A Guide’s Guide to Hiring a Guide

Considering the internet and social media, you would think it would be easy to find the perfect fishing guide. But it's not always that easy. Two professional guides share their tips for finding the right one for your needs.

By Bill Cooksey
Sportsmen Outreach Coordinator, Vanishing Paradise

Photo courtesy of Travis Thompson

Horror stories from guided fishing trips are rampant on social media. Most guides work their tails off for their clients, but human nature dictates folks are more likely to post a bad experience than good. And the law of averages says the more trips you make the more likely you are to hire the wrong guide – unless you do your homework.

Considering the internet and social media, you would think it would be simple to find the perfect guide. After all, you can peruse their website, Facebook feed, Instagram photos, and even read their bios and customer reviews, so surely it’s a lot easier now than when we scoured the back pages of magazines, writing letters and making phone calls. But unfortunately, even with all this additional info at our fingertips, it just ain’t always that simple.

With that in mind, I realized no one knows more about hiring a fishing guide than the guide himself. They talk to customers and potential customers each day. No matter how good they are or how hard they work, they’ve had folks leave disappointed and others leave ecstatic. And I’ve also noticed guides are quicker than most sportsmen to hire a guide when they travel. 

Guide Jay Gunn with trout

So I called two pros I’ve known a long time. Travis Thompson is owner of Cast and Blast Florida and is a full-time waterfowl and fishing guide out of Winter Haven, FL, and Jay Gunn owns JayHook Inshore Charters our of Mobile, AL. I’ve fished and hunted with both and wanted their take on where the pitfalls may fall with people hiring the wrong guide for them and also what questions folks forget to ask.

“Well, after you check the social media and website, pick up the dang phone,” said Thompson. “A serious conversation will do more to see if you and the guide will match up than any amount of online research. In fact, I won’t take a deposit until I speak to the fisherman.”

Gunn chimed in, “Definitely never hire without talking to the guide directly. More importantly, don’t hire strictly through a booking service! While there are good services out there, the internet has made it easy for anyone with a boat to call themselves a guide and get unaware customers simply by paying a commission to a service. The sticking point is that often the booking service pushes fishermen to whichever guide pays the highest commission.” 

Photo by Jay Gunn

Both agreed you should really listen to the potential guide. Take note if he only talks about the great days, and ask about the average day because that’s the most likely outcome of your trip. In fact, Gunn said, “If he’s trying too hard, move on to the next guide because a good guide doesn’t have to beg for business.” 

Thompson and Gunn are both very serious about setting proper expectations, and it works both ways. 

“I want to exceed expectations on every trip, but part of that is the fisherman being open about his own experience, ability and any physical limitations,” stated Thompson. “I don’t do high-volume trips, so when a person calls wanting to fill a cooler, I have a list of good guides for that. My specialties are tarpon and snook, and both take some special skills to consistently hook and land. With snook, casting accuracy is huge. Literally an inch difference can mean getting bit. With a giant tarpon it’s often the physical aspects of fighting one. I’m going to be absolutely honest regarding the fish I expect to put you on, and the more I know about you the better we’ll both do on the water.”

Travis with his son.

Despite being in different states and focusing on totally different species, Thompson and Gunn had very similar things to say about stuff that just surprises folks. Both ask customers to apply sunscreen before getting on the boat, and that’s especially so with the spray types. It makes decks slippery and some brands will stain the boat’s gelcoat. Both ask you to wear shoes with light color soles. Both suggest you not bring a cooler. In fact, Gunn says “If you can’t carry it in one hand, don’t bring it.” Most boats have coolers, and there’s usually little room for another. Bring your drinks and put them in the boat cooler, and that brings us to another point, ask the guide before assuming alcohol is allowed on the boat. 

Other things to talk through are whether to bring food and snacks. Obviously some of that is personal preference, but a six-hour trip usually goes across lunch, and there won’t be a convenient McDonald’s on the water. Talk about the bathroom situation. It may not be a big deal if it’s just three guys on the boat, but I’ve been outfished by enough ladies to know they prefer a bit of privacy and the same goes for kids. Ask about licenses as different states have different requirements. Discuss any physical disabilities, and that includes seasickness. Discuss the deposit and payment schedule, and definitely discuss what happens to the deposit if either of you cancel, or if bad weather hits, because these types of policies can vary a great deal from guide to guide. 

The main thing is to get on the phone, talk with and get to know your guide as well as possible. Make sure both of you are on the same page regarding expectations, and cover all the bases. A good guide wants you to be comfortable before you ever step foot on the boat. Fishing is a whole lot more fun when the boat is full of friends.