A Guide's Take on Leaders

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

If you surveyed a group of people, the majority would probably say that the primary job of a fishing guide is to put people over fish. I tend to agree. After all, that’s what they are paying for– but I also believe it’s much deeper than that.

I started guiding two years ago as a way to give back to the rivers and fish in the way that it has given to me. I was hopeful that with every client I booked, it would be another license purchased, dollars invested back into the resource, and hopefully, a passionate angler who will grow to become a protector of the species by donating, volunteering and preserving the habitats that these fish call home.

But I soon learned that the task of creating a “protector” is much greater than going on a half day trip and hooking a fish.

I often ask myself the question: “Am I a guide? Or am I a leader”. I think in order to be a steward for any species or fishery, the answer to that needs to be both. If my client lands a fish, goes home, and the success of that fish and how to catch it was the only thing we talked about that day, then I have done my job as a guide, but not as a leader.

Every time I guide a client, I take it as an opportunity to encourage that person to see the fishery through the same lens that I do – that is, one with a history, and one I hope will grow into a much longer history by thriving for generations to come.

My guided trips are an educational experience, brought to fruition by answering questions that provoke thought and grow into a formative conversation about how and why the state of the fishery is the way it is.

Why recreational angling is catch and release. What is causing the population declines in salmon. Why we have to use barbless hooks. How to land the fish quickly and safely. How to hold the fish and release it. Whose rivers we are actually on. How to check the water temperature and self-regulate. When it is too hot to fish ethically. How to give back. The list goes on.

Catch and release fisheries are self-serving in essence. These fish are hooked, played and released without providing any further purpose to recreational anglers than their own entertainment, often fueled by some "tug is the drug" type itch that needs to be scratched. The greater picture of this though - is that when anglers are permitted to introduce an obstacle, in this case, a fly on route to the spawning grounds - it in turn, creates a group of passionate anglers who will work collectively to remove the much more impactful obstacles these fish face. Anglers will stand beside the many other stewards who rally to stop mining operations, from clear cutting along the habitats, and to help fight climate change. There are a lot of good news stories that arose from this type of stewardship, take Bristol Bay for example.

Guiding isn’t a vehicle to earn an income at the expense of a healthy fishery, it is a way to help anglers form good habits. It’s about encouraging the client who fishes a 5wt for salmon to move to a heavier rod to make the landing process faster. It’s about reminding the new angler to pinch their barbs. It’s educating on why tailing gloves are damaging to fish scales. It’s about encouraging someone to use a net instead of laying the fish on the ground. To keep fish wet, always.

It’s about making connections with people who will volunteer. To write that letter to the MP. To go to the meeting and speak for the fish who don’t have a voice. It’s reminding anglers that with the privelege to fish comes the even larger responsibility of giving back in the same way it gives to you.

That’s why when I get off the river after fishing with a client, and I can look back knowing that I made that angler a better conservationist and steward from the conversations had instead of the fish caught, then I can walk away feeling like I have done my job both as a guide, and as a leader.

PS. If you came here seeking actually salmon leader advice - I keep it simple and use 10-12 feet of straight 10lb maxima, usually chameleon but sometimes ultra green (Dad likes to get me a spool of it every year on my birthday). In heavier water I like a 10ft airflo polyleader with tippet. The polyleaders are a new thing for me, they come recommended by my friend Scotty who also took the above photos.

Photos by Scotty Sherin

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