What Should You Bring on a Guided Fly Fishing Trip?

So you've decided to hire a guide to take you on a fishing trip, awesome choice! But now what should you pack? Fly Fishing Expert Robert Levin breaks it down below.

Two photos, on the left is a man wearing a fishing hat and shirt smiling, on the right is a pan on an outdoor stove cooking some fish.

Archie Kirkpatrick, guide extraordinaire out of Ontario, Canada. Photos courtesy of Robert Levin

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Fly fishing with a guide can be a great experience. I have been fortunate enough to have fished with a number of guides over the years, enough to know that we ask a lot from these professionals. Not only do we want them to take to us where the fish are biting, but we also expect that they will know exactly what they are feeding on and know which fly matches that to the T.

We have also come to expect that they are good teachers who will calmly help us correct that faulty cast when necessary. And last but not least, they will keep us entertained when the fishing is slow and the fish have not read the menu yet. If we really aim high, we also want them to be great cooks that can prepare a memorable shore lunch with our catch! If you have been lucky enough to have fished with such a guide, consider yourself blessed. They are out there but are not commonplace.

On the other side of the coin is the question, “What does the guide expect from the client?” If you are just getting started with fly fishing and your casting is not up to par, be sure to tell this to the guide so they don’t waste time taking you to a spot that will be too challenging for you. Instead, they most likely will take you to a sheltered place where they can give you some pointers on casting and see how far along you are.

Practice Your Cast

Two men stand on some grass with a fishing rod.

Photo by Robert Levin

It is really in your best interest to get some good instruction on casting before you actually book your trip. You also want to practice your casting on a regular basis. You don’t need water to do this; just find an open space on a mowed lawn with no nearby trees. A good instructor can get you started with a practice routine that you should follow to the letter. You don’t need to cast great distances to get started; a cast out to 30 feet or so will work at the beginning. Nothing frustrates a guide more than bringing you to a spot where fish are feeding and you are unable to get off a cast. You don’t need to be an expert caster to fish with a guide, just comfortable with the process.

The process includes not only the cast itself but also how you retrieve the cast. The guide will tell you what to try, as they know what technique has worked before with the particular fly you will be using.

Consider the Flies

Flies sitting in a fly box.

Photo by Robert Levin

And while on the subject of flies, let’s consider that many fly-fishing guides tie flies in their spare time which they often sell to their clients. They know what works in the locations they take you to so you won’t be wasting time experimenting with patterns from your fly box. If you are also a fly tier, ask the guide when you book with them what they think you will be using. Over the course of the day, you might be able to tie on a fly of your own. But most of the day, use the guide’s flies.

What Gear Should You Bring?

A fly fishing vest, rod, and reel.

Photo by Robert Levin

Some guides and outfitters will provide all the gear you will need on your trip, but not all do. Be sure to ask when you book. It is a two-way street, however. For you, the preference may be to fish with the gear you are used to. For the guide, they may have the outfit you will be using all rigged up and ready to go. In this case, they will not have to check to make sure you have the rigging on your outfit done correctly, and will not have to spend time correcting it if it is not right. The benefit of going with their option is more time to fish.

If you are meeting a guide who will take you out on a boat, they will have the items like nets, gaffs, and all the other sundry “boat” items needed, so it is not necessary to bring these. Most guiding outfitters will provide a list of items for you to bring, either by email or posted on their website. Most of these lists provide good information, but I have provided a list below that will likely be a bit more extensive.

Apparel

  • Dry socks
  • Baselayers (depending on the weather and time of year)
  • Extra clothing (have an extra layer with you if the weather turns cooler.)
  • Quick-dry pants
  • Footwear (depending on where you need to walk to get to the fishing)
  • Rain gear (get good rain gear—your enjoyment may depend on it)

Tackle and Fly Fishing Gear

  • Spare reel spools (if you bring your own rod and reel)
  • Fishing vest or sling pack
  • Fly fishing gloves
  • Waders (if needed and not provided by guide)

Accessories

  • Polarized sunglasses (this is a must-have)
  • Brimmed hat (if there is the possibility of black flies or mosquitos, use a full brimmed hat and over-net)
  • Sun block and lip balm
  • Insect repellent
  • Day pack or backpack (for your extra clothes)
  • Water bottle
  • Waterproof container for meds (if needed)
  • Charger for your phone

Food

If your multi-day guided trip includes staying at a lodge, inn, or even a cabin or tent camp where they feed you, be sure to let them know if you have any food allergies. If told ahead of time, special arrangements can be made for that. If you are on a one-day trip out with a guide, be sure to ask about lunch. If the answer is, “whatever you bring,” pick up a sandwich for the guide as well. If you are traveling into bears country, as might be the case in Alaska, don’t pack along snacks in your fishing gear. The authorities there go to great lengths to not have the bears associate food with fisher persons. In those locations, the guides will have well-sealed containers for food.

Be Prepared

A man sitting on a cooler rows a boat.

Photo by Jason Abdilla

Also, if your guided trip is far from where you live and will require a long trip to get there, plan accordingly and bring yourself well-rested. Spend some of the travel time looking over information about where you will be going.

The last subject to go over is compensation for the guide. For many of us, the cost of a day trip out with a guide may seem exorbitant. Remember the guide’s day is not over when they drop you off at the dock. The boat and equipment require a lot of maintenance to keep in top shape, not to mention the cost of gas and various license fees associated with the trip.

Most guides will let you share the day with another fly fisher on the boat. This allows splitting the fee, which will help, although you both may not be able to fish at the same time, depending on the targeted species and conditions. If it is a busy day, a break may be welcome. If you are on a multi-day trip at some legendary location, the guides there are likely to be doing this full-time for their living. Their pay deal with the lodge owner takes on the assumption that clients who have had a good trip will tip generously. The guides depend on these tips, which are typically cash. Be prepared for this so you are not embarrassed at the end of the trip gathering, which typically occurs after the last meal.

There are some really talented folks out there guiding. Some lifelong friendships have been established between guides and their clients. Pick a location and get out there and try it. If you want suggestions of where to plan your fishing trip, or need some last minute gear for an upcoming trip, reach out to one of our Fly Fishing Experts here on Curated and we would be happy to get you set up! Tight lines on the water!

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Written By
Robert Levin
Robert Levin
Fly Fishing Expert
I have been an avid fisherperson since my teenage years. Caught the bug from my dad who fished exclusively with a fly rod. Not that he ever fished with a fly on that rod, he trusted the weight of the fly line as it would not break when he pulled a five foot Chain Pickerel out of the lily pads in the...
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