fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

how bad do you want to meet mr. whitefish? — a few guides’ thoughts on clients bringing gps receivers along for the ride


Guides & GPS

One mid July day my guide both admonished me to maintain a straight line to the indicator and cheered good hook sets even though I missed more strikes than I should have. New to fly fishing then, I remember having a novice’s fascination with the almost magical wisdom guides showed and shared.

More important that day was my education. It’s a simple truism of fly fishing that one day on the water with a good guide can offer a learning experience equal to many trips alone.

But is there a limit to how much a guide might be willing to share beyond techniques, flies and presentation? This question bubbled up in my mind a few weeks ago, when an online poll conducted by Blood Knot Magazine asked fly fishermen for their opinion regarding bringing a handheld GPS receiver on a guided fishing trip. Of 100 random readers asked if it’s “okay” to do so, 41% answered “Hell yeah!” while 40% answered “Hell no!” The remaining 19% had no idea guides might care…

Flipping the question around in an admittedly unscientific and limited survey, I asked the same question of a few fly fishing guides, and the results offer interesting insight into what is a genuine desire among guides to share with clients. As a public service to both sides of the argument, I present in this space what I learned in informal conversations with a guides up and down the West Coast.

Fly fishing guides, of course, understand that they’re in a business that often requires catering to clients, but do so in a sport that’s long recognized as one of the more genteel pursuits. One can attribute the fact that half of the respondents with an opinion in the Blood Knot Magazine poll declared a GPS receiver verboten on a guided trip to this gentleman’s code. Guides’ expectations fall in line with this mind-set, hoping that clients will ask before slipping out a GPS receiver. And, if asked, most guides don’t have a problem with a client using a GPS receiver.

The Fly Shop Director of Outfitters Michael Caranci spent the time to carefully sum up his thoughts, many of which were echoed by other guides…

As a guide, I’ve never had a problem with people bringing a GPS along. As an outfitter, I know there are some guides who wouldn’t mind, and that there are surely some guides who would find it offensive. The way I see it, if you’re hiring a guide just to find out where to go, you’re missing the boat. A good guide has so much more to offer than that. And, at the same time, just knowing where to go isn’t all that much help sometime; the real knowledge and experience of guides is knowing how to approach a spot at the different times of year, times of day, flows, seasons, types of techniques, species, etc. One could GPS a spot they had great fishing one day with the guide, and return another time to the same spot and find it seemingly void of life.”

The reason behind the use of a GPS receiver also plays into a guide’s willingness to allow its use. Emerging Rivers Guide Services owner Derek Young shares that he’d be okay with a GPS receiver used for personal reasons, such as “…safety…or to better remember the experience.” But don’t pull out a GPS receiver if its use involves commercial or financial gain. “If a paying client is going to make a commercial financial gain off of my services, they can find someone else to do it with,” wrote Derek.

Mutual respect is a resounding theme with guides. Chris O’Donnell of River Runner Outfitters underscores this, expanding upon the idea by writing…

Personally, I feel that it is the client’s right to use a GPS to record fishing spots, just like gleaning other information about rigging, reading water, and catching fish. I do feel that using a GPS without asking displays a complete lack of respect for the guide. Just ask. I’ll tell you yes, and I will feel much better about it.”

These thoughts were shared by nearly every guide, though a few are less concerned about the use of GPS receivers, if for no other reason than they fish in plain sight on lakes. Tom Loe and Doug Rodricks of Sierra Drifters Fly Fishing Guide Service often ply the waters of Crowley Lake, Bridgeport Reseroir and Eagle Lake, and as Doug explains,

I wouldn’t mind if clients brought a GPS on their trips. Most people on the boats see us catching fish and will gravitate to that spot the following day. Conditions change and one day differs from the next so we don’t worry about it too much. There are always other spots on the lake to go catch fish.”

Tom gets down to brass tacks, clarifying his feeling that, “Trout migrate and conditions change so often in the areas I guide that it is foolish to get upset or worry about someone being on your numbers!”

Another guide fishing open water, and author of “Fly Fishing the California Delta,” Mike Costello, reiterates the idea of trust and discretion between guide and client, and how the development of a relationship opens the door…

I have had clients bring a GPS on my boat but they have asked me ahead of time and I trusted them that they would be discreet and not try to abuse the guide/client relationship. I am fortunate that the majority of my anglers have been fishing with me for a very long time and I am usually very open and helpful with my guiding information.”

For many guides, the idea and expectation of respect extends beyond the guided trip. Michael C. spells out this view on using knowledge gained with a guide…

…I think it’s important to realize that if you do learn some great spots by fishing with a guide, there should be a courtesy about it in the future. If you return to that place, and the guide is there working, it’s best to let them have it. If guides consistently find their favorite places taken up by past guests, they’ll quickly learn to be careful not to share those secret spots. Respect the information, and the countless hours and days of exploration that it often takes to discover those locations in the first place.”

Mountain Whitefish

If you see too many of these guys while targeting trout, you might have crossed the line with your guide...

Inversely, disrespect will get you nowhere; and maybe no fish. If you break out a GPS receiver without asking, let’s just say that a guide might be inclined to take you only to spots to which he/she wants you to return. Slide Inn owner and Fly Fish TV host Kelly Galloup succinctly spells it out:

We all learn water the same way. We go fish and then we watch other guides set up in the runs and see how they do. It is a time tested, earn-your-right-to-be-there system… If I found them using it [a GPS receiver] with out me having been told, I would instantly…either row out or start fishing in the more whitefishy water and see how few fish I could catch the rest of the day.”

In Chris O’Donnell’s view, a client’s use of a GPS receiver suggests the trip is a one-night stand…

I would not take action, other than possibly taking them to fishing spots that I want them to return to…busting out a GPS on a guided trip pretty much tells the guide it’s just a one time deal.”

Generally, these guides haven’t had too many bad experiences with clients using GPS receivers, perhaps because the majority of their fly fisherman clients subscribe to the same code of behavior and the idea of an “earn-your-right-to-be-there system.” Shasta Trout owner/operator Craig Nielsen has had several folks bring their GPS units but hasn’t had an issue with their use as he was asked beforehand in every case. Chris O’Donnell did have “…one client GPS my fishing spots…he didn’t ask, just started plugging away.” Using your imagination, you might guess as to the fish count on that trip.

At least one guide is considering employing GPS to enhance the guided experience. Derek Young mentions embracing the technology, considering the use of a GPS receiver to tag “…client photos so that they could revisit the experience with both a photo and location.”

With the above in mind and other tidbits I’ve left unshared for lack of room or other reasons, it’s a roll of the dice when you break out a GPS receiver on a guided trip.

But before you do, ask.

Or risk fishing that whitefishy water.


4 thoughts on “how bad do you want to meet mr. whitefish? — a few guides’ thoughts on clients bringing gps receivers along for the ride

  1. If I had a GPS, I probably wouldn’t know how to use it. Not needed anyway, as I have a photographic memory. So keen is my memory that I remember every whitefish I’ve ever caught. What were we talking about?

  2. I suppose a lot should ride on the type of guide and the type of trip. I can take you to whatever small trout stream is “on” right now, and unless you’re as clueless with directions as my wife seems to be, you can easily find the place again yourself. So, if I were a guide doing that type of guiding, it shouldn’t be a big deal. If I were a saltwater guide though, and taking you out to a location you could only find with a GPS, then yeah – that might be a problem for me. After all, guides make their living (or at least part of it) from knowing where the fish are in addition to knowing how to put one on the end of your line. As with most things in life that are worthy of a little debate, context is everything.

    Nice blog, btw!

  3. Pingback: Take your GPS on guided trips? - Page 4 - The North American Fly Fishing Forum

  4. Pat- your discussion does raise an additional concern for guides who are adverse to the use of GPS on trips: GPS-enabled cell phones that geo-tag photos taken with them. A client using one is able to surreptitiously record the location of the big one that didn’t get away (or, for that matter, the one that did), all while simply “capturing the moment.” Not only do they then have the coordinates in the metadata, but also a precise pictorial representation of the location. I don’t mean to further complicate an already sticky topic, but…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s