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So Buster Wants To Be A Missoula Fly Fishing Guide

Many fly fishermen get to a point in their life where they kick around the possibility of becoming a fly fishing guide in Missoula. They love to fish; they love the outdoors and what can be better than being paid to enjoy both?

While many ponder the idea of becoming a fly fishing guide, few do it. There are many hurdles to jump just to get a chance to spend your days on the river fishing, and getting paid to do so. Contrary to popular belief, being a fly fishing guide in Missoula is not easy work. It’s physically and mentally exhausting at times and always keep you on your toes.

Too start, it’s rare for fly fishing guides to be a wade only around Missoula, which means you need a boat. Not only do you need a boat, but it has to be a boat the hiring outfitter is confident the boat is safe and comfortable for their guests. Spending $500 on a raft from the 80’s that has weathered in the sun for 30 years is not going to impress any outfitter or client. At this point you have spent at least $2500 or more on a boat. Then you need a vehicle that is just as presentable and able to tow your raft. It goes without saying you need a working trailer to tow your raft which can cost upwards of $1500.

The second hurdle is getting to know your raft and mastering the art of rowing. It takes a lot of practice to consistently put anglers on fish, at the correct angle, and correct speed, positioned to allow anglers front and back to fish at the same time. Safety is a big concern too and you need to be able to navigate the river without any incidents.

Many guides grew up rafting and fishing around Missoula, providing a huge advantage over many people trying to start guiding in Missoula. More than once a fledgling fly fishing guide in Missoula comes to the Missoulian Angler saying, “Hey I just got a boat and I want to start guiding professionally.” We typically ask a series of questions. Starting with how many days have you rowed, how long have you been in Montana, what rivers and sections of rivers have you fished, and that’s just a start. We are trying to get a feel for how serious about fishing and rowing you are. If you tell us that you have rowed the Blackfoot River and the Bitterroot river about 20 times each, we will politely tell them to come back in a few years, after floating many stretches around Missoula as you can. While you may be the best fisherman in your group of friends and have taught many of them how to fly fish, the average fly fishing guide in Missoula is on a whole other level. There are a lot of great fly fishing guides around Missoula that consistently spend 150+ days on the rivers a year for many years. You might not be on this level right out of the gate, but if you plan to consistently put fish in the boat and keep your guests safe, that’s going to become the norm.

The third step is licensing, which can take a bit of time. The Board of Outfitters in Montana requires guides to have an Independent Contractor License, state issued guide license, Basic First Aid training and insurance. We’re not going in depth on this, just know there is plenty of paperwork in the initial process and there continues to be paperwork throughout your guiding career in Montana.

The fourth step is obtaining work from a local Missoula outfitter. The regulations for fly fishing guides in Montana does not allow you to go out and guide on your own. Every guide must operate under a licensed Montana fly fishing outfitter. Once we’ve had some conversation, checked raft, rig, trailer and paperwork, the next step a check float. The check float, for lack of a better term, is your interview. This is your chance to show us what you got! You will take us floating with your equipment, so you can show us presentable gear and knowledge of use in a safe and effective manner. We like to see how you rig your rods, how you position the boat, how sociable you are, how you drive, how you back up your trailer, among many other things.

Once you’ve done a test float and been found to be employable as a guide, the outfitter will endorse you by signing your license. Having one endorsing outfitter as a novice guide, you need to get 10 more. The chances of being hired by one outfitter fulltime during your first year is slim to none, and Slim to none. Outfitters have a long list of the best fly fishing guides in Missoula. If you spread out your work between multiple outfitters, then you might fill your schedule for this season and maybe find a full-time home for the next season with an fly fishing outfitter in Missoula. Once you find some outfitters confident in you, you can start narrowing down the fly-fishing outfitters in Missoula that you work for.

If you’ve gotten this far, now comes the hard work. There’s no question fishing guides have a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. As a fly fishing guide in Missoula, you often wake up at 5:00 AM to prepare lunches, grab drinks, stop at the shop for flies, clean your cooler, wash your truck and boat, and then pick up your clients. Most often, you’ve never met your clients, nor do you know if they have ever held a fly rod. Once you get a feel for your clients, you must decide out of the 300 miles of fishable river in the Missoula area, where you will go to give these guests the best possible fly fishing experience in Montana. This decision is based on other guide reports, weather, water flow, hatches, guest skill level, your confidence level and many other variables that rivers in Missoula will throw your way. After a full working day on the river you arrive home at 8:00 PM to rinse and repeat for your next day on the water.

After 100+ days of this, with 20+ days straight at a time, you get very worn down. It takes a special person to be a fly fishing guide, and it it’s not for everyone. We guide a lot and we absolutely love it. Spending every day on the rivers in Missoula and teaching a brand new angler to fly fish, and be successful fly fishing, are just a few reasons why we love what we do. Most of us can’t imagine having a 9-5 office job. Not to mention we have the winters off to hunt, ski, snowboard, ice fish and enjoy so much more that Montana has to offer.

Missoula fly fishing guides Matt Robb and Dustin Stetson scouting a stretch of the Bitterroot River during February in preparation for the upcoming guide season.

If you think you have what it takes or need a push in the right direction to become a Missoula fly fishing guide, then stop by and we can help you.

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