Guides: What You and They Expect

By Bill Schultz - May 1, 2003
During the past few years I've had the opportunity to fish with a number of guides, and most have provided a very informative and enjoyable experience. I look for a guide who has a good reputation for knowing the body of water we're fishing. I want to learn where to fish, what lures and techniques to use and how to use them. Even if we hit a tough day and don't catch many fish, if I've learned where to fish in the future, what to use and how to use it, the day has still been worthwhile.

The guide should be friendly, a good communicator and able to teach the client. Having good equipment is also important. Many clients count on using the guide's equipment because it's more convenient than bringing their own, and in many cases the guide's equipment is better and more appropriate for the fish being pursued. The guide's boat doesn't have to be the biggest or best, but it needs to be comfortable and appropriate for the water being fished. Some snacks and something to drink are pluses.

When I've been out with guides, I've had both good and bad days related to numbers of fish. However, in most cases, I've come away having learned a new body of water and a number of new presentations. We all have our opinions on what we expect from a guided outing, but I asked a number of Wisconsin guides, whom I've fished with, what they think a client should expect from them and what they would like in a ideal client.

Tim Komar, 262-723-5748 and www.justbassin.com, guides southern Wisconsin lakes and rivers for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. Chris Terry, 262-893-2183, guides Oconomowoc area lakes for walleyes in the spring, and bass, northerns and muskies the rest of the season. Captain Craig Putchat, 715-373-0551 and www.outdoorallure.com, owns Outdoor Allure Sporting Goods and Guide Service in Washburn, WI and guides a variety of species on Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay, the Apostle Islands and inland lakes in the Chequamegon National Forest. Scott Corbisier, 920-743-0230, specializes in smallmouth bass in Door County and Eric Walls, 608-798-2304, guides the Madison chain and other area lakes for smallmouth and largemouth bass. I also posed my questions to Maurice Valerio, founder and CEO of Top Rated Surveys, a national guide clearinghouse. You can find his directory at www.ESPNOutdoors.com

What should a client look for when selecting a guide?

Komar feels, "a client should look at what the guide specializes in, because every guide has their strengths. Be sure the species you're looking for are part of the guide's strengths."

He thinks a reputation is good, but if this is all a client picks a guide for, they can miss an excellent opportunity with that up-and-comer. Both Komar and Corbisier believe the most important thing a guide can provide a client is information. Corbisier says, " A client needs to learn the techniques of that guide who's spent hundreds of hours on the water perfecting those techniques."

Putchat thinks, "A client should look for a full-time licensed guide. Also, they should look for a guide who will take them to the fish that are biting." He gave me the example of going out with a client for smallies. They're not biting, so he switches to walleyes or northerns to save the day.

Terry suggests, "If you're looking for a good guide, ask the locals who's out there catching fish. I will see guides on the lake with angry customers because they're not catching fish."

Walls feels, "A client should look for a guide who's energetic and really "involved" in fishing. Someone who's using the latest techniques, fishing new lures as well as time tested lures. Someone who truly is on top of the business of fishing."

Valerio told me, "The principle qualities of a great guide are communication skills and honesty. The guide must be able to ask good questions, teach with patience, listen with interest and be humble enough to make it look easy." Based on his observations of guides throughout the country, Valerio points out, "Along with an excellent knowledge base of the body of water and techniques that work, I can't over emphasize communication skills, which are the foundation of charm and personality which can make or break a day with a client, even if the fish aren't biting."

Komar feels, "People should look for a guide that will teach them different techniques to allow the client to be successful on his or her own. Receiving useful information that will last a lifetime is just as important as a good day on the water." Valerio notes, "We all have a sixth sense to spot honest people. The fly-by-night guide, in it for the quick dollar, won't last a couple of seasons."

All of my guide friends have water or soda on-board, but don't make a big point of having other food along. Terry notes, "The reason someone hires a guide is for their expertise, not the frills. Big talk and snacks don't catch fish."

Corbisier suggests that his clients bring with them what they'd like to eat and drink, preferring to concentrate on fishing. Only one of the guides I've gone out with has provided lunch and that was on a day-long outing, and it was appreciated. The key for me is to know what the guide will or won't have on board. Personally, I'm out with them to learn and hopefully catch fish.

What do these guides look for in a client?

We've taken a look at what a client should look for in a guide. I thought it would be interesting to ask this group what they look for in a client. Komar thinks the key is that, "The guide needs to be able to adjust to the client. For me the easiest people to guide are those who come in with an open mind and desire to learn different ways to catch fish." Komar doesn't use live bait so his clients need to be willing to try new tactics.

Terry has a regular base of clients and said, "My clients want to learn and that's what I'm best at, teaching people. Pressure on the lakes in my area is tough, so I need clients who are willing to learn and try new things." Terry told me the one type of client he doesn't enjoy is the complainer. They'll ruin his day and theirs.

Putchat wants, "A client with a good attitude and looking to have a fun day of fishing. I like novices because they

"The principle qualities of a great guide are communication skills and honesty. The guide must be able to ask good questions, teach with patience, listen with interest and be humble enough to make it look easy."
usually have no expectations and just want to have fun. Fish are just a bonus."

Corbisier likes "someone who's willing to learn the techniques I've worked hundreds of hours to perfect. However, I guide people who have a great deal of experience and I'm always willing to learn from them."

Valerio isn't a guide, but based on working with many guides through his company, he feels, "A guide should be direct and honest, asking clients a lot of questions to find out what their expectations are, and be sure to listen." He said that if you've had trouble in the past, develop questions that will help avoid those problems in the future. Valario emphasized, "If things start going wrong, remember you are the professional."

Putchat told me, "The worst clients are those who expect a cooler of fish just because they are paying you, or those who decide to drink rather than fish." He tries to weed these types out before getting on the water.

Additional Thoughts

Each one of my guide friends helped me accomplish what I look for when hiring a guide. Craig Putchat, in a few hours on the Chequamegon Bay, showed me a number of late-summer locations and techniques that helped me catch some fat smallies, with a few pushing five pounds. Eric Walls showed me all his hotspots for smallies on Lake Mendota, along with the techniques that have allowed me to fish this lake on my own with success. Tim Komar took me to Delevan Lake Geneva with him.

Chris Terry showed me more smallie spots on Okauchee Lake than I can remember; I should have been taking notes. I'll just have to go out with him again. And, as well as I know the waters of Door County, Scott Corbisier and I fished a few hotspots I had never tried, and he turned me onto a great method of rigging a Zoom Super Fluke that's become my go-to presentation in Door County.

They all have boats that are comfortable and appropriate for the waters we fished, and, even though I used my own equipment, they all had quality rods, reels and lures. I was especially happy to see St. Croix rods and Shimano reels in some of the boats.

Each of these guides met my criteria of helping me learn the body of water we were on, showing me where to fish and what to use. They all communicate well, know how to teach the client and, importantly, are friendly and fun to fish with.

Hopefully their comments will help you select a guide who'll be friendly, honest, help you learn a specific body of water and teach you techniques you can use that day and in the future.

Author Bill Schultz

Bill Schultz
Editors Note: For a comprehensive list of fishing guides visit Lake-Link's Fishing Guide Section. From there you can also request a brochure or a booking right on Lake-Link. Good luck and good fishing!
Bill Schultz lives in New Berlin, WI and is a contributing writer for www.onwisconsinoutdoors.com., www.lake-link.com, www.smallmouths.com, www.onwisconsinoutdoors.com and various outdoor magazines, including On Wisconsin Outdoors and Kayak Angler Magazine. He is a smallmouth bass enthusiast and since catching his first in 1994 has caught and released over 19,000 smallies. His focus has been the big waters of Green Bay in Door County along with rivers and streams throughout Wisconsin. Bill is a popular seminar speaker and is on the Pro Staffs for Wilderness Systems Kayaks, Adventure Technology Paddles, St. Croix Rod, Crestliner Boats, Mercury Marine, Uncle Josh Bait Co, and has sponsorships with a variety of other fishing and outdoor companies. Email: smalliecentral@gmail.com