Over the years, I have given a lot of thought to the profession of fishing guide. Not necessarily about me becoming a fishing guide, but about other people who are fishing guides.
I was still thinking about the profession the other day, on day four of spring chinook fishing in the lower Columbia River. Even though it was supposed to be prime time to be out on the water trying to ambush a fat and shiny chinook salmon, the fishing was less than stellar. I would have said it was terrible, but in the three and a half days we were on the water, we caught a nice salmon, lost two more and ate another great bite.
So it wasn’t quite dead.
On the last day we fished, which turned out to have only been about an hour, high winds, rain and hail sent us back to the boat launch. We had just passed a large open-bow guide boat, loaded with four clients, all decked out in winter clothing, when the monsoon blew in.
The four customers sitting in the boat looked cold and absolutely miserable. Then I thought of the guide. He probably charged the fishermen $200 a head to go out and get beaten up. Who knows, maybe they all caught their one fish per person, but the way the fishing had been, I seriously doubt it.
It must be difficult to withdraw money from customers on days like this. But hey, you pay your money and try your luck.
I have met a few guides over the years who will pity their clients on days like this. They will offer a rain check for another trip at some point down the road. But the majority are sticking to the “try your luck” deal.
This is quite understandable. Guides try to make a living, just like all of us. But just like other business people – I would say business people, but I’ve met a few female guides here in the North West who are also very good. Either way, they have expenses. Boats are not cheap. Boat maintenance is expensive. And then there is the fuel. Fuel to get to the river, and fuel to run the boat. It doesn’t cost less, as we all know.
Guides provide all rods and reels as well as lures and bait. Many get discounts from tackle manufacturers, but companies don’t just give away these products. When you get a newbie on board who accidentally drops a $400 rod and reel combo into the dark depths of the river, well, most of the time the guide just has to eat it.
People have often asked me if they could hire me to take them fishing. It’s an honor to be asked, but I always refuse. First, guides must be licensed as such by the State of Washington. Additionally, guides who work in navigable waters, such as the Columbia River, need another Coast Guard certification to do so. I have neither.
For some, the idea of fishing all the time seems like the perfect job. For me, that would turn fishing into a job. That, I think, would take away some of the fun.
Then there is the pressure of performance. Most of the guides are excellent anglers. They know how to catch fish. At least the good ones do. The poor, well, they go away. But fishing is fishing. Even for the best guides, some days you catch them and some you don’t. The bad days would be the ones I just couldn’t handle.
Some of my guide friends have told stories of really unpleasant customers. Those who absolutely expect success. Those who are not grateful in any way and are rude. Those who believe because they have paid their two hundred dollars, the guide is their servant for the day.
No thanks. I’m not a violent problem solver, but I might have pushed one or two of those rude and unappreciative customers into the river.
On the other hand, the work must sometimes be very rewarding. Helping a youngster, or anyone for that matter, catch their first fish must be very fulfilling.
I always tell people, if you want to take your kid fishing, take them with a guide. Chances are you’ll catch some fish, and they’ll provide an adventure your child will remember for a lifetime.
A guide friend of mine would invite me over from time to time when he had a free seat or two. I acted as a deckhand, helping out when and where I could. A gentleman who hired my friend three or four times a year told me he spent less money hiring a guide than buying, licensing, insuring and storing a boat for a year. And, he almost always had good fish to bring home.
That’s a pretty good way to look at it.
I admire all the great fishing guides in the Northwest. It’s hard work, long hours, sometimes with people you’d rather have left on the dock. It takes a special someone for sure. I am not one of them.