So, you want to be a fishing guide? |

So, you want to be a fishing guide?

Jim Morgan
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/Aspen Times fileFishing guide Dave Johnson, of Crystal Fly Shop in Carbondale, eyes his fly selection for a client during a float down the Roaring Fork River. Colorado Mountain College offers a course for aspiring fishing guides at its Leadville campus.

LEADVILLE, Colo. ” So you want to be a flyfishing guide?

But how do you know what the job really requires? It’s not like they teach a class … well, actually, at Colorado Mountain College’s Timberline campus in Leadville, they do.

The class is an offshoot of the recreational flyfishing courses Mark Cole has been teaching for several years.

“It seemed a logical extension to expand into a guide program,” he said, explaining that after graduation students from the outdoor programs find employment in the winter but are unemployed in the summer. “Guiding seemed like a natural fit as a way to provide year-round employment.”

Cole and Curt Bender, an avid fly fisherman and an instructor at CMC as well as a part-time guide, saw the need for the course after conversations with high country flyshop owners and outfitters.

“They’re always looking for ways to develop qualified guides,” Bender, said. “We saw it as a great fit as the college is located amidst many of the West’s greatest flyfishing drainages.”

The community college’s campus sit alongside some of the best water in the West ” the Colorado, the Blue, the Roaring Fork, the Yampa, the Eagle and the headwaters of the Arkansas pass through Leadville. There also are more than 30 flyshops in the region.

The class includes 16 sessions and four field trips. Most of the students aspire to be guides, although some, like Eric Riley, see it as an opportunity to simply improve their skills.

“I really just want to be a good fisherman,” he said. But others, like Justin Dirks, who has been flyfishing for several years, sees guiding as a potentially fun career.

“I wanted to get an idea of what it takes to be a guide,” he said.

What it takes, Bender said, is more than most people realize. A competent guide must be a bit of a teacher, a fisherman, a entomologist, a psychologist and a businessman.

Bender and Cole know they can’t provide everything in the class, so instead, they focus on basics which will serve the students well.

“When they finish the class, I hope that they have a solid understanding of fly fishing, insects, business, leadership skills and first aid that any outstanding guide should possess,” Bender said. “And like any guide, they will need to acquire local river and lake knowledge where they practice their trade.

“We can give them the fundamentals, but they will have to become proficient on their local waters.”

There is universal agreement between students and the instructors as to what is the most challenging part of the class ” teaching casting.

Casting a fly rod isn’t easy, at least not for someone who’s never done it.

“I’ve been flyfishing for 20 years, and I’m still learning new casting and fishing techniques,” Cole said.

The course is not, as some might think, easy. And there are students who have failed.

“Our students quickly learn the class is challenging,” Cole said. “It requires a significant time commitment to earn the guide certificate. Each year, we have students who drop out along the way.”

Not only is it challenging academically, it can be challenging physically. Cole tells the story of a May day on the Arkansas River when a snowstorm blew in.

“I was walking the east bank looking for my students in white-out conditions when I finally found Justin (Dirks) with his back to the blowing snow,” Cole said. “He was completely covered with the white stuff, but he was gamely casting.

“He wasn’t hooking any browns in that part of the river, but as long as he was willing, so was the instructor.”

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