging techniques from guides. And, you know, always something new to learn.
Tom: Don't go on a guided trip with the idea that you know it all, because you don't.
Erica: You're always going to be clueless, right?
Tom: Yeah, yeah, always.
Erica: And probably a little awkward. There are things that happen no matter how long you've been fishing, such as, you know, nests in your line and getting tangled in trees. And I noticed that newer clients or new folks that are getting into fishing will get embarrassed. You know, I'm always saying, like, "Now you're fishing," once you got that nice tingle on that ball. So, we're there to help you. We're there to kind of support that effort as well. So, understand that that does happen, and we're happy to help you work through that as well.
Tom: Oh, you know, with two people in a boat, tangling lines is often a problem. You know, how should people avoid that? Because you got two people fishing, they're not paying attention what the other person is doing usually, and they cross lines, or they cross casts. And they get a big tangle, and then it's 5 or 10 minutes to untangle everything. How can people deal with that?
Erica: Yeah, I would say, you know, typically, there's a fly fisher in the front, right, and there's one in the back. And the guide is in the middle with the oars there. So, typically, the first person in the front of the boat wants to kind of cast, you know, not cross the oars, wherever the guides are. So, kind of staying in the front of the boat, you're casting in the front, and really just kind of keeping that boundary as well. And also just kind of keeping a little bit of an eye, right, of communicating with that back angler can be really helpful. But, you know, sometimes you do kind of get in the zone, right? You're, like, watching that drift, and then you're like, "Oh, I want to recast," or maybe you saw a flash and want to cast right there. So, really just kind of... So it does happen. But to kind of help avoid that is to kind of stay in your area. So, you know, front of the boat staying in front of the oars, and typically the one in the back is behind the oars. And that's kind of your zones for the day.
Tom: And isn't it the responsibility of the angler in the back to watch angler in the front? Because the angler in the front can't see what the angler in the back is doing. So, the person in the back really has to be a little more cognizant of where lines are going.
Erica: Yeah, absolutely. That's a good point. And also if you're interested in switching it up, you know. So I try switching it up too because I think there's different experiences to be had on both the front and the back. So, you know, don't be afraid to ask your buddy, like, "Hey, can we switch it up?" Or, you know, sometimes the guide will also encourage that as well. So, yeah, it's a different experience, I feel like, from the front to the back. So, try it off.
Tom: And usually, the front is better, right? Because you get first crack at the fish, particularly with streamer fishing or something like that. But yeah, the front's a better place.
Erica: Yeah, I would actually agree. Yeah. Although I probably wouldn't tell them. No, I'm just kidding. No, it's pretty great to be in the front, for sure.
Tom: I've come to love the back because I'm usually, you know, on a hosted trip or something, or with a friend. I usually take the back because, you know, one thing is, I want to take pictures. It's easier to take pictures in the back. But I want to give my fishing buddy the best option. So, I've learned to love the back and to deal with it, but it's usually not as good.
Erica: Right? Yeah. I have the same attitude when I'm going with other folks. Yeah.
Tom: Yeah. All right. So, let's broach the difficult topic, couples. Because we were talking about that a little bit when we were walking down along the river in the backyard. But let's talk about couples fishing.
Erica: Yeah. I've had some very unique experiences in taking couples. And one thing that I've noticed is maybe one person, one of the spouses is more into this and has been trying to teach their significant other. But I've noticed a lot of frustration. And that can be a little bit of a quirky situation for sure. But I think this is probably, like, my biggest pitch for hiring a guide, is, let us eliminate that frustration. Typically, when I'm hired, you can see the, you know, someone that's more experienced actually enjoying and getting tips and tricks of perfecting their skills, or maybe just even zoning out and having a great time. And then I'm able to kind of really focus on the more inexperienced person and really kind of helping them along their journey as well. So, yeah, that does happen. And if that's a frustration, I highly recommend hiring a guide.
Tom: You know, you hear the story all the time about, usually husband and wife, right? And the husband's experienced, and the wife is not experienced. And the husband says to the guide, "Pay attention to my wife, I'll be fine. Just pay attention to my wife." And then the wife just out-fishes the husband 10:1, and then the husband gets frustrated.
Erica: Nine out of 10, yeah, that is exactly how that goes. Women are really great listeners and typically end up out-fishing. So, yeah, that does happen.
Tom: That's a sexist comment, Erica.
Erica: Oh, no. Hey, I said one experienced and one inexperienced. But typically, yeah, the less experienced does out-fish, absolutely.
Tom: Yeah. Because well, they listen to the guide. And, you know, if you listen to the guide, you're going to catch more fish.
Erica: Yeah, absolutely.
Tom: Pay attention. Pay attention. All right. So, what happens when... What do you do when it's a couple, and one of the couple has just had it and is tired, doesn't want to fish anymore, and you still got five miles to float?
Erica: Yeah, yeah, that can be really interesting. You know, sometimes they're just not into it. Right? And I think that's okay. So how can we find a middle balance and have them enjoy the rest of their day? It's okay not to go hard all day, right? I know that some people just feel like they're obligated to fish the entire six, eight, or whatever, however long you booked the trip for, four hours or six hours. But I've noticed fatigue, right? My goal at the end of the day is, hey, I at least want you to try this again. Or you can at least be successful in this technique, or this style, or kind of, did you learn something today, right? And so I kind of focus on the positive. And it's okay just to sit back, relax, and have a great float on the water. You know, I kind of like to say, when it's not the greatest water to fish, it's drinking water, right? So, relax and have fun and enjoy the scenery. Also, you know, ask about bugs, right, or the area. Or, you know, typically guides are pretty knowledgeable about the history of the area, or some interesting facts as well. So, that's just kind of another way to shift your energy and know that it's okay to put the rod down and you don't have to go hard all day.
Tom: Yeah. So one of the most interesting trips I've had, I can think of one guide who really knew the geology of an area. And you're always floating around rocks, and canyons, and things like that. And I learned a lot. And then some guides are really incredible birders, and naturalists. So, you know, there are those things to pay attention to as well as the fish.
Erica: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Tom: And again, those have been some of the greatest days I've had and the most enjoyable.
Erica: Yeah, really take it for granted. Hey, it's rock joke.
Tom: Ha ha ha. Oh, Erica, Erica. Okay, so, it's the end of the day and the float is over, or the wade trip is over. Let's talk about the difficult subject of tipping.
Erica: Yeah, yeah, I definitely recommend tipping your guide. You know, they are really working hard. You know, the goal is, hey, there's always some nerves that go into the beginning of a guide, of, I really hope we catch fish, right? Or I hope that we catch this amount of fish. And, you know, we're really kind of working pretty hard to kind of help you have a great day. And so, you know, kind of planning out and knowing to tip, I would say, bring cash, is really helpful. Yeah. And, you know, there are certain people that have different standards. Again, if we're talking about my own personal experience and preference, you know, I don't really have one. I had guests gift me seeds for a garden. That was really sweet. A bottle of wine, right? And just kind of gifts, like, kind of like a gift was...I found that was pretty sweet and pretty amazing. So, you know, again, not every guide is the same, and typically, most prefer cash. And so, I would be pre-prepared for that as well. So, I don't really have an estimate. I don't know how much... I would say, like, maybe 20%, or, you know, at least 20 bucks a person. I'm not sure. I'm so sorry. I don't have a particular preference there, but...
Tom: Twenty bucks sounds a little low, I think.
Erica: It does, actually. I'm sorry.
Tom: Twenty bucks sounds a little low.
Erica: How much do you tip, Tom?
Tom: As much as I can.
Erica: Yeah, you know, and typically, we're making a percentage off of the trip, but it's not enough if you're doing this part time or full time. So, you know, it does help. So, really consider showing your appreciation, can be really helpful.
Tom: And, you know, if you have an amazing day, the tip should be according. If the guides really showed you an amazing time, you know, be generous.
Erica: Right, yeah. I would say...I mean, to be honest, I guess, if we're putting numbers on it. Because I know that can be a really touchy subject. I've had people tip me...you know, one person has given me 100 bucks, or 100 bucks a person. And that's been really pretty incredible to have that experience with them as well.
Tom: Yeah. Have you ever been stiffed?
Erica: You know, actually, I haven't. No. I've had those $20 tips before. And, you know, like, I don't want to sit here being ungrateful because it's a pretty sweet job, and we had a great experience. So, you know, and sometimes if we're talking about accessibility, right? And so, some folks, you know, they might have spent their entire vacation money on...
Tom: Right. Yeah.
Erica: So, you know, that's kind of why I'm kind of skirting around giving direction to others. You know, and I always hear guides say, "Well, if you can afford a guided trip, you can afford a tip." And I'm like, well, you know, if we're talking about realms of accessibility, and including folks on the water, that's also a perspective as a guide that I kind of have to consider as well. So, you know, I would say definitely 50, 100 bucks is something, per person, that I've had the privilege of accepting from folks. But also understanding that people come from different economic backgrounds, is something, as guides, that I would hope to be more accepted and understood as well.
Tom: Yeah. I mean, somebody might have saved up for an entire year to take that one guide trip, you know, and 20 bucks to them could be a lot of money. So, yeah, that's fair. That's fair. Is there any time when a guide shouldn't be tipped?
Erica: That's a really interesting question. I would say, if you did not have an awesome experience, if you did not feel safe, if you did not feel welcome. You know, I've actually seen a guide the other morning use... It was just kind of a sloppy trip. And I felt really bad for those clients. So I was curious on if he actually got tipped. But, you know, I think about service restaurant industry, right? And kind of looking at your perspectives of what is great service. What was your experience like? Most shops don't require tipping. That is an option. So, I would say if you had a terrible experience, that's something to consider. Right? And I think that's something that should be also considered on the guide as well, with feedback or, you know, maybe even writing a review, or expressing that frustration, can also be helpful.
Tom: Yeah. And I think it doesn't depend on how many fish you caught, it depends on how hard the guide worked. Right? And if the guide... I mean, I had a podcast question just last week, where a guide was late. The guide quit early, the guide was surly and yelled at the people. And the guy said, "Should I have stiffed him?" And I checked with some guide friends of mine and they said, "Yeah, that person doesn't deserve a tip."
Erica: Right. Yeah, I would say, like, the biggest thing about being a guide is, again, it's not about the amount of fish, right? You know, if you've been fishing before, we've all had days where we've gotten skunked. So, the guide does know the area, they do know the flies and the spots to go. And so, we're taking you to those areas, you know, where we can likely highly expect fish, right? But there are stories from guides where you do give skunked. And so, really, the essence of becoming a guide is how you're connecting with people. You know, what's the conversation like? What's your experience like? You know, and really setting realistic expectations as well, is also part of the guide's job as well. And so, what is that experience and what is that value that you received from that guide? So, really, kind of having an honest review of what that experience was like for you and showing gratitude. And also not being afraid to, hey, I had a really crappy experience, and they don't deserve a tip. And that is acceptable as well.
Tom: And you don't want to make it uncomfortable by telling a guide it was terrible. You just don't tip them, right? They get the message.
Erica: They typically get the message, yes.
Tom: But it is expected. In an ordinary day, it is expected.
Erica: Yeah, absolutely.
Tom: All right. Did we miss anything?
Erica: I don't know. I don't think so.
Erica: Not that I can think of at the top of my head right now.
Tom: How about follow up? You know, I mean, I know a lot of people that fish with guides, they fish with the same guide every year, and they exchange Christmas cards, and they celebrate each other's kids' birthdays. And, you know, it becomes a real relationship over the years. Do you follow up with clients after a trip?
Erica: Yeah, that's a great... I'm glad that you brought that up because yeah, you know, we're spending either a half day or a full day together. And likely, there's a great relationship that has cultivated throughout the day. And, you know, there's probably photos that were taken. Guides really like to use their own phones and their own cameras just... For me, personally, it's a liability, if somebody hands me a nice camera, I get a little nervous around the water. So, let your guide also have photos and take photos of you. And so, also I've had exchanging emails or phone numbers, and that way, we can get those to you as well. Or, you know, just staying connected, especially if you're going to that same area again, year over year. It's really nice to have that connection as well.
Tom: Yeah, people get so enamored of their guides. I know that when I take hosted trips, we usually start out the first day where, well, we could switch guides around, you know, and you can try different guides. And after the first day, nobody wants to switch guides. They all fall in love with their guides, and so they end up fishing with the same guide every day.
Erica: Yeah. Again, there's that connection that was formed. And that's really awesome to see.
Tom: Yeah. All right, Erica. Well, it's great having you here in the podcast studio, side by side. And we're going fishing in the afternoon.
Erica: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it, Tom.
Tom: Yeah, me too. It's a nice day. And although fall is not always the easiest time to fish, we're going to go catch some wild brook trout.
Erica: I'm excited. Thank you.
Tom: All right. Thank you, Erica. Thanks for listening to the "Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast," with Tom Rosenbauer. You can be a part of the show. Have a question or a comment? Send it to us at