The Fly Fishing DIY Debate

A younger WindKnot & the Fishing Padre scope out an (empty) Bahamian flat.


I write this not as a guide or an angler, but as both. Cards on the table (in case you haven’t read the About page), I am a bonefish guide. I’m also a fierce advocate of DIY flats fishing. As such I feel in a unique position to offer an opinion that considers both the perspective of the guides and the adventure angler.

Let’s be honest, we DIY’ers might start with the best intentions: We’re going to explore, man, drive around and fish the whole island. But then, of course, we have no idea how the tides affect fish in that area, so (barring good luck) we’ll likely hit it wrong and (often) erroneously conclude that a fish-less flat is fish-less because it’s a bad flat, when it’s just a bad tide.

On the other hand a guide has to think about tomorrow, and next week, and next month. So if the fishing is tough, they’ll still move around, trying to spread out the pressure while still getting the best shots at fish. It’s a balancing act they have to do every day—considering the wants/desires/dreams of the client vs the health/longevity of the fishery (and their career).

I’ve heard it said that it’s not the casual DIY angler that’s pressuring the fish. I’d definitely have to disagree with that.

See, the psychology of a DIY angler is one I completely understand, having been there myself. I mean, if I’ve spent all that time planning a trip, scouring the forums, browsing Google Earth, and arranging all the flights, rental cars, lodging, etc, and coordinated all that with my buddies, and then the fishing turns out to be tough I get desperate to catch fish. We all do. Especially if (as is probably the case) that’s going to be my one exotic flats fishing adventure for the next year or two. So if I only find one flat that reliably has fish I’ll be sorely tempted fish there every day.

We tend to live in a myopic world of our own wherein we are the only anglers clever and adventurous enough to step off the map and do it ourselves. The truth is there were many before and they’ll be many afterwards—all desperate to catch fish with no real incentive to consider the ramifications to the fishery.

If I can slip back into my guide boots for a minute, I can attest that I’ve seen a flat take over 2 weeks to recover after being pounded every day for a week by a single DIY angler. It was one of the two weeks I was resting that flat and when I returned with a paying client expecting willing fish, I found spooky, closed-mouthed ghosts. So, I guess in the final analysis I’m echoing Dr. Addams and Bjorn on ThisIsFly when I say, DIY is great, just don’t be an A-Hole. But, in fact, I’d go farther and wonder if it’s possible for a normal, respectful angler turned DIY-angler-on-the-edge-of-desperation to be anything but. To be honest, the jury is still out for me.



REDACTED: August 29, 2013

So, to review:


  1. Guide.
  2. Fierce advocate of Do It Yourself Fly Fishing.
  3. Everybody stop being A-Holes.

WindKnot the Angler

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  • Reply

    Where can I buy a flatswalker? Is there a freshwater and saltwater model? At what age should someone start using a flatswalker? Can I get a discount with my AARP card? Will Medicaid pay for this. Do it yourself for older people, DITFOP! You must admit Davin, that this is a worth a laugh or two. Sorry you missed our little blizzard.

    • Reply


      Wow, that cabin fever has really taken hold. 😉 Ok, let’s see. Flatswalkers really only come in saltwater models, but they can safely be used in fresh as well. There is no subsidy, but you can get a discount if you have a sense of humour. Older people are actually the best at DIY, in my experience, because they realize they have so little time left… and they no longer give a s***.

  • Erik

    So if a DIY’r fishes a flat for a couple days straight, “ruining” it for a period of several days thereafter…….but a guide fishes it once, twice a week, week in week out over 52 weeks isn’t the end result the same? Won’t a guide with paying clients who want to catch fish keep coming back to flats that produce?

    I think this whole thing keeps coming back to exclusivity for the few. If I can only afford to spend $4,500 on a bonefish lodge once every three/four years, but I can spend $1,500 a year on a DIY trip doesn’t the money spent equal out over time? I still have to eat, drink, pay for transportation and everything else involved in such a trip but the only difference I see is I’m paying it directly into the local economy, whereby a lodge would take my money and pay those people anyway. I just get the fun and satisfaction of the direct interaction with the locals that I wouldn’t get staying inside a lodge.

    • Reply

      Hi Erik,

      Thanks for chiming in. Again, couldn’t agree more! To reiterate, I’m not against DIY (quite the opposite); just pointing out one of the (many) issues involved.

      To answer your questions, no, the end result of a guide resting a flat and fishing being pounded day after day is NOT the same. Not even close. See, bonefish might have a good memory, but I think it’s pretty short (no scientific proof here, just empirical evidence). I can fish a flat maybe once a week w/ clients and when I return the fish are as wild as they were before, typically hitting flies w/ the abandon we all want to see. So, no, I don’t think the effect is cumulative, but rather it’s the intensity of the day-after-day scenario (whether it’s a stupid guide or unwitting DIY’er) that puts the fish off on a particular flat.

      As for the exclusivity issue, nowhere was I really addressing that in my post. I feel the water’s are murky there. First, know that I’m fairly democratic in my philosophy to life. Resoundingly YES, folks should be able to pursue their passions no matter what their income bracket.

      However, I can’t ignore the logic that exclusivity does tend to limit the impact on a particular system. So if a guide charges double but does only half the trips, the overall ecosystem benefits from less pressure. Also, he burns less fuel (fewer emissions), buys less bottles of water, and general has a less negative impact. So, to be brutally frank, yes, exclusivity is better overall for the fish and fishery.

      Of course, I would never act on that logic and deny my democratic beliefs. Just mentioning it out of fairness.

      • Erik

        Great discussion and thanks for the reply! But I’ve been to places and seen guides go to the same spots on a daily if not every other day basis during a week. So just in the same way people shouldn’t paint a broad stroke and judge us DIY’rs the same, I think the same could be said about some guides too.

        That’s why this whole guide versus the rest of the world thing gets me frustrated. As fisherman, we have enough problems threatening our fisheries that we shouldn’t be nitpicking over divisive issues like this.

        • Reply


          Agreed! Fully. That’s why I mentioned “stupid guides”. There are bad apples in every bunch, but (again) I’m not coming down on one side or the other. I certainly don’t think of this as a

          guide versus the rest of the world thing

          I don’t know how to stress this enough w/o using my all-caps shouting voice, which is pretty crude. But, seriously, I’m NOT saying DIY’ers suck and guides are awesome. I certainly hope my comments aren’t being perceived that way.

          Trying to keep all the bonefish to themselves is a butthead move on the part of those guides that support it. No doubt. I also believe guides should be held to a higher standard as far as being knowledgeable advocates for their environment.

          There is no excuse for a guide not knowing the latest science of bonefish movement or proper catch-and-release procedure. No excuse for not knowing that “lipping” snook is likely to kill them. No excuse for hitting a flat day after day till the fish there are so educated they know how to tie a Gotcha.

          But, that’s why discussions like this are so important. Through them we can educate more of our community as to proper, healthy fishing practices. Discussions like this can help folks realize that maybe hitting the same flat 4 days in a row is a pretty bonehead move, for themselves as well as other anglers who may come along after they’re gone.

  • Reply

    […] so, according to Davin Ebanks. Many are those ‘DIY anglers’, apparently, who try to get by with their own research […]

  • Reply

    Well said Davin. I read the article in This Is Fly with interest and enjoyed the comments from each of the participants. I go to lodges each year, hire plenty of independent guides and also fish on my own. I just like to bonefish and think there is plenty of room in that big “ole” ocean for everyone. Respecting the resource is priority one and then respecting each other in this wonderful fraternity of bonefish fishermen is right behind. thanks for writing such a well thought out post.

  • Reply

    Nice job with this, as you might remember I was one of the ones that offered my opinion in the piece in THIS IS FLY. I think you summed up my feelings pretty well too!

  • Reply

    I was reading about the diy topic in the bahamas . Foremost i am a diy angler and own and operate an asssisted diy bonefish lodge in the bahamas i am a full blooded bahamian who operated a fully guided lodge and never felt the satisfaction fully guided trips i got that i felt diy so i switch my operations to total diy . all person involve thought i was crazy , you will never in your entire life get the feling guiding bonefish like you get diy. I diy in long island and nassau and the hunt and catch then release all by yourself will surpass guiding trips by far. As for the cost , DIY fishermen put more money in the local economy in the bahamas than any flyfishing lodge , they rent a motel room , rent a car pay for gas buy from local bar and restuarant, buy local gift for freinds and hang around the locals and experience the local culture so no fear the bahamas will NEVER ban DIY

  • Anonymous

    I like that you’ve brought up a topic that needs addressing – putting too much fishing pressure on a flat. I suspect its not a topic that most DIYers think too much about, and you’ve got a chance here to educate. The DIY guy in your example probably didn’t know any better (no need to name call). How much pressure is too much? How long of a rest between outings? Some information that addresses these sorts of questions might help with the problems you have with DIYers on the flats you guide on. Its also worth keeping in mind that the start of the debate was the proposal brought to the Bahamian government by the Bahamian fishing guides to ban DIY fishing in the Bahamas. This seems like much more of an asshole move than someone unknowingly hitting a flat too hard.

  • Reply

    […] Some good stuff there. Go read it (please). […]

  • Jeff Smith

    As a committed DIYer I would like to think the i can see both sides.
    At the outset let me say that i would like to believe that the vast majority of fly fisherman would hate to think that their actions are in any way detrimental to the fishery. There are exceptions, and i have come across a few myself, but I believe that the majority are caring and concerned about the environment.
    I DIY purely due to cost. To be blunt, i just cannot afford the rates that guides in my neck of the woods charge and would rather explore myself and enjoy that experience. Granted i don’t always catch fish (trout mainly), and it’s a slow learning curve, but that in itself is still a very enjoyable experience carried out in wonderful surroundings.
    Bonefishing is an unknown for me and one which i hope to try it for the first time next year and will be using a guide I might add! Future trips, well who knows?
    I can understand the concerns of the guides and their need to earn a living as well as protect their livelihood, but should people who can’t afford their rates be excluded from fishing. Something tells me that’s not the right way to handle it.
    Perhaps the answer lies in some sort of compromise where anglers employ a guide for at least one day and are shown the area, given advice and guidelines as to where and how frequently to fish, what flies to use etc etc and also given some form of itinery of areas to fish for the duration of their stay.
    Just my 2c for what it’s worth.

    • Reply


      Agreed. Very much… and there are actually several “DIY lodges”scattered throughout the Bahamas that operate much that way. You pay reasonable rates for lodging and food to be in the company of other anglers and you’re dropped on a different flat each day, depending on what the guides decide. (Yes, you can hire one of the resident guides.)

      My point was merely that I think most DIY anglers (or just fly fishers in general) start off as being concerned, caring citizens of planet Earth–concerned about the environment and the fishery. However, the simple fact the the stakes are so high for them create the environment for poor decisions (“Really, how bad is only 3 solid days of fishing this flat going to be?”). These decisions may be fueled by a bit of ignorance (not actually KNOWING how the fishery will be affected), desperation (even without a guide it was a very expensive trip) or a little bit of (understandable) selfishness, but either way those decision seem to get made far more often than not and the fisheries suffer.

      Also, I laud your attitude toward tackling the learning curve on your own. That’s really the only way to do it… the slowest, the hardest, but also the best and most rewarding!

  • Reply

    Good post. I would have to say you left yourself wide open there at the end. I won’t bite…I’m feeling generous.

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