There are plenty of lessons to be learned from a good fishing guide. It could be as simple as learning to tie a new knot or how to launch a cast net to catch bait. Others are more complex, such as interpreting electronics, or how to cope with a pesky thermocline.

Experience on the rear deck also has taught me a lot about fishing guides in general. Perhaps the most noteworthy lesson is that not all of them are created equal.

Fishing guides are like others who charge a fee for a service. Some are really good at what they do. Others, not so much.

A day spent on the water with a good fishing guide should be a pleasant experience, not a disappointing exercise in patience. Even if the fish don’t bite that well, you should at least go home feeling as though you’ve learned something, and that the guide put forth an honest effort to help you catch fish.

Here’s some advice to help avoid getting foul hooked when you hire a fishing guide:

It’s hard work

Good fishing guides work hard for their pay. They rise early and run up scores of expenses on boats, motors, fuel, gear and insurance. They also have regular bills to pay.

Don’t sneer when a bass fishing guide tells you he charges $400 per day for up to two people. Based on an eight-hour day, that’s about $50 per hour, minus fuel costs and wear and tear on equipment.

What does it cost?

Prices vary with the game.

Don’t expect to pay the same rate to go trolling for marlin on a private charter boat as you do for a crappie fishing trip on Sam Rayburn.

Most guides have full and half day rates. Rates may or may not include multiple people. Larger offshore rigs, party boats and pontoons can accommodate more heads than a bass boat. Party boats usually charge by the person. Big offshore boats can carry larger groups, which can help divide the costs among multiple anglers.

Learn about rates ahead of time. Find out if other services such as lunch, fish cleaning, bagging, bait and tackle are included in the price. Check websites or making a few phone calls to tackle shops or bait shacks.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make sure the guide has a license to charge for his or her services.

Be cautious of part timers, especially those who undercut the majority, or those who claim they are sacking up the fish when it is well known that most anglers are struggling.

Experience a plus

Making a living as a fishing guide and sustaining it over time is a tough row to hoe. A guide who has been in business for 20 years obviously has earned his stripes.

Newcomers can provide quality services, as well. Ask for references. A guide who refuses to provide references either hasn’t spent much time on the water or may have some skeletons in the closet.

Specialty service

Some guides cater to specific crowds, while others are multi-species guides who fish for whatever happens to be biting best at the time.

Ambitious bass anglers sometimes look to established tournament pros to provide instructional trips with a strong emphasis on learning a certain technique or how to become more proficient with a certain lure.

Seasoned tournament anglers also can provide valuable information when it comes to managing your fishing time or learning the ropes of the fishing industry. One-on-one instructional sessions may be more costly that a regular guide trip.

What to expect

A good fishing guide will be on time and be prepared for business when he gets there. The guide should be courteous, knowledgeable of the water and be accustomed to handling a boat in rough conditions.

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you prefer that the guide not fish, but don’t expect the guide to work miracles if your fishing skills are poor. A good guide will always keep the boat positioned so that the client gets the first shot at the best spots.

A good guide is a truthful one. If the fish aren’t biting that well when the phone rings, a good guide will tell the client up front.

Listen to the guide

It is the client’s responsibility is to listen to the guide, show up on time and follow instructions when offered. If you’re told to be at the ramp at 6 a.m. to catch the early morning topwater bite, don’t come dragging in an hour late expecting things to pan out.

The same is true of fishing gear and general advice. If the guide tells you to bring plenty of green pumpkin stick baits, don’t show up with a bag full of 12 inch worms or deep diving crankbaits instead. If you’re instructed to hold your crappie jig steady and 12 feet, don’t insist on bouncing it up and down in 20 feet.

Fishin’ for a guide

There are all sorts of ways to locate fishing guides. The Internet fishing forums are good sources, as are fishing magazines and newspaper articles. Perhaps the best resource is word of mouth. Anyone can buy advertising. The best guides are those whose good reputations precede them.

Matt Williams is a free lance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail at

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