Guided Fly Fishing vs. DIY

The choice between taking a guided trip and going DIY can completely change the trajectory of a trip. Either one can give you the trip of a lifetime, but both are beneficial in their own way.

Some folks may only fish once or twice a year and want a guide every time they go. Others, who hit the water a few times a week, would go broke if they did that.

If you’re trying to decide whether booking a guided trip is right for you on your next outing, or if you should go it alone, take these points into consideration.

When to go guided

Guided trips do offer a ton of benefits that you just can’t get on DIY trips. Whether you want to use these benefits depends on what you’re looking to get from the outing. People’s desires can change from trip to trip, so going guided once doesn’t mean that’s the only kind of fishing you can do. However, booking the occasional guided trip can be beneficial for nearly any angler. Here are some times you may want to consider hiring some help.

You want a fishing buddy

Hiring a guide every time you go fishing just to have a buddy would get really pricey, really fast. However, sometimes people who constantly have to fish alone for one reason or another occasionally like hiring a guide to have someone to talk fishing on the water. It’s nice to have some company who can help you out with technique, knots, and other mishaps, and who can also tell a good fish story.

If you can find a relatively inexpensive outfitter and treat yourself to a trip or two a year, it’s nice to request your favorite guide every time and develop a connection. If you go enough, you’ll probably eventually become friends and look forward to fishing with them. Additionally, with this rapport, you’ll probably be able to reach out to them even when you aren’t on a trip to ask for tips, advice, and other helpful information.

They have resources you want to use

If it sounds like you’re just using a guide for their gear, it’s because you are. But, this isn’t as shady as it sounds.

Plenty of fly fishermen want access to gear and equipment they don’t own, either because they’d use it so infrequently that it doesn’t make sense to buy, or it’s a new style they want to test out first.

A prime example of this is drift boating. The majority of fly anglers will never own a drift boat. They’re expensive, difficult to transport, and take up a lot of space. This is especially so if they’re only getting used a few times a year. So, for the typical angler who doesn’t want to own a personal drift boat, hiring a guide is a great option.

In addition to drift boats, booking a guided trip is a great way to test out new gear or styles to see if you like them. Maybe you want to try out different rods and reels, or are interested in trying spey casting, Euro nymphing, or tenkara. If you don’t want to risk buying gear for something you aren’t sure about yet, hire a guide to provide the gear for you.

A man prepares to launch a drift boat into a river. The trailer is on shore with the boat mostly in the water.

You want to learn

While it’s great to head out onto your home water and use your tried-and-true techniques, this can lead to a fly fishing plateau where you stop making progress in your learning.

Possibly the biggest benefit to hiring a guide is being able to pick their brain on advanced techniques, new styles of fly fishing, and other information like entomology or reading water.

Most guides love being able to teach people. It gives them something additional to do, and your interest in learning also shows them you’re probably a fun and eager client.

Guides often spend 100+ days on the water each year, and they’re usually going to be the most knowledgeable people about a specific waterway. Apart from the particular water you’re fishing, guides also know advanced techniques and minor tweaks that can be game-changers for your skill set.

If improving your fishing knowledge base is your goal, hiring a guide is definitely the best way to go.

You’re going to a new spot

If you’re fishing water you know like the back of your hand, there’s often no reason to hire someone to take you out. But, if you’re traveling to a new piece of water, or better yet, a new state or country, you should really consider booking a guided trip.

It’s definitely possible to go DIY in new areas, and can still be fun. This is especially true if your destination is similar to your familiar water. For example, someone who typically fishes Idaho might not need a guide to fish Montana. On the other hand, someone who fishes Idaho would benefit from a guide if traveling to Pennsylvania.

Even if it’s a familiar water style, guides can still be a good choice. Two states may have similar waters, but even trying to find out where to go can be daunting. Guided trips take the guesswork out of where to fish, and instead of wasting precious time on your vacation looking for good spots, you can pay someone else to take you straight to the goods.

You’re in the mood for some pampering

Although many people like to “earn their catch” by getting in sticky wading situations, rotating through flies until something works, and making hero grabs with the net, it’s hard to argue with the fact that sometimes, having someone to cater to you is pretty nice.

If you’ve had a rough few days on the river, dealing with tangles, finicky fish, and flies caught in trees, you could consider hiring a guide simply for a little TLC.

While I generally like to go the DIY route and do things for myself, I’ve definitely had days when I wish I could sit on the bank and enjoy a beverage while someone else deals with my line issues.

Guides are there to make your trip as good as possible. They can fix your rig when needed, row your boat, and maybe even provide you some snacks or lunch. If you’re in need of a little pampering, going guided is a great choice.

Barack Obama fly fishes on a guided trip. Both he and the guide are excited, and the guide has his hands in the air.

When to go DIY

Due to cost, a desire to fish frequently, and the satisfaction of doing things on your own, the majority of days spent fly fishing are going to be DIY.

While there are definitely benefits to taking a guided trip at times, DIY trips also have a good list of upsides. Here are some situations where DIY is the way to go.

You like peace and solitude

While guided trips are great for learning and having a buddy to talk fishing, many anglers get out on the water to enjoy some time alone. Most of these folks would probably agree that catching fish is secondary to simply getting to fish.

If this is the case, constantly having someone correcting your technique or changing your flies is going to take away from the peaceful act of casting a fly and watching fish rise.

For those who are seeking peace, quiet, and solitude, a DIY trip is probably preferable over a guided trip.

You’re on your home water

The more often you fish somewhere, the better you learn it. After a few trips to the same place, you’ll start to pick up on nuances you hadn’t noticed before. A guide can help you notice those things when it’s your first time there, but if it’s somewhere you fish regularly, it may not be worth the money to book a trip.

Picking and choosing when you hire a guide is important, since cost is involved. While of course there’s nothing wrong with taking a guided trip on your home water, it’s more cost-effective to save that money to go somewhere new.

You like to learn by trying things yourself

Okay, okay. I did say that one of the biggest reasons for booking a trip is to learn, and that’s true. But, there’s something to be said about figuring things out yourself. Or, on a similar note, things you have read about and want to try on your own.

This is usually my preferred style of learning. I find it very satisfying when I try something, it doesn’t work, and I tinker with my technique or approach until I get the results I was after. This could be tweaking my cast, trying to find insects in the river to mimic, or trying to read the water with a different mindset.

Whatever the method, if you enjoy using trial and error to teach yourself new things, DIY is for you.

A man in silhouette fly fishes on a river with trees in the background

You like being in control

It’s nice to be able to go where you want, when you want, and also do what you want.

Of course, you can always request things on a guided trip. If it’s important to you that you only use dry flies, or only fish a specific section of river, a guide can probably accommodate you. But, at the same time, it’s generally a good idea to trust your guide since they’re a professional.

If you prefer to have control over your fishing, though, DIY might be a better choice. You don’t have to ask permission to go somewhere else or change your setup, only to hear “Are you sure?” This just makes you feel self-conscious or annoyed, neither of which is fun while fishing.

On DIY trips, you’re allowed to try whatever you want. There’s a hatch coming off but you want to swing streamers? Go ahead. Your spot isn’t fishing well and you want to drive 30 miles to a different stream? Have at it. Not having to answer to anyone is a great reason to fish DIY.

At the end of the day, the debate between guided trips and DIY trips comes down to what you’re looking to get from your outing.

So, what’s your preferred way to fish? Do you like the knowledge and convenience of a guide, or the self-sufficiency of DIY trips? Let me know in the comments!


This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Socal Gary

    Another reason to hire a guide is like I do when I go steelhead fishing. It’s a ten hour drive. I hire a guide for the first day. I ask him questions, What flies are working, What colors are working, and are the fish in the upper or lower river. The guy I fish with and I enjoy figuring and finding the fish ourselves. So far I’m one steelhead with a guide and 9 or 10 by myself. But our guide is a source for information. Our guide always asks how we did on our own. The joke is I can’t catch one with the guide but can on my own. We both laugh about it.

    1. Katie Burgert

      Great point Gary! I know quite a few people who have done the same. Good way to get information about the area and the type of flies and techniques to use.

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