People hire fishing guides for a variety of reasons, but the main ones are to enjoy a relaxing day and to have the best chance of success in fishing an unknown location. Guides know this and spend countless hours preparing and scouting for their trips. They do everything they can to make sure things go right and that the client has the best opportunity possible to catch their desired target species. All of the preparation and scouting in the world cannot make every trip successful and there is nothing worse than a bad day of fish not cooperating. But it is even worse when the fish are cooperating and things still don't go right. Hey, sometimes stuff just happens; call it bad mojo, bad luck, or just whatever else you want. Then there are times when the guide does everything they can and the client fails to produce.
In order for the client/guide relationship to work, both parties have to be honest with each other. For the guide part of this, it means only taking those trips that you know you can do well. What do I mean by that? I specialize in fly fishing and artificial conventional tackle for my fishing (along with bow fishing). I do not claim to be the world's greatest live bait angler. Yes, I can use live shrimp as well as anyone, but I do not have the skill as many other guides with things like mullet or pigfish. No matter what many people think, there is a skill associated with these types of bait, along with needed equipment to keep them alive during a trip. I refer trips like this to other guides, who specialize in mullet and pigfish so that I do not disappoint a client. I would rather they have a great time with a guide that enjoys that type of fishing and has the skill to be successful. Now, I know not every guide does that. I know plenty of guides that have zero knowledge about fly fishing, but they'll still take a fly angler and it usually results in disaster and unhappy clients. That's the reason I write articles and teach classes on how to select the proper guide for your angling trips.
Since you always want your guide to be honest with you, as an angler, you need to do the exact same thing for the guide. When someone calls me, there are a series of questions I ask. These questions enable me to make sure I can meet the potential client’s expectations and also to make sure they have the needed skills for what they want to do. While these questions pertain to ALL clients, let me pose them from a fly angler point of view, just for simplification of a perceived conversation.
Question one, after we talk about dates, times, and how many people will be coming, is what species of fish are they looking to catch? Many times, clients are happy to target anything that is available. They just want to get out and experience a great day on the water and have some shots at fish. There are anglers that want to chase specific fish: redfish, big seatrout, snook, and tarpon top the list. If you have a specific species you want to target, let your guide know and let them know if that is all you want to focus on. There are a couple of reason for this and they include making sure the species is available at the time you want to go, making sure proper gear is selected and ready for the trip, and knowing where the fishing will concentrate. It also lets the guide know how flexible you are. I nearly always recommend being flexible on species, unless you have a lot of angling experience and there is a single fish that you want to cross off your list. But this is the client’s trip and I will do all I can make it happen. Clients also need to understand that if they decide to target a single species, the guide may not bring stuff for other fish or be in the right area; this can make for a long day if that single species doesn’t cooperate.
Question two is the MOST important one for anglers to be honest about: what angling experience do you have? This question can make or break a trip. When I get new fly anglers to saltwater, I ask them about their casting experience. Many of these people, depending on the areas they fish, may never have cast a rod bigger than a 5-weight. If these same anglers want to target large tarpon, they will be throwing a 10 or 11-weight fly rod; they need to practice with this beforehand, to understand the huge difference and to make sure they can do it. Physical limitations can make it difficult and even painful for some people to try and cast a rod this big. If I know it ahead of time, we can talk about alternatives of chasing smaller fish, using smaller gear, and look at other angling options. The biggest issues come when we discuss casting distances and accuracy. I’ve had hundreds of anglers over the year that claimed they could cast 50-60 feet, with minimal false casts, and hit a plate without a problem. Then, when we get on the water, they cannot even cast 20-30 feet and their accuracy is less than a sawed-off shotgun. This happens with fly and conventional gear. I am always straight forward with people on what I need in casting ability: 40-50 feet, in two false casts, landing on a pie plate. I’ve only had a few tell me they couldn’t do that. When they tell me that, I tell them to practice before coming and then explain that we will take some casting lessons and practice on the water, before I put them on fish. It’s nothing major, I just need them to be honest. It also let’s me know what type of fish I need to find. If a person cannot make long casts, I’ll try to find the most relaxed fish I can. Why don’t I do that every trip? Because it limits the number of fish we will see and have shots at and can take a lot of time to locate them. Accuracy is also of major importance during these discussions. Many stream and lake anglers don’t realize how accurate saltwater casts need to be. They learn quickly though when they are trying to cast to a prize snook under a mangrove, with less than 6 inches of clearance and a pocket the size of a glass. Hey, sometimes it requires a lot of luck too, but having some skill leads to better luck. If an angler tells me they aren’t accurate, but still want snook, I will go somewhere I may find open water fish; there will be less of them, but if I know, I can try to find it.
The overall point here is to be truthful with your guide. If you honestly assess yourself and give the guide the real information, both of you will be happier during the trip. We can all have bad days in fishing, just like any other sport. Those happen and we can work through them. What guides cannot do, no matter how good they are, is make up for a lack of skill the angler said they had and they really don’t. By being honest about your skills, your guide can point you in the right direction for the best success, can make a plan to help you improve your skills, and can enjoy the day as much as you. If you’re not honest, there is a good chance that both of you will become frustrated and the trip will turn into a clock watching session instead of a fish hunting session.
I hope this helps you and feel free to leave a comment or what you think is critical in making a trip successful!
Until next time, Tight Lines and Screaming Drags!
-Captain John Tarr