[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ishing is often portrayed and seen as something that is relatively easy where all that is needed to catch fish is a rod and some shrimp. It is possible to be self-taught and it is possible to learn through books, experience and practice. But if you want to learn or improve quickly and attain a higher skill level than you would otherwise, then booking some tuition with a fishing guide is the best option.
Although there are a large number of people who fish, most of them either take only the occasional lesson or no lessons at all. It is certainly part of the American culture that we do not believe we need to be taught new skills. Even when it becomes obvious that determination alone is not sufficient there may be a fear of failure that prevents people from putting themselves in a position where an expert will be judging their worth. It is not only fishing that suffers from this, it is clear from observing people playing golf and tennis or crawling around the edge of an ice skating rink that they have never had a lesson in their lives.
Public perception may be that hiring a professional fishing guide is too embarrassing and not a worthy investment. But look at what you can get by choosing to go fishing with a guide. Going with a guide lets you pick the brain of someone who takes fishing very seriously, someone who is on the water as many days in one year as you have been in your whole life, and someone whose livelihood is dependant on you having a great fishing experience. This kind of knowledge takes years to compile, and a guide gives it to you in a day or an afternoon and pretty inexpensively when you consider how much time and money you would have to invest to acquire this knowledge on your own.
How do you find a guide? The majority of my new clients come through organic internet searches, hear my radio show or see me on television. Most tackle shops and fly shops offer guide services or book for them. Also, nearly all tackle shops and marine stores have some kind of bulletin board when you first walk into the store where there are always ads for guide services. Many guides also advertise in newspapers, phone books, sporting magazines and club newsletters, and the busiest captains have their own informative web sites or blogs. Be cautious when you see advertisements for super cheap rates. The guide probably does not have adequate insurance or equipment. Another tip is that guides that operate out of marinas are almost always insured and inspected for safety. Most of the old style marinas in Florida with docks full of charter boats have slowly drifted away into condo developments. Therefore, finding a guide working out of a marina or tackle shop or through personal referral is normally your best bet.
I regularly use captains for hire when I travel to angling destinations around the globe. Over the years I’ve learned from guides what I SHOULD and SHOULD NOT do, and have built the good behaviors into my own charter business and avoided the bad. First, talking on the phone during a charter for anything other than emergencies or networking with coworkers to find fish is forbidden and wasting the client’s valuable time. Second, if the captain smokes he/she should ask the client if it is ok to smoke, or avoid it altogether, especially if children are onboard. Third, THE CAPTAIN SHOULD NOT YELL AT THE CUSTOMER under any circumstance. These three simple rules have generated more happy clients on my boat than I can count. The bottom line is that communicating with the guide about concerns you may have before the trip will ensure you have a great day. Guides are smart but they cannot read your mind.
So you’ve found a guide, now what? Before putting your money down talk to your guide and let the guide know your skill level and what your expectations are. Make sure you know what all they will provide, what happens in an emergency, and where you will be going. Ask them if they will be fishing. Good guides don’t fish because they are too busy making sure that you are catching fish. Ask for references. If a guide cannot give you references then he or she is not a good guide. Lastly, remember that guarantees in fishing are for fools and that guides can’t make the fish jump onto your hook, but they can save you some time and money and accelerate your learning curve. So hire a guide, do some fishing and add to your angling knowledge-base!
Publisher’s Note: In the first 40 years of my 5 decades of fresh and saltwater fishing, at least 90% of my days on the water were spent fishing with professional guides. My father and I would pick a spot to travel to, either just the two of us or the whole family, and would book a guide recommended by the local Chamber or the lodge where we were staying. I can honestly say that had we attempted to fish these strange waters on our own that not only would we not have caught as many fish or had as much fun, but we would likely have put ourselves into unsafe, if not downright life-threatening situations.
The balance of the those early fishing days were much more enjoyable and successful from the knowledge gained by asking questions and listening to the guides we fished with on the previous days. The moral here is; It won’t do you a lick of good to go out with a good, knowledgeable Captain and then lie about your knowledge or ability. Any Captain worth a damn will know within the first cast or two if you know what you are doing, so why try to impress him or her with talk. You are out there to learn and a good Captain will want to share as much of their knowledge as they think you can absorb. Ask questions! Most Captains would agree that a well educated recreational angler is much easier to share the water with than someone who is slamming around blindly, thinking that they know what they are doing.
John Radkins is the owner and Co-Publisher of the Sarasota /Bradenton/Cape Haze Coastal Angler Magazine