Fishing guides are reopening for business around the country after being seriously impacted by COVID-19 lockdown orders. As they get back to the lives they love, consider booking a fishing trip—they can use your help more than ever. Here’s how to be a better client (and catch more fish).
Let Your Guide Do Her Job and Land Bigger Bass
Captain Debbie Hanson, owner of Shefishes2 in southwest Florida, is a full-time guide specializing in largemouth bass, peacock bass, and redear sunfish. She’s also a spokeswoman for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program and mentors hundreds of new anglers every year. On the water, Hanson prefers finesse fishing with light tackle and fly gear, and focuses on big bass. She fishes inland lakes and canals, with most of her clients coming to Southwest Florida from points north.
“Every guide has a way of doing business,” she says. “All of my clients are super nice, almost to a fault. But here are some things I say to just about everybody.”
1. Be on time.
“I have my day planned from the time we leave the dock until the time we return. If we leave late then that that can mess things up. Some spots are best fished at a particular time of day. If the spot we’re headed to is the most productive at first light and we’re late, well, we’ll miss one of the best opportunities of the day. There is no need to arrive an hour early, because I’ll be getting the boat ready. Just be five to 10 minutes ahead of departure time and we’ll get to the fishing grounds on time.”
2. Let your guide set everything up.
“A lot of my clients are very kind, and they want to help. But I don’t need help launching or hauling a boat, prepping my outboard, or rigging my trolling motor. I do it every day. And because of that, I have a routine for things like loading rods, rigging my Chartplotter, setting up personal locator beacons and EPIRBs—even setting up the cooler for lunch. All captains go through a mental check list to ensure their clients’ safety and to make sure they’re working toward hammering fish. Interrupting that thought process might mean something gets left behind.”
3. Don’t hook your lure on the inside guide of your rod.
“Many rods come with ceramic guides, and if you’re hooking trebles on the inside of a guide, there is a chance that the ceramic can chip. No one finds out about the chipped guide until a big fish tears out some line and the monofilament or braided monofilament cuts clean. Some rods have hook keepers but it’s best to hook a lure to your reel handle. It also reduces the chances of line tangles or cuts.”
4. Learn to cast accurately.
“Since most of my anglers are from up North, the odds are high that they haven’t fished in a few months. Understandably they’re a bit rusty. But big bass like water with vegetation. We’ll fish around lily pads, laydowns, and stickups, and if we hit brackish water, you’ll see some mangroves. Foul hook ups spook fish, they require us to kill time retrieving flies or lures, and both can be avoided with some pre-trip casting. Set up targets at home, work with the wind and against the wind, or take a refresher course with a casting instructor. The more precise and accurate your cast, the more fish we’ll catch.”
Pay Attention to Catch More Fish From a Drift Boat
Tim Linehan and his wife, Joanne, guide anglers and hunters from their Linehan Outfitting camps in Yaak, Montana. Tim and his guides spend the spring guiding on the Bitterroot, Clark Fork, and Missouri Rivers. When summer comes, they head home and guide on the legendary tailwater, the Kootenai River. As Clackacraft Pro Staffers, the majority of their fishing is from a drift boat. And for anglers used to wading, it can be a change of pace.
5. The bow is the most critical part of the boat.
“Getting anglers to continuously look ahead can be a challenge,” says Linehan. “The river is flowing, the boat is drifting, and the fish are out in front. Anglers used to wading are accustomed to dead-drifting nymphs or swinging streamers, but we’re moving too fast for that.”
“Clients catch trout from both the bow and the stern, but the bow is usually a bit more productive. When we’re fishing with two anglers, the one in the bow has the first shot at new water and the first shot at a rising trout. Anglers up front also get longer drift times, they can easily cast on both sides of the boat, and all of that means that they’ll probably hook up more than the angler in the stern. But if the angler in the stern looks ahead and casts a bit farther than the bow angler, he’ll hook his fair share of trout, too.
6. Problems can arise when the angler in the bow is hammering fish.
“But if the backseat angler gets impatient, doesn’t cast far enough, and instead tries to pimp his buddy’s water, lines will cross, and flies will foul. Then the mess drifts back and gets tangled in the oars. It’s a regular cluster ruckus. That’s why whenever we stop for lunch, we’ll have the clients swap positions. That way everyone gets the best shots at fish.”
7. You’ll catch more fish if your line is on the water.
“Fly casting is fun, and it’s fun trying to throw the perfect cast. But if you’re enamored with your tight loops and constantly false cast, then you won’t catch many fish. There are no fish in the air so try to get your line on the water with a good, quick, precise cast.”
8. We want it more than you do.
“There is no need to remind us that you want to catch fish. We all want you to catch a lot of trout, and big ones, too. Our reputations are at stake, so know that we’ll put out 110 percent every day. Reminding us doesn’t help.”
9. Don’t dance in a drift boat.
“Drift boats are designed to float high in the water so they drift as close to the stream’s speed as possible. While they won’t tip over, they are far more sensitive than a 23-foot Sea Craft with twin outboards. Staying in the knee locks is important for balance. But some anglers get excited when they see a lot of rising trout, see a big brown crushing hoppers, or hook a fish. When they start to dance around, the boat pitches, and they lose their balance. That’s usually how anglers fall overboard.”
Tell Your Guide What You Want
Rachel Finn is the head guide at the Hungry Trout in Wilmington, New York, where she’s guided for decades. She’s been on the sticks in Alaska, is an ambassador for both Patagonia and the American Museum of Fly Fishing, and is a pro staffer for Scott Fly Rods, Nautilus reels, Costa del Mar sunglasses, and Airflow lines. Finn recently won the American Museum of Fly Fishing’s prestigious Izaak Walton Award for the most ‘compleat’ angler. “While I fish out of drift boats and canoes, most of what I do is wade fish,” she says. “I make sure that all of the technical stuff is taken care of like rods, lines, terminal gear, flies, techniques, and the whole works. But here’s where most trips go off the rails.”
10. Define what you want to do, but stay flexible.
“Everyone has a different idea of how they want to spend their time. Some want to catch big fish, others want more action with smaller fish, while some prefer more remote areas. Giving a guide a sense of how you’re looking to spend your day is really important. It helps us to work through a tremendous number of options and arrive with a plan that will make a you happy.
“Once you define what you want to do and how you want to do it, you’ve got to be a bit flexible about natural conditions. If we got an inch of rain the night before our trip and the river is raging, we might need to start out with a pond and hit the river in the afternoon.”
11. Be honest about your physical condition.
“As a life-long athlete, I like to find remote areas where big trout see very few flies. Guiding on the Ausable River is very challenging, and some areas are difficult to access. Before heading out, I always ask clients about their abilities. Some say they’re marathon runners capable of a rugged trip. But if that last marathon they ran was 20 years ago, then odds are high we won’t get there.
“I try to figure out what clients want without them telling me, but it helps to get the straight dope. I probably can tell anyway. I used to teach skiing and can tell someone’s physicality just by the way they walk in their ski boots. While I can figure it out, let’s partner instead. That way we can have a day spent catching fish.”
12. Make sure your goals are the same as those of people you’re fishing with.
“Issues can come from people who have different sets of expectations. I remember one trip when two guys named Bob and Mike came fishing. They were brothers-in-law who decided to fish together. Bob was really experienced and had been fishing for about a decade. Mike was new to the sport, and was super laid back. Bob wanted to catch a ton of fish while Mike wanted to learn some new casts, so it would have been better to work with them on two different trips or to bring along a second guide. Give a little thought about the group you put together and we’ll all be aligned towards reaching the same goal.”
13. The fish really are at your feet.
“You’ve heard it a thousand times, but it still needs repeating. If you punch out a 60-foot cast to the trout rising on the other side of the bank, you’re going to put down fish in between. Have patience. We’ll get there, but start with fishing close, then working out a bit, and then getting to the other side. Little fish spook big fish, so if you start close you’ll catch those small fish. And you’ll catch the bigger ones later on.”
Know How to Act on a Charter Boat
Along the Southern New England coast, Captain Dan Wood of Connecticut Woods and Waters runs his 30-foot Robalo for striped bass, bluefish, bonito, and False albacore from Rhode Island through Eastern New York. Captain Wood has seen a lot in his 40 years of guiding, especially when it comes to running a successful charter.
14. Keep a winning game plan, change a losing game plan.
“Having four, sometimes six different species to fish for is a blessing and a curse,” says Wood. “When we move from a hot striper bite to fast fish like bonito and albies, we have to use different techniques. Anglers that change up the directions of their casts, rigging, and the speed of their retrieve put more fish in the boat. For example, wire is helpful for toothy bluefish while it gets rejections from other species.”
15. Be open minded.
“Sometimes, clients are 100 percent focused on a particular discipline. Some anglers only want to fly fish. That’s fine, but if I’ve got a 30 knot wind it’s going to be tough to make a cast. If it’s really hot and the bass are deep, a bucktail jig gets down to them while a fly may not. Be open to matching your style of fishing to the conditions.”
16. Don’t be late.
“Because of our four- to five-foot tides, being late puts us at a disadvantage. I have an idea of the order of our spots, and I match each one to a specific tide, how long of a run it takes to get there, what the lunar phase is, what bait is around, and the like. If we’re late to a spot, we won’t be able to fish it effectively, and that means fewer hook ups.”
17. Don’t jinx the boat.
“People are superstitious about bringing bananas on board, but nothing kills the action quicker than reliving yesterday’s slay fest. Every day is different, and my goal is to focus on where the fish are today and to catch them. Nothing kills a bite like bad juju.”
18. There isn’t much room—even on a 30-foot boat.
“Most clients think that my 30-foot Robalo is big, and it is. But when I pull up to a hot bite and everyone runs to the bow and starts firing off casts, folks get hooked. Give me one minute, I’ll position the boat so I’m parallel to the school, and everyone can cast. Getting hooked with a pair of 4/0 trebles is never a good idea.”
19. Let your guide tie the knots.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll tie the knots. There are two reasons for it. The first is that some of our rigging might not be along the lines of what a client normally ties. Bimini Twists, Haywire Twists, Albright Knots, and the like are ones that aren’t as commonly used as say a Surgeon’s or a Homer Rhode Loop. The second reason is that if a knot pulls on a good fish, you can blame me. If it pulls on your knot you’ll blame yourself. Let me take the fall for a pigtail that comes back if a knot fails. But since I tie knots for a living, that doesn’t happen that often.”