Want To Hire A Guide?Want To Hire A Guide? If you plan on hiring a guide for a memorable fishing trip, read these tips for selecting a quality guide.
By Ronald F. Dodson, Ph.D.
Recently a couple of friends got into a deep discussion about the process of selecting a guide. In comparing their experiences it became evident that in the past there had been a wide array of results from their previous hires. It therefore seemed appropriate to share a few thoughts on this process.
To begin with let me share an appropriate disclaimer that I have never guided for fees. But throughout my fishing career have gotten to know a number of guides, including some that are good friends. Any inkling that guiding might be something I wanted to explore was shaken into a dose of reality during a trip I took to Livingston while I lived in Houston. A friend of mine had done a considerable amount of fishing on Toledo Bend for crappie, but with a stopper and minnow rig on a Zebco 33 off a barge. He knew that I bass fished and thanks to a tournament string featured in the Houston paper asked if I would teach he and his son how to catch bass.
I, like most bass fishermen then, had a small boat by today's standards but a cooler in the middle made an acceptable seat. I went through the safety drill-life jackets, throw cushion, etc. and then explained how we must cast to assure that the fish and not one of us got hooked. The youngster found out that if he let out a little more line before the cast he would get a little more distance. The father was in the back seat and a couple of near rod fusions occurred. This resulted in another counseling session and silly me thought the warning was being heard.
Then it happened. A sound similar to a loud clap and then an equally loud noise, like a bullwhip cracking. When I turned the youngster was quite pale and no sign of a spinnerbait was evident on his limp line. All ended well particularly since the seat base was wood. The spinner's hook was buried in the base between his father's legs.
So the first important fact about being a guide is that while a client expects to catch fish, the guide is sensitized to the fact that he is responsible for their safety. So this brings up an initial question you should ask about the size and layout of the guide's rig? Many full time guides actually note the type of boat as well as its horsepower so you can judge the potential comfort for yourself.
It is not inappropriate to inquire about a reference if you have some particular concerns. If you choose, the marinas can direct you to a guide. The only problem with this concept is that it might be hard to get a negative reference if the facility already has the guide booking from their site. A previous person who has experienced a trip is the best source of information, followed by someone that fishes the lake and knows the guide as an individual. When I referenced information from a guide in past articles, it has been because I know them to be very honest and will tell me, or you, the straight as to the success you should expect while fishing in their lake.
Recently I was introduced to a young man whose boss advised me was also an intense fisherman. He proceeded to tell me that he was a part time guide on Fork and that he had been catching "lots of bass." I made a fatal mistake and asked what size. The answer was up to 12 and 13 pounds. The last time I had that feeling was in a draw tournament where my partner for the next day informed me he didn't know whether to fish the four- or six-pound schools first. As I recall we never found either of his concentrations of schools and had to work my fish.
Even an outstanding guide may have a rough day, but being with a good guide just as with a good fisherman in general will increase your chances to figure out patterns, whether or not other changes impact on the fish.
There are guides and there are guides. A full time guide is a person who has chosen a very hard profession and if they have a lengthy track record of guiding, either can live on a small income or have developed a client base because they are doing something right. There are some very good part time guides, but there are also a number of these who give boat rides. A friend of mine hired a guide on Lake Fork and reported that they saw a lot of the lake, but somehow another boat was already on spots his guide was going to fish. Gee I wonder how they knew his spots?
A guide has to: 1. Like people and 2. Have patience (another reason I couldn't be one). Many of the folks who hire a guide simply feel it is better to invest in the periodic trip than to have to bear the expense of a rig that may not be often used. If you are wise and use a guide, it can be a learning experience. This may be one of the questions you ask - what do you usually fish with? The answer may be something you have no experience with, but want to learn. Who better than with a guy who makes his living using a given technique to be your teacher? Also be honest about your level of skill and what you have fished with in the past. The guide can best serve you if he knows what tackle you can throw and how that does or doesn't fit how he's going to fish. The other option is to watch the guide fish, but that doesn't seem like a good reason to invest in a trip.
You are also hiring the guide, so tell him or her how long you want to fish and under what conditions. For example, do you want to go in when it is too cool or hot? What about fishing in the rain? Does this bother you? In the summer you might prefer to use a guide who fishes at night. These folks are making a living at this, it's totally reasonable for them to have a cancellation fee associated with some time interval since they may or may not be able to rebook.
There is also a question raised periodically as to the benefit of using a guide who fishes and guides on one lake as opposed to one who lists a couple of lakes. This issue has two sides as answers. First a person who concentrates on one lake should know it really well and the reason this guide would be given the choice is if the client wants "to fish this lake for a reason." For example you want to try to catch a trophy bass. These fish are often thought of as more likely to come from certain lakes. On the other hand if you simply want to catch numbers of fish, the same guide may fish different areas on the same lake than he would have worked if asked to try to provide a big bass. If your preference is to catch numbers of fish, then this is the actual reason that some guides shift lakes. For example, a given lake may become very hard to fish during the cold weather months whereas a nearby power plant or warm-water lake doesn't become as much affected by temperature drops.
During the arrangement of the trip cover specific issues such as what tackle you need to bring or who provides what? A long time ago there was a fellow in our bass club who typified a number of things that you don't want in a guide. This was before license and insurance requirements. His desire to become a "backup" guide to some relatives who did guide was both inspired as a chance to pick up some weekend money, as well as to attempt to find some of the relative's secret holes. His boat wasn't very dependable and not very fast so the first day out with the overflow bookings he was soon somehow on his own. He wasn't real thrilled with the way this was working out and became even more frustrated with the guys continually hanging up. The story got even spicier in that he finally told them to just break off when they hung up. After they each broke off several lures his conscience got the better of him and he told them he would start to try to get their lures loose.
It was obvious that their loses were getting to be expensive. Fittingly their answer was "don't worry we are getting them from your tackle box." We all thought justice was being served. But the real moral is a good guide is a professional and should be treated as such. Likewise, he should consider the importance of the trip to his client and make it as memorable as possible. Be considerate and tell the guide if you fish the lake and how often. If you are using the guide to learn the lake before a tournament (if allowed), then also tell them. The best approach is to maximize the learning part of the trip and not exploit the guide trying to find his places to fish.
That is unless the rules are set early and everyone agrees. Remember the guide makes a living by going back to favorite fishing spots. So beating up his fish actually threatens his livelihood.
I remember Al Eason, an outdoor writer and guide, telling me of a trip on Toledo Bend where a guy told him he really needed some fish for a Sunday school fish fry. This was during the period when we were told keeping fish didn't hurt a lake. Even so Al didn't take people to his secret number one spot unless they were from out of state and never took anyone to the place that even remotely lived in easy range of the lake. He was so touched by the honorable intent that he took the guy to the sacred spot and they quickly had a limit. The place was easy to find if you just marked a couple of adjacent big trees. Eason noted that attendance in Sunday school was obviously poor the next day because when he came in sight of the area this guy and the whole class were fishing his spot.
A number of guides invite anglers to call them for updates on the lake and will even offer suggestions as to depths you should fish as well as the most productive lures. This is a real asset for doing a fast-read on the lake's conditions. But don't abuse the courtesy.
To get the most out of a guided trip, treat them like teachers (hopefully that still means with respect, but also requires you do some homework) and pay attention in class.
Grow your fishing skills and improve your angling effectiveness.
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