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Hiring a Fishing Guide

A good guide can make all the difference on new water.
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Some years back a friend and I made our first walleye trip to Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy. We booked a guide ahead of time through the resort where we would be staying. When we arrived the guide took us into the resort tackle shop and helped us pick out some three ounce bottom bouncers and worm harnesses that he knew would work. We headed out in the boat with our new tackle and night crawlers to a spot that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It was well off shore in 30 feet of water with no obvious structure or cover. But the location was on the edge of a change in bottom composition – from sand to clay.

We each had our limit of eater size walleyes in two hours. At the resort’s fish cleaning house we were the only ones filleting walleyes. All the others were cleaning white bass and asking a lot of questions. The next morning my buddy and I headed out on our own and were followed by six boats. I guess the people in those boats must have thought we knew what we were doing.

A good guide can make all the difference on new water. There is no way we would have found this spot on our own the first day we were there. It wasn’t marked on any map, we didn’t have GPS and there wasn’t a pack of boats in the area, that is until the second day when we led them there. We might have stumbled upon it over the course of several days by watching our sonar and seeing the change in bottom hardness. More likely we would have marked fish and gotten caught up in fishing for what we marked and probably would have caught a lot of white bass like everyone else.

Hiring a guide for a day, at the beginning of a fishing trip, can shortcut the learning process. Guides can take the guesswork out of fishing a new body of water. They can also show you the baits and techniques that are most successful on that water. Often this learning can be transferred to your home water as well.

Good guides are frequently tied into the local network of anglers. They are on the water almost every day and know where the fish go and what works when the weather, water temperature, flow rates, water clarity and other conditions change. When a spot isn’t producing, they know where to go next and/or what tactics to change. A good guide should also be able to teach you. This means good communication skills and maybe some patience.

Remember, not all guides are the same. A good guide can make the difference between the trip of a lifetime or never wanting to go fishing again. Though not always possible, you should do some homework ahead of time if you can. This gives you a chance to book the guide early and not just settle for whoever is available.

There are several options for selecting a guide ahead of your trip. Word of mouth is the best place to start. Ask people you know who have fished the area about any guides they have used. With the internet in almost every home these days, it’s a simple task to use Google or Yahoo to search for guides on the water of interest. Fishing websites such as have guide listings and the areas where they guide. Call the resort where you plan to stay or a bait/fly/tackle shop in the area to find several guides they recommend for the species you will pursue, your preferred technique on the water you wish to learn. These recommendation will allow you to interview the guides and select the one that is the best fit for your needs.

You should call prospective guides and establish a relationship with them to find out if they might fit your needs. Try to establish a rapport. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them over the phone, how do you think it will go on an all day trip? Let them know what you are looking for in your trip and your fishing experience. Do you want lessons? If you’ve never had a rod in your hand or will be bringing young children it would be good to discuss that beforehand. It might be they don’t have the patience to teach beginners. What are your expectations for the trip? Do you want to catch numbers of fish or only big fish? Let the guide know. What is a typical day of fishing like at that time of year?
  Guide fishing Be sure to find out what is included in the price of the trip. Will the guide be providing rods, bait or flies? What about lunch and drinks? If the guide provides food be sure to let him or her know if you have special dietary needs. If you’re planning to bring alcohol, be sure to check of this is allowed. Will a license be required? What about clothing needs, such as rain gear? If you’ll be fishing on their boat, do they have footwear restrictions/recommendations? Often guides will send you a “what to bring” list if you request one.

Once you select you guide and set the dates a deposit will likely be required. Find out what happens if the weather is bad. Will the guide reschedule for another day? What’s the cancellation and refund policy? How much more to add another person? How many hours will you be on the water? Can you buy extra hours and at what rate? It’s good to know these things before booking.

What if you didn’t hire a guide ahead of time? All of the same questions apply. You just might not get to be as selective when choosing your guide. But you do get a chance to meet the guide in person and check out his or her fishing equipment and demeanor.

The waiting is over and your trip finally begins. Start your day on the right note by being on time and prepared for a day on the water. Bring sunscreen, polarized glasses if sight fishing, appropriate clothing for changing weather conditions. If you were provided a list make sure you have everything.

If you are bringing your own equipment be sure that it is in top shape. New line on the spools, reels in good working order, etc. The guide we had on McConaughy was afraid that two guys from Colorado would show up with a little trout net and was quite relieved to see a fully rigged walleye boat when we met him.

Be honest when relaying your skill level to the guide to help him/her know what to expect (novice or a pro). If you’ve told the guide that you are an experienced fly angler and can cast with the best of them, you should probably practice with the equipment you’ll be using before your trip. This happened to me when I took a trip to Florida and tried to cast a 12 weight fly rod in the wind. I practiced with my 9 weight ahead of time but when the guide handed me that big rod I knew I was in for a new experience. I found out how good I wasn’t. The guide saved me by giving me a few quick tips.

As the day progresses keep communicating with the guide. Don’t make the guide guess what will make you happy. Let them know if your expectations are being met. If you were planning to catch a few big fish and the bite is slow and now you would like to catch fish – any fish, no matter how big – let the guide know. If you’re cold, hungry or need a trip to the outhouse on shore, let the guide know. Ask a lot of questions. Take the opportunity to learn and have fun.

It is customary to tip a guide, especially if your expectations have been met. Did you learn something that you can now use on your own? Your guide typically works for an outfitter who keeps a good share of the fee. Out of what the guide makes comes the cost of any equipment you used, bait, lost flies or lures, broken equipment, gas, food – half of your fee could go to someone else. A tip of 15 to 20% is typical if you’ve enjoyed the experience.

A good day on the water with a guide can be a great way to learn new water and techniques. You will leave with some new fishing experience and possibly a trip you will never forget.


© 2024 Dan Swanson
About the author, Dan Swanson:
Dan Swanson is a multi-species guide in Northern Colorado. He is an instructor and seminar speaker on fishing techniques with a specialty around the use of fishing electronics. Dan competes professionally in walleye tournaments around North America. He is on the Pro-Staff for Ranger Boats, Evinrude, Lowrance, St. Croix Rods and Costa Del Mar.
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