Do your research before you book.
By Trent Jonas
Some types of fishing require (or are at least impractical without) a charter or guide service. Other times, you may just want the added expertise of someone who knows the local waters and where to find the fish you’re hunting. Regardless of the reason you’re seeking out expert angling advice, there are a few things you should take into consideration before you get out on the water. Here’s what to look for when booking a fishing charter or guide service.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but when you book a charter or hire a guide, make sure they have expertise and experience in putting their clients on the species of fish you hope to target. A guide may know where all the redfish are along a particular piece of coastline but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can put you on a yellowfin. Check out their websites and social media, read reviews, and ask questions. Of course, with fishing, there are never any guarantees (otherwise it would be called “catching,” right?) but it sure helps if you’re looking in the right places with someone who knows what they’re doing.
If you want to fish using a particular technique, look for a guide who is an expert in fishing the way you’d like to. For example, if you want to drift a river throwing streamers at steelhead, you probably don’t want a guide with a bass boat and a wide selection of bait casters. If you want to fly fish, look for a fly guide. If you want to troll, make sure your guide has a boat set up for trolling. You get the idea. In some cases, of course, if you’re unfamiliar with what techniques work best, you’ll have to rely on the guide’s experience and expertise in catching the target species and just roll with it.
Fishing charters and guide services vary wildly by price. Local freshwater guides tend to be less expensive than deep-sea fishing charters. The price you pay is largely a matter of how much it costs the guide or charter captain to run their business, as well as their expertise and experience. Driving you to a blue-ribbon trout river will not set back a young guide as much as a four-hour run to the best offshore structure in the area will ding an experienced charter captain. You get the idea. That being said, you can often find differences in pricing in a given local area. Compare the costs a few different services before making a decision.
The cost of a charter or guide service can be pretty steep, especially if they only offer full-day or whole-boat services, and you’re going by yourself or as part of an angling pair. Look for charters that will book a share—often one-quarter or one-sixth of the whole-boat cost, depending on the size of the boat—or guides that will work with a group of individually-paying customers. Some guides and charters are willing to do half-day (or even shorter) outings, which is another way to save some money. You may find yourself fishing with strangers, but you’ll make new friends and won’t feel as much pain in your wallet.
What you hope and expect from a charter or guide is up to you, and in fishing hotspots, there is typically plenty of competition for your client dollars. You can find anything from bare-bones B-Y-O-everything guide services to everything-included charters, and a variety of options in between. So, when considering how much you’re spending, think about what you’re getting for it. Are you happy getting nothing more than wily old Willy’s walleye wisdom, or since you’re already in it for a few hundred dollars, would you prefer a little lunch with the package? On the other hand, are free beverages enough to justify the cost difference between two otherwise-comparable charters? The experience you want is up to you—just make sure you’re comfortable paying for it.