I was encouraged to become a guide by Shaver guide Dick Nichols about three-plus years ago after resisting for years. I had avoided it because I was scared I might not catch anything some days, and folks might get mad at me. After a recent talk with Dick, I decided to share a few of my experiences.
My initial fear of taking out anglers turned out to be much easier to overcome than I imagined. Most folks realize it’s pretty tough to get fish to hit on demand, so I think there’s some empathy for the guide’s tenuous position of trying to produce consistent results. I’ve found that clients usually offer some limited mercy, but getting a fish on the line as quickly as possible is the recipe for a great day. Building hope and excitement early is one of the most important factors in a memorable trip. I’ve silently thanked the fish gods many times when we’ve gotten bites right out of the gate and everyone relaxes a bit.
The nightmare for guides is when something changes – and it completely and unexpectedly shuts off yesterday’s epic bite. It’s always fun to tell a guest that the all-out bite he’s anticipated is now kaput. Guiding becomes highly stressful at this point – a feeling and experience you seldom have fishing with a buddy. This is when I usually get fidgety, talk to myself, and break out every possible lure I think has a chance.
Maybe this is the reason that when I’m fun fishing now, I’m always making mental notes of little things that might make a real difference next time I hit a bad day. Having any kind of “go-to” strategy becomes critical and can be an anxiety-reliever during a sudden bad bite. I don’t approach my fishing the same way I used to anymore; my purpose has changed.
Early on, it also dawned on me that it might be a great idea to not go bragging about how good it had been – and that the injudicious sharing of your recent big fish pictures could backfire. I’ve found that the safest thing I can do is to be cautiously optimistic in my forecasts so they don’t get too amped if it tanks, but they’re appreciative if it’s as good or better than they thought. Contrast that with the grandiose expectations and predictions most guys make to their friends before a regular trip, and you can see that being a guide can be humbling.
For most folks, a bad day is just some lost time. But for a guide, it’s like getting shot. Trying to produce on cue is tougher than it sounds, all while entertaining guests you don’t know. I never realized that having a client lose a trophy fish, one you worked all day to get, could be so frustrating. You just smile and go back to fishing.
The hardest people to guide can be “experienced anglers,” ones who have had some success. Some anglers exaggerate about the size of their fish, but others embellish how good of an angler they are. One fisherman told me about all his big catches, but when he took the pole upside down, reeling backward, I tried to help him without mashing his ego – or laughing. None of us want to look bad. Women are the easiest to teach; and they tend to listen.
Several years ago, I had a group intent on getting a big striper, but as the day unfolded we “only caught about 20 regular-sized fish.” Great day, but they desperately wanted a big one. Their disappointment was clear as we finished and I cleaned up. I relented and we made one last 200-yard run. About 50 yards from the end, the pole popped and, whooping, they reeled in their trophy 22-pounder. They kiddingly accused me of “pegging” the trophy fish, because it was so improbable. At the buzzer ... swoosh!
The unexpected blessing for me – something that’s offset all the negatives – has been the chance to serve good folks for a few hours, helping them reach their dreams while creating new lifetime friends and unforgettable memories. Yes, never give up!
Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,