March 06, 2023
By Ross Robertson
In life, most of us understand that we earn results based on what we put in. When you just stumble into opportunities, it’s unrealistic to expect great results. When it comes to a fishing trip, these everyday philosophies often get cloudy. Here are five tips to consider the next time you plan a destination fishing trip.
It’s often said that timing is the key to success life—maybe, maybe not. I do know it’s at least the key to a good fishing trip. Factors such as wind and rain on a given day are out of your control, but it’s wise to closely watch the forecast in the area you plan to fish so you can plan accordingly. If you don’t like rain, it’s probably best to not plan a trip around Seattle. The cool water periods are typically the best times to catch trophy fish, but it can come at a price. In many areas that means very few bites and/or nasty weather. If this is an issue for you, be realistic about it when and where you plan to go.
On large bodies of water, species often migrate long distances. Just because you saw pictures of big fish on a website doesn’t mean they can be caught all year long there.
Before you start reaching out to every guide or resort in a 100-mile radius, spend some time researching guide and species options, then adjust your expectations accordingly. You may have the perfect guide, but maybe not the best guide for the right species. Some guides will be gracious enough to direct you elsewhere, others might just book you regardless. If you are headed to a certain area with limited flexibility, let that be known up front, and don’t get overly committed on a specific species.
However, if there is a particular species on your bucket list you’d like to cross off, know that you’ll likely need to book a trip in the right area at the right time.
Once you do get serious and narrow down the areas and species you plan to target, have a phone conversation with a couple potential guides and basically interview them. Make sure you are on the same page and understand what you should expect. I often have clients that only text or email all communications prior to booking a trip. In most cases, I won’t book that trip as experience has taught me that’s a red flag.
If you are calling a full-time professional guide, be honest with them. If you are planning on hiring them for just a day and fishing out of your own boat for the rest of the week, let that be known. Some guides are good with that, some are not. While it may be fun or recreation for you, it’s their job. It’s important to respect that.
If you plan on hiring a guide for the entire trip, make them aware of who else might be accompanying you, especially wife and kids. Additional anglers will absolutely change how a good guide will run the trip. Guides like myself have an age minimum with kids. This isn’t because we age discriminate, but because we know the fishery and conditions, and understand the risks. A 20-mile offshore run might not offer the best experience for causal or young anglers. When someone is done fishing, even seasick, you may have to quit early—and that’s an expensive problem.
If you haven’t spent much time on a boat on big water, consider taking motion-sickness meds the night before so you aren’t as fuzzy in the morning. Motion-sickness wrist bands have been quite effective at helping anglers out when dealing with the risk of getting queasy on the lake—I believe in them. Don’t let ego ruin a trip.
Most guide operations prefer you to use the gear they already have rigged and ready. They have proven rod, reel, and line outfits for what you will be fishing for, and those setups will increase your success. I can promise you when a guide hears, “this is my lucky pole,” he cringes. Space is often limited, so get off to a good start with your captain by not overloading his boat with unnecessary gear.
One of the most important pieces of gear you can bring along is a waterproof bag. Guide boats typically have very little dry storage for your gear, and something as simple as a drybag to keep your valuables dry and organized is a big deal. The Simms Dry Creek Rolltop Backpack is perfect when traveling on planes or in the truck, then use the same bag on the boat to secure personal items and raingear when fishing.
If you book a walleye trip in the middle of the summer, don’t be surprised when you don’t catch a 10-pounder. Along the same lines, trust that what your captain knows how to catch fish during the current conditions. If you want to jig fish on the Great Lakes, July isn’t the best time. Guides frequently have guests refuse to fish a tactic like trolling because they want to cast. If your guide says it’s not the thing to do, follow his lead—he wants you and your group to be successful.
Another reality check is when clients get on a guide’s boat and expect instant success. Just like anything in life, the more you do anything, the better you will become. If you looking to book a guided fly-fishing trip, make sure to spend ample time practicing your fly-casting technique. Take extra care to become capable at casting into the wind and around cover or obstructions, those preliminary efforts will vastly improve your results. Another good example is to become proficient with baitcasting equipment while bass fishing. In the end, if you aren’t able to use the required equipment, make sure to communicate that to your captain well before the trip so they can plan offer alternative options.
As a full-time fishing guide for more than two decades, I have seen many of the same mistakes time and time again. All the guides I know and work with, myself included, love the sport of fishing and we want our guests to be successful and experience the same joy. Slight tweaks to your trip preparation and expectations will help enhance the success, and make for better memories.
Capt. Ross Robertson