I’ve taken dozens of guided fishing trips – from as far west as Montana to as far south as the Virgin Islands. Most of the trips have been good. A few, have not.
I have guided and been guided, so I’ve been on both sides of the skiff. I’ve worked in a fly shop. I’ve been a customer. There hasn’t been much I haven’t seen in more than 30-plus years of fly fishing.
There’s no way to ensure a great fishing trip. There are simply too many variables to control. However, there are a handful of things you, as an angler, can do to help avoid those forgettable guided fishing trips.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Fishing requires different skill sets. It doesn’t matter if it’s fly or spin.
Bonefishing requires a double haul. Freshwater trout require precision and line control. Smallmouth bass require long casts with big poppers.
Very few anglers have every skill mastered, so the key is to focus on the type of fishing you will most likely encounter and master that scenario, over and over. In your backyard, or on your local stream or pond.
FAILURE TO PREPARE IS PREPARING TO FAIL
Pack early. Not the night before. Start packing at least a week out. Of course, you can’t have everything packed, but at least start organizing your tackle, clothes and gear. Chip away, so when the night before the trip arrives, you’re merely tying up loose ends — and not starting from scratch.
If you wait until the night before, you’ll be stressed. You’ll either run late or forget a key piece of gear, which leads to even more stress, which means you won’t enjoy your trip.
One last thing: Be on time. Timing is everything, fishing. I know a saltwater guide, whose clients arrived an hour and a half late without rigged rods and reels. Fortunately, a breeze sustained an incoming tide that saved the day, but it’s best not to rely on mother nature for a bailout.
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
Tell your guide what you want — from the type of fish you want to catch, and how you want to catch them. Part of that equation is a realistic assessment of your skill level. It’s best to low-ball your ability. Double hauling 70 feet of line in your yard on a windless weekend afternoon is not the same as being able to duplicate that feat while trying to maintain your balance on the bow of a skiff with a swell. If your guide knows your skill level ahead of time, he or she should be able to put your in situations where you can be successful.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
You and the guide, to some extent, are a team. It’s a working relationship. To fortify that relationship, personalities have to mesh. No one can change their personality. That’s why it’s important to find a guide that matches your personality and needs.
If you want a guide who’s patient with beginners, state that goal before you agree to a trip. If you want a high-octane guide who can put you on big fish, that’s different. Ask for references. Check at the local fly shop. More often than not, you’ll be glad you did.
BE REALISTIC ON YOUR GUIDED TRIP
Many clients assume that hiring a guide ensures success. It does not. There’s no question that hiring a good guide can increase the likelihood of catching fish. Good guides know where the fish are and how to catch them, but typically that’s under standard conditions. Sometimes conditions change. Weather patterns can be tough to predict. Tailwater releases can be random. Sometimes the fish don’t want to eat, even when conditions are favorable.
I don’t evaluate a guide on the quality of fishing. I evaluate on the quality of effort and professionalism. Guides can’t control the former. They can control the latter, and I tip accordingly, usually 20 percent.
One last thing: Bring cash for the tip. It’s much easier than a check or debit card at the end of a long day on the water.