A day to remember or one you'd rather forget: Choosing the right guide for a fishing trip can make all the difference. Hiring the wrong guide can turn even the best fishing conditions into a miserable experience. But finding the right one can be a challenge. Here are some tips.
Know What You Want
This seems simple, but it is a big first step. Ask yourself and your crew what you want out of a trip. Do you want a family-friendly charter, want to catch limits of fish, catch a trophy fish, learn new techniques, learn a new body of water, or just go out drinking beers with your pals? Communicate this clearly with prospective guides. Every guide has their areas of specialty, and relaying your needs will help you make a short list of prospects.
Search for Legitimate Businesses
Look for a professional. Too many guides run hobby businesses, do not have a registered business, lack a proper license to guide, lack proper boat inspections, and even lack insurance. Do some research here. My dad used to say, “good things aren’t cheap and cheap things aren’t good.” If the charter sounds like too good a deal, it very well could be. The best guides are in high demand and often come at a premium. This can be money well spent.
Use Google to search for charters in your area of interest. This won't narrow anything down, but start looking through the river of results for businesses with many favorable reviews. Visit these websites. You should find ample details on their business, areas of specialty, and photos of their boat and equipment. To be a great guide you do not need a website, but usually the best guides invest in one.
Social media is the wild west of self-promotion, unedited articles, poor quality video, and an array of political rants, memes, and photos of Grandma's meatloaf. Love it or hate it, it is here to stay. Avoid asking, “Who is the best guide?” on a social media page. This will not narrow much down and will resemble more of a google search of responses. Instead, see if your prospective guide has a business page. Does it look professional and informative? Look at your guide’s personal page as well. You are basically interviewing a candidate for a job. This will shed some light on the personality behind the business and whether they are a good fit for you.
Word of mouth advertising is a blessing and a curse. Happy customers share their stories, but unhappy customers share with vigor. Going back to the list above, ask some questions about the reviewer’s trip. What made it a good or bad trip for them may not make it that way for you.
Licenses and Insurance Certificates
When you embark a chartered vessel, the captain’s first job is your safety. When I first started guiding, I was surprised no one asked to see my license. Do not feel shy about asking to see documentation; it should always be on the vessel. Do not gamble your safety.
Weather and Fishing Conditions
If a guide could control this, you couldn’t afford the trip. Wind, waves, and severe weather are always a guide’s concern. Stay in contact with your guide as your trip approaches if the weather looks extreme. If the weather is just lousy, not severe, come prepared. Guides cannot reschedule every time it rains. Alternately, if the fishing is poor your guide should know this, be upfront about it, and discuss it with you. Good guides will work diligently to make the most of poor fishing conditions.
What Makes a Good Guide?
Charter licenses are like driver’s licenses. Just because you have one does not make you good at it. A good guide is many things, but primarily they should be an excellent host to help you enjoy your trip. They really want you to catch fish, and they feel plenty of pressure to do so, especially when fishing is tough. A good guide will never let you see them sweat even if they're stressing on a tough day of fishing. Guides are human beneath the “job of a lifetime” persona. They have good days and bad days and can be exhausted during peak seasons. If something seems wrong, speak up. A good guide will change what they can to improve things or explain why they can’t.
Few fishing trips are remembered only because of dead fish. It is the experience of being together with friends and family, and the fishing stories that follow, that make a trip memorable.