You’re excited. You’re headed for a new fishing lodge in the heart of silver salmon country. You picked up a pile of brochures at a sportsmen’s show, and you’ve narrowed down your search to a place that sounds perfect. If the brochure can be trusted, this could be your best fishing trip ever. But that is a pretty big if.
The ugly truth is some lodges will say anything in their brochures and promotional material to get your business. If you rely only on these dubious sources of information to book a trip to a fishing lodge, you are running blind. But you can find out exactly what you’re paying for by arming yourself with the right questions to ask the lodge owners. If they hesitate to answer a question or get testy with you, take a hint. As a client paying big bucks, you deserve a straight answer, so if you don’t get one, there is a good chance that they have something to hide.
I learned this lesson five years ago when I booked a trip to a new lodge that had, typically, sprung from a ranch in need of extra revenue. I had wisely asked the owner several pertinent questions, but I ignored evasive responses that should have immediately raised red flags.
Within 10 minutes of arriving we discovered so many blatant misrepresentations that we forfeited the deposit and cut our losses.
Make sure this doesn’t happen to you. Never assume anything. Even if a lodge has printed fact sheets, ask the owner the following questions. And if you don’t get the answers you’re looking for, keep shopping.
1. What are the price structures and the deposit and payment schedules? Find out the exact prices and what they include. And then consider bargaining. A young and hungry lodge will negotiate more easily than an established lodge with a waiting list, but any lodge may give you better prices if you guarantee a large group. Or they might offer a last-minute special. Internet access makes shopping around at other area lodges easier, giving you a better idea of the going rate. Bartering sometimes works, too.
2. What are the terms and conditions of the refund policy? For example: What happens if the weather is bad and you can’t get in? Many lodges will offer a 50 percent discount for legitimate cancellations with the balance going to credit for another trip. Get the policy in writing.
3. What transportation is available to and from the lodge?
Remote sites can mean big bucks just getting there. What is the cost? Do you need to charter a floatplane? What are the alternatives? And who do you contact if anything goes wrong while en route? Is there an emergency 24-hour hot line? This is the time, also, to confirm arrival and departure times and policies.
4. What are the guides like?
There is no guide training school against which you can measure someone’s credentials. However, you can ask questions about what the guides will or will not do and what they know. Are they experienced flyfishermen, or do they only use spinning and baitcasting tackle? Do they have saltwater experience? Can they read the water and know where to find the fish? Do they stay with the client at all times? This is a good time to ask if the lodge has a recommended tipping policy.
5. Lodging and meals: Exactly what are the accommodations?
The emphasis here is on exactly. You want to draw as good a mental picture of this place as possible. Are there separate rooms with double beds and bath? Rooms with shared baths? Is it a bunkhouse arrangement? Is there an additional outhouse? Or if this is a camp arrangement, what kind of tents are available? What are the sleeping arrangements? Emphasize the composition of your party (couples, single men and/or women) and who can bunk together and who cannot. Meals are an important part of this as well. Do you have special dietary needs that the lodge needs to know about? Does the lodge have readily available snaacks? What is the liquor policy? How big is the lodge? This will lead to questions on the ratio of guides and boats (or other transportation to the fishing site) to the number of guests. The quality of your experience relies on this ratio. Finally, ask about on-site vacuum packers and freezing facilities so you can bring home your catch.
6. What gear do I need?
There are two types of gear: your personal gear and your fishing tackle. Your experience and common sense may help, but even the most experienced fishermen will want to know very specifically what fishing gear the lodge supplies and what you need to bring. (For instance, in a combo situation, they might provide saltwater tackle and you bring your own in-river tackle.) Are hip boots sufficient or do you need chest waders? Be sure to ask about the terrain and the climate.
7. What licenses do I need?
Don’t assume a lodge sells the necessary local licenses; there is a good chance they do not. Get copies of state or federal regulations (especially in another country) well ahead of time, because your guide’s advice will not protect you if you break the law unknowingly. Ask about the regulations and accommodations for transporting your catch from the lodge to your home, especially if you are traveling out of the country.
8. What are the best fishing dates?
The worst thing a fisherman can hear is: “You should have been here last week.” While no one can give you a guarantee of the best dates, a good lodge will be up front with you. If they aren’t, beware. If you are fishing saltwater, ask for a local tide book.
9. Is there emergency medical evacuation capability?
No one expects a medical emergency, but it can happen. Find out what the medevac capabilities are, especially if you have a heart condition, diabetes, or some other health condition that may dramatically shift on you. Conversely, you will want to know how family can contact you in case of an emergency at home.
10. Do you have references from previous clients?
This is the last best place to pick up clues. If a lodge does not have any former clients for you to talk to, think again; they may be afraid of what those clients will tell you.
The author is a fisheries advisor for coastal communities and remote tourist sites in Alaska and has worked with, and fished from, lodges and charter boats across the state.