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Phil Tereyla: The Guiding Way of Life

When I met Phil Tereyla at 8:30 in the morning, he was well into his day. “I tied 8 dozen flies this morning,” he said before the waitress even brought my first coffee. During our 90-minute conversation, two things continued to surface. One was that guiding is not just a job or career choice. Over the course of Phil’s last fifteen years, guiding has become a lifestyle. The other continuing theme that surfaced was that, for Phil, guiding is all about teaching and learning.

Phil leans into his work to give his client the best opportunity for quality fish.
Photo credit: Jared Sanders

Lighting the Fire

Phil’s intro to teaching others about fly fishing happened about 17 years ago when he was playing in youth hockey. When he wasn’t in practices or workouts, he would head to the mountains and fish the South Platte. Before too long, some of his teammates and friends asked him to take them out. “It wasn’t really guiding but I loved teaching them.”

In college, the bug to guide took hold. He worked for an outfitter one summer. “It was neat to make the days fun for clients. It was cool to see their successes and be a part of their experience. Kind of really lit the fire and made me want to continue to do that.”  Although he had been a History major in college with the intention of teaching at the high school level, he turned his teaching ambitions to fly fishing. “I don’t think the high school classroom was the setting for me.” And a lifestyle was launched.

Sharing the Fire

“I love teaching fly fishing. Sometimes I think I get more excited about their fish than some of the clients. Whether it’s their first fish on a fly rod or their first fish EVER, in some instances, getting to be part of that is the most rewarding experience of all.” 

For Phil, the challenges and rewards of guiding change with the experience level of clients. He recognizes what all good teachers see: different students have different needs and good teachers respond.

“Some newcomers don’t really know or appreciate what they have accomplished when they get that fish to the net. They don’t take into account that a lot of things have to be going right. They don’t understand the “why” behind it. But that’s part of the teaching. Teaching them what you are doing, and why.” For Phil, it’s not just getting that fish to the net but giving the clients the tools so they can do it on their own.

Phil steadies his young client who’s hooked up with a nice fish. “Safety first,” Phil says.

Guiding the more experienced guys who want to come out and chase big fish has different rewards.

On one trip this summer with a guy who had learned on his own, PhilI asked him what he would like the day to look like. “He said, ‘Let’s chase some big ones. I want to learn to do that. I don’t think I am going to learn if there’s not a new challenge. If we catch one, great. If not, that’s fine, too.’”

Phil says that he was excited because of this client’s attitude. At the end of the day, “It all came together:  his cast, the drift. He played the fish great and landed a 26” cuttbow.”

The best clients, in Phil’s eyes, are people who are open to try different things. “And that is really sort of an experience type of thing. Beginners are excited to learn. Experienced clients understand that every river is a little different and they’re excited to fish new waters or try new things.”

Stoking the Fire

Phil doesn’t divide the year into “the season” and “the off season.”  He splits the year up into the “busy season” and the “slower season.” Since guiding is a lifestyle, Phil totaled 227 guided trips in 2021.

In the slower season, those winter months with fewer guided trips, Phil is still hard at work honing his craft. When he’s not working on his book — his second book on tactics and techniques for trophy brown trout will come out next year — he is tying eight dozen flies before breakfast.

In the late fall and winter when he fishes for his own escape, “I think more about the actions that I am actually doing, so I can really break them down in the book I’m writing. I pay attention to every little motion, those little motions I may take for granted. Because I do that a lot, it helps with my instruction when I am on a guided trip.” It’s clear that Phil is a lifelong learner in this sport.

Fly tying and attention to detail out on the river keeps Phil in fishing mode during the “slower season.”

As Phil says, “this is all an extension of my teaching when I am not guiding.”

“Lift that rod!” Phil’s excitement is contagious. PC: Jared Sanders

Read More

Read more about his first book, Flyfisher’s Guide to Colorado’s Easy Access Mountain Lakes. To book a trip with Phil, call the shop at 719-510-8665.

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