Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

January 5th, 1998

Need a Guide?

How do you pick a guide? If you are heading for warmer climates and staying at a fishing lodge or camp, do you have any choice? Want to catch your first steelhead? Or fish some new water? Dreaming up a fishing trip to British Columbia or Nova Scotia? The right guide can make the trip terrific or a terror.

Plan ahead. Don't blindly charge off and hope you will get it right. Hiring a guide, or staying at a fishing destination is not cheap. Spending money on a rotten time can flavor more than one trip. One bad experience can make you very gun shy about ever taking another trip. Or at least hiring a guide.

Let's start with the fishing destinations. Pick the destination based on the kind of fishing you want. Places that specialize in big fish can usually put you on fish. There is a trade-off though. If for some reason the big fish don't show, you may not get any fish. Make sure you have options ... are there smaller/other fish in the same region you would enjoy catching? Are you willing to go fishless if there is a possibility of connection with real trophys?

Our last bonefish trip to the Bahamas had a lot of options. We knew the reputation of Deep Water Cay Bonefish Club. We wanted to catch bonefish. Any other neat fish would be a bonus. Some folks heading to the same place go when big permit are an option. Others are after barracuda.

Once our guide decided our casting was adequate we went after big bones. We could have caught literally hundreds of small bones (2 to 4 pounds). We had the option of going after big ones. For more information and photos on that trip, check out Bonefish Party.

Some saltwater destinations have large fish, others great numbers of small fish. Or the fish may be there, but the local wind conditions blow you off the water. Hard to take sitting on the beach when you paid for fishing.

Guides at fishing destinations are usually assigned by the manager or senior guide. If you need help with your casting, make sure they know before you go. Some guides know how to help you with your casting. Others don't or won't.

If you have a health problem that won't allow all-day-fishing, let them know. If at the end of a day you are unhappy with your guide, you have the option of changing. Reputable places have a guide pool more guides available than guests. You can change guides ... it is your money! I personally wouldn't make a change because I didn't like the way a guide parted his hair, but if you can't understand what he says, or if you feel your wishes are not being honored, talk with the manager.

Some outfitters (the guides' boss in some states in the US the late Dan Bailey of Livingston, MT comes to mind since JC and I both guided for him) are very firm about what was expected of his licensed guides. Lunch (provided by the guide) was to be of excellent quality, a 'split' of wine for the client could be included. None for the guide.

Dan also expected his guides to be prompt, well equipped (spare rod and lots of flies,) physically army-inspection-clean and pressed. Courtesy and hospitality ruled. A rude or crude remark could get a guide fired. I'll bet old Dan was whirling in his grave when he saw JC & me fishing with a beer guzzling "recommended" guide on the Bitterroot a couple of years ago.

You certainly should expect to be treated well. A guide should know more about his particular fishery than you can read in a book. For him to do his job well, you need to let him know what you want. If you have friends who successfully hired a guide in that region, ask for names. Ask a potential guide for references - then call and check. Is he licensed? Ask to see the license.

Driftboat fishing can be very effective. It does require that you can put a cast where the guide directs. (And not hook him either.) Practice your accuracy casting before you go. Once you have drifted past a good lie, you won't go back upstream and try it again.

If you prefer to walk and wade, the guide needs to know that. Not all water is wadable. Access to good water can be very limited, if arrangements have to be made for access by the guide, it has to be done in advance. Want to fish small rods and tiny dry dlies? Don't ask the guide to take you somewhere that has size 6 salmon flies blanketing the water.

Develop a relationship with your guide. Talk to him. Don't just call or write and make a reservation, have a couple real conversations. Find out what your guide specializes in. Most guides have special interests. It makes a better trip if their interest and yours match.

Doing something entirely new? Tell the guide you have not done this before. Take his lead. He may suggest a better place or time or guide.

Ask specifically what to bring. What weight rod(s), floating or sinking tip line. What leaders? What flies? If you tie you may want to catch something on a fly you've tied. Super, if you tied the right flies. Should you bring a lunch? Coffee or pop? Better to ask than to wish you had.

Make sure you know what the guides fee is, and how it is paid. Some guides require a deposit. If you are fishing private water, it may require a deposit. Guides are not banks. Do not expect them to front your fishing expenses.

Be on time, make sure you have the proper license when you show up. Bring proper gear; be nice. Have a great time! ~ LadyFisher

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