What makes a good guide? Well being a dirt poor, fish bumming lowlife I’ve never experienced a guided trip first hand. That said, spend enough time on your home rivers and chances are you’ll get to know at least a few guides. Every angler is looking for something different, but as an outsider looking in I would argue that a good, complete guide has to meet a couple of important criteria. First, they must be a teacher. Anyone can row a boat down a river, drive a jet sled, or stand idly while clients accrue wind knots, casting poorly into unlikely water. Second, a guide must be a good citizen of the river, that means respecting other anglers and perhaps more importantly, being an advocate for the wild fish which provide their livelihood. Finally the obvious, a good guide must be fishy. Fishiness is hard to quantify, but basically some have it and some don’t. While there are a number of good guides working the steelhead rivers of the Pacific Northwest, Ryan Smith owner of Arch Anglers Guide Service is a good friend who to me epitomizes all that a guide should be.
I first met Ryan a number of years ago when he was still working at Avid Angler. Since then we’ve shared more than a few days on the water, had some epic adventures and consumed more beers than the surgeon general would recommend. He also snapped a photo of the largest fish I’ve ever gotten, a sweet March Hen on the Big Trib a few years back that remains forever etched in my memory. As an added bonus, he also allows me and the fish hound to crash his couch when we’re chasing fish on the eastside.
Ryan has been busting his ass the last few years getting his business off the ground and from the sounds of it, it’s paying off. It’s good to see someone being rewarded for doing things the right way. He’s dedicated to conservation and to giving his clients an experience that will stay with them, whether he’s teaching a double spey or tailing the fish of a lifetime. While Ryan is a devout steelhead bum, he’s also extremely knowledgeable about fishing the beaches of Puget sound, and trouting on the Yakima. With steelhead runs tanking in Puget Sound, guides must be jack of all trades to make a living anymore.
He also stands out as the only guide to my knowledge who fishes the eastslope and doesn’t emphasize bobber fishing from the boat. The Rivers draining the eastern cascades are renowned for their free rising, acrobatic steelhead and the explosion in the number of people guiding these rivers who almost exclusively bobber fish is disheartening. While Ryan would never condemn the tactics of another angler he instead focuses on imparting to his clients the rewards of fall steelheading with a floating line, and I can tell you, they catch plenty of fish.
Check out Ryan’s website: