Ted Peck: Fishing guides often part of trophy catch

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Ted Peck
Special to The Gazette
Sunday, August 3, 2014

If there is just one stuffed fish hanging on your Man Cave wall, odds are a fishing guide played a major role in helping you capture this trophy.

Virtually every angler with more than casual interest in sport fishing has entertained the pipe dream of being a fishing guide on more than one occasion. This fantasy usually gains focus at least a few years after a boy has given up on thoughts of being a cowboy or a fireman.

In every high school in Wisconsin, there are still at least a couple kids who realize a passion for fishing that is irrational and inexplicable, even in this age of shiny objects that are electronic marvels.

In a drive to learn all there is to learn about besting the finny beast, there comes a point where fishers feel quite confident regarding their angling prowess. At least initially, a substantial ego whispers expertise that must be shared with others who would conquer critters with scales and tails.

Strapping on a fillet knife, tucking a flannel shirt in a belt and a piece of paper in your pocket from the DNR that says you are a fishing guide is something practically any person can do after paying the $40 license fee. But this ritual does not turn a nimrod into a fishing guide.

Long before the 40 years I’ve been writing hook-and-bullet stuff for newspapers, there were many enlightened outings with guides.

My father was a serious angler and a major mentor for me in this regard. We took fishing trips all over the map ever since I learned to tie on my own hook. Any time we visited a new angling venue, Dad would hire a guide the first day in camp to get a handle on local fish location and lure presentation.

This investment usually proved to be a force multiplier in the Old Guy’s war on fish. It also created a sharp and intense learning curve in my growth as a fisherman, feeding an ego that whispered I could write outdoors stuff that other folks would want to read.

A Wisconsin guide license went in my wallet for the first time back in ’78. Looking back, this was like purchasing an online PhD from a phony university to add “street cred” to the outdoor writer gig.

Running 20 trips a year does not make you a guide, although it does help pay for hooks and bullets. This kind of experience is enough to provide a reality check that the person holding the guide license is a poseur or a drive to book more trips to actually help folks catch fish—and buy more hooks and bullets, of course.

The best guides are more like offensive linemen than quarterbacks, smiling when those who have hired them score by realizing a fishing dream. It has been my experience that tournament anglers make lousy fishing guides. They are usually excellent anglers, but are hard wired to compete, subconsciously treating the person who hires them as competition.

One way a guide can avoid this trap is to not pick up a rod. I seldom fish with clients, even if they ask me to. According to the guide license it’s my job to “guide, assist and direct” anglers in catching fish.

The best way to accomplish this is controlling the boat in a way conducive to optimum lure presentation and coaching technique as necessary. To a guide there is no better feeling than helping a client realize their dream.

As a client, it’s important that you make your desires clear to your guide—then listen when he explains your role in achieving it.

Hiring a guide is no guarantee of catching fish. This is why the sport is called fishing instead of catching. Sometimes fishing is so tough that even the guide struggles when he finally picks up a rod.

Tipping is not mandatory, but certainly part of the guiding experience. On those tough days, if a guide has worked hard changing lures, location and presentation a small gratuity is appreciated.

Guides who are merely going through the motions without providing insight on tactics and strategy you can use to find success the next time on the water don’t deserve a tip, even if they put you on fish.

A gratuity of 10 percent is the accepted norm, with tips of 25 percent not unreasonable if the fishing is exceptional and you’ve had a memorable day.

There is a story behind every stuffed fish hanging in a Man Cave. In some cases, a legendary Wisconsin fishing guide is part of the fish tale.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.

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