Passing the Rod

Passing the Rod
"Survey says– most folks read this magazine with one basic goal; to gain knowledge and tips for catching more and bigger fish."

Sure, ideas can help, and there continue to be many good ones here from some of the best fishermen on the coast. It's still up to us though, to get things done.

This article has to be a little different, so all apologies aside, it's more about me getting a few things done, and perhaps how a few others might also be able.

Done for me is being a full-time guide. It's time to pass the rod to others wanting to live the dreamor should I say survive it.

Personal circumstances are calling me back to the dock too often these days. It's been a great ride and quite the interesting game, but as Everett mentioned last month; I just buried my Dad.

You tend to get a little reflective and I started wondering, "What'll be written on my stone?"

What I don't want to see is, "I told you I was fighting injured."

Unfortunately, a major issue for me is that I've flat worn out my lower back and just can't perform the way I need to. Sure, I need to do something about it, but in the meantime before I go, I'd like to pass along a few things to the future leaders of our sportthe legion of up-and-coming fishing guides.

It's obvious the coast is under siege and, the Captain's License classrooms are continuously full. I don't have nearly the time on the water as some of my crustier brethren (for whom I have unconditional respect), but I have been blessed and I also get a lot of calls and questions. I have learned a lot, been taught a lot, have made many mistakes, but more importantly, I've listened.

So for you "wanna go theres" this is really not coming from me, but more from innumerable conversations with fishing clients. Curiously, most has little to do with the actual catching of fish.

The first thing to remember is that being a guide is simply the offering of a service, hopefully one you excel in and are qualified to deliver. What service are you offering? How will you distinguish yourself?

The reality is that there are a lot of excellent fishermen who make very poor guides, yet many average fishermen make very good ones. Try to remember that it's not about you; it's about your people.

You are their host to the great outdoors, not just doing them a favor by taking them out and taking their money. Fishing is precious time, so it's more about understanding and meeting their expectation levels, and putting together a best-effort day based on that, tempered with their skill level and ability. There are many variables and much will depend on who your people are in the first place. My experience is that you basically get who you ask for.

Capt. Tricia and I asked for good fishermen or at least those hungry to become. We were very fortunate to get them.

Rather than a shotgun approach, we used a rifle and only targeted those who wanted to wade-fish with lures. That's a very small market, comparatively speaking, but we simply wanted to share how we fished and figured it best to only offer what we knew best.

We wanted people who didn't wish it was easier, but wished they were better. Many made US better but your situation may be totally different. Much will be based on geography. And speaking of geographically, if a 5-fish limit walks up the coast you had better have something more to offer than a box. What will distinguish you from the ant pile?

If you are in a touristy area many of your folks may have never fished before or will ever fish again. You had better be better than I was! I can only do one thing well at a time and there's lots to do for tourists!

Regardless, the reasons why folks hire a guide in the first place remains pretty much the same, to escape concrete and asphalt, and for a short and precious time live large on the water. I think we all just use fishing as the excuse, so chances are if you are having fun, so are they. That is your job, and to be honest, I get some of the biggest tips when the boxes are the smallest.

A little about your boat, gear and trim. No, you don't have to have the latest and greatest, fanciest or fastest. More important is clean, reliable, and well-suited for the purpose. The idea is to get where you need to go comfortably and then get home safely. A V-bottom on the flats or a tunnel rig on big water is an appetite for both disaster and throat clearing excuses. Regardless, spare props and emergency tools are part of that getting home thing. On the water stuff just happens, so be well prepared. Same thing with rod and reels if you offer them. Well-suited for the job and reliable.

Speaking of gear, this is to all you young bucks and buckettes who will naturally want to chase the so-called sponsorships: Every new guide wants to decorate their truck and hull with stickers and be a patch pirate (at least a dozen sewn on each starched Columbia). They're part of your legitimacyright?

The reality is that for someone to actually "sponsor" you, the requirement is that you are able, can (and will) promote those products to people who can and will actually buy themand buy them to a large extent.

Sponsorship is a mutually beneficial business relationship, not a gimmie. Why would someone help you with a boat if your people don't buy boats? Or with waders and booties if your people don't wade? Before you approach, be prepared to present your case very well, and if chosen, prepared to be loyal and represent with the highest integrity.

Perhaps the biggest thing to consider is the impact a guide can have on the entire fishing community. As a guide you are an ambassador of the sport, the example to follow, the seeds of the future. Your people will do what you train them to doperiod.

But having said that, what the masses will do is judge not only you but the whole guiding community on your overall conduct. What you do impacts me and every other guide out there. There is no entitlement here, quite the opposite in fact. A guide has the responsibility to shape the actions of others in a positive manner.

Gone are those days when a guide could get away with being a total condescending foul-mouthed "you're in my spot" retaliatory prickly pear on the water; simply because he could box a bunch of fish.

Karma has to be real. Give everybody a wide berth, and if you retaliate because somebody denied you decent space you only perpetuate the angry cycle. This paragraph could be huge, so just remember to set the right example. A bunch of others may not give a flip, but you can.

Finally, and only because paper is short, be appreciative of honest critics and learn to endure the betrayal of false friends. This is more about leaving the world a better place, especially out there on the water. The best measurement of your trip is whether your guests want to go again. And make no mistake; your success will be based on culturing and catering to a bunch of them who want to. It's called a referral base and I've yet to see the guide who survived for very long without creating a long list of repeat customers.

As for me? All things must pass. Here's thanks to all my wonderful people for all the fish and bananas. I'm still going to fish my A-Team if they need me; the ones who have really distinguished themselves over the years and who you look extremely forward to sharing a day with. Plus, hopefully, a lot more kid and charity work.

Among the many things I missed recently, I also missed Billy Sandifer's beach cleanup deal again, so goals are to become more involved in things that really matter. I'll still try to write, and if everything works out, perhaps even betterwithout all the stress and distractions of late.

It will still be all about relationships, sunrises, and the thrill of a thump. Always like a curious child in awe of the great creation we are blessed with.

Remember to wear your sunscreen and take care of your back. What's going to be on your stone?