Sandra Hanna, a software engineer from Colorado Springs, always wanted to try fly-fishing. So for her birthday last July, she hired a guide and went to Rainbow Falls in Douglas County with her 9-year-old niece.
"I can't tell you how incredible that trip was," she said. "We got up early, and our guide knew everything - where the fish were, what flies were working. We learned how to do it, and my niece caught three fish and I caught one. It was an awesome day."
Whether you're spelunking at Cave of the Winds, bicycling down Pikes Peak Highway or fly-fishing in a mountain stream, a good tour guide can mean the difference between a lively adventure and a disappointing bust.
"You're spending a lot of money so you want someone who's got personality, is creative and fun, and yet knows what they're doing," said Robert Younghanz, who has been a fishing guide for two decades.
But it's one thing to know how to do something yourself and another to teach it to others, especially when it comes to fly-fishing, he said.
That's why last spring he and business partner Neil Luehring started a training program for fly-fishing guides.
The Colorado Fly Fishing Guide Academy offers an intensive, weeklong immersion into everything involved in leading fly-fishing expeditions, from a morning jaunt to overnight trips.
Classes are conducted in the evenings Monday through Friday, with both weekend days spent learning on the water. The next session starts April 25 and will be held at Angler's Covey, 295 S. 21st St. Students need to know the basics of fly-fishing.
Younghanz and Luehring each teaches his own specialty. Younghanz is known as "The Bug Guy" because of his uncanny ability to sense what fish like to eat. He's considered a guru in the industry when it comes to entomology for the fly-fisher. Luehring is a paramedic and knows a lot about river safety.
The pair bring in experts to talk about other facets of the job, including marketing, transportation, photography, equipment, catch and release, differences in guiding male and female anglers, working as an independent contractor, obtaining proper documentation, preserving the environment, incorporating personal touches and more.
"This is the stuff you have to know to not get in trouble and do it right," Younghanz said.
Multiple instructors help keep the classes lively and interesting, said Steven Armijo, who took the course last year and now works as one of 25 guides out of Angler's Covey.
"They take you to the next level," he said. Along with how to find bountiful fishing spots and select flies, students learn about "interaction and the spiritual essence - things that can make you a well-rounded guide."
Armijo, a military veteran, has been fly-fishing since he was 12 and is now nearly 40.
"A lot of people didn't have a father or grandfather to take them fishing and, as a guide, you get to relive catching that first fish all over again," he said. "You get to see that happiness."
Unlike the rafting industry, Colorado does not require professional certification for fishing guides so there's no standard for training. Younghanz said he's been both a student and an instructor at guide schools in other cities and created a program that combines the best of what he experienced. Some trips include a streamside picnic.
"This might be the coolest thing people do all year," he said, "and they want a professional guide who can help them have a great time."
Graduates receive a certificate of completion and can work anywhere in the U.S. If they work for Orvis-endorsed outfitters such as Angler's Covey, they receive endorsement from Orvis as well. Colorado law requires fishing guides to be certified in first aid and CPR, which is available after the guide school.
"It gives them confidence knowing they're prepared to handle any kind of situation that may come up on a trip - when you're with a father and son, and the son is done two hours before the dad, or when you're with a couple who have different skill levels," Younghanz said of his program.
Hanna said she was impressed that the guide she and her niece had - Jamie Roth, who completed Younghanz's program last year - was personable, fun and very patient.
"He could work well with both me and my niece," she said. "You could tell he loves what he's doing."