A Day in the Life of a Fishing Guide

A Day in the Life of a Fishing Guide
Sight-casting with peak visibility creates great summertime action that everyone enjoys.

I’ve had several requests to do a piece on a typical day in the life of a fishing guide. At first I thought it wouldn’t make much of an article, but after considering all that I go through to prepare and run a fishing trip, I decided to go ahead with it. Before getting into it, please understand that I take my job seriously and tend to be a bit anal about some things.

A little bit about me, the way I fish, and prepare for fishing trips:

When wade fishing I carry the minimal amount of the right gear for the job at hand. More has never proved better for me.

Both my boys have horror stories of my inability to just let things be. I turned around in a tournament because our team number placard flew out of the boat. Jay Ray was livid because we were racing others to a well-known area. I went back and picked it up anyway; I hate litter.   

Ryan and I were fishing a Bass Champs tourney on Falcon and I was cleaning up spent worms on the deck. He was like; “Really, Dad? We’re in a tournament!”

I am very particular in the way I keep my boat and stow my tackle. I have an ice chest dedicated to lures. Baits are organized by brand, size, and color. I don’t need you putting empty water bottles or your own tackle in it, and darn sure don’t want you chunking your wet wading gear in there when we’re running to the next spot.

That brings up the people that get completely undressed after each wade. I understand shucking the wading belt but taking your boots off every time makes no sense. If they’re too tight you need to get boots that fit.

I want the decks clean. For goodness sake, please try to wipe your feet when you get in the boat after a wade. I want dock lines coiled and stowed, deck hatches closed and latched properly. I absolutely hate seeing the latches sticking up. 

I can’t do rust on anything and I try to keep screws and latches cleaned and oiled. Can’t do spotted windshields either and not sure why because I seldom sit while running, always looking over the windshield.

No rattling or objects that go bump in the boat while running across the choppy stuff; it drives me up the wall. Seasoned operators become aware of normal running noise. Any new noise distracts me and makes me unhappy. 

You’ll probably think I’m nuts, but years ago when I ran other brands of motors, I could always tell when the engine was running hot or fixing to drop a cylinder. My new Mercury 350 Verado is super quiet, which makes conversing with clients possible while running. My customers probably hate the lack of engine noise…if you get my drift.

I usually place my client’s stringers under their rod in the rod holders when running from area to area. I’ll stop and adjust or remove the cork if it bangs against the console while underway.

My lure box is organized with lures selected according to seasonal patterns. No need for winter-dominant colors in summertime. I load up on only the Bass Assassins and MirrOlure soft plastics that are producing the best when I’m throwing plastic primarily.

In Corky season my Custom Corky boxes are planned for water clarity. Clear baits for clear water, bright colors for bright days, dark colors for dark days (for sure gold hologram). Downright dirty, nasty water has its own box.

I obsess over preventive maintenance on the boat, motor and trailer. I try to run as fresh a prop as I can but I do have periods when working skinny that my prop gets worn more than I like. I monitor prop wear constantly, both visually and also by comparing GPS speed with engine RPM. I change water pumps every 100 hours, whether the pressure gauge is dropping or not. The guys and gals at Chris’s marine know without asking what I want done with each service visit and they do a tremendous job.

I carry the tools required to tighten or repair my twin Power Poles on the water. Anchoring in choppy water for hours at a time, six days a week, is hard on them. Keeping all the fittings and fasteners tightened properly can easily double service life. For $40 to $50 you can purchase a Power Pole rebuild kit and keep it on the boat. Money well spent!

I make a practice to switch off the battery power every day after washing the boat. I use lots of soap, and hot water when I can. I go so far as rewashing the boat in the morning to remove oak leaves, oak pollen buds, and dust from wind during the night. Stains on my boat make me crazy. I don’t have a boat barn but Watkins Landing (boat barns and rental cabins) on our Hwy 35 Bypass property is in the works.

Boat fuel; I have used super unleaded fuel for the past 20 years and I am a big believer that higher octane increases performance and engines last longer. With the Mercury Four Strokes it is a must but I used it in my two strokes as well.

All the tasks mentioned above are performed after the day’s fishing, in preparation for the next day. These are the absolutes in my day, things that I can control. I believe in controlling everything we can and not worrying too much about things we cannot.

At this point in my career I am blessed to have a client base that bring their own tackle and wading gear. I am familiar with them and their capabilities. Some don’t do soft bottom and some don’t like wading shell; others can do whatever. These things factor into what areas I can consider in my fishing plan.

The beginning of a typical day. During spring and summer I wake around 4:15 AM; I still don’t need an alarm. I guess I’m still nervous about people being disappointed in my services. I know, it’s crazy, but that’s me. My truck is loaded and locked with rods inside. The boat is hooked up the night before.

I move around within the house with minimal lighting and noise to avoid disturbing the dogs or the wife. Coffee cup is in the Keurig machine. Wading clothes are in the laundry room, folded and ready. I brush my teeth and comb what little hair I have left. Sunglasses, wallet, USCG license and cell phone are in the ball cap on my desk. Coffee in hand, I slip out the door at 4:30 to begin my day. I love the smell of fresh coffee in my truck.

I truly enjoy the early-morning ride through Rockport. Bayside Drive is beautiful before the town wakes up, especially during holiday season with the two large lighted Christmas trees reflecting in the ski basin. I see the same coffee-goers at Whataburger and Stripes every day. Words are few and typically have to do with how the fishing has been. The guys and gals at Stripes know me by name and always greet me with a smile and “Good morning, Jay.”

I see the same guides most every day and we may or may not exchange a few words. I’ll stop at the local bakery and the ladies there don’t have to ask, they just put two small pig-in-a-blanket in the microwave and refill my coffee cup. They never charge for the refill…thanks ladies.

The ride to Cove Harbor when fishing south, or Goose Island when working north, is when I reflect on life. I listen to Mickey’s show when he is on the air and Golic and Wingo all the other days. I like to keep abreast of the sports world so I can talk current topics with my sons Jay Ray and Ryan when they call.

I talk to God sometimes. I pray that he knows how much I appreciate being where I am at this point in my life. It is a shame that we do not all do this more often. The kids are grown and I have grandkids now, so I realize the 3rd Quarter of my life has begun and the 4th is hopefully yet to come.

At the dock, I park away from the actual launch and sometimes visit with buddy, Rhett Price. We seldom discuss fishing, mostly just talk about our kids and our lives. He ends our conversations with, “I love ya buddy,” a special emotion I share with a handful of guides along the Texas coast. It makes me tear up when I realize just how special this is and how many do not have such relationships. For those that believe there’s no crying in fishing, you are mistaken.

Boat’s in the water and I am putting on wading boots. A good pair of Simm’s lace-up boots with neoprene wading socks completes my make-ready chores.

Years ago, Jay Ray told people there is a “Dock Jay” and a “Bay Jay.” When clients are on time, rigged and ready, it’s all good. When they’re not, the smart ass in me comes out and I can be a bit abrasive. Never anything strong enough to hurt someone’s feelings, I hope, but a definite signal that our day isn’t starting the way I prefer. Once away from the hustle and bustle of the dock, Bay Jay kicks back in.

I think aloud for the rest of the day, verbalizing why we are where we are, and why we are going to do what we are going to do. I seldom lose focus for very long which can make some uncomfortable. It’s only fun to me when we are doing ALL we can do to figure out how to catch them.

I still sweat the slow times of the day and often become quiet, not saying much, moving in and out around the group, trying to figure things out and make adjustments. This only comes with years and years of water time; lots of failures and successes rolled into one. I typically relax when I see we are going to have a 20-plus fish day. Not just any 20 fish, but 20 solid fish. That number used to be 30 but with today’s fishing pressure 20 is more realistic and acceptable to me. Add the larger trout of winter into this mix and you’re looking at a solid day of fishing.

Back at the dock, I clean fish if my clients kept any. I seldom socialize with clients after a trip; you get your day and all of me for that day. My next move is to the car wash to repeat the process in preparation for the next day.

Arriving home, I update my Fishing Club Members on the day’s events, answer text messages and e-mails, and make a post on Instagram. And of course there is my personal life, something I’ve not always managed as well as I should or could have. I guess if fishing ever got in the way of anything it was this.

These days I enjoy some TV with Renee and our two dogs for an hour or so each evening. I am typically in bed and asleep by 9:00 PM. A rather boring social life but that comes with being a fishing guide, especially if giving every group a 100% best effort each day is your goal.

So, that’s it, in a rather large and wordy nutshell. It’s not just about the fishing. There’s a lot that goes into doing it right and having pride in trying to do your best for each and every client, each and every day.

May your fishing always be catching!  -Guide Jay Watkins