I’m blessed to make my living as a professional bass angler, but I don’t just fish tournaments. I guide, too.
Now, I don’t do a lot of guiding, mainly because a lot of people want to go in the spring when I’m not available, but I run 20 to 30 trips a year.
Guide trips are great opportunities to learn about bass fishing and to have an enjoyable day on the water without the pressure of having to find fish and figure out patterns on your own. I highly recommend them, especially if you’re sitting around during the offseason with nothing much to do. Take the opportunity to book a trip somewhere new, and go improve your skills.
Unfortunately, over the years I’ve noticed that some anglers don’t take the best approach when booking a guide trip. They set unrealistic goals and don’t temper their expectations based on the conditions, which can potentially set them up to miss out on the great parts of the experience.
This is a pretty big issue at Lake Fork, where I do most of my guiding. Guide trips on Fork are a good news, bad news thing. The good news is that people come from all over the world and want to go fishing. The bad news is many of them come with the sole goal of catching their personal best. It’s a double-edged sword because more people go home disappointed than they do having achieved their goal.
Before you judge my abilities as a guide, let me unpack this a little bit. Lake Fork is a tremendous fishery, and you can absolutely catch giant bass there. I’ve guided clients to some really amazing days. But in every case, so many things had to go right for it to turn out that way.
An old-timer I know here on Lake Fork broke this down for me one day. He pointed out that, in most tournaments, one “over,” or a fish longer than 24 inches, gets weighed in for every 75 entrants. On Fork, an over could weigh anywhere from 6 1/2 pounds to 11 pounds, so for you to catch a double-digit fish, it pretty much has to be an over.
While I like to think I’m a decent fisherman, if you have two anglers per entry, and there are 150 fishermen on the water, and only one over gets caught on average, the chances of a guy catching a double-digit when he comes to Lake Fork are obviously very slim. It’s still better than most places you fish in the country, but if that’s your whole mindset you’re probably going to be disappointed.
All that being said, the keys to getting the most out of a guide trip are simple.
1. Change your mindset
Whether it’s with me or anyone else, come with the idea of having a great overall experience, rather than with one very specific goal. Treat a guide trip as a chance to learn as much about the lake as you can from someone who knows a whole lot more about it than you. Unless your guide is a great narrator for the day, you’re going to have to pick his brain to get the most out of it. Ask a lot of questions about the techniques, the baits and how he presents them. Learn the overall characteristics about the reservoir, lake or body of water. Just glean as much knowledge from the guide and the experience as you can.
2. Book two days
Believe me, this isn’t a sales ploy. I’ve had people come fishing and think that, regardless of what the weather does, the fish are always biting. I promise you, above all else, the weather conditions are going to dictate how well the fish bite on a given day. Especially during seasons when the weather is highly unpredictable, bad weather can put the kibosh on even a great bite in a hurry. I tell most people to come for two days to at least have an honest chance if the weather isn’t quite right.
3. Have fun with it, share the experience
One of the best ways to ensure a fun outing is to bring somebody with you to share your experience. Most guides charge the same or just a little more whether they’re guiding one or two people.
4. Be realistic, be flexible
Be up front with the guide about what you want. Most of my clients just want to catch fish, but some are more interested in instructional trips focused on electronics, techniques or other aspects of bass fishing. I do both, as do many guides. Likewise, once I know your goals, I might suggest a different fishery or approach based on the season or conditions. I’ve taken clients out on some of the power plant lakes we have around my home in east Texas in the wintertime when it gets really tough on Lake Fork. They’re not as legendary as Fork, but the fishing can be great. There’s a small lake I fish that has a really strong shallow-water bite. There’s another that, in the spring, kicks out 30-pound bags. I can go to those other places, but I have to know in advance about your goals so I can put in some pre-fishing time to give you the best experience.
I guess my best piece of advice is to recognize all the opportunities that a guide trip has to offer. You might catch a double-digit personal best, or you might not, but once you realize all there is to learn and enjoy, you should never go home disappointed.
Follow James Niggemeyer’s career, and learn more about his guide operation, at JamesNiggemeyer.com.