Not all guides are created equally. I respect any person who makes a living on the water, working hard to put people on fish day after day, but some guides are better than others. And some are simply outstanding.

I’ve been lucky enough to fish with dozens of guides across North America and Europe, many of whom were recommended to me by friends and folks in the fishing industry. So let me pay it forward and tell you about the best 5 guides I have ever fished with, anywhere in the world.

A day on the water with any one of these five people is sure to be an incredible experience.

1) Jim Willcox
Ultimate Keys Fishing 
Islamorada, Florida

 


A 400-pound crocodile is glaring at me 15 feet away with its razor sharp teeth on display. A cunning predator, the crocodile has the strongest jaws on the planet with a biting force of 5,000 pounds per inch.

“Crocs can jump through the air faster than you can blink,” says my guide, Jim Willcox.

I am miles away from civilization, in the upper reaches of a narrow river channel winding through the jungle, as Willcox whispers these comforting words. Today I have spotted birds I never knew existed, and caught five types of fish I’ve never before seen.

Now I lock eyes with the crocodile and wonder, for the first time during this extreme fishing pursuit, if I am perhaps no longer the predator.

It feels as though I am in the Amazon, or maybe on the Nile River, fishing in a foreign world where crocodiles are kings––they have been known to attack great white sharks––and every cast holds the promise of catching something bizarre. Instead, I am only 80 miles south of Miami, fishing in the Florida Everglades with a man many say is the best guide in the business.

Click here to read the full story of my day fishing with Capt. Jim Willcox. To contact Jim, email captjimw@ultimatekeysfishing.com or call 305-393-1128.
 

2)​ Tim Eissfeldt
Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
Northwest British Columbia

 

Our helicopter mirrors the waterfall, descending down 300 feet parallel to the raging waters. At the base of the falls, we hover above the turbulent pool of blue and white. We are above the clouds, in a separate world of 10,000-year-old glaciers and pristine streams that salmon fill and grizzly bears hunt. In this other-world we have hiked and climbed and fished, but at the moment we simply hover. I feel weightless.

Tim is unique. He’s the only fishing guide on this list who can fly a helicopter. Or who wears a rifle while offering tips on where to cast, in the off-chance a giant grizzly bear steps out of the bush beside you. My day with Tim was truly unlike any day I’ve ever had, an incredible experience thanks to Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort’s signature heli-fishing adventure.

Tim looks barely old enough to drive a car, yet you feel safe with him flying you around Nimmo Bay’s 50,000 acres of pristine mountain habitat just south of Alaska.   


 

Click here to read the full story of my adventure at Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort. To contact Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, call 1.800.837.4354 or email heli@nimmobay.com.
 

3) Captain Willie
Little Palm Island Resort & Spa
Florida Keys 



Tim Eissfeldt may be the only guide on this list who flies a helicopter, but Capt. Willie is the only one who drives a sailboat. And not just any sailboat. His 38-foot Admirable-class Catamaran, the LilyAnna, is a Rolls Royce of sailboats. A day sailing on the ship, built in Cape Town, South Africa, is just one of many adventures available for guests at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa in the Florida Keys. 

Capt Willie played Bob Marley’s "Three Little Birds" as we sailed along the Atlantic Ocean on a sunny October day and discovered that indeed we didn’t need to worry about a thing. Fishing is only part of what Willie offers. My wife and I went snorkeling at Hog Reef, arguably the top diving destination in the U.S. We snorkeled among hundreds of fish on a pristine reef in a protected sanctuary. We have snorkeled in hot-spots such as Cozumel and Hawaii, and this site blew both places out of the water. 

On our way to and from Hog Reef, we trolled Rapala X-Rap Magnums with great success. I caught a barracuda, goliath grouper and an enormous jack. Talk about fishing in style: We sailed along on the supremely comfortable ship eating cheese, drinking wine and waiting for the heavy-action fishing rods to start bucking wildly from the pull of a fish. 



Click here to read the full story of my adventure at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa. To contact Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, call 800.343.8567 or email getlost@littlepalmisland.com.
 

4) Dave Smith
Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge
Manitoba

 


 

Dave Smith, the former head guide at renowned Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, is in many ways the embodiment of the stereotypical, classic Canuck: he sports a scruffy beard, hunts anything that’s legal to shoot, guides all days then fishes for fun at night, bites his fishing line rather than cutting it with a clippers, chews tobacco and smokes cigarettes while complaining about the $20-per-pack price. He was also a hockey player, and one afternoon described to us in blow-by-blow version every hockey fight he ever got in (Cliffs Notes version: Dave didn’t lose many fights).

But in other ways, Dave is anything but your typical bush-man. He’s into anthropology and archeology, with a passion for European history. He philosophizes about Chrenobyl’s nuclear disaster, knows more about U.S. politics than most Americans and speaks at length about travelling in Italy and marveling over Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

“My favorite thing about guiding here is getting to know people from all walks of life,” said Smith, who averages 800 hours per season on the water. “By spending 8 or 9 hours a day in a boat with people, three or four days in a row, I have a chance to really get to know them and develop a friendship with the people who come to Aikens.”

Smith unquestionably made my trip to Aikens more enjoyable––not only because he put us on big fish but also because it’s a pleasure to spend a day on the water with him. Our daily shore lunch was a relaxing break for Dad and me, but Smith was hard at work, intently focused on every minor detail as he fried four different styles of fish for us throughout the week.

The moment that stood out for me was Smith dropping a dollop of beer batter into the frying pan to gauge the temperature of the oil. “You want the batter to sink to the bottom of the pan, float back up, and then bubble,” he said while adding new oil and removing the pan from the flame to cool the oil to the perfect temperature. “Otherwise this beer batter doesn’t have quite the right viscosity.”

His attention to detail produced the best beer batter fish I’ve ever tasted.


Click here to read the full story of my four days fishing with Smith. To contact Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, call 800.565.2595 or email fishing@aikenslake.com.
 

5) James Nelson
The Fish Icon
San Diego

 


 

Capt. James Nelson had already guided me to countless spotted bass and my first-ever bonefish earlier in the morning, so I was quick to say yes when he asked if I wanted to try some shark fishing. I believe it’s called playing with house money, right? 

We navigated to a spot between Coronado Island and San Diego Bay, dropped anchor and threaded a mackerel head onto a giant hook with a 1-ounce weight. A few minutes later, the heavy action rod in the back of the boat began to bend wildly. 

I set the hook as hard as I could and seemingly ripped into a small car driving downhill in the opposite direction. “Wow,” I muttered, while holding on for dear life. “This thing is strong.” Little did I know it would take more than eight minutes before we’d even catch a glimpse of what we were up against: a monstrous bat ray, with a wingspan around 5-feet.

I’ve caught 25-pound muskie, 45-pound catfish and sturgeon over 5-feet long, but I must say that ray has an unfair advantage when it comes to fighting––the sheer shape and dynamic of its body gives it incredible leverage in the water. It went on huge runs, stripping out 30-pound braided line with ease, then buried itself in the mud, then took off again. We had to chase after it several times as it stripped the line down almost to the backing.

In total it took 33 minutes to land the beast, and during that time I was sorely reminded how badly I need to start lifting weights. I barely had any time to recover before hooking another ray, this one much smaller, and a sting ray as opposed to a bat ray.

A little later, as we neared the end of our morning together, I caught a beautiful leopard shark–– another coveted species for which the area is known.  The diversity of the fishery, in the shadow of downtown San Diego, is amazing. Potential catches include halibut, corvina, croaker, yellowtail and dorado, depending on the season. For folks looking to catching something mean, Nelson also specializes in guiding for mako sharks.

And, if you’ve got kids in tow for a family trip to San Diego, you’re in luck. Nelson will take two kids out for free with every one paying adult. 

Click here to visit Captain James Nelson’s website. To contact Nelson, call 619.395.0799 or email contact@thefishicon.com.