These days, it seems like damn near everybody with a boat is a guide. Google something like “Tillamook Salmon Guides” or “Alaska Fishing Charters” and you’ll get an overwhelming number of results (just for kicks, the Tillamook query came up with 449,000 listings and the Alaska one turned up over 2.9 million when I did it!). How do you sift through it all and find a good guide? There are several things to consider and questions to ask. Let’s take a closer look at what makes a good guide (and you a good client).
To narrow things down a bit, it’s not a bad idea to ask around for a few names. Fishing buddies who’ve taken trips are a good first-hand source of information. Also, local fishing magazine or newspaper editors are also excellent resources. Eventually, you’ll build up a list of guides who look interesting, and that’s when it’s a good idea to start looking at their individual websites to get more info.
Visiting a guide’s site can help further narrow down you selection. A guide site won’t tell you everything you need to know, but it will reveal some important clues. One of the things I recommend you take a glance at is the “about your guide” section if one exists. That will give you a little insight into who you’re dealing with.
Also, take a look at the “fishing reports” page if the guide has one. Things to look for are regular postings – you want to see that he or she is fishing everyday. Also, scan though the reports and check for honesty. If all you see is red-hot fishing posted every day for months on end that should be a red flag. Sure, we guides do have our hot streaks, but we also get it handed to us now and then. If you see some posts mixed in that list tougher fishing or scratchy action, it’s a safe bet that the guide tells it straight.
Just keep in mind that a guide may only be as good as his web designer. In other words, he might be a lousy fisherman but a very skilled HTML code writer…or a fantastic guide with a crappy site.
Get on the Phone
Before you make a final decision, talk with the guide first. A quick chat on the phone is well worth your time. You may find out that your two personalities just don’t mesh – or that the guide sounds like someone with whom you would really enjoy spending the day.
It’s not unreasonable to ask how many years a guide’s been at his trade and how many days a year he or she fishes. There’s a big difference between the full-timers and the weekend warriors. Top-notch guides are on the water daily – this tells you that they are busy (a good sign) and that they are in tune with the subtleties of the area they fish. It’s hard for somebody who only gets out on Saturdays and Sundays to stay on the fish.
That’s not to say, however, that the new guys aren’t worth a try. Though I’m a grizzled ol’ veteran now, I was once the new punk kid on the block and people had to take a chance on me in the early days.
These days, with fuel and insurance costs so high, most guides need a full boat each day to make ends meet. Before your trip, ask how many anglers the boat can handle and what happens if you don’t buy all the seats for the day. In most cases, you’ll be paired up with some other folks.
Other Questions to Ask
• Is catch & release an option?
• If you want to kill fish, does the guide bleed it and ice it down immediately?
• How long you can expect to be fishing and at what time will the trip end?
• What happens if the boat limits out early? Do you go in or fish for something else?
• what is the guide’s cancellation policy?
A good guide will let you know in advance how things are looking for your trip and will sometimes even give you the option to re-schedule if fishing is really crappy. My rule of thumb is this: Skunks happen now and then no matter what you do and that’s just part of fishing.
However, if I know I’m going to get skunked before we even go fishing, I’ll give the guys the option to switch dates. Sometimes, there just aren’t any fish around and the clients should know that in advance.
When looking for guides, be wary of ones who guarantee fish and ones who have prices that are significantly lower than the going rate. Usually what you’re getting here is somebody who needs a gimmick to drum up business.
And as far as the price under-cutters go, all I can say is this: the fishing guide industry is very much a “you get what you pay for” type of deal. If you’re going to spend the money, spend a little extra and go with the best – you don’t want to be one of those guys on the wrong boat watching the other boats catch all the fish.
You’re the Customer
The guide-client relationship is an interesting one. Most guides are sole-proprietors and captains, so they’re used to being in charge. The guide is responsible for your safety on the water and you should do as you’re asked when on the boat. However, remember that you are the paying customer here and if there’s something about the way you’re treated that you don’t like, you can speak up.
What to do when you have a bad trip? Well, that depends on what you felt went wrong. If the guide gave you his all and the fish simply weren’t biting, that’s just fishing. You pay your money, you take your chances. By hiring a guide, you’re not automatically going to catch fish — you’re renting his or her experience and expertise and quality gear and boat. If you don’t catch anything , you hope the conversation and scenery were good and you were able enjoy the experience anyway. It is absolutely not reasonable to ask for any money back in this situation. It’s a bit of a cliché, but fish fillets at the local grocery store are a lot cheaper per pound than ones caught while fishing with a guide – and they’re guaranteed. So, if poundage is all you’re into, the super market may be a better route for you.
On the other hand, if the guide showed up late, had crummy equipment, an unsafe vessel, bad attitude or low integrity, you’ve got a legitimate reason to complain. As we discussed before, most guides are their own bosses, so you don’t have a lot of recourse. You can call him and express your displeasure with the service you received. In some cases, you’ll get a refund or a ticket for a free or discounted trip in the future, but most of the time you won’t get anywhere – a guide with the attributes listed above is, by definition, a bad one, and probably isn’t too into customer service.