Avail Yourself, It Pays Off – Part Two

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, MT

Avail 2Once you have committed to a guided fishing trip, there is an obligation on your part to be prepared for it.

I will freely admit that for some of the trips I’ve taken over the years I was unprepared and that lack of preparation did impact the fulfillment of the expectations I had set for myself. My failure to be prepared was a direct result of me not asking the right questions and making assumptions about the trip that didn’t come to fruition. Of course it is easy to blame the outfitter or guide if the trip doesn’t meet your expectations but having a frank discussion with the outfitters and guides prior to the trip really helps establish joint expectations that can usually be fulfilled.

The outfitter/guide’s job is to ensure you have a safe, enjoyable trip which mostly means you catch some fish, don’t hurt yourself and are as comfortable as possible doing so. The outfitter/guide’s expectations are that you’ll be prepared for the planned trip and have the minimum angling skills necessary pursue the fishing you’ll be trying to catch. Outfitters and guides don’t control the weather, the water or the moods of the fish, but they are experienced enough to deal effectively with the vagaries of any fishing situation and this is where proper preparation helps. Almost every guided trip I’ve taken has been different in some way—different locations, time of year, type of fishing, variable weather, different guides, etc. But basic pre-trip preparation is pretty much the same. Here’s my list of must do preparation questions:

  • What is the outfitter/guide going to or able to provide?
  • What are you required to bring?
  • Where and when do you meet?
  • What time will you return?
  • How do you settle up at the end of the trip?
  • Do you and the outfitter/guide understand what you would like to do on the day?

What is the outfitter/guide going to or able to provide? – This is a pretty obvious question and most outfitter websites outline some of the essentials. But it is an important question. If you need waders for the trip and the outfitter can’t provide them, you’ll have to bring them along. Many guides prefer to provide their own flies, fly rods and such because they know they have the right equipment for the job at hand. Not all their clients do. Whatever the outfitter will or can provide, you don’t need to bring along unless you want to. On the other hand, if you need it and they don’t provide it, you need to provide it.

One would think that transportation to and from the fishing location was something the outfitter would always provide but that’s not always the case. I remember my first guided float trip in northern New Hampshire. As I checked in at the lodge and met the guide, one of the first questions he asked was: “Is your car full of gas? We’ve got a long drive to the put-in, take-out and we will use your car for the shuttle.”  Unexpected, but luckily the car was full of gas. On other trips, I’ve had to drive to remote boat ramps and meet the guide for the first time as he motored his boat in from the boonies.

What are you required to bring? – Equally important is knowing what you are responsible for. Fishing licenses are a good example. Many times outfitters and guides are required to check for licenses before the trip begins. If you don’t have one or the right one, there’s a problem. Of course if you are meeting at the fly shop and they handle licenses, problem solved. But not all fly shops handle licenses. Whatever the trip, make sure you have or have arranged for the proper license before the trip begins.

Comfort is usually an important aspect of any guided fishing trip. Weather and the right gear/clothing go hand in hand. If you are heading into territory where inclement weather is a possibility, make sure you have the proper clothing. Equally important are things like sunscreen, bug spray, etc. They are generally your responsibility.

Generally, meals and beverages are provided by the outfitter/guide and they’ll usually inquire as to your preferences. But as I found out to my great discomfort, such is not always the case. I had booked a kayak trip for Snook on Gasparilla Sound on the Florida Gulf Coast. Having left the safety of the put-in on a hot July afternoon, we fished and caught Snook until the wee hours of the morning. When I asked the guide for some food and beverage, he simply told me that I should have brought some if I wanted it as it wasn’t part of the trip. When we got back to the put-in at 3AM he did treat me to several free beers and did apologize for not telling me about bringing my own food and water.

Where and when do you meet? – Critical piece of information and it’s not always as simple as meet at the fly shop at 8AM. Where ever you meet your guide—at your hotel, at a remote boat ramp or at the fly shop—make sure you know how to get there and when to be there on time. Clarity is important here because delays or missteps for whatever reason cut into your fishing day.

What time will you return? – You may be on your own without a care in the world and time doesn’t matter. But as with many of us, other commitments may limit our time on the water. Always inquire as to what time the guide expects to finish the trip to ensure is coincides with your situation. I have had guides tell me of clients who out of the blue, halfway through an 8 hour float, would unload something like: “When do we get back, I need to meet the family for dinner at 5PM in Zeesville?”  The guide usually responding something like: “I wish I’d known that before we started, I’d have selected a much shorter float. Now I’ll have to row like hell to get us to the takeout in time.”

How do you settle up at the end of the trip? Although the use of credit cards to reserve and books trips is pretty universal, it’s not always the case. Many times when the trip returns to the fly shop, things are tallied and the credit card is billed the appropriate amount. Simple and routine. However, I made one trip, making the reservation via email and giving a credit card number only to find out I was expected to pay the full price in cash at the end of trip. Several hundred dollars of cash not in hand, I was lucky to have a tattered blank check in my wallet. Gratuities for guides at the end of the trip are expected; the amount to be determined as a personal choice on your part. However, they are usually provided in cash, directly to the guide as you part at the end of the day. Some guides and trips provide exceptional experiences and are deserving of big tips. Because you never know, be prepared with an appropriate amount of cash.

Do you and the outfitter/guide understand what you would like to do on the day? One of the themes I’ve repeated here is ‘expectations’: the angler having them and the guided trip meeting or not meeting them. Unfortunately, a guided fishing trip isn’t the magical “Catch a fish on every cast” type experience you see on some outdoor shows. Fishing with a guide is still just fishing and generally the results aren’t much different than if you knew what the guide knows and were doing it alone. I’ve been on trips where I expected to catch fish but didn’t. Not because the guide didn’t know what they was doing but because the weather and other conditions just were not optimal for what we were trying to catch. I still enjoyed those trips because I was doing what I wanted to do.

I’ve been on other trips that weren’t that enjoyable because the guide insisted I fish a certain way or decided to go somewhere else than we had originally planned. Although I caught some fish, I didn’t really enjoy the method by which I caught them. The lesson I’ve learned is this. Some outfitters and guides believe the trip is only successful if they connect their clients with a few fish, no matter by what method. They can be very persuasive in this way. If you are learning unfamiliar waters or new species, allowing the guide to have their way is probably for the best. But if you really want to throw streamers all day against the banks and aren’t interested in dangling San Juan worms under a bobber, make sure you and the guide are on the same page before the trip starts. Good communications before (about all aspects) and during (what’s working and what do you  want to do) the trip is essential to setting and achieving your expectations.

A guided fishing trip is not an extravagance if you can afford it and its success or failure evaluated from an ‘expectations and return on investment’ perspective. I’ve spent over $300 on plumbers and electricians this summer, neither of which helped me catch any fish. But I am returning to the same guide for some Puget Sound cutthroat fishing from a kayak this summer because they know where the fish are, how to catch them and provide the gear to do so. Since my kayaks don’t fit in a typical overhead bin on an airplane, the modest per hour cost of a guided trip certainly seems like a good return on investment.

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