Guided Trip F.A.Q.
Got questions about my guided trips? Hopefully most of them will be answered below. If not, feel free to shoot me an e-mail or give me a call at (406) 223-8204.
What are your deposit and cancellation policies?
I require up 50% of guided trip fees to be paid at the time of booking, usually via credit card though I can also except checks and money orders or Paypal. I generally cap deposits at $500 and reserve the right to waive or reduce deposits to some token amount, at my discretion. Usually trips I book that will run through Parks' Fly Shop (Yellowstone Park and Yellowstone River trips) will have 50% deposits, while I'll take a smaller deposit for trips I run through my own outfitter's license and business.
Deposits will be refunded in full if you need to cancel one month or more prior to the date of the trip. Between one month and 48 hours prior to the trip, your deposit will be forfeited if you cancel. I may be able to apply the deposit to a trip on a later date if you rebook promptly. This will depend on how many trips I have had to turn away due to your booking and if I am able to rebook. In general, the later the cancellation, the more likely it is the deposit will be forfeited in full. Trips cancelled with less than 48 hours notice, for any reason, will require payment in full. I encourage you to purchase trip insurance if you believe there may be a chance you need to make a last minute cancellation.
If I have to cancel, for any reason, we will refund your deposit in full if it is not possible to reschedule.
Please note that I very rarely cancel trips due to weather. You should be prepared to fish in rain, wind, snow, cold, and other weather conditions, and to fish using flies and techniques that you might not consider optimal. The only reasons I cancel trips are when weather conditions are downright dangerous or when it is not possible to find fishable water for the type of trip(s) you've booked.
When I make reservations on your behalf on one of our area private fisheries, I will generally charge the associated rod fees ($40-120/day per angler) at the same time as and in addition to my part of the deposit. Cancellation policies for these private waters vary, but since all are typically fully booked most days during high season, it is highly unlikely I will be able to get your rod fee back without significant notice.
What's included in the rates?
All guided trips include my time or that of another guide, the use of a rod/reel combo if required, though you're encouraged to bring your own gear if you have gear that's suitable, leaders and all other terminal tackle, the use of all flies required during the day, and water and soft drinks. Full-day trips include lunch. Drift boat trips include shuttle fees and power boat trips include launch fees. All trips run through Parks' Fly Shop include wading gear appropriate to the season, if required, though again you're encouraged to bring your own if you have it. Other trips do not include wading gear. No trips include the following, when applicable: private water fees, fishing licenses, YNP entrance fees, raingear or other clothing, alcoholic beverages, or guide gratuities.
Note that Montana state law prohibits fishing outfitters from providing alcoholic beverages. You are permitted to BYOB, if you desire. Just be sure to drink plenty of water, too.
I encourage you to bring your own flies along, if you have favorite patterns. This is a particularly good idea if you have any oddball or unique patterns that the trout around here may not have seen before. A few times a year I look through a client's boxes and say "Oooh, now THAT looks interesting," pick out a fly I've never seen before, and have it turn into a real winner.
Can someone who isn't fishing come along?
I have no problem with one or two non-anglers coming along on walk trips to take pictures or serve as cheerleaders, though I ask that they try not to interfere with the fishing. The number of non-anglers that can come along is capped at two per guided party because even if I am not charging them, I are still responsible for these individuals in the view of Yellowstone Park, the state of Montana, my insurance company, and other relevant authorities, so trying to keep track of more people than this starts to raise my liability to unacceptable levels.
Non-anglers are welcome on boat trips as well, though I charge according to the number of passengers rather than by whether or not the individuals are actually fishing. Please note that drift boats and rafts can only hold two passengers and my power boat can only hold three passengers, plus the guide, whether or not all of these passengers are fishing.
I will charge a few dollars if I provide non-anglers with drinks and/or lunch, except in the case of float trips where rates are based on the number of occupants in the boat, rather than on who's fishing.
Can we bring along a whole bunch of people and only have one or two fish at a time, in order to get lower rates? How about if another angler comes along but doesn't receive any guiding?
To be blunt, no in both cases. My rates are based on the number of people who fish on a given trip, not on how many are fishing at any one time. While it turns into a complicated mess and is difficult to establish a working relationship with clients when they are switching in and out throughout the day, the single biggest reason for this rule is that invariably everybody wants to fish all or most of the time, so the guide winds up guiding a whole bunch of extra people without being paid for it.
By the same token, I don't mind offering suggestions on where to fish for individuals in your group who don't want to be part of the guided group, but if an individual walks in with the guided party and fishes the same area, they will be considered part of the guided party and the trip will be billed as such. In the past I've been willing to take "non-guided" anglers along to fish the same area as guided anglers, but they almost always wind up asking for advice and/or interfering with the rest of the group's fishing.
You will probably find that the above policies are comparable to those followed by other outfitters.
Are your trips catch and release only?
As a general rule, yes, my trips are catch and release only. The only exceptions are where there are must-kill regulations in place on certain fish species or when it appears likely that a fish a client has caught of a species that's legal to keep is going to die (blood coming out of its gills, etc.). In these cases, we will retain the fish if we have a way of keeping it fresh (a cooler) or will dispose of it according the relevant jurisdiction's guidelines.
There are no exceptions to this rule for trophy fish. I am very glad to take lots of photos of big fish and get their measurements so that you can get a replica mount made if you desire one (or simply want to frame the best photos), but I am of the opinion that a big fish is far more valuable in the water than on the wall and haven't personally gotten a fish mounted since I was eleven years old.
What license do I need? Where can I get it?
In Yellowstone National Park, you'll need a YNP license. They cannot be purchased online, but are available at most area fly shops and at all ranger stations and visitor centers within the park. They are not generally available at the park entrance stations. For 2015, everyone aged 16 and up needs to pay for a permit. They're $18 for three days, $25 for a week, and $40 for the season, which runs the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend through the first Sunday in November. Those under age sixteen don't need a license if they're fishing with an adult who has one. They need a no-fee permit if they're fishing on their own.
In Montana, licenses are required on all natural waters and on man-made bodies of water (reservoirs) if they're not completely contained on one parcel of private land. For practical purposes, the only places you don't need a license are private ranch ponds and a couple heavily man-altered private creeks, Depuy Spring Creek in particular. Montana licenses can be purchased online at this link. Most area fly shops and many gas stations in fishing towns also sell licenses. Nonresidents ages 15 and above need licenses. For 2015, they run $10 for a required Conservation License (basically a license to buy licenses), plus $15 for two consecutive days of fishing, $43.50 for ten consecutive days of fishing, or $60.00 for the season. Those under age 15 can fish without a license if they're accompanied by an adult who has one. The Montana Central District (where all waters in my operations area are) general fishing season runs from the third Saturday of May through the end of November, but many larger rivers and all lakes are open year-round. Read the regs for specifics.
Do you take beginners?
Of course! Just bear in mind you're not going to turn into a fishing pro with just one day of instruction. Generally speaking, walk/wade trips on small streams full of small, aggressive trout are the most appropriate trips for beginners, since these trips offer the best opportunities for hands-on instruction as well as lots of bites to improve your confidence, but I am willing to guide first-timers on all waters within my operations area. Just bear in mind that larger, more-difficult fish may prove frustrating for beginners and novices, so you'll need to be realistic in your expectations.
My kid is X years old. Is he/she old enough to go on a guided trip?
Fly fishing requires a certain amount of strength, motor control, patience, and attention span. More in all of these areas than fishing with conventional tackle. Moreover, most areas where I run my walk/wade guided trips require the ability to wade water that's at least knee-deep for the average adult, which will be a lot a more problematic for someone who is still only four feet tall. I learned how to fly fish when I was about six years old, but I started fishing with conventional tackle when I was two and by the time I was six I was DESPERATE to learn how to fly fish. If your kids really wants to learn at age six and can handle the physical demands, six can be an okay time to learn how to fly fish. Otherwise, most kids are ready to learn sometime between ages eight and twelve. Hopefully you know your kid(s) well enough to determine whether they're ready, and what length of trip is best for them. I emphatically encourage you NOT to try to get your kid to come with you unless they're very eager for the experience. Nothing on a day of guided fishing is worse for a guide or a parent than a kid who doesn't want to be there.
Children ages 11 and under must be accompanied by an adult (whether the adult fishes or not), and those 8 and under must have an adult beside them at all times. Kids 12 and over need not be accompanied by an adult. In other words I'll take your teens off your hands for a day as long as you assure me they're not crazy.
On float trips, I'm willing to let kids fish with spinning tackle, if they're not yet ready to fly fish or would rather use spinning gear. On that note...
Do you take anglers who fish with conventional tackle?
On certain trips, yes. On others, no. For the most part, river float trips and power boat trips are the only trips where it really makes sense for me to take spin-anglers. On these trips, the guide's primary responsibility is proper boat positioning, and that's almost identical whether clients are using flies or spinning lures. Since I don't personally spin-fish, it doesn't make sense for me to try to guide spin-anglers on walk-trips, where my duties as a guide are much more about directing clients on proper approaches, casting positions, presentations, and the like, and where fish are generally spookier than they are on bigger float rivers.
Please note that all private fisheries where I guide limit their guests to fly fishing only. In addition, I require spin-fishing clients to fish with either single or double hooks (no trebles) and require all barbs to be flattened. I do not permit bait fishing on my trips, no exceptions. I have a small selection of spinning lures clients are encouraged to try as well as a few basic spinning rods available for client use, but otherwise spinning lures are not included in my rates. For trips run through Parks' Fly Shop, spinning lures for client use are available, and you will be charged for what you use at trip's end. Otherwise, you need to bring your lures from home. Please ask me for specific recommendations for the trip you book.
What's for lunch?
Lunch is included on full-day trips. Generally speaking, I bring either prepared deli-style sandwiches or the makings for sandwiches, fruit, and chips on all trips. On trips that don't involve hiking, I'll usually also bring another side dish (potato salad or coleslaw), while I try to also bring granola bars on hike-in trips. When it's cold, I might bring a thermos of coffee or hot soup. I never cook on-stream, since the vast majority of my clients would rather get lunch over with and get back to fishing then spend a lot of time on the bank while I fix lunch.
I can accomodate for dietary restrictions (gluten, dairy, diabetes, allergies, things you just can't stand to eat) with advance notice. I will ask you to let me know of any such requirements when you book your trip.
All trips include water and soft drinks. BYOB if you'd like to have beer or wine with lunch.
How long are your trips? When do we meet? When will we be finished?
Full-day trips generally include about 9-10 hours of my time, including travel time. This translates to 7-8 hours on the water. Some full-days run a little longer, but I probably won't run any shorter unless you need to be done earlier or just get worn out. I'll ask you when we meet when you expect you'll want to get off the water, in order to pace out the day as needed to hit all the hot spots. Meeting times for full-days generally range from 6:00AM to 9:30AM, with most summer trips meeting at 8:00 or so. Most trips end around 6:00PM. Trips in the middle of summer usually run longer than trips earlier and later in the year, when the fishing is slower early and late in the day. This is one reason I offer lower-priced options for short full-days early and late in the year. Occasionally I'll run a full-day that meets at around noon and runs until dark, but these are rare.
Half-day trips generally include about 4-5 hours of my time, including travel time. This translates to about 2.5-3 hours on the water, or maybe a little more for walk/wade trips near Gardiner that don't involve much hiking. Half-days are capped at an absolute max of six hours, including travel time. Half-days can begin at a wide range of times, from 6:00AM for morning "runner hunting" trips in the fall on the Gardner River to 4:30PM for evening trips aiming to hit caddis hatches. Most of the time, I'll run half-days as morning trips running until lunchtime or from just after lunch until early evening, so nobody is starving in the middle of the trip.
Where do we meet for our trip?
This depends hugely on where the trip is running. Yellowstone Park trips will either meet at Parks' Fly Shop in Gardiner or at a prearranged meeting point inside the park, depending on where you're staying. Yellowstone River trips may meet at Parks' Fly Shop, at a fishing access, or at some other easily-recognizable point near the river. This depends on where you're staying and which stretch we're floating. Private water trips and power boat trips not taking place on the Land of Giants stretch of the Missouri are similar to Yellowstone River trips. Land of Giants trips will either meet at some point in Helena, Montana (I can even pick you up at your hotel) or at or near the Gates of the Mountains marina.
Basically, I'll make specific arrangements as to where we'll meet when you book your trip and confirm these arrangements with you the day before. I can provide good directions if you need them.
What sort of documentation will you send me confirming our booking?
I will send a detailed itinerary sheet covering the type of trip you've booked, the meeting place and time, any special lunch needs you have, suggested fishing tackle (unless you're using mine), suggested clothing and accessories to have, the deposit you've made and the total price of the trip, and more. I will usually send this via e-mail, but I can send it via US Mail if you prefer.
Tips average $75-150 for full-days and $50-80 for half-days, more or less. While you can add the tip on the bill if you must, cash is better whether you're fishing with me or another guide.
If there's a problem with your trip, obviously you should avoid tipping. I'd also like to know what the problem is, whether you're with me or one of my guides. I've been doing this since 2001 and always want to improve my service.
What's your relationship with Parks' Fly Shop?
I have a fairly odd status as an outfitter, in that I am also head guide at a fly shop owned by another outfitter (Richard Parks). For this reason, my trips in the Parks' Fly Shop area of operations are run through the shop. In essence, this website and Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing in general serve as an additional booking avenue for me. While I am part of the general guiding rotation at PFS, all trips booked through YCFF go to me by default. A portion of your booking fees will go to the fly shop.
For trips outside the PFS operations area, including trips on the Madison River, Missouri River, and lower Yellowstone River, I work for myself. All of your booking fees go in my pocket unless I hire additional guides.
For trips in the PFS operations area involving multiple guides that you book through YCFF, a portion of your booking fees will go to PFS but I will get a small amount from each booking. So these trips would be split three ways: to the guide, to PFS, and to me, in about that ratio.
Yes, I know it's weird.
This picture might raise more questions than it answers...