Book Review: Wisdom of the Guides by Paul Arnold

Wisdom of the Guides: Rocky Mountain Trout Guides Talk Fly Fishing
by Paul Arnold
Frank Amato Publications, 1998

In the introduction to this slim volume the author, Paul Arnold, says

It is perhaps best that this book be put together by an average fisherman like me. I am in awe of the knowledge and skill of guides. I hope that my respect and admiration- as well as their knowledge and skill- show through in these pages.

Well, Paul, that respect and admiration show through as well as the subjects’ knowledge, skill and personalities.  It’s easy as an aspiring angler, or maybe worse as an “experienced angler” to have certain false ideas. These notions are often closely held and prized. Maybe even clung to like life rafts in an ocean of uncertainty.  Arguments er discussions with other anglers in person and on forums rarely change one’s mind on these points. All that you have to do to see this is suggest that your tippet knot (the Orvis knot) is better than theirs (clinch knot) and you’d think that you said their children are ugly. We all build a fly fishing world based on our experiences. We fish – things happen, we file away our perception of what happened. We add another brick to the wall of our fly fishing home. The problem is that many of us – myself included – just don’t have the breadth and depth of experience on the water to properly file these anecdotes.  I may not have the ability to see the outliers from the norm.  That ability of course comes with experience.  Fishing guides have that experience and that ability. After all they probably fish as much in a year as many of us do in five or ten.

This book may change your mind on a few points. Maybe not, but it’s hard to argue with the kinds of folks in this book. Maybe with one of them – but not with all of them. The guides interviewed may not agree on everything, and there certainly are some differences based on the types of water that they fish, but you’ll find a great deal of agreement. It makes you take notice. You may not want to listen to the advice of that blowhard on the fly fishing forum, but you might want to give these guys the benefit of the doubt.

To some extent we all hear what we want to hear. I don’t want to give away too much, but as a guy that fishes tenkara a lot I came away nodding my head and think “Yep. These guys are supporting my tenkara habit.” What I mean is that the idea of simplicity and presentation over fly selection seemed to come up quite a bit. Keep your fly selection simple, focus on your presentation instead of changing flies over and over. But there is plenty of other good advice here.

The interviewees include; Gary LaFontaine, Craig Matthews, Johnny Gomez, Thomas J. Knopick and John W. Flick, Jennifer Ollson, Larry Tullis, Mike Lawson, Charlie Gilman, Al Troth and Paul Roos. Undoubtedly there are names that you recognize on that list, plus some that you may not. There are lifetimes worth of experience on that list. Mr. Arnold asks each guide the same basic questions – though the conversation will vary from person to person depending on the answers given. Even though the same questions are being asked, the personalities of the interviewees really come through in their answers.

In short, if you’re looking for something to read this off-season, and you wouldn’t mind some good advice from some very experienced anglers, then this book should fit the bill for you and you’ll come away a more knowledgeable angler.

Disclosure: I was given this book for review but was not otherwise compensated in any way

3 Comments on Book Review: Wisdom of the Guides by Paul Arnold

  1. Thanks for the review Antony. This book has been on my wish list for far too long. I will now put it in my basket and absorb as much as I’m able to extrapolate from it.


  2. This is a worthwhile read. Lots of useful tidbits and different perspectives.

what say you?