I do a lot of speaking engagements with people of all age groups. One week I may be speaking with an elementary school, for career day, and the next I will be speaking with a group of fishing enthusiasts that have traveled hundreds of miles to listen. No matter which group I am speaking with, most of the people listening believe I have the best job in the world; I agree. However, what most of them do not understand is just how demanding the job is. No, I'm not going to sit here and say that being a fishing guide is more demanding than other professions like doctors, first responders, lawyers, or any of a thousand other demanding professions As a retired law enforcement officer, I can say with first hand knowledge that there are definitely more demanding professions out there. But, being a fishing guide is still a tough job; it is physically demanding, mentally challenging, and the pressure to be successful can be downright gut wrenching.
Let's start with the personality requirements of being a fishing guide. With the exception of law enforcement officers or emergency room doctors/nurses, there are very few professions that will see as diverse a group of clients as a fishing guide. In any given year, I will see people from all walks of life. I've had plumbers, farmers, arborists, marine biologists, astronauts, rocket scientists, music stars, movie stars, professional athletes, and more on the bow of my skiff over the last couple of decades. Each of these individuals had a personality that I needed to mesh with and be able to engage with over a day or more on the water. Most people believe that all you discuss while guiding someone is fishing. Nothing could be further from the truth. As my good friend Flip Pallot likes to say, "The skiff
becomes a confessional. The guide and the angler discuss things they wouldn't share with anyone else, including a priest in the confessional." Many believe this to be an exaggeration, but it isn't. This becomes very evident as the angler and the guide spend multiple days together, and if they are lucky, continue the relationship for years on end. I have clients that I have been guiding for more than two decades; these people become family and like family, secrets are shared and stories are told in the safety and confinement of a skiff. A fishing guide must be able to discuss a huge variety of topics, be able to explain directions in a multitude of ways, and be able to mesh with an abundance of personalities; without these abilities, the guide will be very limited on the individuals they get along with and communicate with. This can be the difference between success or failure as a guide as the years pass by. The majority of successful guides are capable of handling clients from every walk of life and enjoy being with different types of people every chance they get.
Now let's take a look at some of the physical demands the job places upon you. It doesn't matter if you are guiding mountain streams, inshore flats, the deep sea ocean, or local lakes; there is a physical toll placed upon the guide's body in each and every one of these situations. Since I guide mainly inshore flats fishing, I will delve further into the physical demands of this world. The most obvious physical demand on an inshore guide's body is poling the skiff for hours on end. Poling a skiff places demands on your arms, shoulders, back, legs, core, and neck. These demands become intensified with wind, current, weight, balance of the angler, and even the type of bottom you are traversing. Many of us try to minimize the stress of these demands by working out in the gym and
maintaining at least a semi-healthy lifestyle. Still, there isn't a workout program out there that places the same physical demands on your body as poling a skiff does. Day after day, hour after hour, pushing, pulling and steering the boat with your body can make for some sore down time. Sleep deprivation is also a physical demand on guides when they are busy. Many people do not realize that the guide's day starts the night before. During this time, rods are checked, lines are rigged, baits are prepared, and a fishing plan is developed (good guides will have multiple plans ready, in case one or more are not working). There have been plenty of nights, before an early morning trip, where sleep didn't come until midnight. The morning of a trip also starts early for the fishing guide. If I plan to launch at 6 AM, I'm up at 4, maybe earlier if I have to trailer the boat far. This early morning time is used for a final boat cleaning, cooler/refreshment preparation, tackle loading, fueling, and getting to the ramp. I have a simple rule: if I am on time, I am late. I want the boat in the water, running, ready to go, when my client arrives. Of course, sometimes problems arise and the extra time is utilized to make sure the day goes off as issue free as possible. After the day of fishing, the client gets to go off and enjoy the evening. The fishing guide goes home and cleans the boat and tackle. Small skiffs take about an hour to clean, with another 30 minutes for tackle cleaning (at a minimum). Larger boats can take two hours or more to clean. After cleaning, we start preparing for the next trip. There have been plenty of weeks when four hours of sleep per night was the maximum; it's just part of the job. Then there is the daily stress of running a boat on the water, day after day. I'll admit, my skiff handles rough water well and this has little effect on me. But, when I go offshore, that is a completely different story. Spend a few days in rough seas, pounding on waves, and you will know what it is like to be a professional boxer. You'll be sore and bruised in spots you didn't know existed. As I said, every guiding style has its own physical stressors and can take a toll on your body when you do it on a daily basis.
The final aspect I will discuss is the mental challenge guiding places upon you. Most people believe that guiding is the most stress free job there could ever be; after all, you're fishing every day you work. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Guides spend very little time actually fishing; that would be a professional angler, not a guide. Guides spend 95% of their time trying to make sure their anglers have a successful day. Just a little food for thought on what this takes: 90% of fish live in 10% of the water. Each day, these fish can travel miles upon miles to locate the exact conditions they prefer (depth, clarity, salinity, pressure, prey type, grass type, cover or no cover, and the list goes on). The fishing guide is trying to make sure that their angler is in the right location, so that a fish is present, at the right time, so the fish is feeding, and at the right position, so a successful presentation can be made.
If any one of these parameters is off by even a few seconds or a few inches, it means the difference between success and failure. Don't believe that? How many times have you spotted a fish, only to have it refuse your best offering? It happens all the time. Now, add in the fact that someone is paying you (good money) and you are now expected to be able to make the fish eat. No, not every client is that demanding, but all of them expect you to have some trick or tactic that will work more times than not. While most understand that guides cannot control nature, there are those that expect you to be able to. Every guide wants their client to have a banner day, what I refer to as a Chamber of Commerce Day: great weather, perfect water and hungry, aggressive fish. Truth be told, those days are super rare! Instead, most days are about using a game plan and being able to change and adapt to ever changing conditions throughout the day. I cannot tell you the number of times that I've gone from game plan A, to B, to C, to D, and even as far as game plan G. Then there are those days when absolutely nothing can be figured out. Even worse is when your game plan would work, but the angler is not up to the task; this happens more often than I would like to admit. If your guide is worth anything, these challenging days are hard on them. While I try to never show it, there is nothing more stressful than having a bad day on the water with a client; a day where fish are not wanting to show, where fish do not want to eat, or things just keep going wrong. 98% of my clients are understanding and know how hard I work to make the day successful; they understand that nature is nature and the fish don't always cooperate. Still, it makes it tough for me to accept bad days.
The challenges associated with being a fishing guide are plentiful; the three above are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more and I could probably write an entire book on it. When I discuss these issues with other guides, they will come up with a list of challenges I hadn't even thought of. Yet, despite these demands, the guides I am associated with and work with all say the same thing: we wouldn't trade it for the world. Why? First and foremost, the water is where we belong. We are not happy on land, we are not happy in office buildings, we love being out on the water, in the fresh air, enjoying the natural world. Water is freedom, joy, peace and tranquility. Secondly, most of our clients make the job enjoyable; they're fun to be around, have the same passion we do, and the really good ones just want that day of solitude in nature. Third, but not the last reason, are those few moments when everything comes together. You've reached the right spot, at the right time, at the right angle, where your angler and his target are in perfect harmony of time and space, and a hook up takes place. It is truly a magical moment that we often take for granted. We shouldn't; if we really stopped and thought about everything that must be perfect for it to happen, we wouldn't. Those moments when the angler and guide get to share a memory that no one else can ever share are what makes those demands worth it! In those moments, the physical demands, mental demands, and all of the world's problems, vanish and for a few moments everything in the world is right and perfect! Those moments are the reason I have the best job in the world!