Moe, Larry & Curly

When things get tight, others are also feeling the pain and Guides are not the only ones aced out of work and impacted by this winter’s rage.

Without a doubt all the rain and snow this past winter has been a blessing and great reprieve from one of the worst droughts in Ca history. However raging rivers, lakes exceeding capacities and monster snow packs, (185% above average) are conditions many guides have never witnessed, and winter isn’t over. Weeks of unforeseen cancellations have unfortunately resulted in some financial hardships. Mortgage payments due, business overhead and cost of living revenues dwindling what to do? All of a sudden living the dream has shifted into a survival mode. How do fishing guides keep their head above water when winter’s rage impacts bread-butter fisheries for weeks, possibly months?

I remember the first year guiding the fall of 82 only too well. Right from the get-go Pat and I learned, as our grandson Mason would say, “The Hard Way,” the true meaning of starting a guide service in rugged and remote Trinity County. Winter arrived with a roar, Trinity Lake filled and TR flows jacked to unimaginable volumes. My last trip was Nov. 9th. I did not get back on the water until July 26th the following year. Living on the edge and the vast unknown proved to be a life changing experience for my family and me and clearly revealed, full-time guiding is totally about sacrifice and willingness to adapt.

Literally weeks away from “living in a van down by the river,” the following helped us overcome and, for what it may be worth, possibly shed some light for others.

Woe is me

Fly tying

Quality flies are premium commodity, always in demand and great income. Herb, downtime at the vise many moons ago.

If your down and out keep in mind, there are others in the same boat; you’re not the only one aced out of work. Most any outdoor trades/professions are also feel’n the pain; all part of working outdoors and dealing with the elements. Eventually, conditions will settle and guide opportunities will develop. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, suck it up. Lack of work and financially pinched is difficult for anyone to accept and overcome. Stay positive! Take advantage of any down time and use it wisely. Be productive so when conditions ripen you are well prepared and ready to jump back into your guide rhythm. Use down time to thoroughly go over and tune up all equipment, boats, trailers, vehicles. Fine tune and prep all terminal gear and restock inventories, (tie leaders, flies, wrap rods and repair leaky waders etc.). Stick with your game plan. Crack the books. Strategize upcoming seasons; review spread sheets, highlight trends and attempt to generate work to compensate slow periods. Review business advertising to better maintain customer continuity and awareness; forecasting seasons, fisheries and services with e-mails, blogs, ads, presentations and even hardcopy updates. Set realistic goals that help you achieve projections and bring home the beacon.


Down time, or open wide for (Bean with Beacon) was quality time, well spent with family; Burton shad recon.


Negative income translates into sacrifice especially if you haven’t rat-holed a stash account or slush fund. Obviously, conditions dictate time down; could be weeks, could be months. Regardless, start a budget ASAP to shave all overhead exps. and adjust lifestyles. (Limit, eating out, gas expenses, unnecessary luxuries, shave grocery costs- (Easy to train taste buds for Generic/Brand X when you have to dig coins from vehicle door wells/ashtrays for payment. Our family lived on Bean with Beacon soup- grilled cheese). If you are victim of an empty bag of acorns, might consider a short term business loan. Learn from your mistakes! Next solid guiding run, budget for a stash/slush account (aim for 3-4 mos. of domestic/bus. overhead) to cover expenses during inclement conditions or unexpected hard times; plan for the future.

Work is Where You Find It

If conditions indicate serious down time and financial aid is not available, may be necessary take on a part time job until guiding reboots. Swim, don’t sink, greater majorities of successful guide services are supplemented with part-time job incomes. Be resourceful, do whatever is necessary to make ends meet; how bad do you want to remain a fishing guide? (I was Mr. Mom, eliminating costly daycare exps., (loved every minute with my kids) as well as commercially wrapped rods, tied flies and wrote magazine articles, while Pat worked full time at the local Pharmacy). Destination fishing lodges are labors of love, providing seasonal job opportunities that compliment many guide operations and are generally in the market for new young talent willing to travel, guide, maintain wilderness camps and fend off bears.

Variety is the Spice of Fishing

Anyone thinks they can make a living as a full time steelhead guide in California is on crack! There just aren’t enough calendar days, favorable weather patterns, cooperative fish and free gold nuggets. Instead of cramming all your flies in one box, take advantage of time off and explore new waters and fisheries (Steelhead-Trout-Bass-Striper-Shad). The challenge and learning curve is exciting, educational and enhances personal fishing and guiding skills. Nobody said it would be easy; diversify and expanding guide operations, to compliment all seasons, will broaden your customer base and help generate additional year-round work and income.

Stay Positive- They Will Come

Harsh winters are nothing new to California’s extreme weather cycles. Who knows, this winter may very well represent the new norm and beginning of a multi-year wet cycle. The bright side, water is everywhere and the drought is over. Positive outlook, after this mega winter most every California angler, outdoor enthusiast, or anyone that can say, “Fishing,” has severe Cabin Fever and is satisfying fishing withdraws, purchasing new equipment, making detailed vacation plans, booking pre-season trips and itching to hook up with their favorite guide for quality times on the water. Book’m Now—Solid Fun Later!

Winter native steelhead

Despite the rains/snows/high flows, Remarkably, some beautifully clean late winter natives are closing the season.