Mike Lawson recently had to write a similar thing to what I am writing about now, and when I read it, I thought… “Well, that is shame that that even needed to be written.”  I hope my attempt is received in the good nature that it is intended. Full disclosure Mike is much more qualified to write this than myself.  However our fishery is fairly new, and the “elders” are not doing a fair job of explaining what guiding means in Puget Sound.

Quick Background

I am a pretty lucky guy.  Fly Fishing has been my career now for the entirety of my adult life.  For the past quite a few years now I have been guiding for Sea Run Cutthroat Trout in Puget Sound and Hood Canal.  Between that and tying flies this is the only way I make an income.  I have lived in a car, eaten leftover guide lunches, cried, ruined relationships, and perhaps most devastating disappointed my mom to become a professional fly fishing guide.

I met my fiancée Brita, who brought my children into my life, while guiding Puget Sound years ago.  We have spent countless nights tying flies for our guide boxes and filling orders for custom flies ever sense.  To be honest, most days I have to pinch myself at the dream life that I have.  Between Brita and Myself we have 24 years in the fly-fishing industry. Our lives are 100% paid for by fly fishing. Between Guiding, teaching, fishing, speaking, tying, and the business end, most of my day 365 days a year, are spent entrenched in the fly fishing world.  To say we hold it dearly is a massive understatement.


Brita’s a rockstar!

The Big Issue

Recently, I have seen a handful of folks claim that fly fishing guides are overly exploiting the Puget Sound fishery.  Which, really is up to interpretation if I am going to be honest.  However, I think a lot of this comes from a misunderstanding of how guiding in Puget Sound has evolved over the years and who is actually guiding.  I suppose it could also stem from a bad egg acting like an idiot on the water as well, however, thats a completely different issue.

I fully understand how someone could look at a Instagram post or see someone zipping by in a boat and assume they are strictly exploiting a fishery for their own gain… In a nutshell you would be right to say that in that moment.  However, truth be told, we spend a ton of time, money, and effort to give back to the community/fish/ and environment that has supported us. We are very aware and cautious of our impact on the fishery, and environment.

I have seen a lot change over the years in how guiding is viewed in Puget Sound.  I have been fortunate enough to share the water with countless numbers of clients and almost always ask their opinion of Washington Fly Fishing.  Also, I’ve seen the way guiding is handled in Puget Sound change a lot in the last 10 years.  Much of your new guides are coming at the business from a part time standpoint rather than a full time PROFESSIONAL fishing guide. This starts to have an appearance of a lot of pressure on the fish, however these guys are not actually guiding more than a few days a year.



Balding From The #GuideLife

Let’s Break This Down 

In Puget Sound there are MAYBE 22 “fishing guides”… To put that into perspective a outfitter in Montana will typically have that amount of guides on staff… There are typically many outfitters per river in Montana.  The big issue with saying their is only 22 fishing guides in Puget Sound is what constitutes a fishing guide in Washington?  Let’s assume this means legal, licensed guides, mostly working the waters of Puget Sound.

In Washington State a Fishing guide has to pay ~$400 (game fish only), prove (for the day of the issuing) that he/she has liability insurance, and take a first aid class. I am going to estimate that 22 folks have this license and are mostly guiding on Puget Sound.  That’s including a few guides that I know hold a license and hardly work at all.

These numbers are again estimates, however I am pretty well informed on days spent guiding on Puget Sound.  I am going to be generous to the numbers here and be optimistic towards the careers of those calling themselves guides.  There are probably of that estimated 22 fishing guides 11 that work more than 30 days a year,  6 that work more than 60 days a year, and 4 that work 100 or more days a year… and MAYBE 2 that work more than 150 days a year and if that is true, I am one of those two. So, what am I breaking down?  On the average day, there is more “Do it yourself” fishermen down at Purdy Spit than there are fly fishing guides working in the entirety of Puget Sound.


Jacob Is Awesome

The Truth About Guiding

It is almost impossible to luck into being a career fly fishing guide.  This is strictly a career of passion.  Being a passionate angler almost guarantees you are an advocate for the fishery.  Like it or not, our clients use us as the voice of the fishery.  Puget Sound is fortunate to have a lot of caring fishermen willing to put their money, time and effort into protecting it.  However those fishermen need to be able to hear about the issues at hand. How is the average fishermen going to learn about the issues?  The average guy working 40hr/wk is not going to go home and email his customers about whats going on in the world of Puget Sound fishing.  The average fly fishermen gets his information from his guide, or his fly shop.

A guide knows not everyone is going to sign up for a trip.  However,  if you write a working guide an email or give them a call he/she will give you a up to date fishing report.  Most will discuss conservation, fish ID, beach access… Whatever you need.  I write reports for multiple fly fishing clubs in the area and host tying events whenever they ask. Furthermore, I also spend a night every month writing congressmen and WDFW about local issues and concerns about our fishery.  Most guides are advocates of their local fishing community.  Whats good for the masses is usually inline with what’s good for the guide business.

Giving Back 

I can only speak for myself typically, however, I will lump in 3 other guides into this.    For the last few years the Coastal Cutthroat Coalition has been around. I know for a fact David Dietrich, Ben Zander, Brita Fordice, and myself have donated well over $10,000 worth of trips, flies, swag, and time.  We have also informed our clients of their work and the work of Puget Sound Keeper, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement, Long Live The Kings, and other conservation efforts that they might be interested in participating in. We have also pitched plenty of ideas to Coastal Cutthroat Coalition to help raise more research dollars.

Social Media 

Like it or not, social media has become a big part of our everyday lives as fishermen.

 #KeepEmWet has literally changed the way 1,000s of fishermen handle their fish. Solely because a few fishing guides (Dave McCoy was the first I saw) decided they would lead by example.  Not bad when you consider Tarpon anglers in Florida are doing the same as Steelhead guides in British Columbia now. Guides have a responsibility to protect their lively hood.  Typically this means protecting their respective fishery and environment.

Another program started to protect the environment and spread by guides has been #KickPlastic! We went from a flat of water bottles a week down to 4 a year on our boat.  This was just because of a social media campaign spread by fishing guides. Now almost all of our clients bring reusable water bottles.

The People’s Fish

Running a guide service in Washington has been a dream of mine since I can remember.   We take it very seriously to give back to the communities that support us. We do free casting lessons in the summer at Alderbrook Resort.  Also, we send our clients to the local markets and restaurants in the area to do their shopping. In addition to supporting the local tourism and clubs in raising money to keep a healthy community.  Not to mention we inform people of the gear they might want to buy from their local fly shop… But most of all we fish.

We love fishing Puget Sound. We love sharing it with anyone who will come along or listen to/read our fish stories. I want to know about it if one of our guides are being unprofessional on the water so we can fix the issue.  If it is a guide you don’t know,  I will find out and help mediate the issue.  If there is something you wish guides would consider please email me and we can talk it out. We have a lot to lose living this #GuideLife.

One thought on “#GuideLife

  1. Damn Justin ,That was so eloquent and well explained. You are a great advocate and spokesman for the fly fishing community. Thank you so much for all you do . Plus you’re a fairly decent guy. For a Dead Head.

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