Midwest Outdoors - Feb. 1999


By Jim Van Hook

Itís 5:00 AM, the alarm clock just blasted you out of bed, and you didnít sleep that well to begin with. The anticipation of your long-awaited fishing trip caused you to sleep fitfully during the night. And that was after you got to bed well after midnight, after a 9 hour drive, plus going over your fishing tackle for today, and, least we forget, hastily throwing together those bologna sandwiches to be consumed during todayís outing. Here it is, the first serious fishing trip of the year! And this year, you and your fishing partner decided to do it right. You booked a professional fishing guide on the lake you always wanted to fish! (Or the lake you have been fishing for some years, but without much success!) What can I expect? Are we going to load the boat? Are my skills lacking to the point where Iím going to embarrass myself? Will the guide be there at the appointed hour? Were we supposed to meet him at State Park Marina or Indian Point? What all are we supposed to bring with us? What is the guide providing? Were we supposed to buy a license beforehand? All very good questions, to be sure.

Who Do You Call?

How do you find a good guide on the lake that youíre going to fish? Thereís a number of ways, but probably the best is personal referral. If you know someone who fishes the lake, ask them. They have either fished with 1 or more of the guides, or they have probably heard of some of the better ones by reputation. Ask the resort or motel owner where you are going to stay. They are usually in contact with 1 or more of the local guides. The local Chamber of Commerce is usually another reliable source. If a guide cares enough to spend money on Chamber membership and advertises in its publication, he or she most likely cares about the success and satisfaction of  his/her clients. Another source of information is the Yellow Pages and guide referral companies.

What Do I Ask?

Once you locate a potential guide or guides, itís important to ask him/her the correct questions. Asking and getting answers to the right questions will help insure that you have a happy and productive day on the water. Letís cover some of the more important questions you should ask your potential guide: Are you available on the dates I have in mind?  This can save both you and the guide some time and long distance phone bills. If he or she is not available for your dates, they usually can recommend or book you with another capable guide. Do you regularly fish the lake/species/technique that Iím interested in? Perhaps youíve connected with a very capable guide, but he doesnít guide for the species youíre interested in. Once again, he can usually direct you to another guide that can help you out.
Are you licensed and insured? A very important question! Most states require that a guide be licensed. Some areas require that guides be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard. That includes some inland-area lakes, such as some of those located in the Ozarks. If your guide is not properly licensed, and, god forbid, something happens, heís also probably not going to be covered by his insurance company. The Coast Guard and some of the state licensing authorities also require First Aid and CPR courses. If the guide is not licensed or insured, it may be an indication that he only does it part-time or doesnít take it too seriously. What are your rates and what does that include? You need answers to at least these 2 questions, especially if you are comparing rates between guides. Does the rate include boat gas? How about bait?The use of equipment? What about a deposit? What is your cancellation/refund policy? What about lunch, snacks, and soft drinks? Do you offer multiple-day discounts? What do I need to bring? Some guides provide equipment and some do not. You need to find out. You do not want to show up for your day on the water missing something important. On the other hand, you donít want to bring a tackle box so full of stuff that you need a forklift to get it in and out of the boat! Less is normally better than more. Your guide should have the hot baits on the boat! How are we going to fish?What types of techniques, baits, and equipment will we probably be using. Perhaps youíre not comfortable using baitcasting equipment. Tell the guide up front. Be honest about your skill level. It will make for a more enjoyable day as your guide will be better prepared. Heíll also make sure heís got the proper gear for you and your party. How do you prefer payment? Not all guides take checks, and not that many are equipped to accept credit cards. Find out before you show up at the dock! And if you need a receipt for business purposes, let your guide know ahead of time.

The Time Is Here!

Itís now 7 AM, you are at the designated meeting place, hopefully, and so is your guide! Punctuality should be expected by both parties. Donít show up 45 minutes late and expect it to be added to the end of your day! He was hired for a specific time-frame and has been waiting for you. On the other hand, if your guide is late for some reason, the time needs to be made up by him/her. One of the most important things to bring to the boat with you, when you meet your guide, is a good attitude and a willingness to learn! The fish on any lake arenít biting like crazy every day of the year and no one can guarantee you that 8+ pound bass every day! What you can expect from your guide is an enjoyable day on the water. A day in which youíll catch fish, hopefully a good amount of them, but, more importantly, an enjoyable and safe day during which you will learn something that you can use the rest of your fishing days! And this goes for the guide, too! You shouldnít be expected to put up with someone thatís grumpy or hungover!

If somethingís not going right the first hour or so, tell your guide. If you feel uncomfortable about something, tell your guide immediately! Donít wait until the end of the trip when he canít do anything about it. Heíll either remedy it or explain why something has to be done this particular way. Example: Your guide is in the front of the boat running the trolling motor, not saying a word, taking the first cast at every great-looking piece of structure. Youíre getting steamed! Itís like you just happen to be in the boat with him while heís fishing. Hey! Thatís probably not why you hired him! Talk to him and get it straightened out! Also, if you didnít want the guide to fish at all, that should have been discussed when you booked him.

Lunch-time. If you packed a lunch, do you stop fishing to eat or eat on the run? Different guides have differing policies. Ask before you go. If youíre taking time to eat in a restaurant, does it count against your fishing time? Again, policies differ among guides. Also, who pays for the guideís lunch? Customarily, the client picks up the tab, but itís not written in stone.
Quitting Time. How much actual time is a half-day or full-day trip? That varies with the guide and should be discussed up front. If your day gets shortened or canceled because of weather or mechanical problems, how does that get handled? Once again, policies differ among guides.
To Tip or Not To Tip? Always a good question. Guides are in the service business. Just as other people in the service business, guides rely on tips for a sizable portion of their income. From the clientsí point of view, I always ask myself the following questions when I hire a guide: Did I have a safe and enjoyable day?; Did I learn anything new?; Did my guide really work for me today? After spending the day with him/her, would I hire this guide again or recommend him/her to my friends? If I can answer yes to one or more of the preceding questions, I will tip the guide. If I catch a large amount of fish or anything of trophy size, the tip is even better! If I cannot answer yes to any of these, I wonít tip.

I hope this sheds some light on hiring a guide and what to expect. One of the keys to a good day on the water with your guide is communication. If you donít know or understand something, ask. Your guide should have already asked some key questions when you booked your trip. Now, if only the weather and fish cooperate!

Good fishing!
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Jim operates Hookís Guide Service on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri. He can be reached at 1-800-603-4665 or Email HOOKSBASS @ AOL.COM

Jim receives promotional consideration from the following companies:

Champion Boats          St. Croix Rods
Mercury Motors          Ulrich Marine
Hambyís Protector      Lowrance Electronics
Dual Pro Chargers

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