How to Become a Fishing Guide: All the Info You Need

If you love fishing, you might wonder how to make a little extra money on the side from your hobby. Many anglers often think about this, and a few have …

If you love fishing, you might wonder how to make a little extra money on the side from your hobby. Many anglers often think about this, and a few have decided to start their own fishing guide business as their dream job where they can be their own boss.

As a professional fishing guide, you can share your fishing knowledge with other anglers that love to fish. Whether you own a boat or not, your unique understanding of how and when to find fish, which lures to use, and what knots to tie can be a very lucrative way to make a little bit of extra money on the side.

As a guide myself, I am happy to share my insights into a guiding career with readers in this article.

What Does a Fishing Guide’s Job Involve?

Fishing Guide
A fishing guide’s job involves leading fishing trips and assisting clients in finding and catching fish while ensuring their safety and providing excellent customer service. The guide must also be knowledgeable about local fishing laws and regulations, and their main goal is to provide clients with an enjoyable and successful fishing experience.

A fishing guide’s main responsibility is to teach other anglers, both new and experienced, about fishing. A professional fishing guide would ideally also have a wealth of knowledge about local fishing holes and how to spot fish, understand fish movement patterns, and can almost always find a good area where the fish are biting on any given day.

Seasoned fishing guides have excellent people skills and love interacting with their guests. They are also patient and detailed teachers, willing to share their knowledge about anything and everything related to fishing so others can enjoy the hobby too.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Being a Fishing Guide?

Pros

  • You get to spend time at your favorite fishing holes
  • You get to spend time in the great outdoors
  • You can teach new anglers the joys of catching fish
  • You can talk about everything fishing related
  • You can test out the newest fishing gadgets with your clients
  • You get to make a little extra money for your hobby

Cons

  • You may have to be outdoors in poor weather or cold wind
  • You may have to maintain your own boat and equipment
  • You will need to obtain permits, licenses, and certification
  • You might deal with impatient or demanding people
  • You might feel bad if you can’t find fish for your client
  • You probably won’t make enough money to cover expenses
  • You probably won’t get tipped as much as you had hoped
  • Clients may damage or break your favorite equipment

How Do You Become a Fishing Guide?

Fishing Guide 1
Becoming a fishing guide typically requires experience and knowledge of fishing, as well as customer service and safety skills. To gain experience, you can start by working as a fishing assistant or volunteer, and obtaining certifications such as a boating safety certificate and a fishing guide license.

Training and Skills for Becoming a Fishing Guide

There are a wide range of skills and essential qualities you will need to be a professional fishing guide. Some of these skills will come over time as you spend more time on the lake yourself during your guide service, and other skills can be taught by another angler, your parents, or learned from another source.

Successful guides are social and friendly, very much a people person, and they love to share their knowledge and talk about nothing but fish. It can make a huge difference to your customers if they are fishing with a business owner that not only does a good job to teach techniques but also is generally enjoyable to hang out with.

General Fishing Knowledge

Obviously, if you want to become a successful guide, you need to have good general fishing knowledge. And this doesn’t just mean you know how to toss a hook in the water with some live bait and reel in a fish. You will need to know where and how to locate good spots for fish, which techniques and lures are the best options for that area and those types of fish, and more.

If you will be using your own boat, you need to have safe and reliable boatmanship skills, as well as general boat maintenance knowledge. The same can be said for your own fishing equipment. You need to have a selection of rod types and sizes, different tackles, and much more for your clients to use if they don’t bring their own.

Patience and Teaching Ability

These two go hand-in-hand in most cases since you can’t be a good teacher unless you are patient. Not all of your clients will be pro fishermen, in fact, most will be beginners and will need a lot of guidance in order to improve their casting form, reeling speed, and more. It will be your job to communicate effectively and help them improve their craft. 

On the other hand, you may run into clients that try to tell you how to do your job or think they are experts because they watched a few YouTube videos. These know-it-all types can really test your patience, but it’s important to focus on the bigger picture. You are out there to help these people catch fish. If they really were professionals and knew as much as they claimed to know, they probably wouldn’t need to hire you.

Be Assertive, Yet Kind

Here are two more skills that go hand-in-hand. There may come a time when a client is doing something that could be unsafe or will turn into something that is unsafe. It is your job to notice this behavior in advance and put a stop to it. Be assertive and firm, but be kind enough to explain why the client should not be doing what they were doing.

Poor fishing form, dangerous boat behavior, or other horseplay can not only harm or damage your boat and equipment but can also be potentially dangerous for the people on board as well. Explain clearly and in detail why something should not be done, and if the behavior continues you can use the next skill to decide your next move.

Good Judgment

Having good judgment can be important in everyday life, not just when you are fishing. It will be a skill you use throughout your entire time out on the lake. You need to use good judgment when you take a look at the weather forecast for that day, you will need to use good judgment when you pick a spot for your customers to drop a line in the water, and you will need to use good judgment in deciding when the fishing trip should end.

This skill is something you will continue to develop throughout your life, so even if you made some less-than-ideal decisions, there’s always time to learn more and improve on this skill yourself to become a better angler for your guide service.

Being Helpful

While this skill could be tied to your teaching ability, instead of just waiting to be asked a question and giving an answer, you should be proactive in offering help. If you notice someone is having trouble tying a knot or selecting a lure, you should not hesitate to offer your help or opinion.

Don’t just tell your client the answer on which lure to use, explain why this lure would be better than another lure. This level of helpfulness can bring customers back to you year after year for their fishing trips on both inland waters and coastal waters.

Fishing Guide 2
A fishing guide should have extensive fishing knowledge and experience, excellent customer service skills, a focus on safety, problem-solving abilities, physical fitness, and organizational skills in order to provide clients with a safe and enjoyable fishing experience.

Certification Needed to Become a Fishing Guide

While certifications and licenses will vary by state, some of the necessary legal requirements you should look into before you start your guiding business are:

  • Boat registration through the DMV to legally operate a boat
  • Fishing Guide license for freshwater or saltwater
  • Captain’s license from the US Coast Guard
  • Commercial boat registration or merchant mariner credential
  • Commercial vessel license for having passengers
  • CPR certification and First Aid training

In addition, your resident and non-resident customers will need to obtain their own fishing license for the area before they arrive since this can take several weeks to obtain.

Finding a Job as a Fishing Guide

When you are first starting out, it might be good practice to take your family and friends out as you would paying customers. Show them your favorite fishing spots and see if they can catch something using your guidance. Ask for honest opinions on their experience afterward.

Once you feel confident in your abilities as a fishing guide, you can start networking with other anglers or start leaving your business card on bulletin boards at your favorite tackle shop, or ask if they will let you leave a stack of business cards on their sales counter.

Over time, spreading the word will be done by word of mouth from happy customers, but depending on your area and the demand, it may be slow to start. Once you get the wheels turning, customers can be found all over the world.

Becoming a Fishing Guide FAQs

Fishing Guide 3
People choose to become fishing guides for various reasons, including a passion for fishing, a love of the outdoors, a desire for flexibility and independence, enjoyment of teaching and helping others, and financial opportunity.

Do I Need to Have Gear for My Clients?

Yes. While some of your clients will bring their own equipment, it’s important that you have everything they may need. A lot of your clients will be first-time anglers just seeing if fishing is a fun hobby and something they want to pursue. They won’t want to invest in the equipment they need before they find out if fishing is fun and worth the expenses.

What About a Vehicle?

Having a vehicle to get your customers from the airport, train station, bus stop, or hotel and back to the lake can be very useful. It’s also a professional-looking presentation too, especially if your vehicle is professionally decorated with your fishing charter information.

Having your own motorized boat is optional. While most of your customers will expect to go out on the water in a boat, others will be perfectly content to stay on shore or fish from a pier or dam. If you are unable to purchase your own boat, you can rent a boat for your fishing guide trip though this will look somewhat less professional to your customers.

Am I Allowed to Fish While Guiding?

In most cases, no. It is your job to guide your customers and let them do their fishing. You should be keeping an eye on the weather forecast, other boat traffic in the area, and changes in fish patterns. The last thing your client wants is for them to be standing there waiting to get a bite for several long hours on their own line, and then you haul in a massive trophy-sized fish within 5 minutes. You are their guide teaching them techniques and skills, not their avid angler fishing buddy.

Do Fishing Guides Need Insurance?

Yes. Accidents can happen when you are on a boat or fishing from shore near the lake or ocean. People can fall, a hook can get caught in an eyebrow, a spined fish can injure their hand, etc. There are a lot of potential things that can go wrong. Having insurance protects you and your budding business from lawsuits and other legal issues.

Do Fly Fishing Guides Get Paid More?

In some cases, yes. Fly fishing is somewhat more difficult to teach and learn than regular fishing. A fly fishing expert will not only charge more but will get tipped more after a successful trip. In addition, since fly fishing is done on a lot of rivers and mountain streams, there are additional logistics that may need to be accounted for prior to the next trip.

How Much Income Can I Expect From Tips?

Tipping culture can be a very confusing area for many people to navigate, but you can expect anywhere from 8% to 20% of the package cost in a tip. However, keep in mind that not all clients will offer a tip, and some will offer a tip depending on what they caught. If the weather was poor and your client had poor luck, you may not receive a very good tip.

What Happens if My Client Doesn’t Catch Fish?

Unfortunately, this does happen even to the best and most well-known fishing charters. Fishing is unpredictable and absolutely no guarantees can be made. The best you can do as a guide is take your clients to the most promising-looking spot, assist them in setting up the best presentation, and hope they catch something.

If a client fails to catch anything, it’s okay. While that will dampen the mood a bit, as long as you gave them some valuable teaching, guided them to some beautiful fishing spots, and spent the time being friendly and sharing fishing stories, it was a successful day.

How About if the Weather Makes It Impossible to Fish?

Weather is unpredictable and sometimes even an unforecasted storm can show up out of nowhere. If your clients’ fishing trip was ruined by an unexpected storm, you can offer to compensate for a later trip on another day or refund their package costs.

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AUTHOR
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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