Hiring a Guide: There are no Crutches in Smallmouth Bass Fishing

After 21 years of guiding, one thing really stands out — fly fishing for smallies is plenty challenging.

Anyone who can drive a bulky bass fly out 50 or 60 feet all day, handle constant line belly caused by current, and then consistently drive the hook into the steel-jawed smallie is truly an elite angler.
I could tell some stories. After 21 years of guiding all sorts of guys in all sorts of conditions, I have plenty of humorous and interesting tales. But there’s one thing that really stands out in my mind after all these years — fly fishing for smallies is plenty challenging. Sure, I’m a pretty fair guide, working on pretty good water, but the client still has to be able to cast adequately, work the fly properly in current, and hook and play the fish decently. And none of this is easy.

Frankly, those of you who have put in the effort and learned to do all these things well should be darn proud. I believe anyone who can drive a bulky bass fly out 50 or 60 feet all day, handle constant line belly caused by current, and then consistently drive the hook into the steel-jawed smallie is truly an elite angler. To effectively fly fish smallies 9 or 10 hours a day takes great skill and stamina.

No Miracles

And conversely, if a client can’t do these things to even a minimum degree, no guide can make them catch fish. And this is an essential thing to know when you’re considering hiring a smallmouth bass guide. If you have barely picked up a fly rod before your guided trip, don’t expect miracles, no matter how expensive or notable the guide. Same for your fishing partner. You may have caught plenty of smallies on a fly, but if the person you’re bringing is a novice their experience will be dramatically different than yours.

Bringing a Newbie

In fact, a client bringing someone along who is brand-new to smallmouth bass fly fishing is one of the leading causes of frustration with guides. It’s not that guides are opposed to taking rookie clients. I actually enjoy teaching, if the novice is in the right frame of mind, and many other guides also do instuction on guided trips.

The frustration most often arises when an experienced client decides that one of his relatives or business associates would really enjoy a guided trip. But the experienced person doesn’t accurately explain what fly fishing for smallies actually entails. Or he may not realize that his business associate, father, son, wife, or whoever doesn’t have much interest in the trip. The newbie is enticed by the experienced fella saying, “you’re gonna love this, it’s easy and you’ll catch lots of fish.”

An angler and his father in the boat, each holding a big smallmouth bass.

If you and your trip partner are prepared and have the right expectations, enjoyable and successful trips like this are possible

What can happen in these cases is the novice quickly becoming frustrated or bored, because they can’t cast more than a few feet, they have trouble properly working the fly in current, and when they do finally get a strike or two they miss them. Then the guy who set up the trip also starts to feel bad. And by end of the day, there are 3 unhappy campers in the boat, since no guide wants his clients to have a bad day.

A Better Way

There are two ways to avoid this unfortunate scenario.

First off, don’t force a complete novice into coming on a trip just because you love smallmouth bass fishing and think everyone else should, too. If your business associate or 70-year-old father would rather play golf, accept the fact that your passion isn’t for them, and either find other trip-mate or go by yourself.

Second, if the new person you’re bringing seems genuinely interested in going, you need to be as honest as possible about the trip. Stress that for them it will be a learning experience, NOT a fish-catching frenzy. Never imply that fly casting is similar to spin casting, or even that their experience dabbling a tiny trout fly in a creek is similar to smallmouth bass casting. Clearly explain that it took you a lot of practice to easily cast 50 feet. So they shouldn’t be surprised or frustrated when their flies only go half that far, and their casts don’t look like yours.

A rookie should realize that he or she is going to try one of the most exciting and enjoyable types of fishing in freshwater, but also one of the more challenging. If they actually land a fish or two, it will be an excellent bonus, but the most important part is the knowledge and experience they will gain. With these realistic expectations, if the new person gets lucky and catches some nice fish they will be thrilled, but they should be quite pleased even if it’s only an 8-incher or two.

Tips for Everyone

Here are 3 key things you can do to make your smallmouth bass fishing the best it can be:

Practice, Practice
Whether you’re fishing on your own or being guided, you should practice casting before hitting the water. I’ve said it a thousand times and it’s still true– good fly casting takes practice, practice and more practice. The best way to get that practice is 30 or 40 minutes a day on the grass. Do this daily for just a couple months and you’ll be a vastly improved caster by the time you get on the water.

Get the Best Rod
The second way to advance your casting skills is get the very best rod you can afford. Frankly, hotshot fly fishers can cast okay with even cheap, bargain-basement rods. But a beginner really needs a good rod to help them cast. Unfortunately, most fly fishers start out by getting a cheap, junky rod that’s tiring and extremely difficult for them to use. Instead, the novice caster needs a top-end rod; only very good casters can get by with a cheap rod.

Load Your Rod Properly
Another common mistake is not using the right weight line for smallmouth bass fishing. A fly rod’s line weight rating is suited to the shorter casts and delicate presentations used in traditional (trout) fishing, but this line weight does not properly load the rod to drive out a heavy fly. So many smallmouth bass fishers end up stuggling with an underloaded rod. The correct line weight for smallmouth bass fishing is at least one weight up (9-weight line for an 8-wt rod), or even 2 weights up (8-weight on a 6-wt) for a beginner.

If you do these 3 things, I guarantee that you’ll be a much better caster. And that means more smallmouth on the line.


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