Growing up guiding

One of the questions that I’m asked most in my travels and via social media is “how do I get to fish for a living?” Growing up, I consider myself really lucky that I was introduced to and given access to fishing and the outdoors at a young age. I was driving a 14 ft boat with a 15 horse motor around by myself before I was ten years old, probably earlier than I should have been and had access to go fishing often. That was the biggest factor in the direction my life took to make a career in the fishing community.

I got my first summer job when I was 14 years old, working out at Ash Rapids Camp on Lake of the Woods. I’m sure I drove then owner Roger Clinton nuts with my persistence to come and work at the camp. I would stop out there on weekends, call all the time and was an annoying kid. I wanted to be a guide but I didn’t get my first crack at that until after a month or two of camp work that included cutting the grass, digging water lines, that kind of thing. It was risky work because there was poison ivy everywhere out there and I made the mistake of connecting with it once while running a weed eater. I had to skip the prom one year because I had poison ivy all over my face and neck. When another guide didn’t show up one day in July, I finally got my chance to get out in the boat.

I spent way more time studying maps of Lake of the Woods and Shoal Lake than I did on my actual homework at this time so I knew my way around that part of the lake pretty well. I also poured over every fishing magazine I could, including stacks of old Fishing Facts magazines that my Grandpa has saved over the years are our camp. Fishing was my life.

That first day of guiding was one that I still remember. Roger was obviously annoyed that one of regular guides didn’t show up so he was extra gruff that morning. I used to get there early because I knew this would happen eventually. At the time I was a scrawny kid, maybe 120 pounds and I probably didn’t look like a good guide. When he brought me down to the dock and introduced me to the guests who were already waiting in the boat, they didn’t seem all that impressed that a kid was taking them fishing for the day but I promised them we would catch a bunch of fish and I’m pretty sure that Roger told them if they didn’t catch any fish, the trip would be free. We ended up having a good day and my guiding career was started.

Through high school and university, guiding was my summer job. I fished as many bass tournaments as I could in between fishing trips. I did things a little bit unorthodox in that I worked at several camps around Lake of the Woods, did a few stints on Rainy Lake and even went to a couple of fly-in resorts from time to time. I reached out to all of these different places and tried to book guiding days when these various camps were most busy. It worked out because if I had only worked for one place, I probably would not have been able to plan my schedule to get to enter all of the tournaments, which by the time I was a teenager, were my passion. I also enjoyed fishing all of the different water and I feel like if I had only worked exclusively at one place I would have become bored. Even today, I get way more excited to fish new places than I do where I know that I can catch fish.

Working as a fishing guide at all of these different places introduced me to a lot of people, many of whom I’m still friends with today. From the camp owners, to the other guides, the kitchen staff and even the guests. I consider myself very lucky that I was able to meet all of the great people that I have. That was how I started as a fishing guide but there is much more to the story in terms of how to become a guide, expectations of the guests and what you need to know, which we will cover off in next week’s column.

Jeff Gustafson practices cooking a shore lunch at his family cabin as a teenager.