The vast majority of fishing and hunting guides are honest, hardworking, dedicated folks who have chosen to earn their living in one of the world’s toughest, most competitive and physically demanding professions. Because the only thing of true value any guide has to sell is their reputation, most will work as hard as they know how to see to it that you get the trip you want. Oddly enough though, with all of that hard working competition out there to choose from it can be difficult for a prospective client to find the right guide. The following ten tips are for picking a guide. Although these tips are couched in terms of finding a fishing guide they will work just as well for picking a hunting guide or outfitter.
Try to keep in mind that picking a guide is a two-way street. It’s important that you provide each prospective guide with all of the necessary personal information they’ll need to see to it that you get the trip you want. What kind of fishing are you looking for? Do you want to take meat home or will you be satisfied with catch and release? What’s your level of experience and/or competency? This is critical. I am constantly surprised at the number of clients who want to fly fish for salmon or steelhead, who tell me they are good fly casters and then turn out to have last held a fly rod ten or fifteen years ago. Most good, competent guides will be happy to either teach a novice or offer tips or even a quick refresher course to someone who is a little rusty on their casting, be it with a fly rod or a level wind reel or even spinning gear. But it helps to know this in advance. If for no other reason than to assure that the guide allows a little extra time at the start of the day to help you iron out those bumps in your technique. Do you have a medical condition or physical limitations the guide should know about? There are few things as frustrating to a guide as getting a client out on the water only to find out there is a limitation they weren’t aware of that will likely affect the day’s plan. I’ll give you an example: I recently booked a trip with a father and his ten year-old son for a day of salmon and steelhead fishing from a driftboat. Because the river had been getting a lot of pressure over the preceding several days and to assure we were in position in my favorite early morning hole I had them show up well before first light. I even went so far as to explain that while it would still be dark, we’d only be rowing a few yards from the boat ramp before setting the anchor. It wasn’t until the boat was in the water that the father informed me that his son had “an active imagination” and flatly refused to ever go on the water before first light. As a result, we stood around in the dark until the young man was comfortable enough with the light level to climb in the boat. I really wish the father had explained his sons’ aversion to being on the water in the dark before we got there. We could have all gotten another hours’ sleep that morning.
Friends and Relatives
This is usually the best way to find a guide. Find someone you know who has fished or hunted the area you intend to visit and ask them for a referral. Be sure, though, that they were looking for a trip and circumstances similar to you.
By all means ask any prospective guide for referrals. Any good, professional guide should be prepared to provide you with a list of satisfied customers. But don’t stop with the list they so gladly provide. Ask for the names and phone numbers of at least a few clients they’ve had who didn’t catch fish. It’s all well and good to talk to clients who’ve had successful days but a more telling piece of information is talking with those that didn’t. No guide catches fish absolutely every day. Talk to a few clients who happened to be there on one of those days. Would they, or have they, booked with that guide again? Would they recommend the guide to friends or family? In the long run, these folks will often give you a better idea about the guide than clients who do catch fish. Don’t limit your questions of referrals to just ‘did you catch fish?’. You also need to know a few other things; Was the guide courteous? Not just to the client but to other boaters, anglers and anyone else on the water that day? Was the equipment adequate for the task? Were the equipment and the boat in good repair and well maintained? Was the boat clean? Was the bait fresh?
The proliferation of fishing and hunting web sites on the internet is amazing. I honestly don’t believe there is a type of fishing or hunting or a fishing or hunting destination that can’t be located on the internet today. There are, however, a couple of pitfalls to watch for when using a search engine to help your fingers do the walking. Be sure you start your search with specifics. Either start with a particular state, province or foreign country and go from there or, better still, begin with the location and the type of experience you’re looking for.
Licenses and Insurance
Is your prospective guide properly licensed? It is truly amazing the number of purported “guides” that aren’t. In every state I am aware of an integral part of the licensing procedure for guides requires proof of a minimum amount of liability insurance. While this amount varies from state to state, they all require it. As a client you have a right to expect that your guide is doing business within the laws or regulations established by the state they are working in. Part of that is providing insurance coverage. While the chances of an accident occurring while with a guide are statistically negligible, it doesn’t hurt to know they are covered in the rare event something happens. Throughout much of the United States guides must be licensed by the US Coast Guard, in addition to any state requirements, if they use a motorized vessel. This requirement can vary widely and need not be consistent on every waterway in a state. For example, in Kentucky and Tennessee some lakes require a guide to be Coast Guard licensed while others do not. Oregon, on the other hand, requires a Coast Guard license if a motorized vessel is used on any bay or any navigable river. A word of caution; any prospective guide who hesitates or refuses to provide answers to any legitimate question you have about licensing probably has a reason they are not more forthcoming. You might want to take it as a hint and continue your search.
What Is Included?
Be sure you understand exactly what is included in the price you are paying. Whether it’s a one week remote guided fishing trip in Alaska or a day on your local lake, be sure you and your guide both understand exactly what you are getting. On a simple one day fishing trip any good, professional experienced guide should provide all of the necessary tackle, gear and bait as a basic minimum. On the other hand that extended remote trip up the Amazon or on an Alaskan river should include more. Most local guides, regardless of the area you are fishing in, do not as a normal course of events include either lunch or fishing licenses as a part of their daily trips. However, some do. And, understandably, they charge more than another guide in the same area targeting the same species. Most Alaskan lodges, for example, include the price of transportation from a destination city in Alaska to and from their lodge.
Discounts And Package Deals
There is a world of difference between a discount and a package deal. Generally speaking a discount is offered to individuals, or more commonly to groups, willing to book more than one day with a guide. Package deals on the other hand usually have a discount already figured into them. Again, generally speaking, discounts are negotiable while package price deals are not. Many guides offer discounts ranging from as low as five percent to as high as twenty percent to either individuals or groups who are willing to book multiple consecutive days with them. This is a good deal for both parties. The client can realize a considerable savings while the guide doesn’t have to worry about booking each of those days with different groups. It saves you money and the guide time and effort. If the web site or brochure you look at doesn’t mention discounts it’s a good idea to ask the guide directly. Like most business people guides can be reluctant to advertise any discount at all on their basic rate. On the other hand, and particularly in the case of multiple consecutive days, most guides recognize the value inherent in discounts and will negotiate with you.
This may seem silly, but more than one day of good fishing has been ruined simply because a guide and client couldn’t get along. A good deal of what any good guide does hasn’t anything to do with fishing. It has to do with being able to read people and adjust their personality to fit the client. This is a vital but often overlooked skill. A phone conversation or two can tell both parties, the client and the guide, whether or not their personalities are likely to mesh. Call your guide get to know a little bit about them before you first set foot in the boat. If nothing else, you will have established a personal relationship to one degree or another before ever actually meeting.
How long has your prospective guide been in business? Is this their first year of guiding or their twentieth? Do they, or have they, guided anywhere else – say, Alaska, for instance? How broad is their experience? Is their expertise limited to just one style or technique or are they versatile in many? While not an absolute measure of whether you’ll catch fish, it is probably safe to assume that a guide with more experience is likely to produce more for you than one with less. Having said that however, don’t reject a guide simply because they may lack years of experience. Many younger guides come to the business having grown up in families who fished and hunted. They may also have relatives in the business with whom they apprenticed
Sex – That’s Right, Sex
Please don’t fail to hire a guide simply because they are female. While it’s true that guiding has traditionally been a man’s business that simply isn’t true any more. Many of the finest, most experienced and professional fishing and hunting guides are women. Guiding isn’t necessarily about strength or burly toughness. Fishing guides, in particular, are defined more by experience, awareness of ones’ surroundings, being attuned to changes in the fishing environment, a willingness to change tactics as the situation requires and an ability to successfully deal with all sorts of people. Often, these are skills that women possess to at least (and many would say to a greater) degree than men.
Having a knowledgeable guide to help you find that once-in-a-lifetime fish can turn even a cold, rainy day into a memory you’ll treasure forever.