Shifting the Paradigm

Shifting the Paradigm
January is among the best months to target trophy trout in the Baffin/ULM system.  Tommy Marik caught this specimen while fishing with the captain near the end of January, 2014.

Various types of fishing guides operate on Texas coastal waters. Some target limits of trout using live bait while others more broadly probe for multiple species with artificial lures, and a few specialize by tossing flies. A relatively small number place a priority on trophy fish. Generally, the culture of saltwater fishing guides rests on a single, foundational concept–the image of the guide as an expert who works for the client on a daily basis, with the goal of generating a plentiful and/or memorable catch.

In essence, the client views the guide as a contractor, similar to the way a person hailing a cab views its driver. Once hired, the guide promises to deliver the customer to a desired "destination." When the guide makes good on the promise, the customer makes a payment, and the two then part ways. Viewed from this perspective, a guide and client interact quite casually. Using another analogy, they behave more like people participating in a one-night-stand than those cultivating a long-term relationship.

I offer these observations not to cheapen or diminish the nature of the guiding culture as I've come to know it; the market defines the cart in this case. Guides react to what they believe their customers want, and they try to deliver the goods. Many people who head to the coast from inland areas simply want their guides to put them on fish, show them a good time catching, and send them away with some fillets for later. I will make no pompous claim which attempts to minimize the mutual benefits inherent to such an arrangement.

But I have come to view my own life as a guide in a somewhat different light. For some time now, I've marketed myself through a specific kind of prism, one defined by a set of stated priorities. I prefer wading over fishing from a boat, I target fish by using artificial lures exclusively, and I place a priority on catching trophy-sized speckled trout. Folks who come to fish with me share these preferences; I know because I ask them questions to make sure they do.

In this way, I'm the same as all other saltwater fishing guides operating under the rifling flag adorned with a single star. I tell people what I want to accomplish, how I like to get things done, and they either choose to accept my ways, or they search for another guide whose priorities better match their own. I will continue to run charters focused on targeting trophy trout for as long as I can; they have been the backbone supporting my way of life for the last decade and a half.

Over recent years, I've pondered ways to enhance my business, to broaden my customer base, without compromising my values in unsavory ways. For one thing, I've come to utilize charters based on the accumulation of data as a meaningful way to achieve this goal. I have and will continue to run trips with the express purpose of helping the customer gather valuable GPS data, essentially to give them a survey of the area we target, complete with track lines, anchor sites, navigational hazards and sweet spots.

Eventually, taking people out for the purpose of enhancing their knowledge of the anatomy of the bays helped me realize something profound about a possible way to generate a paradigm shift in the nature of the relationships I build with people who come aboard my boat. I have now come to see guiding in a different context, one which values process above product and which places the long-term relationship above the needs of the day. Ironically, I have offered products for years which depend critically upon this philosophy.

Customers who join my Lucky 7 Club, for instance, receive weekly reports which describe the locations I visit, the methods I use and the type and size of fish I catch. Along with the reports, members of the club have a file with all my GPS data, so they can explore new spots safely and effectively. As members, they agree to "stay out of my way" on a daily basis, and know they can't simply run around fishing the specific places I have used recently on my charters.

Like me, they know the value of the club lies in its ability to provide them a real-time template, which reveals the way I adjust to changing conditions and seasonal variables to target and catch fish. Ideally, this enhances and accelerates their learning curves significantly, eventually to a point where they don't want or need my tutelage. The goal of the club is to create self-reliant anglers who don't require guidance. In this way, my Lucky 7 Club fits into a culture of guiding which places long-term relationship over short-term gain.

In the last couple years, I've expanded the number of products I offer which rely on this same ideology. Most of the first ones I added focused on data or information. For instance, the Comprehensive Aid to Fishing Baffin and the Upper Laguna Madre includes a GPS data card and the book Monster Maps and More. Together, these documents provide precise locations where I've caught big trout throughout my home waters, along with advice on what time-frames and conditions favor fishing the various areas.

Similarly, all the recent books I've written focus on a similar goal, to provide the reader/customer useful information which will allow them to locate and catch more and bigger trout. However, all these products lack the "guide as mentor in real-time" component. They do not include charters which place the customers in direct contact with me while we spend time trying to catch fish. I now offer two products which do include this element.

I designed the first of these specifically for anglers who own a boat, and who want a guide to help them focus on enhancing their skill sets in navigation, fish location, lure choice and presentation, through interaction with a guide both in their home waters and on mine. The Inshore Angler's Personal Trainer product includes a GPS data card for my home waters, a list of coordinates for spots recommended in the trainee's home waters, a Fishing Personality Profile completed by the angler and analyzed by me, and a Fishing Log Template, which the trainee uses to generate data gathered on all outings taken, so we can start and maintain a dialogue related to results and processes.

Most significantly, an IAPT plan includes charters taken on the home waters of the customer and on the Baffin/ULM complex. The trainee drives their boat and makes many of the basic decisions like where we fish and how long we stay at each location when we fish their home waters, and I act as an observer, trying to determine what strengths they have and identify mistakes they make, so we can discuss how they might quickly improve their angling acumen. When we fish my home waters, the focus falls more on physical application skills like lure choice and presentation.

I offer this product as a quarterly plan or a yearly plan, and can customize it to fit the specific needs of the trainee, particularly by adjusting the location of the charters run in the client's boat. If a trainee wants to learn about a new area, we can meet and fish there, and if they want to fish my home waters in their boat, we can adjust the plan accordingly. The IAPT plans work best when we tailor them intelligently to meet the trainee's needs, and when the trainee fishes regularly without me and submits fishing logs for my perusal, so we can build a more complex and analytical relationship.

Partly, I created this feature article to introduce another, new product which attempts to shift the paradigm in the guide/client relationship toward a long-term mentorship rather than a temporary, hourly service. I call this new plan Captain Kev's Angling Academy, because of its intense instructional focus. This plan targets anglers who don't own boats (though boat owners can certainly sign up) but who want to fish regularly, with the aim of accelerating their learning curves and develop angling skills quickly.

Such a plan includes a Fishing Personality Profile like the one generated for use in an IAPT plan, and Fishing Logs which document results of all outings taken by the member. It also includes nine charters taken on my home waters, all with no more than two Academy Members present. I've priced the plan so it costs less than simply scheduling the same number of charters individually. I've made this work by setting aside days each month specifically for Academy outings, and allowing members to sign up for the days they want.

All these charters occur under the spotlight of teaching and learning, so they focus on developing the knowledge and skills of the members, through interaction and mutual decision making. As part of this process, I and the member(s) discuss plans and decisions and customize the charters to meet their stated goals and priorities.

In addition to the interaction which happens in real time, while we fish, I expect all members to generate logs for the trips and send them to me via email, to spur an analytical discussion related to the decisions we make and the outcomes we experience. I also encourage them to create and submit logs of trips they make without me, for the purpose of further enhancing our focused conversations. All these processes fit into the vision of the fishing guide as a long-term mentor, one who maintains active relationships with clients over time, in attempt to enhance their knowledge and abilities.

For me, these multifaceted, mutually-interactive products play a role in the life I'd like to lead in the 21st Century. I will continue to serve folks who see a fishing guide through the well-established lens of a daily outing, but will also build relationships with clients who want something more permanent and lasting, who want to grow alongside a guide who takes their development seriously.

To learn more of the specific details related to these products, visit the Blogs page of and look for the names of the products in the titles of the blogs. Or better yet, call 361 688 3714 or email [email protected] so we can discuss them at length.