Pro Tips: 6 Things Guides Do That You Shouldn’t

Written by: Bryan Eldredge

As a guide, Bryan Eldredge can get away with things that you can’t on the river.
Photo courtesy Bryan Eldredge

I was was nine years old when my brother Scott gave me some advice I’ve applied to all sorts of things since then. On that Saturday, we were playing catch after watching our beloved Red Sox on NBC’s Game of the Week when I made an imaginary relay throw pretending to be the Red Sox shortstop, Rick Burleson. Scott, who was already a high school star, caught my near-perfect throw and proceeded to chew my butt for throwing side-armed.

“But Burleson throws side armed,” I objected.

At this, Scott walked right up to me, pointed the finger of his ungloved hand at my nose and said, “He’s not a pro because he can do it; he can do it because he’s a pro.” After giving me a few seconds to process this profundity, he spoke again—in a slightly less intense tone—and explained how throwing overhanded reduces the number of variables in calculating a release point:  Overhand throws can miss high or low, but done properly the ball doesn’t end up right or left.

The importance of mastering the basics, as taught by my brother that day, has application in a lot of arenas, not the least of which is fly fishing. I’ve listed below six things that my fellow professionals in our fair sport, namely guides and instructors, do regularly that others might best avoid.

  1. They twist their wrists while making a backcast. This is sometimes called “poor tracking.” The effect is such that someone standing in front of the caster sees the side of the reel rather than the line housed in it. It’s something akin to throwing a baseball sidearmed. The problem here is that this little outward twist, magnified over 9 feet or so, does funky things to your rod tip, making it travel in several directions. And, as the truism says, wherever your rod tip goes, the line will follow.
  2. They fish without a net. The fact is that a lot of guides fish on their own without a landing net, especially when walk/wading. There is actually a case to be made that landing a fish without a net can be less dangerous to the fish, but only in the case of very experienced hands. But this argument isn’t why guides do it. Usually it’s because they can, and it’s less trouble than carrying a net. For most folks, using a net greatly reduces the potential of injuring fish. It also increases the odds of getting a nice photo.
  3. They grab their leaders while landing fish. Want to see a guide panic? Reach for your leader as he or she prepares to net your fish. Grabbing a leader removes virtually all of your tackle’s shock-absorbing capacity, making a broken tippet very likely. Interestingly though, the pros will very often grab their own leaders, particularly if they aren’t using a net (see #2). It can be done, but you have to properly manage a whole bunch of variables. For most people, it makes much more sense to just bring a fish to net by touching only your rod handle and the reel.
  4. They carry their lines off the reel in loops while moving along a river. The frustration of trying to get your line free from brush, rocks, boots, and legs is one of the universal experiences of fly fishing. It is not, however, one of the more pleasurable ones. Given that rivers are furnished with all manner of line-grabbing objects (not to mention feet and legs that come with the angler), it’s usually a better use of time to reel in before moving very far.
  5. They cast heavy nymph rigs overhead, even when using a series of split shot, weighted flies, and strike indicators. Timing the backcast is tough for lots of fly fishers. An early forward stroke creates snarls for which guides have a name, “do overs.” Nymph rigs, with their arsenal of two or three flies, multiple split shot, and a strike indicator, complicate things all the more. To avoid spending your day on a monofilament Rubik’s Cube, stick with simple flip casts made by letting the current pull the line downstream and then lifting the line in a high arc upstream in one simple motion.
  6. They wade and fish at the same time. Wading is inherently dangerous, and doing it well is more of an acquired skill than it appears. Trying to manage line while wading is an unnecessary risk. Do one, then the other. Live to fish another day.

There are easily more than six things the pros do that don’t bear imitation. In most cases, the pros will be the first to tell you what those are; in the end, that’s what their profession is all about. In this case, it’s almost always better to do as I say, not as I do.

Bryan Eldredge is an Orvis-endorsed guide (and former Trout Bum of the Week) who works at Falcon’s Ledge in Altamont, Utah.

18 thoughts on “Pro Tips: 6 Things Guides Do That You Shouldn’t

  1. wade speer

    I am neither a guide or instructor but after 30+ years of fly fishing, I am guilty of all but #1. Funny thing is I carry a net but rarely use it, except of course for a fish of some size. Seems I’ve gotten a bit careless, I am very guilty of fishing while I wade. Thanks for the article.

  2. winston

    People use a guide because they are green horns or don’t know the new water they are fishing, cuts down on the learning curve. Overall there are so many good fisherman on the water the guides don’t have a real leg up on them.

  3. Doug T

    Oh really? funny because I tend to do 6, 4, 3, and 2 a fair bit and have tried to cast heavy flies overhead as well…

  4. T.L.

    Yes, my guide grabbed the leader a few years ago while preparing to net a sizable fish for me, he was successful and we got the photo but it did freak me out a bit when he did it! I think he knew exactly the right moment to take control of the situation (and for me not to screw it up).

  5. Dave

    I’m sure all of us have tried the skills on the list; however, I will wager that a guide does these things on purpose and gets away with it more often. They have a better comfort zone while on the water and higher skill set because they are on the water every day. In my 20+ yrs of fly fishing for all sorts of species, I am guilty of all of the things on the list, but I’m nowhere near as “skilled” as the guides I’ve seen. You should add drift boat maneuvers to the list as well.

  6. Chase

    Pssh, when it comes to fishing for big, elusive fish like steelhead or salmon from the bank, I’ve always believed (and joked with guides who agree) that bringing a net to the river is not only very bad luck, but it also makes it more difficult to cover the terrain and distance along the bank that you should be fishing in a solid day of steelheading. For trout fishing when I’m expecting numbers though, it’s always at my back.

  7. joshua

    Why carry a net? Catch and release fish shouldn’t even be lifted out of the water. I have no idea why Orivs continues to encourage “grip n grin” hero culture. Run a hundred yard dash, then hold your breath for three minutes while some doofus fumbles with his iphone. tell me if you’d enjoy that. tell me if you could survive that.

    1. Dave

      As a guide I carry a net for a couple reasons. First it exudes confidence in my clients by creating a perception that we will actually be catching fish. Even if I don’t use it, it makes people feel confident that I will be getting them into fish. Second, guiding for people who have never used a fly rod can be very bad for the fish. They hook into one and then pull it every which way, they ignore all your instruction, and the fish gets worn out to the point that its not coming back. So having my large net ready to scoop it up as soon as its in range, saves the fish from an inexperienced anglers wrangling. “Grip and grin” is one I have a hard time with, but the reality is, people want something to talk about and show off. It brings more business to the sport and conservation efforts. I keep my fish in the net and have clients stand with it in the water. I rarely take the fish out for photos. I hate it, but its one of those things that helps keep people coming back.

  8. Wade Blevins

    Struggling to understand why Orvis can tell me that Bryan Eldredge can get away with things and I can’t. Granted we all have to abide by specific laws and in order to preserve the fisheries, there are set standards we should agree to develop in our fishing methods. However, one man’s pursuit of fishing in a different way or approach should be just that, a pursuit. An outdoor adventure of trial and error. It’s the only way to get better and become successful without complete dependence on the mass knowledge of the Internet. For goodness sakes get out and fish. So many of us have learned tips and tricks developed by fisherman whom were often considered eccentric. I have earned my stripes, been at this for 40+ years and if a particular style of cast, rig of flies, untraditional hand tied pattern (self tied I should add) allows me to catch fish. Just one man’s opinion and just like Orvis, apparently everyone has one.


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