A Guide to Hiring a Fishing Guide

As more anglers realize the wisdom of engaging the services of a professional fishing guide, more and more competent anglers are setting up their own guiding companies. Some are well-qualified anglers for such an occupation; others may have a lot to learn. But if you want to treat yourself to a guided fishing trip, there are factors to consider in helping you make the best choice.

Before you even begin to search, know what it is you want to fish for and have some idea of how you want to go about it. On many lakes, there are guides who specialize in one or two species of gamefish but know little about the other fish present. You don’t want to spend time and money trying to fish for bass with a guide who only targets and knows crappies.

Next, sort through prospective guides to find the one who fits your needs. I once fished all day with a guide on big T.V.A. lake in Arkansas. He was a nice man and knew how to fish for bass, but due to repeated high-pressure fronts in the area, the bass were having nothing of it. The lake held decent populations of walleyes and huge ocean-run striped bass, but my man had no idea or even an interest in fishing for either species. He was a bass fisherman and that was that. So, we cast to points, timber, stumps and drop-offs all day with little to show for it. This man really wasn’t guiding me; he was taking me fishing with him and letting me pay him for the experience.

After determining where you’re fishing and what you primarily want to catch, you can decide what type of guide service you want. If you’re a species-oriented person and want to concentrate on one, then a guide such as I had in Arkansas would be a better choice. But if you’re out for a day’s entertainment and you want any species, you will be better served by finding the guides who fish for “whatever is biting.” Also, if you’re planning to bring your kids along, by all means choose a guide who can put something on the hook for them. For a kid, catching a dozen hand-sized bluegills or some nice catfish is far better than a lone follow from a 20-pound muskie you may or may not catch later.

Referrals from other fishermen are preferred. From their experiences, you can quickly determine which is the best guiding service for you. Recommendations from resort or lodge owners are helpful too, but bear in mind they may have their own reasons for giving this “advice.” Local bait shops are another source of information, but again, they tend to have their favorites, and these are not always based on guiding ability. Advertisements in magazines, newspapers and online websites can also help you find the right guide.

Since most quality guides maintain a website, that would be my first stop. Here, you can learn more about the service provided, species of fish targeted, the type and quality of the boat and equipment used, length of trips offered, cost, and any other special services such as fish cleaning, bagging and food and beverages that are provided, if any. There should be plenty of photos of successful clients, but look past the big fish and see what the boat looks like and what necessary gear is in sight. Once you’ve whittled down your prospective choices, get on the phone and talk to the guide. Remember, you are going to be spending the better part of the day in a boat with this fellow, so try to determine if he’s someone you can get along with. Ask him how many years he’s been in the business and if he is a full-time guide or a weekend warrior. Tell him who will be in your group and if there will be women, kids, older folks or experienced anglers. Make sure he has a flexible plan to fit their needs. Also, make sure he tells you that his boat will be safe and comfortable for you and your friends. Ask if he will provide tackle and bait. You may be better off using his specialized gear than bringing your own. And ask about any electronics. If the guide’s plans don’t fit all your requirements, simply thank him and move on.

For items to bring, polarized sunglasses, a cap, sunscreen, insect repellant, suitable clothing for dramatic weather changes, a camera or smartphone, a lunch, snacks and beverages, etc. I’m not going to tell you not to bring alcoholic beverages, if no minors are on board, because a cold beer never hurt anyone. However, a lot of cold beer can do harm, and the hard stuff is definitely not a good idea. Whatever food you bring, bring enough to share with the guide, but he should not take any alcohol, ever. If you intend to bring fish home, add a cooler to the list.

Every guide service should be in total compliance with whatever state and governmental requirements apply. Most states require all fishing guides to be licensed. And if he is operating on federal waters, such as the Great Lakes or a navigable waterway, a Coast Guard license is a must. Without this paperwork, your guide, who is carrying passengers for hire and therefore a “commercial operator,” cannot obtain a valid personal liability insurance policy, and you are then at risk.

No matter how proficient you may be at pulling fish out of your favorite lake or pond, you may be on unfamiliar waters and a day spent with a local expert can be worth it. Not only will you catch more fish, you will also learn to become a better angler. And, in many cases, you can make a new friend you will look forward to spending a day on the water with for years to come.