Several years back, Mark Tuchscherer, of Hanover, Minn., planned a rather short muskie-fishing trip to Lake of the Woods. His goal was to spend a couple of full days —dawn to dusk — on the water, slinging big baits in search of big fish.
Tuchscherer considers himself a pretty good fisherman. He can launch his boat on a lake or river — whether he has previously fished them or not — and generally figure out a way to catch the fish he is targeting. That probably would have been the case on Lake of the Woods, too. But with time at a premium and thousands upon thousands of acres of potentially fishable water, he opted to hire a guide to show him the ropes.
Over the years, Tuchscherer has hired guides on three occasions and come away pleased with each experience. The main reason? He was clear up front about his expectations. “When I’ve hired a fishing guide, it’s not necessarily because I want to have a great time on the water that day,” the high school teacher said. “I want to know what a lake has to offer and learn it from someone who has put in a lot of time.”
For experienced and inexperienced anglers alike, time on the water with a fishing guide can pay dividends. Some people hire guides simply so they can catch fish. Other folks want to learn the basics of the sport, or have the guide teach them a particular technique. Still others hope guides can help them unlock the secrets of their favorite bodies of water. Tuchscherer communicated his desires to his guides, ensuring positive experiences. But there is more to it.
Following are three views from the other side of the boat. Included are thoughts from Nate Blasing, who’s been guiding for about 15 years; Marv Koep, who’s been guiding for more than 50 years and founded the famed Nisswa Guides League; and Bill Lundeen, a bait shop owner who refers anglers to guides and has been a guide himself for 23 years.
Hiring a guide, or not
Do you have limited time to fish a new body of water? Is there a lake you want to know more about? Do you want to learn a specific technique, like Lindy-rigging for walleyes or vertical jigging for muskies? Do you want to use the latest equipment and let someone else find the fish? If so, then hiring a guide for a day may be a good choice.
Even Blasing, who guides up to 70 times a year, hires a guide a couple of times each year. “I love to go to Lake Mille Lacs a couple of times a year and sit on a launch with my family,” he said. “I can take a deep breath and enjoy it a little more.”
What to look for in a guide
It’s important to find a guide who can catch fish, of course, or who is an expert at the technique you want to learn. Guides should have references who can back up their claims, too. But don’t overlook guides’ personalities, either, warned Koep, of Breezy Point, Minn. When he was running the Nisswa Guides League, Koep said that was the main quality he sought in potential guides.
“All I ever wanted was a good personality — the [fishing ability] is secondary,” Koep said. “If he could work with people, he was going to be a good guide. You always want that guy with a personality that could make a bad day of fishing go good, because guides are going to have those, no matter how good they think they are.”
Guides also should be well-versed in a variety of techniques, said Lundeen, of Onamia.
“You want somebody who has a Plan B if Plan A isn’t working today,” he said. “By asking just a handful of questions, you’ll see if this guy has anything else in his portfolio or if all he does is troll Rapalas, for example.”
What are the red flags?
All three guides offered different answers to the question of red flags.
Blasing: “You get what you pay for. The guiding business is pretty competitive, and there are always some people trying to get into the industry who might cut prices to build up their clientele. We sometimes get people who have had bad experiences like that.”
Watch out for guides who oversell themselves, Koep said. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and I’ve never guaranteed fish. The only guarantee I make is I’m going to get [people back as repeat clients].”
Lundeen advises people to have a conversation with potential guides. If they don’t make time for it, be careful. “If you can read people at all, you will know if you and this guide are like-minded,” he said.
Does experience matter?
In a word, yes. While older guides have the experience and probably won’t be surprised by anything they encounter, younger guides have benefited from technology such as depth finders and underwater cameras that allow them to learn things in a shorter time.
“There are some young guides out there who are really good,” Koep said. “They’ve paid their dues.”
The takeaway: Don’t base your decision solely on a guide’s age.
What to expect from a guide
Guides should show up on time. They should be prepared for your trip, based on the kind of experience you’ve told them you want. They should be willing to teach you techniques you want to learn. “Teaching is a very big part of it,” said Blasing, of Brainerd. “You don’t get the opportunity to do a lot of fishing when you’re guiding.”
Making your intentions known
Fishermen should realize they also have some responsibility in ensuring a successful trip. “Make your wishes known at the beginning,” Lundeen said.
That has been a vital part of Tuchscherer’s successful guide outings, though in almost all instances it was the guide who asked him what he wanted to achieve. That alone gave him a certain level of comfort with each trip.
“Every guide I’ve gone with has been great about asking me questions first,” he said. “It’s up to you to let them know, but if you hire a good guide, they will produce what you want.”
Joe Albert is a freelancer writer from Bloomington. Reach him at email@example.com.