Rule #1: Know Thy Client

Know-Thy-Client 2

It is common knowledge that 7:30 in the morning is standard start time for most of the guides in our shop. Some consistently show up fifteen minutes early, while some of the veteran guides show up late, pretty much all the time. That’s not because that we veterans believe that we’re privileged, it’s because we have our system down, mastered like YoYo Ma approaching a cello. Our fly boxes are stocked with the right flies immediately after we get off of the river. We make sure that we have plenty of Dry Shake and tippet, including back-ups in the glove box. Our client lunches are already made or ordered.  Check, check and check.

It’s more than that though.  Those of us with a lifetime of trips under our belts are fortunate to have many returning clients. We keep in touch with our fishing guests both before and after their fishing trips. Many know the routine as well as we do.  Because of that, many of our repeat offenders don’t want to take part of the morning frenzy at the fly shop, rushing to get fitted in waders that don’t fit as well as they could and being told, “If they’re a bit tight, that’s okay. It is to suppose to fit like that.”  In reality, that’s just a line of guide BS to get you out of the shop and out onto the water as fast as possible. A guide that knows his client(s) well has already pulled their gear out in the correct and appropriate sizes. We’re that good.
To me, the truth is this: As a professional fishing guide, no matter how well you know the fish, the water or the bugs, the most important thing to know is your client(s).

You know that they prefer to throw a dry fly over a nymph but that they are okay with a dry-dropper because you know that works too.  Or that they like a turkey sandwich on wheat with no mayo. I have some clients that just want to fish in beautiful places, which isn’t too difficult of a request here in the magnificent Roaring Fork Valley. Other clients of mine only want to fish from 10am – 2pm so that they can sneak in a quick round of golf. My personal favorite request is when a client informs me to just make sure that his significant other is well taken care of, thus enabling him to book a return fishing trip, confident that she’ll allow him to do so again.

I would like to share with you one of my favorite client stories that happened a few years ago that has yet to be topped.  I call it, “The Three Requirements”

I arrived at the shop around 8 am and was told by one of the fly shop managers, Bob, that I had a pick-up in town. What that means is that I am going to meet them at wherever they might be staying. This client happened to be staying at The Aspen Institute. This information immediately screams a couple of things; the client is an out-of-towner and assuredly, is going to be in the upper percentile of income, and more than likely, an intellect. The Aspen Institute is a “think tank”, loaded to the gills with the world’s best movers, shakers and game changers; in other words, my kind of people.

So, Bob tells me that Ms. Fischer is expecting me promptly at 9:00 am and that I’d better get a move on it. He then rounds out that statement with, “And good luck”, said in a half snicker – half we’re praying for you, tone of voice.

“What do you mean by that?” I say.

Bob stumbles his wording a touch, realizing that he might have slipped up. “You’ll see. Never mind. Just saying.”

‘Great’,  I say to myself, trying to figure out how he can have such a strong opinion of Ms. Fischer with only a 5 minute phone call made to book this trip for her. What did she say to him? I was intrigued.

So, I get my gear for the day, jump in the truck and head to Aspen as fast as I can so that I wouldn’t be late, remembering the word “promptly”. What I did know is that I had twenty minutes to fret on what Bob wasn’t telling me about this trip at the shop.

I roll into The Aspen Institute and I see my client for the day standing exactly where she told Bob that she would be.  I pulled up, stepped out of my truck, walked up to Ms. Fischer with my hand out, ready to shake hands and greet my client.

“I’m sorry, I don’t shake hands.” she says.

I bring back my hand and say, “Okay then, it’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you too” she says. Now, I’m thinking that there might be some hope for today after all.

Not ten seconds had past and she blurts out, “I have three requirements for today.”  Then, an odd silence came over us.

A-ha, Bob’s words at the fly shop are becoming much clearer to me now. I ask politely, “And what might those three requirements be?”

She said, “One”, as she reaches in her bag and pulls out very beautiful short rod. “I only want to fish with this rod.”
It was a gorgeous, handmade bamboo fly rod that was her crown jewel. “I want for you to fish with that rod all day”, I said in the same voice a kid would use as they’re just about to open and play with a new toy that they’ve been wanting for a while. “Sure, no problem”, she obliged.

“Two,” she says sternly, as she put up a peace sign with her fingers, “I want to catch fish that are only this big.”, as she lowers her hands to measures a gap between her two index fingers, something no bigger than six inches.

I have to ask, “Why’s that?”

As she reaches into her bag again, she proceeds to lift out a very small, handmade, birdseye maple wooden net with a hand-knotted basket that could not fit a fish much larger than 6 inches. The net was also made by the same artisan that crafted her impeccable fly rod. I am slowly beginning to understand my client. I could not wait to find out what the third requirement might be.

I ask with a light tinge of hesitance in my voice and slowly say, “And three?”

She says without missing a beat, “I want my experience to be lyrical”.  She went silent again, looking at me with a cold stare waiting for my answer to her challenge.

I look at her calmly, grab her bag of tricks and load it in to my old Toyota truck. “Let’ go, I have an idea”. She was pleased with my confidence and of my acceptance to her requests. The truth is, the only idea I had had was to get in the truck and figure it to on the road.

One thing a good fishing guide should be is becoming an expert of small talk with a purpose. Kind of like being a private investigator without your mark knowing that they are quietly being cross examined.  Here is what I found out:

a) She is in an unusual high-pressure job

b) She is an older, single woman and a bit too busy for a social life

c) She is very well traveled

d) Lives in the heart of Manhattan.

e) Enough said – I have a plan.

I told her, “I have the perfect place in mind, but it will take us about 30 longer to get there.  Is that okay?”  I knew it would be okay.  I’m driving and thankfully she had no idea that there was great fishing less than five minutes from her Aspen hotel.  So we drive along chatting, talking about the sites and local history.  She thinks that she wants to go fishing, but what she really wants is to simply get away.

Twenty minutes later we bypass two major rivers in our area, the Fryingpan and the Roaring Fork. I know you’re thinking…why?  Well that’s easy for me to answer.  My intention is to take her up into the high country creeks and oxbows that are filled with little brown and beautiful brook trout. No other fisherman in sight and a perfect place for a 6’6″ bamboo fly rod.


I pull my truck into a pull-out along the side of the dirt road that’s littered with open range cows and cattle guards. I open her cloth rod sock, set up her rod and grab her net with a smile on my face and say, “Are you ready?  Let’s go.”

All dear Ms. Fischer had to say to me at that moment was, “This is perfect.”, then that odd little silence showed up once again.

The importance and beauty of getting to know your client is really one simple rule: Try to know what your client wants before they even know what it is that they are truly seeking. 

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