April 09, 2021
By Capt. Ross Robertson
I’m not saying being a fishing guide is the worst job on the planet, but it is one that’s typically underappreciated and filled with challenging moments. Guides don’t just like to fish they are consumed by it. If not, it would be much easier to make a lot more money dealing with a lot less hassle. As a guide, you deal with major issues every day that are both in and out of your control: weather, emotions, entertainment, safety, broken equipment—just to name a few.
A good guide takes all of these things very seriously, but you’d be amazed at the challenges guides face on a daily basis. My favorite line to my clients is straight Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.”
With that said, when you ask a room full of weathered guides — who have spent more time on the water than seagulls — what drives them nuts, you’d probably have to sit down for the responses.
1. The Canada Trip
“My favorite is when clients compare our day or even every fish to some remote Canadian fly-in trip.”
Everything is relative, a 3-pound smallmouth in one lake might be a giant, where on others it isn’t even considered picture worthy. If you want trophy fish or to fish for certain species, make sure to relay that to your guide before you book. The information you provide them will likely change the lake or even time of year they recommend a trip.
On a separate note, if your guide is working hard for you and you compare every fish to some other place, think of it as pointing out every attractive women at the grocery store to your wife.
Capt. Joe Okada
2. The Lure Selector Guy
“If everyone in the boat is on fish and you aren’t, you might want to switch to the lure that the guide and everyone else is using.”
Guides want to make hay while the sun is shining, and bites often die abruptly. A hair jig is a great lure under certain circumstances, but if they want a rattlebait or horizontal jig, put one on. The real problem is that the “lure selector guy” is usually the first one to complain about the fishing and then try and get the rest of the boat in a negative mood.
Capt. John Hynes
3. Garbage Disposal
“I encourage everyone to eat and drink (not alcohol) on the boat, just don’t leave your trash all over and grind it into my carpet.”
Boats aren’t cheap, and guides do their best to keep them clean and presentable, but the last thing they want to do after a long day on the water is go home and have to detail it because you were a pig. Spilling coffee and grinding food into the carpet is a mess, but wrappers and other food can actually become a safety hazard as they have a tendency to clog drains and burn out bilge pumps.
Capt. John Hynes
4. I’ll Get Another
“It really chaps me when I bust my butt to get a guy on a trophy fish and we lose it because he didn’t listen.”
The goal of a fishing trip is to have fun, but clients also need to understand that guides work very hard to position you on fish. When you tell them “we’ll just get another,” it definitely aggravates even the calmest captain because you don’t get that many chances at trophy fish—that’s why they are trophies.
Capt. Spencer Berman
5. The Know It All
“Why don’t we fish over there?” … “Shouldn’t we be using jigs instead of crank baits?” … “These rods are nice, but you know I use brand X and they are so much better than these.” It just makes me want to ask them if they tell the doctor what is wrong with them or the car mechanic how to rebuild a transmission too.”
A good guide has pride in what he does because he works hard at mastering his craft and he does it seven days a week. If you show up and tell the guide where to go, tell him what you want to use and tell him what worked 20 years ago it might be better to fish without a guide.
Capt. Johnnie Candle
6. Now It’s A Party
“When 3’s Company turns into the Brady Bunch, I cringe.“
When you book a trip for three people and six show up at the dock, it’s too late to ask the captain if that’s okay. In most cases the captain does not have room in the boat or maybe even have the legal safety equipment for the larger party. If the boat does have enough room, know that more people means more money.
Capt. Rob Ruckman
7. Don’t Forget Your Mittens
“I always find it comical when guys show up looking like they are going on a Caribbean vacation and ask why I’m so bundled up. Sometimes they even have raingear but refuse to put it on. When in Rome dude.”
I’ve literally had guys show up to ice fish like I would go to the gym, not having the right clothes can ruin a good day, and honestly threaten your health. Just because rain isn’t in the forecast doesn’t mean you won’t need raingear to keep you warm or keep boat spray off of you. Very close to No. 1 on almost all guides’ list.
Capt. Ross Robertson
8. Broken Clock
“I love it when my a.m. trip shows up late and I’m still cleaning fish when my p.m. trip shows up.”
A good Captain has a reason he why does everything and showing up on time helps keep things on schedule. Showing up early or at least on time helps keep things on track for an afternoon trip, not miss a morning bite or maybe it’s because of weather that is predicted to come in. When a captain says meet at 7 a.m., he means I will be ready to pull away from the dock at 7 a.m., not show up find the bathrooms and go look for where you can buy a sandwich.
Capt. Brandon Stanton
9. The Helper
“Turning the boat or holding the net in the air is like your 5-year-old helping you clean fish with a butter knife.”
Captains like, and often need help in the boat, but many times help can actually spell disaster. Something as simple as getting the net for the captain but holding it up in the air can lead to an armada of boats coming your way. Simply put, ask before you do, or just listen for directions to truly help.
“If I had a nickel for every time I had someone think that they knew what was going to happen and not listen to me, I’d be a rich man.”
When you do something every day for decades you tend to see how the majority of people react to similar circumstances and build a plan to deal with it best. Most of the time, a captain is playing chess and is three or four steps ahead of you. Listen to them and they will be able to better help you land more and bigger fish.
Capt. Ross Robertson
11. Back Seat Drivers
“There is only one wheel on this boat and one guy making decisions.”
There is that one guy who feels the need to tell everyone what they are doing wrong and how they should be doing it. In almost all cases that guy is the one that needs to listen the most. Let the captain give directions and understand too many chefs in the kitchen is a recipe for disaster.
Capt. Joe Gibson
12. We’re Going to Need A Plumber
“When you have to take your boat toilet apart to get it unclogged, all of a sudden big waves or poor fishing doesn’t seem like such a big deal.”
A roll of paper towels, feminine products or anything other than boat/RV toilet paper aren’t supposed to be put down a boat toilet. In reality a boat head is meant for an emergency. Do your business before you get to the marina, boat toilets are in tight quarters and can become clogged easily. The Captain wants to fish, not unclog toilets and go to the pump out daily.
Capt. Joe Gibson
13. Cooler Please
“Nothing makes a guide smirk like a guy handing him a lunch cooler to try and stuff it with a two-person walleye limit.”
Clients routinely forget a cooler or bring one too small to even a lunch cool. After a long day on the water, making a guide wait while they drive around town cooler shopping isn’t going to win any friends. The only thing worse is only bringing cheap garbage bags and acting surprised when the first fish shoots straight through.
Capt. John Hynes
14. X Marks the Spot
“As guides, we spend a ton of time scouting out new spots and finding hot bites … Nothing worse than having to give up a honey hole you worked hard to find so a past client can beat it up with all of their friends—especially during the ice-fishing season.”
No one owns the lake or spots, but if you are booking a guide strictly to “get spots,” make sure you are up front and tell them in advance. Guides make their living from having good areas to go to and having them burned by someone that posts GPS numbers online or fishes a spot until it’s cleaned out hurts business.
Bad Guides Too
While guides may get annoyed at customers, roles definitely can reverse causing customers to consider firing their guide.
If a guide stares at his watch constantly like he is ready for the day to be over, you can bet you have a guide who has been doing it too long or doesn’t have the passion most clients want. Along the same lines, a day doesn’t start out well with a guide being late.
Most clients don’t expect brand-new gear but having equipment that is reasonably clean and in working condition is expected. Rarely is that the case. Broken gear or not having enough of what is needed, including bait, is a major buzz kill.
In the day and age of text messaging, it is easy to not be on the same page. Simple things like not being informed about the proper clothing to have can make a trip uncomfortable. One of the top miscommunication issues is booking at the wrong time of year for the species you want to chase or the group you plan on bringing. Booking a tarpon trip when they aren’t likely to be caught is just as bad as having a trip with anglers not prepared to battle the conditions during the bitter-cold season. Timing and proper booking time is everything.
Guides need to realize that customers generally speaking are novice or are going to have much less experience than the guide. Nearly all clients expect some type of instruction. A quickly rattled off explanation or a captain fishing off from the front of the boat, leaving the customers to fend for themselves, is a recipe for disaster—and bad form.
After polling guide clients, having an organized captain was surprisingly towards the top of the list. Not tripping over gear, having what you need and being able to find it is a big deal. Not wasting time to fix or untangle things that should have been done prior to your trip is a reasonable expectation.
Most fishing guides have it together, and most clients are a pleasure to fish with, but sometimes things go south—it’s inevitable. The bottom line is making the entire experience fun requires effort from both parties. Go have fun!