Choosing a Guide/ The Cost of Guiding
Choosing a guide can be a daunting chore. There are so many guides out there that choosing one can be a difficult and risky proposition. Currently, there are no requirements for being a guide in Wisconsin. I will be writing a proposal this spring to change that. I see too many guys out there taking money from people that don’t deserve it. The conservation ethic of several guides is non-existent and will lead to their ultimate demise. They pound a lake until the population of their desired fish is depleted and then move on to the next one. The information you get from a good guide lasts longer than the 4-5 hours you spend with him or her . A good guide will instruct you on a variety of techniques and correct casting as well as retrieve mechanics that will make you a better fisherman. They should also mark maps for lakes you fish and explain seasonal patterns.
I have been on both ends of guiding and some do a great job and some don’t. They need to be excellent communicators and not just drive you to a spot to fish. I had a guide in Ontario on our honeymoon for 5 days and he didn’t speak 5 words the whole time but we caught tons of fish. I also have fished with several local guides that are very popular and I learned very little. I learned the most from local Ken Jackson. He explained the seasonal movements of muskies and explained everything he was doing while we fished in frigid conditions and where muskies go during the fall. I learned more in that one day 20 years ago than 5 trips with another local guide. Not everyone that catches fish is a good guide. You need to be an excellent teacher.
Many newbies appear very arrogant and even post on their websites that a 15 - 20% tip is expected. This is a red flag for me. Be vigilant of add ons. Do they charge extra for fishing a lake more than 20 miles away, for bait , for fish cleaning? These are all factors that should be considered in your choice of guides.
The primary method I use is looking at reviews. The reviews should state why the guide is 5 stars or 1 star. Disregard reviews that just have a 5 star if nothing else is included in the review. Those are usually made by friends that may have never experienced fishing with this person.
The cost of guiding is very expensive. Guides spend thousands of dollars on gas, bait and tackle, insurance, advertising and unexpected breakdowns each year. A broken rod that a careless client stepped on can negate any profit made on the trip. Premium gas is $4.50- $5 a gallon. In order to haul my boat I need a truck which gets 14 mpg. A gallon of marine oil is $50. Bait prices have tripled or more. A flat of crawlers that was $35 a few years ago went up to $80. Insurance can range from $400- 1400 per year. Guiding is not a lucrative job. I do it after retirement for supplemental income because I love it. I guide for virtually every fish found in northern Wisconsin during a 5 hour trip and routinely carry 15 - 19 rods in the boat. This will be the first year I actually make a profit because I didn't have to buy big ticket items like larger boats, trolling motors, fish locators etc. I had to raise my rates to $350/ half day which is lower than most as my clients fish 5 hours as opposed to 4 and I provide bait and fish cleaning at no extra cost. Most 5 hour trips end up being 7-8 hours after travel and fish cleaning are considered which is why I quit doing full days. I fish an area of Vilas and Oneida that encompasses 900 square miles. I guide on 50 lakes but have fished 135 in this area at last count. I do have a small contingent of guide friends that we share information with but nothing is better than time on the water to learn what fish want and current fishing conditions.(water temp, weed development, water clarity, presence of bait, etc.) For that reason, a guide should be on the water even when they aren’t working to scout lakes. The cost of your guide trip has to take this in account too.
Lastly, your guide should be innovative. With so many people on the water now, fishing has gotten more difficult. If you can come up with unique ways to entice the fish into biting, you will be more effective as a guide. I have devised over 10 unique techniques that I have used in northern Wisconsin. Some may be a tweak on a previous technique and some are completely new techniques. I feel my extensive experience in a wide variety of fishing systems has allowed me to develop and adapt these techniques. IMO Greg Bohn has been one of the greatest innovators in northern Wisconsin. I have read every one of his books on fishing weeds, wood and slip bobbering over 35 years ago and attended a seminar 34 years ago. I have utilized these techniques over the years. He always approaches fishing as an experiment and tries to devise new techniques to get fish to bite. As a former science teacher, I too am always experimenting with new techniques.