In last week’s column I talked about how I got my start as a fishing guide, essentially pestering Roger Clinton from Ash Rapids Camp to give me a job until he finally did. Obviously, there is more to being a fishing guide than simply going fishing for the day. The guide has to have some knowledge of the waterbody, be proficient in operating a boat and knowing the tackle and tactics to catch fish as well as being responsible for those in your boat.
Before I ever left the dock with guests in the boat one of the tests that Roger gave me was to go and meet some of the other guides for a shore lunch. The guy who I learned from was Roger Kelly, a long-time guide from Shoal Lake. He showed me where the shore lunch spot was on a paper map in the morning and at lunch time I was to meet them to help with preparing the fish and cooking lunch.
The shore lunch was on Shoal Lake where walleye can’t be kept so we were having pike for lunch. One of the first lessons I received that day was learning how to properly fillet pike. They have a y-bone that is a little bit of work to remove but once you do, you have an excellent fillet. If you batter them and fry them, you would have a hard time telling them apart from walleye.
Roger then took me through the entire shore lunch process. We did this a few times and that’s how I learned to do it. Around the lake there are different ways of doing shore lunch at each resort but one thing that is common everywhere is fresh fish is tough to beat. Roger Kelly passed away several years ago but he was a great man who I learned a lot from. He knew the lake as well as anybody and knew how to show people a good time in the boat.
While I was going to school, guiding was a great summer job that I wouldn’t have changed for anything. Many of my friends worked at resorts around the Sunset Country region, not only as guides but as kitchen staff, carpenters and grounds keepers. It’s a lifestyle where you meet all kinds of people, have fun and make some decent money. Now is the time to start reaching out to camps and resorts around the region if this is something you might be interested in this coming season.
Obviously, being able to put your guests on fish is big component of the job. In NW Ontario, we’re lucky that the fishing is pretty good so usually that’s not a big problem but there will be days when the fishing is tough. You must make adjustments to find and catch fish and you have to be personable in the boat. Tell some stories, keep your guests entertained and show them a good time. Knowledge of the region is important as well.
I still do a few guide trips on my own from time to time in between tournaments, mostly with return guests that I enjoy sharing the boat with. Doing your own thing gives you an opportunity to make more money but there are significant expenses to doing your own thing, from the boat to the equipment to other things like insurance. If you are starting out I would recommend working at one of the resorts first to see if guiding is for you before jumping in to do it for yourself. Our season is short, at least the peak season when most anglers come to visit us. Being able to generate business in the off season is important if it’s going to be a full-time job. That could mean musky fishing in the fall, ice fishing through the winter and other species in the spring. Having a website and being active on social media is the best way to connect with guests in my experience. As you become more established, word of mouth becomes important as well. Being able to work with the media and your local community can help open some doors with potential sponsorships and attracting new business.
Being a fishing guide is not the easiest way to make a living but there are some great guides in our part of the world who work hard and get to spend a ton of time on the water. They are happy and make a living doing something they love. Like anything else, being creative and original is often the recipe for success.