So You Want To Become A Fishing Guide. . .


Becoming a fishing guide is more than some certifications and a day on the water doing what you love. Being a fishing guide means you’re not the one fishing. Instead, you’re helping your clients catch fish. We asked Stephen Balough, of Riffletrip Outfitters, to share his experience and what you can expect from life as a fishing guide.

Why Did You Want To Become A Fishing Guide?

I became a fishing guide in college. I always had a passion for fishing since I was a little guy. Now, after nearly 14 years of guiding, I have realized that I am living the dream.

How Did You Become A Fishing Guide?

I started at a small, private Rod & Gun Club during college. It was a nice side-gig and some beer money. Shortly thereafter, I found myself guiding in Alaska (I returned from the Alaska season 3 weeks late to my Junior year).

Once I graduated, I moved straight to Colorado to put my degree to use. I was in the local fly shop with my mom while she was visiting, and the shop manager was on the phone telling a client that they didn’t have any guides available.

My mom blurted out that I was a guide. After a brief moment of blushing and shooing my mom away, I was on the roster. I started out wade guiding, but that wasn’t enough for me. I found a raft and learned how to row.

I never went to guide school but definitely went to the school of “Hard Knocks.” Waiting my turn after all the senior guides got their trips, and then it was my turn. I have since obtained my USCG Captains’ License and a few other certs.

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How And Why Did You Start Your Own Guiding Company?

I was tired of working for someone else and I wanted to further my guiding career. I moved back to Arkansas, where I went to college and made it happen!

What Kind Of Job Opportunities Are Out There For Fishing Guides? How Can Aspiring Guides Gain Experience?

There are plenty of opportunities out there. It’s definitely a little different than when I got my start. It’s seemingly a somewhat competitive market and the best way to do it these days, from what I can tell, is to go to a shop’s “Guide School” and hope they hire you. Everyone wants to be a guide, so be prepared to work harder than the others!

What’s The Process Like To Get Permits To Guide?

It depends on the State or even the waters you intend on working.

How Competitive Is It To Get Hired By A Guiding Company?

Lots of people are trying to be guides. Stick with it and offers and opportunities will come. Sometimes it’s shopping or even just hanging out at your favorite shop every chance you get!

fishing in Cancun
Photo Credit: Stephen Balough

What’s Your Favorite Part Of The Job?

Everything. Teaching new people the art, and honing the skills of an already established and skillful angler. Not to mention the community and the places it can take you.

What’s Your Least Favorite?

I won’t lie, it’s a lot of work. Days of fishing are long (early, windy, rainy, tough bite… you name it…). I tie most of my own flies, so that is time-consuming. And not to mention maintaining a positive attitude and creating a favorable environment for the client, day in and day out…NO MATTER WHAT.

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What Are Some Hard Truths About Guiding?

See above! It’s NOT fishing. If you love fishing you may not love guiding. You’ll be at your best work if you care about your job and work hard at it. Your most important job is to read your client.

You’ve got to be a people person, or if that’s not your MO, you better be an amazing and fishy person. Not everyone wants the most or the biggest fish. There are a few different types of guides. You’ll find your place and the program you excel at.

How Do You See Fish Guiding Evolving In The Future?

Busy and competitive. The sport is getting popular. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but guides should use their professional platform to educate others on how to take care of the fish. If we don’t do that, then none of us will have a job.

What’s Something About Your Job Most People Don’t Realize?

I’ve got to do laundry and run errands on my days off, just like everybody else!

Want to become an outdoor adventure guide, but don’t know where to start? We wrote 5 Beginner Tips to Become An Outdoor Adventure Guide here.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>