A Guide to Hiring a Guide

 There are literally hundreds of professional fishing guides in the State of Texas, some of whom got into the business as just that … a business … and others who are simply looking for a way to justify a hardcore fishing habit.
 It’s the former who survive, and sometimes even thrive. But they do so knowing that theirs is an entertainment business, and that their job is every bit as much about meeting customers’ expectations as it is about filling a half-gallon freezer bag with fresh trout fillets.
 I’ve been fishing with, and photographing, professional guides for well over 30 years. Across the board, theirs is a bona fide “people business.” Many have told me that their primary challenge is learning exactly what the paying customers expect out of their day on the water. All too few of those customers make their expectations apparent prior to the trip.
The result, quite often, is disappointment and disillusionment, despite the fact that the “hired rod” did all he or she could do to make the outing successful and enjoyable.
 It’s an easy enough dilemma to avoid. Before dropping anywhere from four to five hundred bucks or more for a paid day on the water, prospective clients are well-advised to take an honest look at their needs and desires and then effectively communicate those wishes to their chosen fishing pros.Charlie Buchen trout
 In the case of hunting guides, the situation is far less complicated. Whether the quarry is ducks or deer, the guided hunt modus operandi is far more clearly defined than the typical guided fishing trip. There are countless angling options, ranging from beginner-level spincasting with dead bait to fly-casting hand-tied flies to visible flats fish. There is a pro to meet every need. But again, those needs should be clearly explained before a deposit check is mailed to a guide to “lock in” a date.
 Foremost is simply the number of fishermen making the trip. Book a trip for two and show up with three or four anglers and it’s as sure as the tides that confusion, and understandably, considerable resentment and even the occasional cancelled outing will ensue.
Also critical is the given level of expertise for each angler on the trip. A veteran fly-fishing pro will entertain uncomfortable company when hosting a person who has never picked up a rod and reel, much less an 8-weight fly rod. Worse yet, the guide often has no clear directive as to who is being accommodated … the novice or the expert, the live bait fisherman or the accomplished artificial lure enthusiast.
 Just as a guide should be matched to a style of fishing, the paying anglers should be playing on relatively equal fields of expertise … unless, of course, the directive is to teach the novice new skills.
 Every angler, no matter his degree of expertise, can learn a good deal in the course of a guided fishing trip. The clients who get the most out of their paid ventures fully understand that concept, and accordingly, take advantage of the situation. Consider it an on-the-water how-to seminar.
 A good guide will invariably provide one, if only asked.
 Conversely, if the goal is primarily to catch fish, and as many fish as possible, a quality guide can quite often “put you on the fish.” He cannot, however, accommodate skill levels that do not exist.
 A trip to Rockport with fly-fishing guide Capt. Mike Scott that I made around five years ago brought that point to mind. It had been over a year since I had picked up a fly rod, and I was raring to go the second I stepped atop the casting platform on Scott’s tunnel-hulled Maverick flats boat.
 “Before we go, I want to see you cast,” he said.
 “Okay,” I answered, not yet understanding his request. I stripped line from the reel, made a forceful backcast, and on the forward release (admittedly, with some relief) watched the chartreuse Clouser Minnow zip about 40 feet away.
 “Good deal,” Scott said succinctly. “Let’s go fishing.”
 I couldn’t help but ask him why he wanted the demonstration.
 “Because,” he answered, “if I need to get you within 20 feet of a fish for you to reach it with a fly, I need to know that now.”
 Fly-fishing is a somewhat extreme example. Still, my experience with Scott only reinforces the contention that guides must know not only what anglers want to do, but can do, before they leave the dock.
 Ask your potential pro the following questions before you book your next trip, and it’s much more likely to be an adventure that you will fondly recall for years to come.
 How many fishermen can you accommodate?
 Will you take kids, and if so, how young?
 Do you provide food and drinks?
 How long do you fish?
(Trips are usually booked as either “half-day” or “full-day” outings.)
 What kind of tackle do you use … spinning, fly or baitcasting? Do you provide it, or should we bring our own?
(Virtually every guide with whom I have fished provides tackle for his clients.)
 Do you fish with natural bait, artificial lures, or both? Sometimes either or both are provided as part of the trip. There might be, however, an extra charge. Always find out up-front.
 Will we be fishing out of the boat or wade-fishing? If wading, do we need to bring our own accessories (waders, wading belts and wade-fishing boots)? The answer to the latter is often “Bring your own,” especially since belts, and especially wading boots have to fit the size and dimensions of the individuals who wear them.
 Do you fish? (On paid trips, fish taken by a guide are either released or count against the customers’ “boat limits.”)
 And lastly, but definitely as important as any question you might ask: Will you teach me how to fish?
From casting to catching to cleaning, again, that’s an important consideration for anglers who want to get the most for their money. A guide’s ability to find and catch fish is arguably no more important to a paying customer than said pro’s ability to pass on knowledge.
 Any way you approach it, a guided fishing trip represents an investment. Ultimately, the degree of return received by the customer is dictated by the customer’s willingness to ask the right questions.
 No matter your level of expertise, the answers you gain will serve you well throughout a lifetime hardcore fishing habit of your own.

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