Should You Hire A Guide
By Tim Mead    May 22, 2010

Leon Sagaloff instructs author's wife, Nancy, on tricks for Big Hole River trout.
Leon Sagaloff instructs author's wife, Nancy, on tricks for Big Hole River trout.

Should You Hire A Guide - By Tim Mead

The following article is copyrighted by Tim Mead and may not be duplicated or reproduced without his expressed written permission

Guides cost money, though what most guides charge always makes me wonder how they survive.   In any event, money spent on a fishing guide is money that could be spent taking the family to dinner, new gear, or other items.   When you spend money on a guide you are trading it for something else. Is the trade worth it?

Most of us hire guides to put us on fish.   Guides are on the water when we are not.   Perhaps we have only a one-week vacation and would like to assure success.   Particularly when fishing a spot we do not frequent, a guide can provide a shortcut to finding where fish are and what they are doing.

Kennon Brown, a North Carolina guide and friend of the author, puts clients on big fish.
  Kennon Brown and trophy largemouth.

Some thirty years ago when we moved to North Carolina, I had never fished a huge power company impoundment.   A few trips demonstrated to me that the lessons I learned fishing natural lakes in Michigan were not much use.   A student at the university where I taught had been tearing up the local bass tournament scene.   I hired him twice, once in the dead of winter and once in the heat of summer, to show me how to fish a power company impoundment.   He showed me places and techniques I still use.   When I got home I made a two-page list of the things I had learned.   Could I have figured all that myself?   Probably, but it would have taken me lots longer on my own.

If you scrape up money to travel to some fishing Valhalla, perhaps the extra required to hire a guide would be well worth it.   Additional investment can assure, to the extent anything in fishing can be assured, the success of a trip  . A few years ago I had a day fishing muskies on Lake St. Clair between Michigan and Ontario.   Lake St. Clair had long been a desired fishing destination for me.   Captain Kevin Backus, grandson of legendary muskie guide Homer LeBlanc, took me out.   Lake St. Clair is a big lake.   Captain Kevin's day-to-day knowledge of the water and its fish was indispensable.   Without him, I would have been skunked and still looking for my first fish instead of having a three muskie day.   A report of that trip was published by Woods-N-Water News.

Hiring a guide for the first day of a multi-day trip could be the difference between a successful experience and failure.   A guide, however, may not want to show you the optimum spots only to have you sitting there the next day.  I always tell any guide how long I expect to be in the area and whether I will be fishing.   Then the guide can determine which strategy to use.   At Dale Hollow Reservoir in Tennessee, I asked Ralph Sandfer if he minded if Bill Schumaker and I fished the smallmouth lunker spots he showed us.   He laughed and said, "There's lots of water here, plenty of room for all of us. Fish wherever you want."   Tennessee Valley Outdoors carried an article about our experience with Ralph.   Not all take the same position.   Give your guide the option./p>

On numerous occasions, I have benefited from access to spots, particularly on rivers, when the guide provided access to spots otherwise beyond reach.   Several times I have fished with Craig Lamb on the Yellowstone River between Greycliff and Columbus, Montana.   We drifted down the River, stopping periodically to fish productive spots he knew.   Wading from an access spot, we could never have reached many of the places Craig took us.

Some of the "best spots" require guides. Craig, my son, and I fished American Creek in Alaska with guide Nanci Morris.   We flew to the Creek from King Salmon. Alaska.   We would not have known where to go or how to get there without Nanci.   And without her coaching we would not have had two days of non-stop rainbow trout, sockeye salmon, and Artic char action.   Further, NancI made an assessment of wife Nancy's capacity when they first met at Bear Trail Lodge and rigged spinning gear for her.

In addition to putting you on fish, a guide should provide instruction on local methods.   In my case, I have learned many techniques with local reputations that were readily transferable.   An example is the "shooting for crappie" method I learned from Steve Durham.   It's used at Lake Wylie on the North Carolina-South Carolina border.   With short, stubby rods, Lake Wylie crappie anglers "shoot" tiny jigs under piers and docks that cannot be fished effectively otherwise.   Over the years, I have published articles on this technique in Fur-Fish-Game, Fishing Facts, North Carolina Sportsman, and North Carolina Wildlife.

Until I fished with Leon Sagaloff on Beaverhead River in Montana, I had never used the "chuck-and-duck" method of fishing nymphs under a strike indicator.

Leon Sagaloff instructs author's wife, Nancy, on tricks for Big Hole River trout.
;                               Nancy gets instructions.

He taught me how much weight to use to drop the nymphs into the trout feeding lanes, how much leader to use beneath the strike indicator, and how to hold the rod tip high to limit drag on the narrow Beaverhead.   Since I have used the lessons Leon taught me in Michigan, North Carolina, and Tennessee to catch trout - not to mention throughout Montana.

Guides should be able to build on the instructional base provided by others.   A few years ago I fished with Gordon Honey, a rainbow trout guide near Kamloops, British Columbia.   Gordy fishes natural lakes for Kamloops rainbows, widely touted as the toughest rainbows.   When I called for directions, he asked, "Ever fish with a strike detector and an 18-foot leader?"   I had to say, I had not.   Because Gordy fishes much deeper than Leon Sagaloff and with no current, Gordy fishes not with his rod tip high but close to the water.   Even later I fished with Jon Madsen on Montana's Bighorn River.   The Bighorn is much broader than the Beaverhead.   Yet, Jon was able to build on the lessons taught by Leon and Gordy to lead me to trophy browns and rainbows.   Each of these guides provided instruction on catching trout with a strike indicator and nymphs and each added nuance to the method.   I was enriched.   An article about fishing with Leon appeared on, no longer publishing.   An article about Gordy Honey and Kamloops rainbows appeared in Fly Fishing the West, also no longer publishing.   And an article about sight-fishing for rainbows on the Bighorn appeared in Fly Fishing and Tying Journal.

Gordon Honey fishes for Kamploops rainbows.
              Gordon Honey guides for
               rainbows in British Columbia.

Instruction by guides should be adaptable to angler needs.   The best guides can make a pretty quick and accurate assessment of the skills of a client and then offer appropriate instruction.   On a chilly spring day a couple of years ago Tim Gregory and I fished for largemouth bass on John H. Kerr Reservoir on the North Carolina-Virginia border.   Dennie Gilbert was our guide.   Largemouth had been moving toward shallow water to spawn, but a cold front had pulled them off ledges about 5-feet deep.   Dennie and I began to catch nice fish with slowly twitched jerkbaits.   Tim, an excellent caster, was fishing the same lure but much more rapidly.   Dennie began coaching Tim on the productive speed and twitch.   By the end of the day, Tim landed a 6- and a half largemouth, a result of Dennie's selective coaching.   North Carolina Sportsman included an article on that trip.

Guides should also have suggestions which lures would be most productive.   Gordon Honey was fishing for rainbows with chronomids, but not the #20 flies I had in my box.   Jon Madsen had us use a nondescript fly called a Ray Charles; neither Bill nor I had ever heard of it.   In these cases, the guide saved the day with the lure selection.

Guides should demonstrate respect for fish, the environment, clients and other guides.   They provide respect for the fish by the care they take in landing, photographing, and releasing fish (where that is the goal).   They provide respect for the environment by not discarding line or other fishing gear, not throwing sandwich wrappers or other trash on the water or land, preventing clients from doing the same, and picking up trash thrown by others.   They demonstrate respect for clients by learning names, joshing with the joshers and being serious with the more serious, and generally accepting the individuality of clients.   They demonstrate respect for other guides by avoiding gratuitous criticism of them.

The best guides also supply examples of ethical conduct.   Fishing with Jon Madsen on the Bighorn, he noted, "We don't fish in the chum line."   He pointed to trout coming within feet of our waders to scarf up the critters dislodged by our boots.   Do anglers ever fish in the Bighorn chum lines?   I'm sure they do, but not with Jon Madsen.   Good guides also adhere to the game and fish laws.   Jon asked nonchalantly as we met, "You guys got Montana fishing licenses, right?"

Guides also follow the code of conduct among guides.   Several years ago, Craig, my son, and I had a great day fishing with Joe Jenne for largemouth bass at West Point Lake on the Georgia-Alabama border.   As we unloaded our gear a party that had been fishing with another guide approached.   Joe nodded toward them and said, "Let me do the talking."   The other guide had signaled Joe that they had not done well and Joe did not want to show up his colleague.

Good guides take steps to assure that all come home safely.   Many states require training in safe boat operation for a guide to be certified.   For example, Montana licenses guides with an exhaustive test of their skills that go far beyond ability to tie a nail knot.   Montana-licensed guides have a metal badge they display, usually on an oarlock.   The US Coast Guard also certifies guides based on their boat handling and other safety skills.   The Coast Guard issues a decal that most certified guides display.

Caleb Hitzfield certainly went out of his way to assure that Craig and I came home safely.   We were fishing at Moraine Creek in Alaska.   The plane scheduled to pick us up did not come.   Craig begged and borrowed sleeping bags and sandwiches from a competing outfitter to tide us through the night.   Caleb's efforts were featured in an article in Fish Alaska Magazine .

Could be that a fishing guide may also become a friend.   Yet, from the guide's perspective that is unlikely.   Many guides, particularly the best, rely on repeat customers, often as high as 80 per cent of a guide's business.   Over time, a repeat customer may become not only a client but also a friend.   When hiring a guide, however, don't plan on making a life-long friend and don't behave as though you thought you already reached that plateau.   On a first trip, the guide's goals are to have a safe, enjoyable trip and catch some fish in the bargain.

Any guide you contemplate hiring should be able to supply you with a list of former clients who can evaluate the service.

Each of us has to make a judgment whether the cost of a guide is worth the money, taking into account all the other things the funds could accomplish.     It's a trade off, no doubt.   There have been many times when I thought the trade off very positive.


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           Last updated on October 19, 2010