Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fly Fishing Lessons in New Hampshire: Beginner Lessons vs Guiding in NH

An excellent fly casting instructor comes with a bag of teaching tools, gadgets, and equipment.

If you are just beginning fly fishing you may find it challenging to find a class, a guide, buying equipment, or which fly and tippet combination to use -- you have thousands of decisions ahead of you.  Like me, you will make decisions based on good intentions, but like all beginner fly fishermen, you will make lots of mistakes. Why?  

In my opinion, some of marketing strategies in the fly fishing industry misinform the beginner.  For example, the industry itself sells tons of products that simply are not necessary. Some how, through the power of persuasion, many of these products end up in the vest pockets of beginner fly fishermen. Another area that tends to be challenging for the beginner angler is choosing a fly casting instructor, versus a fly fishing guide. The purpose of this post is to help you sort through the options of...

  • Hiring a Fly Fishing Guide or Hiring an Fly Casting Instructor.
  • Attending a Fly Fishing School or Attending a Private/Small Group Fly Fishing Class.

Fly Fishing Guiding Services

A few months back, Steve Hickoff wrote an article titled "Beginner's Guide to Hiring a Guide."  This was published in the March/April edition of the New Hampshire Wildlife Journal, available at  Steve did an excellent job and we highly suggest finding a copy to read.  To add to what Steve wrote, we would like to offer an additional perspective (Lessons vs. Guiding).  But before doing so, we warn you, with respect to guiding, we intend to get to the point immediately.  In other words, there are many reasons why you hire a guide but...

  • You hire a guide because you want to catch fish on waters that you are not familiar with. He/She is the expert on these waters.  He/She lives and breathes the water's you want to fish and knows what pools, runs, and pockets hold fish.  They also know what equipment to use, casting-presentation techniques to employ, and which flies will catch fish.   

Final Word:  Hiring a guide does not guaranty that you will catch fish; especially if you are a beginner angler.  If you hire a guide, the guide is expecting that you already know how to fly fish.  If you don't know how to fly fish, you should look into hiring a fly casting instructor (not a fly fishing guide).  

    An excellent instructor works hard at his craft, and knows how to make beginners feel comfortable.

    Fly Fishing Lessons  


    We all want to catch fish and we want to catch them NOW!  In today's fast paced world, it does not take a PhD to understand that this attitude is widespread.  We want results/gratification, and very few people have the time to receive professional instruction or the time to self-educate.  Folks, no B.S., it takes time and self-discipline to be a good fly fisherman; it does not happen overnight and it's a life long learning process.  Take me for example...     

    I first picked up a fly rod between the ages of six to nine years old.  As I grew older, I brought both my fly rod and spinning rod to the rivers.  While on a river, I used my fly rod, but I had no idea what I was doing.  I spent more time with my fly in the tree's than in the water.  Feeling frustrated, I would switch to my spinning rod, and usually caught fish immediately.  I engaged in this fly fishing (fish-less) experience till I was 29 years old. That's right folks, I fished for almost twenty years before I caught my first fish on a fly rod.  Why?  I never had lessons, but for the past 14 years, since I caught my first fish on a fly rod, I have dedicated my life to learning the art and science of fly casting and fly fishing.  During this time, I can't tell you how many instructional books and video's I have watched.  I even managed a fly fishing lodge in Patagonia and have fished with famous guides and instructors.  Also during this time, I have attended/audited many seminars and classes on fly fishing. All of these resources have been great, but in my opinion, if you are a beginner angler, and if you want to save yourself twenty years of frustration, I highly recommend finding a good instructor who wants to teach you how to fly fish/cast, not necessarily catch a fish.     

    Lessons... Do you need an Instructor, or a Guide?

    Before you hire a guide to teach you fly casting, think about the following:

    • Not all professional guides have been trained to teach fly casting.     

    I'll probably upset someone by stating this, but I know excellent guides, certified casting instructors and great fisherman, who struggle to teach.  It's true, the vast majority of guides are not trained teachers or public speakers; but they can fish!  Unfortunately, as a consumer, there is no independent agency that evaluates and ranks guides or instructors on their ability to teach fly fishing (a flaw within the industry). The only organization that I know that offers a teaching certification is the Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF). Bottom line, teaching is hard, effortful work.  Again, if you are a beginner angler, we believe your first objective is to find yourself a good instructor that offers the best education model.    

    Where: Beginner Lessons Available in New Hampshire

    In New Hampshire, there are a number of resources available for beginner lessons, ranging from free to expensive.  Let's take a closer look at the free option: NH Fish and Game, 'Let's Go Fishing,' program.

    • The program is FREE! 
    • The program offers ice fishing, fly fishing, and spin fishing.
    • Many class locations throughout the state of New Hampshire.
    • All are welcome to participate in classes.
    • Usually involves a final field trip.
    • You do not need to buy a fishing license (only while in the LGF class). 
    • Classes are taught by volunteers and all have been screened via the F.B.I.
    • Instructors are CPR and First Aide Certified.

    • You get what you pay for = very basic, non-technical instruction.
    • You can not create your own schedule or course of instruction.
    • Class size might be too large = teacher to student ratio might be prohibitive for learning.
    • Instructors are volunteers = you might find instructors abilities to be less than what you expected.
    • Quality of equipment might be questionable and might not be in the best condition.

    Final Word:  I have been a Let's Go Fishing volunteer instructor for over 10 years.  So, I know the advantages and disadvantages of this program.  Overall, for the price, the program is a great value, especially for families who can not afford private fishing lessons.  But, the content is extremely basic.  The quality of instruction can vary immensely.  For those looking for smaller classes that offer more technical programs that fit your personal schedule, we suggest looking into other options. 

    Local and National Fly Fishing Schools

    Fly fishing schools do an amazing job of convincing the public that they are the best choice for instruction. They promise a lot, but do they deliver?  Plus, the business model that schools employ have become popular, and very profitable.  For example: sign up 15-30 people for a 1-2 day course, charge $300-$600 per person. If you do the math (10 x $600 = $6,000) you'll quickly realize that you might be in the wrong profession! Personally, at the request of a few friends, I have attended a few fly fishing schools.  Being a self-taught angler, and a consumer who wants value for his money, I was not overly impressed (perhaps because I was not a beginner, at the time).  I am not saying that fly fishing schools are bad.  I am just saying it was not for me.    

    • Many programs throughout the country.
    • Typically taught by guides or certified instructors.
    • Participation in the class may afford you purchase discounts at their local retail shop.

    • Programs are for profit, therefore, class size tends to be large (10-30 students, with 1-2 instructors).
    • If class size is large, student to instructor ratio is too high for one on one attention.
    • Schools typically cost $$$$.  If you don't like the program or your instructor, you are stuck.
    • Qualifying instructors ability to teach.
    • The program content is set and does not allow for individual instruction.
    • Content is generic and it seems that most schools teach the same old stuff.
    • You can not create your own class schedule.
    • Your instructor might be an excellent fisherman, but the delivery/quality of instruction is not guaranteed. 
    • Only the cost of the class is guaranteed. 
    • Sales or discounts offered by the school might steer people towards buying products they don't need.

    Final Word:  Again, do fly fishing schools deliver on their promises?  Because they are very profitable, fly fishing schools are here to stay, and they will convince you that their on-stop-shop model is the best.  But, is it the best for you?  Try to think about what teaching model will best meet your needs.  In my opinion, I would rather have small classes, with one on one attention, taught by a great instructor who is completely dedicated to his passion and mission...not a paid seasonal employee who more than likely suffers from burnout (repeating the same stuff day after day).     

    Private & Small Group Fly Casting Lessons   

    Market studies prove that the average person will not choose private or small group lessons.  Why? People believe that private or small group lessons are too expensive (another reason why the fly fishing school model is widely accepted).  In specific parts of the country private and small group lessons are definitely more expensive.  For example, in Montana, a private lesson could cost $150 per hour!  But, not all private and small group lessons are expensive (some can be extremely affordable). Regardless of cost, the one fact that everyone agrees upon, private or small group lessons offer the best educational format (if the instructor is good).    

    • One on one instruction and attention = you are constantly part of the learning process.
    • Small group offers the best instructor to student ratio = individual attention is available.
    • Communication is more efficient and productive = allows Q & A's, between instructor and student.
    • Create your own class or a series of classes based on your personal schedule = Flexibility and learn at your own pace.
    • Work directly with the owner who lives the passion and mission = Great teachers don't do it for the money.
    • Meet your specific fly casting, fly fishing or fly tying needs = customize your program.
    • Develop a relationship with a mentor, not a corporation/school = a Great teacher will always be there to help.
    • Support a business model that invest in your community =  sustainable educational resource for years and years.

    • Cost of instruction might be high.
    • Qualifying instructors teaching skills.
    • With one instructor, the instructors teaching style may conflict with your personality.

    Final Word:  Traditionally, private or small group lessons offering the lowest instructor to student ratio is the best teaching format.  We suggest finding a good instructor who offers private or small group instruction at a reasonable price. Why?  If you go to a fly fishing school and spend $300-$600, and you don't like it, you are stuck.  Further, ask yourself this question, if you are prepared to spend $300-$600, wouldn't you want one on one instruction? (of course you would). Again, find an instructor who offers a series of private or small group classes (the content will be the same or better than a fly fishing school), and pay him/her the $300-$600 = it's a much better VAULE!    

    What's Next? 

    The way we look at it, you have two options.  Option #1: You can follow the crowd/herd and do as the industry/market wants you to do.  Option #2: You can slow things down; think for yourself and pick the path the meets your specific needs. 

    If you think our message makes sense, and you desire private or small group instruction, please feel free to read about our lessons and guiding services. 

    Thanks and hope this has helped you.