Most avid outdoorsmen will have at least one fishing guide horror story to tell. Bad experiences with a guide are at worst dangerous and at least costly. No one is immune from the potential of getting hooked up with a less-than-scrupulous fishing guide, but circumventing most problems is a snap with a little effort, common sense and communication.
It is important to remember that a guide’s job is to serve his clients. Your guide should devote all of his energies to ensuring you have a quality fishing trip. But equally important is remembering that a guide can’t provide you services if he’s not aware of what you define as a quality experience.
Map Out A Blueprint
Even if you're an experienced angler, a good guide can make the difference between success and failure.
Mapping out a blueprint of what you expect from a guided trip is critical to getting positive results. Before you even begin to gather names of guides to contact, make sure to outline the following:
Needs—how much tackle, instruction, food, drinks, time on the water, etc. do you require?
Goals—are they to catch big fish, to catch lots of fish, or to learn about the fishery?
Schedule—are your dates set in stone, or can you be flexible if necessary so your goals can be met?
Destination—do you want to fish a particular waterway, or simply fish the best location in a region?
Around the angling hotbeds in North America, there are guides aplenty. In other regions—where population may be low but fishing can be outstanding—a good guide may be harder to come by. In either case, finding the right guide can take some digging. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources and references available. Here are some great places to start your search:
Check with friends. If you’re a member of a fishing club or group, ask for referrals. If a fishing companion has had success with a particular guide or outfitter, get all the details and ask for the guide’s number.
Search the ‘Net. Cyberspace is a great starting place. To save time, make sure your search string is detailed. Include the term fishing guide/outfitter coupled, at a minimum, with the area or waterway you want to fish. Also visit travel bureau and chamber of commerce Web sites. They can offer great information about outdoor recreation and often list reputable outfitters in the area.
Contact local bait and tackle shops or marinas. Many guides work directly from these locations or have arrangements with these retail businesses to book trips for them.
Hit the winter sport shows. In case you needed another excuse to attend an outdoor sport or boat show this winter, these consumer trade shows usually have guides and representatives on hand from fishing lodges and guide services across the continent, even the world. It’s a great opportunity to meet folks face to face and
Contact the department of natural resources closest to the area where you plan to fish. DNR/fish and game personnel can often provide lists of guide services in their area, although they rarely will recommend an individual.
Contact the guide association in the state you plan to fish. Most states have an outfitter/guide association, of which many reputable guides are members.
The Perfect Guide
With a number of names on your initial list of guide possibilities, now the real work begins. To whittle the list down to one or two who can provide the perfect angling experience, you need to contact each guide to determine who offers the service that best suits your needs. While visiting with the guide:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If a guide isn’t willing to give you the time and answers you need, this should raise a red flag.
Ask for references and check them out. This is especially important if you’re planning on spending more than a day with a guide/outfitter. If the guide won’t provide references, this should raise a flag of concern also.
Let your guide know whether you're after lunkers like this, or sheer numbers of fish.
Learn exactly what the guide provides. Don’t get caught out on the water without lunch, the right lures or tackle or the proper fishing licenses.
Discuss your fishing skills with the guide and ask about the fishing tactics that you’ll engage on the trip. Spending a day on the water using a tactic that you’re not familiar with can be tough on both you and your guide. Be honest with your guide. Guides are more than willing to provide instruction if they’re forewarned of the necessity to do so. With knowledge of your skills, a guide can put together a plan of action that will be fun and productive.
Discuss the potential for success for your trip. If you’re hoping to catch a 10-pound-plus largemouth in the dead of winter, you need to know what the odds are of getting the job done. If a guide provides success rate statistics, make sure you understand how the guide determined those statistics.
Be flexible. If possible, plan to fish during the week rather than the weekend. This often means booking the guide you want more easily and avoiding the weekend crowds and angling pressure. Also ask the guide if changing the dates you plan to fish might increase your odds of success. Depending upon the time of year, a few weeks can make a big difference in the potential for success.
Take about prices and additional charges. Many guides charge the same amount whether they guide one or two anglers. If money is a concern, in these instances, inviting a buddy to fish greatly reduces the cost per angler. If you’re planning to fish with children, discuss this with your guide also. Understand exactly what you’re getting for the fee so there are no surprises.
Discuss health challenges and emergencies. If you’re taking medication or suffer from a health condition, make sure your guide knows about it. Also ask your guide how emergencies are handled.
Don’t forget the tip. Guiding is a business. Although the daily fees charged might sound like a good deal to you, don’t forget that guides incur plenty of expenses. In addition, they can work only when hired. Sometimes their fees have to go a long way. If you have a good experience—which means you have a good time, have a guide who performed the services promised and enjoyed the company of a guide who worked hard to provide you with a quality trip—a tip is definitely in order. A good experience shouldn’t be gauged by the number of fish hooked or caught. A tip of 10 to 20 percent of the trip charge is common.
Finding a great guide takes common sense, communication and some effort and research on your part. The result is hiring one who will provide the experience you’re looking for at a price you deem, before you leave home, as fair.