Chris Dore is one of New Zealand's most revered fly fishing guides. Anyone who loves the sports will likely have followed his social media, read his blogs or even been out on a guided day with him.
I first met Chris in 2016 as I was a budding guide trying to soak in as much knowledge as possible. His technical approach to the sport really hit home with me as it was something that I felt was the key to a great or slow day on the river. That first day we fished togeather amongst the late season mayfly hatches then spent until the early hours of the morning chatting everything there was to say about the industry.
Since then Chris and I have spent many times on the river as well as many more times chatting over a beer. It has led me to become a more considered angler and altered my approach to a more technical mindset.
One of the early days Chris and I spent on the river togeather and the time I learnt the power of big streamers!
So to give you an insight about what it takes to become a revered guide in one of the finest fly fishing destination on earth, here is the man, the myth & the legend Chris Dore in his own words:
So Chris, how did it all start? When and where did you first pickup a fly rod and was it love at first sight or a slow burn?
Like many of us, it all started before I could remember with a stick and a bit of string, following Grandad around the estuary and tidal flats at Taieri Mouth. Eventually bait fishing (with a real, grown ups rod ) moved into spin fishing, then a bubble and streamer and eventually my buddy Mark Weatherall took me up the river with his fly rod. I was hooked. Ive always loved anything outdoors and fly fishing was a challenge, something that I had to work at, and got me into areas and locations I probably wouldn’t have hiked to or visited otherwise. What’s not to love?
You have built up a tremendous amount of technical knowledge over the years and have been kind enough to give it back through your guiding and writing. How did you pick up all this knowledge yourself, was it just time on the water or are there sources you can refer people too?
I would read a lot. I mean a whole lot and as a young teen, absorbed every book at the library, or magazine article I could find. However I have always had an inquisitive mind and never took what I read as the be all and end all of how to, rather looking at combining relative information, trying to build on it and played around a lot when on the river. You have to be prepared to experiment, try something different and to have a blank day, and I enjoyed learning, and writing about fly fishing techniques from a young age. A few fishing influences came and went, and many remain, but I always maintain that you can learn something from anyone, even a beginner with their virgin mindset and inquisitive questions. Always keep thinking and developing your ideas. Pre 2000, and especially in the years since, I head out in the most horrendous and supposedly unfishable of conditions to see just what is possible with different approaches. I feel there arent any secret spots anymore. You need to be able to pick the right location for the day and the right approach to be successful. You must be proficient in a variety of approaches and be adaptable enough to mix things up when needed. I simply enjoy teaching and watching others develop their own ideas and approaches from what I show them. Spending time with a wide range of anglers not only teaches you a heck of a lot, but encourages you to develop your own style. Thats what Im not seeing in todays social media influenced angling scene. Its all just ‘learn the basics we saw in this vid, reinvent the wheel and film it’. The only thing that really develops is their hashtags.
Chris has plenty of interesting techniques to observe, including getting down low to net a fish!
I eventually found it quite difficult to maintain the passion for guiding and eventually decided to move on to something new. Considering you're still fully invested and seem to love it, how do you stay motivated and is there anything you would advise to keep the passion alive?
I’ve been guiding now for 18 years and never intended to do so for this long. 10 years and Im out were my thoughts. however 10 years passed and I was thoroughly loving what I was doing. My seasons were booked up to 2 years out by the same old faces, the same old friends, with enough new clients to develop new relationships. I was, and still am truely amped for every guide day, catching up with friends old and new and seeing what challenges the weather, and the river determine we need to take on as a team.
From day dot I promised myself that if I ever lost the passion for my own personal fishing, or saw guiding as a job, then I’d give it all up the next day. 18 years in, Im still as excitable about both as I was back in 2004. I treat everyone as a friend, not just a client and so find it easy to go that extra mile and get enjoyment from my day.
Guiding is a very intimate job where you meet people from all over the world and form close bonds, some that can last years. Who is your longest serving customer and what do you still enjoy about being on the river and guiding them to this day?
Im fortunate to have a number of clients who have become good, personal friends. One in particular would hire me exclusively 5 days a week for a number of months at a time for over a decade. Its hard not to forge personal bonds when spending such time on the river with likeminded people.
What are the common issues/problems/work-ons that you encounter when guiding international clients. How do you go about maintaining clear communication to remedy these?
Expectation vs reality. It doesnt take a lot to catch fish in many places around the globe, and even here in NZ, stalking a backcountry South Island Brown is a far cry from slaying winter rainbows in Turangi. Its a different mindset, and skillset altogether as a lot of Kiwi anglers found over the past two years as they branched South from their usual haunts.
From the initial email enquiry, I warn potential clients thats its a whole new ball game here and our leaders, casting and presentation requirements are much more specific than what they may be used to, but they can get up to speed! Upon booking, my clients get access to a library of preparation videos and writings and are advised to get out there and regularly practice accuracy and consistency with 15’ leaders before jumping on that plane. You soon tell those who have put in the effort, and those who haven’t. Granted not everyone has the time, but our trout don’t care for excuses.
It’s common for many anglers to blank here in NZ. Weather, river conditions, the trout themselves but most commonly, the anglers ability can all work against us. Thats why from very early on I focussed so heavily on a more instructional approach, and developed numerous teaching methodologies and ways to get through to different personalities and anglers of different backgrounds and experiences. I feel this is the reason we usually come away with the results. I mean for example, theres a difference between calling ‘strike’, and ‘lift’ to some and in the vigor with which you call each. The first is a more aggressive call which may help some anglers put more zip into their hookset. However call Strike to a 6’ 110kg saltwater angler and watch that 5x tippet part.
Chris knows the lower south island region like the back of his hand, spending thousands of days on the water over his guiding career, resulting in fish like this!
Being on the river day in, day out can be tough on the body and mind. How have you handled this over the years and what areas do you think are important to ensure you can keep up the workload?
You have to look after yourself pretty much. Eat, sleep and excercise well. It’s important to look after your body as its your back, hips and knees that get you to where the fish are and so ensuring enough strength to protect them, wearing appropriate gear, and simply taking extra cautions when jumping down banks of running up a river. Ive been fortunate not to sustain any real injuries over the years with no aches or pains over the 18 seasons I’ve been guiding. Routine is important, as you are doing big days day in or day out. The client only sees you from 0700 - 1800 however there is the planning, prep, restocking, emails, cleaning down of the truck and liaisons with fishing buddies which can easily add an additional 3 hours or more onto your day. Your ‘days off’ are spent deep cleaning, restocking, catching up with the going’s on, liaising with clients and hopefully, a little personal time. You have to learn how to manage this balance and make the most of any time off for your own wellbeing. Having a very understanding wife certainly helps a lot too.
Tip: wear waders as much as possible and always wear good boots. Wet wading day in and day out may feel pleasurable in summer but cold, SI water on your joints every day does not make for happy knees. Likewise, a wading stick saves a lot of mishaps when walking along unstable banks and is great for reaching branches and flies up trees. You don’t get time to recover from injuries during a full on guide season, so avoid them in the first place.
How many years on the water guiding did it take before you felt that you had "figured it out". And when things don't go to plan and the fish don't play ball, how do you manage the clients expectations?
Haha you never have it figured out and thats the charm of guiding. Beware of the guide who has. There are never two days alike. You must react instinctively to what lies infront of you, pool to pool, and sometimes from step to step rather than going through some predetermined routine. Sometimes thats borne from experience, and sometimes you have to make it up on the spot and take an educated chance. You do however learn how to manage clients, their expectations and build up a few tricks along the way to manage things. Here’s one:
Client lands the line heavily too close to the fish. The fish freezes and the clients shoulders slump. He’s been having a mare.
Chris: “ slowly swing that rod tip to me, I want to change those flies”
After a total tippet and dry dropper rerig, and some light hearted banter to get his spirits up, 5 minutes have passed, and the client makes the cast in better spirits to a now rested fish. Hooks it and lands it. After the release, Client turns to me and says ‘Hey! Those were the same flies we were using before!’
I just had given him a much needed rest and a chance to relax for 5 minutes so he could settle his nerves and give the fish a break…
“treat every fish as the first of the day along with every cast. Don’t carry the last incident or mistake forward with you. Take a deep breath, move on and do something different with the next” Me.
Chris now dedicates his winter fishing mastering the art of the spey casting
If someone is thinking about becoming a guide, what are 3 things you think they should focus on improving to ensure they are the best they can be for clients?
Get some life experience first. Maybe work a few years in a hospitality role and learn to cater to people of different backgrounds, with different temperaments and demands in an often stressful environment. Most of what we do on the river is people management so you have to think fast, stay composed and control any situation that crops up.
Spend a lot of time on your rivers and learn them well. Forget about going to your ole favourite and getting those big fish social media pics, do time in adverse conditions or searching unfamiliar waters in weather most would struggle in. Dont think of it as fishing for yourself, ask yourself how you would lead someone through those days. Develop and learn your bread and butter local waters in all seasons and conditions then branch out further afield and only then add newer, more exotic waters to your repertoire. Its no use knowing three different guiding bases ok, when you still don’t know one very well.
Become the best angler you can be, and become technically fluent in many techniques and develop multiple ways to teach and deploy them. Theres more to life than an indicator and two nymphs, a wiggle cast or simply fishing the eye of each pool. What use is a guide to a client if the client is the more experienced of the two?
And finally, advertise only what you can deliver. That is important.
We all have some guiding horror stories. Without naming names, can you tell us one of your worst and what you did to remedy the situation?
Luckily not many at all to be truely boring. Apart from blown out rivers, gear malefunction / breakages it all comes down to managing your client, their expectations and their trip so
You don’t wear them out too early. When people are tired they can become frustrated and snappy and you never want to end a trip like that. Most aren’t used to fishing an 8 hour stint, much less day after day so pace out your trips, read the room and keep your clients in good spirits. That may mean an extra water break while ‘watching that riffle for a bit’ or a later start and an easier, shorter section of river the day following that big backcountry hike-out.
Both days that do spring to mind and could have ended up worse however came about both by mechanical breakdowns.
In the first instance, the fuel pump died while fuelling up at a small, rural garage. Never fear, they could get one delivered within a couple of hours. A local lad at the pump offered to drop us to the river below town and we fished our way back up. The mechanic came to collect us from the bridge around lunchtime in my repaired truck and then off we went to our initial destination for the day. Ironically, we caught more fish on the unintended morning session on a usually blasé, lower section of river than we did the whole afternoon on our more exotic river of choice.
The second came about when the truck simply died in the middle of nowhere in rural Southland. A mechanic was arranged with a tow vehicle but would not be there for hours which would not help my clients situation. An impromptu roadside fly casting clinic while sending a few text messages, and my local band of mates rallied and came to the rescue. Firstly, Simon Chu appeared with cheery yarns and a much needed drop off to a river well out of his way, and back towards town, and then at the days end the Rees Hotel Concierge, and good friend of mine Benny Sexton came to pick us up and drop us back to town with a car full of true blue kiwi snacks, beverages and some bloody good kiwi banter to take the onus off a stressed, but much relieved and appreciative guide.
Both clients have been back many times since and were overwhelmed at the lengths kiwis go to to help each other out.
With many years of happy clients, Chris has built up a strong returning customer base, even with the borders closed!
Now the borders are open again, how is your season looking going forward? Also is there any advice you can give to anglers on how to handle the inevitable influx of tourist anglers?
I was very fortunate that throughout covid my business remained busy. Im guessing through my writing, presentations, fundraisers and events through Manic Tackle Project Ive had a lot of exposure to numerous angling circles throughout NZ and this came back to me over the past two years with Kiwi anglers wanting to try something new and learn something new. This coming season has been booked for a couple of years now with both covid relocates and a good percentage of Kiwi anglers returning.
My thoughts are be aware of angling etiquette if and when things get busy. Theres never an excuse to walk upon another angler but bare in mind it may be totally innocent. There are loads of rivers around the South each with numerous access points. Move about and try new locations if your first choice has a car at the access. Also, leave a note on your car as to
Wether you have gone upstream or down as latecomers may choose to wander in the unoccupied direction.
Its the more famous rivers that obviously get visited more often but here’s a tip: there’s a lot of great fly fishing to be found on the mid to lower sections of many rivers, and throughout many waters we often drive past en route to more popular locations. These are often my bread and butter guide waters on weekends and holiday periods. Put in your own groundwork and enjoy the rewards.
If you want to follow Chris more closely, read his writings or even book a day on the river with him, visit his website here: www.chrisdore.com
Also if your one that loves daily updates and nuggets of wisdom, follow Chris' Facebook page here: Fly Fishing With Chris Dore & Friends
Now living on the lakefront in Kingston, Chris can literally catch fish on his doorstep!