Be a Guide: 6 Things I Learned on the River

  by Andrew Wolgemuth

A friend and I recently went fly fishing. It was a great day—a beautiful setting, perfect weather, and hungry fish. Think A River Runs Through It, but substitute clueless, unskilled city guys for the practiced, talented, cast-on-a-dime Maclean brothers.

Fortunately for Jon and me, we also had Jim…a guide. For every single void in my fly fishing knowledge and capability, Jim stood in the gap. Where my gear was insufficient, Jim provided what I needed. Where my knowledge was lacking, Jim brought me up to speed. Where my skill was insufficient, Jim provided coaching and guidance. Where I messed up and got things hopelessly tangled, Jim help me get straightened out and back to fishing. Because of Jim, I actually landed a few fish, had a fun time, and finished the day with a modest understanding of what I was doing on the river.

Jim, it occurred to me midway through the day, was doing precisely what I want to do as a dad. Six things about his guiding stood out to me.

He Explained Things Clearly and Simply

Jon and I were the ultimate nubes on the river, entering a world and an activity that Jim knew inside and out. Everything familiar to Jim was brand new to us; he had to start from scratch, assuming nothing. Yet he embraced his role as our teacher, he made the complicated clear for us.

He was Patient

Jim handled our (endless) questions with aplomb. We learned like crazy, and we never felt shamed for our lack of knowledge or even condescended to. When an initial explanation wasn’t making sense for us, he took another stab…and another (as needed). “Think about it like this…”

He Let Us Try

It’s one thing to know how one’s supposed to do something, and quite another to actually do it. Jim knew this, and he took us from listening to his teaching to coaching our (lame) attempts as soon as possible.

He Let Us Fail

Because Jim was a good teacher, Jon and I were pleasantly surprised to actually be able to successfully cast and move around the river…for the most part. There were plenty of miscasts and stumbles. These too became teaching points (or reteaching points). The verbal lessons took on new meaning and clarity when the consequences of not following Jim’s guidance led to tangles and failure in the water.

He Set Us Up for Success

Jim’s experience on the river gave him remarkable visibility into what was happening beneath the surface of the water. A simple bend in the water meant nothing to Jon and me, but Jim knew what it meant and where the fish were waiting for food. Swallows flying above the water were entertaining to Jon and me; Jim understood what their presence meant for the daily hatch of bugs from the river into the air.

Jim took this intuitive knowledge and applied it for us: let’s use this fly and this midge; stand here; cast there; respond like this when you see your line do that. Never lording his knowledge over us, we knew he was doing his best to help us find and land fish.

He Took Great Joy in Our Success

It wasn’t too long that I felt a fish hit my line, and – unlike times before – I set the hook properly and brought the guy in. I was pumped; landing that brown trout felt inordinately good. Alongside my excitement was…Jim’s. He spends most days helping people fish, he’s caught innumerable fish himself (and doubtlessly could have caught multiples to the three that I caught during our time together), and he was thrilled by my success. My joy gave him joy, and that made my success all the more fun. Guide joy is something like dad joy, I think.


A dadcraft guide follows Jim’s lead. Failure may well be a step toward success. Patiently untangling the lines may reinforce the lessons you’ve taught. And yes, celebration is poised and ready for action. From the river to your backyard. Guide well.


Guides (of a slightly different sort) abound at dadcraft.

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Photo by Shea Rouda on Unsplash