HIRING A GUIDE
At some time many anglers will hire a guide. It has been my good fortune to have both fished with a guide as a paying client, fished with a guide [more than one] as a friend, and having worked as a guide. I have many friends who are, or who have been, professional fly fishing guides and that exposure has provide me with some knowledge that may be helpful to anyone thinking about hiring a guide.
There are some things that should be understood right up front before hiring a guide. A good guide is a combination of experience and application. Most likely, the guide that has been herding clients around for a couple of decades isn't still employed because they are lucky. However, even then, depending upon your particular circumstance, they may not be the best guide for you.
Before hiring a guide decide what you expect the guide to do for you. If you are an experienced angler traveling to a new location you might only want to hire a guide as a convenience. For example, if the local waters are best accessed via a boat by hiring a guide with a boat you have the access you need. Perhaps you are totally unfamiliar with the area and you want someone with local experience to show you where to fish. These are both valid reasons for hiring a guide but you need to make that known to the guide right up front. Tell the guide why you have employed their services. A good guide will not be offended if you tell them that you just need their rowing skills to get you to the fish.
While the professional guide should be able to put you in a position to catch fish your ability to take advantage of their professional skills is directly related to your degree of expertise. Don't expect the guide to work magic for you if your skill level is not up to the task at hand. Fishing from a moving boat requires the ability to continually cast without hooking the guide or the other occupants in the boat, and deliver your fly to places where the fish might be waiting. While the guide may tell you to put your fly in a certain place it's most helpful if you can read the water yourself. This is especially true if there are a couple anglers in the boat. The guide cannot be telling each of you where to make every cast.
If you are fishing spring creeks or tail waters where fish are feeding on specific hatches casting and presentation skills are very important. The best guide alive cannot make a fish take your fly if you cannot cast your fly and present it in such a manner that it appears to be natural.
What if your casting and presentation skills are not up to par or you have never fished from a moving boat? Does this mean you should not hire a guide? No, in fact you are just the person that really needs a guide. However, you should make that fact plain when you are looking to hire a guide. Some guides are great teachers and have the patience to deal with an angler whose skills are in need of improvement, while other guides have neither the skill nor the patience to teach. Ideally you will secure the services of a guide in advance of your arrival at your destination, and this will give you an opportunity to get a guide with the abilities that you need. This will save you and your guide many hours of mutual frustration.
Whenever possible you should secure the services of a guide in advance of your trip and the earlier that you can do this the better. The most experienced guides book up early, especially for dates in the peak of the season. If you are only looking for a guide to provide you with transportation the pressure to secure a guide is much less, but if you are looking for an experienced guide that can help you improve your skills it pays to book early.
Guided fishing has never been inexpensive, but the old adage still holds true that you get what you pay for. If the guide you hire does a good job for you then you should provide an appropriate tip as a demonstration of your satisfaction. Guides that are not independent outfitters are often paid only a percentage of what you pay to the outfitter. For many guides the tips that they receive is what makes it possible for them to continue guiding from year to year. In addition, if you benefit from the services of a good guide tell your friends.
Finally, whatever your reason for hiring a guide you must have reasonable expectations. Guides are not magicians. Like you, they are at the mercy of the elements and conditions that are beyond their control. A fishing spot that was hot last week may seem to be as void of fish as the Sahara Desert this week. A sudden rain storm may turn a crystal clear stream into a mud-filled gully in a matter of minutes. A hatch that normally occurs at this time of the year may be early, late or non-existent, and there's not a think that your guide can do about that. If your fishing skills are not up to the task at hand don't blame your guide. Use the opportunity to polish up your skills so that the next time you are fishing with a guide or when you are fishing on your own you will be able to take full advantage of the opportunity.