Tipping a fly fishing guide can be akin to tipping at a restaurant but with nuances unique to the outdoor experience. The key? Consider effort, skill, and overall experience, not just the day's catch. Here's a baseline guide to help you navigate this super common question. Note that this is a guide on individual tipping so the amount is per person. If the guide is a boat guide and typically takes two you should take that into consideration.
What to Tip When the Guide Falls Short
If your guide is unprofessional, lacks effort, or seems lost, it’s akin to receiving poor service at a restaurant. In such cases, it's reasonable to leave no tip or just a small token. Remember, this isn't about the lack of fish but the lack of effort and professionalism. I’ll give you two examples. For some reason this is common and I can’t stand it. I went fishing for redfish and the second we got on the boat the guide lit up a cigarette. I’ve got an injured lung and it bothers the hell out of me. He didn’t ask if we minded and puffed away. After chain smoking for a bit I had to request that it was the last one. The attitude I received was remarkable. My impression was that it was a service element related to good manners and respect. The other was fishing in Belize and working with a guide. We were targeting snook and fishing tight to the mangroves. He was frustrated with the casting of my boat partner and I and the frustration was based on results only. He didn’t take into consideration that we were fishing heavy-weighted line which wasn't ideal for the situation. Either way, he began yelling and cussing to the point where we had to have a frank discussion. Now Belize's communication culture has been known for being direct but this was far beyond being direct and the fact was we were customers and we were on vacation. I don’t go on vacation to be castrated by words.
A Tough Day, But a Good Try Tip
Sometimes, even the best guide can't control the whims of nature. If your guide has put in a commendable effort and navigated well, but the fish just aren't biting, a standard tip of 15%-20% is appropriate. This acknowledges their hard work despite the tough conditions.
Here is a great podcast where I interview an exceptional guide Brian Hilbert who makes the point that as a guide he looks to control what he can. Meaning, he can control that he has a great lunch ready, has well-working quality gear, has his flies ready, and is adept at communicating clearly and providing an enjoyable discussion. However, he can’t control late hook sets, bad weather, fish habits, etc. The key is that he controls what he can and if he does that regardless of the catching aspect the day should be good.
Tipping After the Ideal Experience
A guide who excels – gets you to the fish, boasts quality gear, prepares a delightful lunch, and overall enhances your experience – deserves to be tipped well. This could mean the standard 15%-20% or more, depending on how exceptional the experience was. As mentioned above he controlled what he could and delivered a high-quality service.
What to Look For:
- Time: Were they on time or did they spend extra time?
- Respect: A respectful guide makes the experience enjoyable
- Good Lunch Preparation: A well-prepared meal can be a highlight of the trip.
- Conversation: So much time on a boat or trip is conversation. Is the guide capable of entertaining and educating? After all, it is actually part of the service they are providing.
- Well Equipped: Quality gear can significantly impact your experience.
- Education: Can the guide educate you on technique, tips, history, etc.
- Proper Etiquette: A guide who knows their stuff, respects the environment, and teaches you the ropes is invaluable.
- Overall Enjoyment: Ultimately, did you have a good time?
Other Things to Consider:
- Did they use a ton of gas running around all day?
- Are they supplying flies?
- Did you lose a ton of flies with snags, etc?
- What kind of flies are you using…did you lose 4 streamers that day or for zebra midges?
- Did they have an apprentice?
- Will you be going out with them another day?
- Cultural differences in communication. Was the guide yelling at you or is that the common cultural way of communication?
It's important to remember that tipping is a personal choice, reflecting your satisfaction with the service. A thoughtful tip, matched to the guide's effort and your experience, not only rewards them but also encourages continued excellence in the guiding community.
Here is another article I think you'll enjoy.
***Do you want to get deals on equipment, fly fishing trips, and lots of information? Become a member of the Loyalty Club on the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast.