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It’s funny how stories just happen. Winter is still hanging on and if I write another crow hunting story my readers will begin rooting for the crows, if it isn’t happening already. So, when I began thinking about a story, I began reflecting about what I’m doing most Februarys. While I’m normally getting geared up for snow geese, it’s difficult to do so with 7 inches or more of snow on the ground, and the high temperature for the day was 11 degrees. This meant that writing about snow geese was out. It was at this time that I went through my photo gallery on my phone and began seeing some pictures of fishing I had done in the past in March when it was still pretty cool here, but warmer in other locations where I fished such as Texas and Florida. The exception here is when I fished near Nashville on Percy Priest Lake. While the fishing was very hot, the temperature was very cold as we trolled for Cherokee Bass. Then when I was in Kahoka, I ended up visiting with fellow waterfowl hunting buddy, as well as fishing buddy Jed Wilson. We began planning an ice fishing trip while there was still ice on the regions north of us. So, the idea of a story fell into my lap and that was what to look for in finding a fishing guide.
The first thing I will tell you is that being a fishing guide, no matter how much fun it sounds, is not easy. You take something that you must have loved at one time and you make work out of it. Think about the pressure that must be on them. Perhaps you could take someone out on one day and have a great day. The challenge is – could you have another great day the next day and the day after that and the day after that? That’s what they are attempting to do. For the fisherman who fishes with them on Wednesday they could care less what Monday and Tuesday were like. They only care about the day they paid for. So, that is what a fishing guide is attempting to do – please the guy who paid for today. Any day you do not have a client, you are trying to figure out what the fish may have switched to as far as what they are hitting or where they have moved off to.
A couple years ago when fishing with Merv Johnson, a fishing guide near Nashville, he stated that he only had three rules as a fishing guide. The first rule was do not be late. In fact, when the Mrs. and I fished with Merv we wanted to be early, so Merv wouldn’t be waiting for us. It pleased him to no end as it put us on the lake ahead of the other guides who fished the same body of water we did. Merv’s second rule was just as simple, do not fall out of the boat. Sounds simple enough, but it was important that the client always remembered they were in a boat and a moving boat at that. His third rule was that the guide never ever landed or fought a fish. He explained it this way, “The client isn’t paying good money to watch me catch a fish!” We had a great time fishing with Merv and he may not have said it, but there was another rule that he didn’t mention: Each client would come off the boat having learned a great deal about fishing for Cherokee Bass. It was a true eye opening, and learning, experience.
So, what are my rules for hiring a fishing guide? The first is very simple and that is to set two simple objectives. The first objective is to have fun. I always remember if I’m fishing some warm weather climate that I could be back home freezing instead of wearing a pair of shorts and t-shirt with sunscreen on my bald head. If I’m ice fishing then I try to remember that I could be back at home working or at least that was my thought process when I was still working. Another objective I have when I hire a fishing guide is that I want to learn something, after all the guides are doing this for a living and there have to be tricks that they have picked up on to be successful. If those are your goals you cannot help but have a successful fishing trip.
Speaking of success, set realistic goals on judging your success. I have fished Florida twice and Texas once. Did I get off the plane thinking about ten-pound bass? I would be lying if I told you otherwise. But it hasn’t happened yet because despite what you might think or have read ten-pound bass aren’t under every lily pad in the south. Not any more than 180-inch whitetail deer are behind every oak tree in Missouri. If it happens that you catch a monster bass enjoy it because I know I would. I was just happy to be fishing in Florida and Texas. It’s sort of like what happened when I fell and cut my knee in Africa and I got up smiling. My PH asked “Are you OK?” I said that I was fine, so his next question was what was I smiling about. My response was that I could have fallen anywhere, but I fell in AFRICA! I realize that any guide worth his salt wants you to catch the biggest and the most fish you have ever caught in your life because you will book again, as well as pass the word on to your friends. Unfortunately, the same is true if the fishing is poor and nothing seems to bite. That word might even be spread faster!
I know it’s an old saying, but honesty is the best policy and if I could leave you with anything it would be that be honest with your guide. Somewhere in the form you fill out when hiring a guide will be the question, “Fishing Experience,” be honest and share what you know and you’ll get along fine. But do not be a Know It All, you may have hired him, but it’s still his boat and his way of fishing. The Mrs. and I were fishing Lake Meade near Las Vegas a few years back for stripers. The Mrs. caught perhaps fifteen fish to my eight or nine. When I mention this to the guide he laughed and said it happens nine out of ten times. The women will listen and the men don’t because they think they already know what they are doing. I have never forgotten that!