I was scared to death to become a guide more than four years ago. Mainly I was concerned about not being able to catch fish on demand, and what if customers felt I hadn’t caught enough for them, etc., etc. Thankfully, Dick Nichols, the renowned Shaver guide and a good friend, kept encouraging me to get my license and try it. I had been worried about tiny things, and was not seeing the opportunity I had to experience the real joy of helping others have a great time.
The initial, obvious revelation as I took my first guest out was that most folks are actually pretty cognizant that it’s hard to catch fish every time. There was more understanding and latitude than I had thought. If I did what I knew to do, correctly and intelligently, that’s all I could control. Realizing this let me relax and do my best. It was a big mental breakthrough and allowed me to have some fun.
My second breakthrough was when I found out other anglers usually didn’t have any idea how hard it was to successfully guide someone. It’s more than catching a few fish. It’s a total experience. “What if other guys caught more fish than we did that day?” was my concern. The idea is if they got more than you did, they must be better and they could really show those guests some real fishing.
One time, I had some guys I had seen once before come alongside the boat as I was trolling. Deliberately, in front of several guests, they asked how we were doing. They knew I was a guide and we hadn’t gotten too many, so when I confessed that it wasn’t too good, they laughed and pulled out three fish from 8 to 13 pounds and told my clients they needed to fish with them. It wasn’t cool and I was embarrassed. The guests saw through it, but it made me think about what I was really doing.
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The incident provided perspective. What I didn’t know before I began guiding was how difficult it is to try to help another person catch a fish if they didn’t know what they were doing in the beginning. You’ve got to be a good teacher, show patience and be able to multitask – running the boat, putting the lines out and making sure the guest feels comfortable. Coaching someone who is new and totally unfamiliar with what you’re trying to do requires a different skill set than if you are fishing alone. Realizing the ability to catch fish is just a small part of being a good guide and building rapport and trust with my guests was paramount, was when I really think I got a bigger and better vision about my role as a guide.
My perspective now is that I get to meet some new folks, touch their lives and have the opportunity to build friendships. Spending 6 to 10 hours crammed into a 21-foot boat – fishing, eating, listening, talking and sharing stories as well as our lives – is intense. Almost all of my guests end up being friends. I look forward to seeing them again. There’s a connection, one that’s more than an acquaintance thing. Incredibly, I’m forced to get to know people and their lives.
It’s been a joy to take out wide-eyed kids who are open to learning everything they can, as well as the anglers who are in their 80s who just want to relive the special past times they’ve cherished. It’s also a real blessing to be able to help an older angler who desperately wants to pass on the gift of a fishing legacy to his kids or grandchildren. It’s my job to provide the magic.
Yes, catching fish is important, but making a trip something great and memorable is the secret to success. Passing on life at its best. Planting new dreams. I finally figured out what Dick was trying to tell me a good guide really does. Never give up!