So you want to be a fishing guide


Shann Canoe Donnelly

The Author Shann Low better known as "Trouty"

So - you want to be a fishing guide?

For any keen fisherman who, like me, grew up reading fishing magazines and then later sat glued to the television watching programs about fishing, - the idea of being a fishing guide...is a "dream" occupation.

I have to admit - the lure of fishing bit me as a young kid, due more to my mothers influence perhaps than my fathers.  Although my dad did certainly aid my development in the way that many guys dads have... my mum just pitched in as well - so I got a double helping.

I guess I was "piscatorially blessed" in that as a family we had a pretty good standard of living when I was a kid. It was the 1970s and our "standard of living" in Oz was second only to that of the US, being the child of baby boomers.

Perhaps what shaped my later life as a fishing guide - at such an early age, was the family having a "beach house/fishing shack" in a West Aussie seaside fishing village north of Perth called Lancelin.

The holidays of my life were remembered as carefree days that seemed to stretch on forever over the 7 week summer holiday break. Those days were spent on the beach or in / on the water swimming, snorkeling, fishing, spear fishing, scuba diving, you name it - if it could be done on or in the water we did it.

Lancelin is still a cray fishing village to this day, and I grew up knocking around with the neighboring cray fisherman's kids - being a jetty rat, rowing the tender boats out to the moorings, catching octopus for bait for our dads to deep sea fish with and so on.

It was an idylic life - it was as close to being Huck Finn as I guess any kid could get.

My dad was a builder - and he could turn his hand to most anything. Especially building boats - so when not on holidays up at the beach house fishing out of them - they were in various stages of being built in our back shed. Various groups of tradesmen would all "pitch in" to take a few hulls off this or that mould. They'd marinise the motors and gearbox's, to suit and build the trailer and so on.

Come to think of it - the same guys would do the same deal to build each others beach houses too - it was all "barter deals" in those days.

Anyway, I learned a fair bit about boating and the fishing industry, and then...at about 18 - I got a job...and ended up going bush. That put paid to fishing and all things water sports related for all of about...9 years.

Eventually - I ended up where I am now - in a timber town not too far from the beach, with a few trout in the waters around home.  It didn't take me long to "rediscover" my youth with fishing when I hooked and landed that first rainbow trout.  14 years later - I've been guiding for the last 10 or so years.

Now how on earth - did I end up becoming a fly fishing guide, I hear you all asking?   Well it didn't happen overnight is all I can say...but it did happen.

I had a great deal of opportunities to do "work outdoors" in the Forest with my job in Conservation and Land Management, and I got to develop several eco-tourism packages for the department - working with various 4wd tour guides. A mate of mine was a hunting guide and I even did a little work with him.

Fortunately - my various careers had equipped me with the skills to be able to have a go at becoming a fly fishing guide, in terms of some of the communication & people management skills, outdoors skills, and so on.

I was very fortunate during the organisation and running of several trout fishing competitions for our town, to come into contact with the late Mike Spry of "Spryfly" fame from Kahncoban - for those who can remember the fly fishing game that far back.

Mike was head of the newly formed "Professional Fishing Instructors And Guides Association" (PFIGA), and I don't know what he sensed in me but he suggested to me that I should give consideration to becoming a pro guide.

He was good enough to send out the application criteria and so on - and the people with whom I'd worked were good enough to support me in my quest with recommendations and references to enable me to be accepted into the PFIGA.

Suffice to say - that was when the learning curve really hit top gear.

SteelHead Maru

Trouty (on the right) proudly stands by one of his boats named   "The SteelHead Maru"

So - what would it take today, 10 years later - to do the same - become a pro fly fishing guide?.

I hardly know where to start. Of course no ones going to start out with "everything" they need - I grew the business as I went along and learned a bit by trial and error as well, but I certainly had a great deal of help from a great many people along the way.

Rod Barford the Secretary of PFIGA took me under his wing as my mentor after Mike sadly passed away...and taught me a great deal indeed - something for which I'm deeply indebted - I still class him as staunch ally and a great mate to this day.

There are a whole heap of regulatory requirements that need to be met today, in order to successfully work as a pro guide which I'll deal at length, shortly as I'm sure a few still think you just get the info - fill in the forms, and away you go.

It's a little harder than that these days, with beaurocrat's figuring out daily more and more hurdles to be overcome - all of which require a fortune to be spent, usually when you haven't got it.

That aside, - there's a few other things I think you need, that I've learned the hard way.

An affinity for helping people is a MUST.

If your the type of person, who'd be quite happy trapping rabbits on the dingo proof fence, working alone in the dessert for 6 months at a stretch and visiting town twice a year whether you need to or not, (what we might call a "loner" in the gregarious stakes), then it's unlikely you'll be cut out for a life as a fishing guide.

It's very much a "people business", and you have to take each and every guest, (I prefer not to call them clients) as an individual - and show a genuine interest in them, their work, their family, their problems, triumphs and of course their piscatorial needs.

You need to be a great communicator, and a wonderfully understanding teacher, able to create a supportive learning atmosphere, give encouragement and genuine praise when earned, and able to correct mistakes without offending/belittling the guest.

Most of all you need to be a gifted teacher, able to recognize a particular persons strengths and weaknesses, able to analyze the cause of difficulties with casting, retrieving, knot tying and lure / fly selection etc etc.

A lot of the knowledge comes from being a good fisher yourself - however - I can't stress this highly enough, that alone - isn't all it takes - it's the start!

Being a good communicator, on the phone, computer, in person, are all essential as are sound business skills, ability to network with people and so on.

Now, to the essential regulatory requirements to be met in order to become a fishing guide.

These will vary from state to state so it will be up to you to conform details or specifics with your own particular regulatory authorities, but the following will give you somewhere to start.

The Federal Govt. is making moves to require the individual states and territories to pass legislation to cover the operation of the charter guide industry around Australia. Some States are already well down this track.

Basically - the legislation is managed/enforced by the Minister for Fisheries and his Fisheries department. The legislation usually requires the minister to satisfy himself that the holder of a license is a "fit and proper person" to hold such a position of trust within the community. This invariably requires a police clearance.

In addition - often - an applicant must meet an industry benchmark date, i.e. demonstrate that they have been operating as a registered business in that particular industry prior to a particular start up date for the legislation to take effect.

Then a host of regulatory obligations must also be met and these will likely include - some qualification in First Aid, some form of Qualification as a skipper, some form of qualification as a bus/taxi driver (bearing in mind you are transporting paying passengers in your vehicle).

You will probably be required to hold some form of comprehensive public liability insurance, and to have your vehicle carry TC plates (tourist coach).

Your vessel will be required to meet full survey by your state transport department.

It would be expected that you would be a member of a recognized industry body.

You will probably be required to gain a tour operators pass by various state departments charged with the responsibility of managing public lands. This / these will allow you to gain access as a commercial operator to SOME beaches / rivers streams etc. You will also be required to gain a similar right of access from local Govt. authorities for lands and waters falling under their control, in order to carry out a commercial activity on their land. This is a growing trend - and already some local Govt. authorities are levying access on a beach bye beach basis at up to Aus$1000.00 per beach per annum.

Happy customer

A happy customer with a small Western Australian caught Rainbow Trout

Once having met all the legislative and industry requirements, you'll need, a five year business plan, allowing for depreciation of equipment, advertising etc. If you wish to have a bank overdraft, to operate say - fuel accounts etc - then it'll help matters greatly if you can find an understanding bank manager whose also a keen recreational angler!.

Another essential requirement in a good fishing guide is of course "local knowledge" of the area in which you intend to operate. This can take years to develop - but you need to start somewhere.

I consider that it's essential that in order to be a good fishing guide - you must be "satiated" with catching fish, as a good fishing guide doesn't fish. A good fishing guide helps his guest find and catch fish. Demonstrating that you can catch fish while your guest can't is a sure fire way to alienate you from your guest, and will probably ensure no repeat business.

At the end of the day - you are there to ensure that your guests needs are met, and if your busy concentrating on your own angling then your likely not focussed on your guests needs.

You will from time to time - guide highly accomplished anglers who are very competent in their angling skills, and who are usually visiting from interstate or overseas. Sometimes such anglers really only require the services of a guide in order to access equipment and or locations. In such circumstances, it's not uncommon for the guest to request that the guide fishes also. As long as it doesn't interfere, with the guides primary role of finding fish for the guest, and ensuring the guests safety and satisfaction - then it is acceptable for the guide to also fish. Never should this happen unless the guide is invited to fish.

Even so - it's important to keep focussed on primary responsibilities, of guest satisfaction and safety. Also it's very important to remember correct etiquette, allowing the guest to take the casts into prime territory etc and only "mopping up" those fish passed over or missed. This is often a prime opportunity to point up a technique or fly selection / presentation that may benefit the guest either there and then or at some stage later.

 Fly Casting Tuition

You must be able and prepared to give out instructions on all things fishing. Here Trouty instructs a new fly angler in the art of fly casting.

Being able to pass on casting instruction, knot tying skills, fly tying skills and so on are also very important aspects of being the guide / instructor. There is a great deal more to being a good fly casting instructor for example that just being a proficient fly caster yourself. Different people learn things best in different ways, with some requiring a hands on approach, to get the "feel" for fly casting while others, need to have explained in detail the method, technique, physics and energy transfer principals involved.

I guess being a "personable chap" is also a great benefit in getting along with a diversity of people that you will meet in your career as a guide.

A good sense of humor is perhaps the most valuable asset, combined with perhaps an understanding of other cultures and a second or third language to assist when guiding overseas guests.

I hope the above might assist anyone interested in becoming a fishing guide to find their way through the myriad of obstacles involved in realizing that dream. Perhaps it'll help educate a few who dream of a nirvana fishing life as a guide, as to what the realities of such a lifestyle choice will be.

The rewards of life as a fishing guide are many and varied - not the least of which is the great many wonderful people you'll come to know as friends.

Cheers Trouty!


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