Angler Angst

Looking to hire a fishing guide? Before you step aboard, take a lesson -- 10, actually -- to help you avoid big mistakes and get your money's worth. (April 2008)

Guides will be the first to tell you that women anglers are best to have aboard because they listen and ask questions (Mistake No. 7).
Photo courtesy of David Johnson.

Fishing guides are on the water every day. They see the best -- and the worst -- modern-day anglers.

The editor of this magazine gave me an assignment to write about the worst mistakes that guides see angler make. The idea is to help anglers get the most out of the good money they pay for guide services.

I decided to start off by brainstorming with a few of my guide friends. Many of our experiences were the same: We are used to seeing a lot of people who have very little or no fishing experience.

And their limited experience means they'll make mistakes. Here are some of the most common:

8:00 Means 8:00!

If your guide tells you to be there at 8 a.m., be on the boat at that time. If you are late, he may smile and tell you, "That's all right." But inwardly, he's probably thinking, I didn't get up at 3:30 a.m. to sit around waiting while we could be catching fish!

Sometimes on a slow day, the first bite of the day may be your only bite, and getting to the hole first can put you into that one fish.

Make sure you have the directions down clearly. In case of fog or ice on the road, give yourself extra time -- and get there early enough to use the rest room, put on your rain gear and take care of anything else you need to do before you get out on the water.

Countless times, my clients have arrived late because they didn't take into consideration the road conditions and didn't give themselves any extra driving time. It's a good idea to scope out the boat ramp the day before so you know where you're going.

Dress The Part

Nothing's more miserable than spending all day cold and wet.

No matter what the weatherman forecasts, bring a set of rain gear, both top and bottom. Even if it doesn't pour, rain gear will cut the wind, and there's always that chance of a wet seat on board.

Be smart and dress in layers. Even in summertime, it can be cool out on the river during the mornings. And if you get warm, you can always take off a layer. Waterproof shoes are a must, and it's not a bad idea to have dry clothes in the car -- especially an extra pair of dry socks.

Not Sure? Ask!

If you're not sure about anything, you've got to ask. I can assure you that you won't be the first one.

Too often, people feel embarrassed to say they don't know how to fish. But if you're not performing a technique correctly, you may be wasting your time.

For some reason, women seem to be eager to ask questions and listen when the guide is talking. Guys could learn a lot by watching their women fish.

Go Catching, Not Fishing

Unless you're embarked on a catch-and-release trip, be ready to take your catch home. Many times, clients don't bring coolers or coolers that are big enough.

Your fish is a prize; take care of it. Make sure to stop on the way home and buy some ice.

There are some places that fillet, process or even ship fish for you. If you're planning on keeping your catch for any amount of time, it's a good idea to have it vacuum-packed. This will make sure your fish remains as fresh as the day you caught it.

Slow Down, Andretti!

Getting into the fish is usually the easy part. But when using bait, hooking them can sometimes be difficult. While trolling, back-trolling or back-bouncing bait, the worst thing you can do is to set the hook the instant a fish starts biting.

This is my personal pet peeve. I tell my clients that no matter how hard the fish is hitting or how long it's been hitting, if the fish doesn't exert a steady pull down on the rod, there's a very good chance you won't get your fish. That fish just wants to eat the bait, so you might as well let it. The fish will usually end up giving you a solid hookup all by itself.

Tyson, You're Not

While fighting big fish, there are quite a few little mistakes you can make.

'¢ High-sticking may cause a rod to break.

'¢ Letting the fish get under the boat or into the motor will break it off.

'¢ Horsing a fish and putting too much pressure can break it off or pull the hook out.

'¢ Not enough pressure will cause the fish to spit the hook.

I see a lot of people get so excited that they forget they're supposed to play the fish. All they do is reel against the drag. That does little but tire out the angler, wear on the drag system and, if it's a spinning reel, put twists in the line.

Letting a fish have slack is another big way to lose it. This happens particularly with anglers who pump and reel too aggressively. They drop the tip too fast and don't stay tight to the fish. If the hook has any chance to drop out of the fish's mouth, it will once there's slack.

Listen Up!

If a fish is holding close to shore, a guide might tell his clients to cast out 20 feet. Instead, the angler tries to throw across the river.

Your guide has reasons for advising you to do things. He may want you to wash your hands after applying sunscreen or eating something. He might want you to use the rod holder, let out a given length of line or cast into a certain spot.

Do what he asks. If you don't understand why, ask why.

It's also a good idea to keep track of the lingo. Some of this is the guide's responsibility. We sometimes forget that not everybody who fishes with us knows all the terms we use.

Such as:'¢ Reeling down. This is the second part of the pump-and-reel. Reel the line up as your lower the rod tip.

'¢ Set the hook. Reel down and bring the rod tip up to quickly lose all slack and

come tight to the fish.

'¢ Mend the line. When the bait or fly is in the water, flip the line -- not the bait or fly -- upstream to let the offering float naturally.

'¢ Thumb the spool. Lay your thumb on the spool to prevent excess line from leaving the spool.

It's our job to instruct, and the client's job to learn.

Talk To Me!

Guide Bob Singley said that anglers and guides have to confer at least a day before their trip. Singley said that while he was guiding on the Columbia River this fall, twice he saw clients standing on the dock with no guide.

He asked both groups if they had talked to their guides. They had -- but it had been weeks before.

Personally, I always call my clients one or two days before their trip to give them the specifics -- the time, our meeting place and directions to get there.

Use The Guide's Gear

Sometimes people will want to bring their own gear. But guides have plenty, and it's specifically matched to the water conditions and the techniques that you will be encountering.

The guide will know how his gear will react if he tells you to set the hook or thumb the spool. If you bring anything else aboard, you're losing the opportunity for your team to be more like a well-oiled machine, as opposed to a dress rehearsal.

Nice Attitude, Dude!

"The fish will come," said Klickitat River guide John Garret. Clients must trust their guide. Come with an open mind, and a positive attitude. Don't get caught up solely in the fish. There's more to it than just catching.

In the mean time, don't miss out on what's going on in the world around you. Take advantage of the opportunity you have to be away from cell phones and computers.

A guided trip can be one of the best times spent on the water. But if enough mistakes are made, it becomes frustrating for everyone.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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