Do you prefer the challenge of trying to find fish or the fun of catching them? Given that, despite your best intentions, your boat only gets wet a half-dozen times a year, are there other factors that justify making payments on a boat loan and on boat insurance 12 months a year, plus seemingly interminable outlays for various other boat-related expenses?
Those aren’t trick questions, and there are no definitive right answers. Even so, I’m confident that most recreational anglers would enthusiastically answer the first question “catching fish” and the second with an albeit reluctant “no.”
Before any of you stop reading and start typing my email address, let me hasten to say that being aboard a seaworthy boat is a virtual necessity for consistently catching fish on large freshwater lakes, reservoirs and big rivers and for both inshore and offshore saltwater angling. But that boat doesn’t have to belong to you. And neither does most of the tackle you might want to use in freshwater and none of what you’ll be getting anywhere close to saltwater.
Hiring any guide is one solution to this dilemma; hiring the guide that’s right for you in every way possible is a far better one. As we search for the trees among the guide-hiring forest, I’m going to use Truman Lake as an example, but the same principles, albeit with occasional modifications, apply everywhere.
Even though I’m not sure it should be, I know cost is the first thing on your mind, so let’s start there. Guide fees on Truman average between $250 and $300, plus fuel–and tip–for a full day for two anglers. The most expensive fee I found was $350 for two anglers for a half-day (5 hours.)
Most of Truman Lakes’s guides work out of specific marinas, and the best way to make initial contact with them is through the marina. A few guides work independently and have websites or other means of advertising their services. While I’m by no means suggesting that independent guides are inferior to those found through marinas, if possible, I’d work through a marina, at least at first.
From the moment you make personal contact with your potential guide–never let anyone other than a trusted friend pair you with a guide you haven’t spoken to personally–clear communication is essential. Find out exactly what is and isn’t covered in the guide fee. For example, how many hours of fishing is a half or a full day? Will you get to fish the entire day if you limit out early? Is tackle–including lures or bait–provided? How about lunch and/or water? Rain suits?
Don’t be shy about asking for references. Past clients are a good guide’s best form of advertisement, and he or she will be eager to supply you with contact information. When you contact references, remember that, in addition to being an excellent fisherman, top guides are teachers and good conversationalists. Ask if the guide fished during their trip. A good guide may fish in order to help locate fish or to try alternate methods. Unfortunately, a few guides act like they’re in competition with their clients. It’s not much fun to pay $250 to spend a day trying to beat your guide to every bit of cover that might hold a fish.
Communication runs both ways. For example, your guide won’t endanger you, but if you’re afraid of rough water, the guide needs to know beforehand. Be honest about your skill level. A good guide will do everything possible to make your day successful regardless.
This should go without saying, but ask your guide to watch you for any signs of sunburn, hyperthermia or any other medical problem. I failed to follow that advice on an inshore saltwater trip, and an otherwise super guide didn’t warn me that I was getting sunburned. As a result, the skin on my nose and cheeks cracked so deeply it bled, and I spent most of the writers conference I was attending answering endless questions. I finally started telling people I’d been welding and had forgotten to lower my visor. Some of my inquirers looked at me like I was crazy, but none asked for any further information.
I’m confident enough in guides to guarantee that, far more often than not, any angler–including me–will catch more fish with a guide than without one. That said, all any guide can be expected to do is his or her best. There are days when fish wouldn’t bite on dynamite, and the best fishermen on the lake will return to the dock with a dry live well.
Gerald Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org