- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
By James Drake
I may not have seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot of it when it comes to fishing guides and charter boat operations.
But I will tell you this: You can be absolutely certain it runs the gamut exactly like the title of that old Clint Eastwood movie, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
I know of one large fishing business that was truly ugly. These people ran a small fleet of charter boats and also had one, much larger headboat. That headboat typically sails with 20 or more anglers aboard. On the other hand, charter boats usually have a far smaller number of anglers, usually around six.
One morning their headboat had engine trouble and couldn’t leave the dock. Instead of refunding everyone’s money or offering an exchange trip at a later date, more than 20 anglers were ushered onto one of the far smaller charter boats that were available.
So many anglers on such a little boat had slim or no chance for a good day of fishing. That smaller boat might have been U.S. Coast Guard approved to carry 35 people, but it just wasn’t designed to let so many comfortably fish.
I imagine these poor anglers had a miserable time in such close quarters and probably spent more than half their available fishing time untangling lines with their neighbor. I saw this happen with my own eyes.
Once, my daughter and I were fishing a grass bed in the Potomac River. We were doing pretty well, catching nice bass from one little finger of the grass. All of a sudden, another bassboat came roaring up to us, the big engine was cut and a trolling motor quickly went over the side.
Two anglers aboard started casting to the exact spot where my daughter and I were casting. Their boat was positioned maybe 15 or 20 feet in front of us and they had just so ignorantly cut us off from the fish.
One of those guys I had never seen before, but the other one was a well-known Potomac River bass guide and tournament angler himself. You can bet we exchanged words. To this day, I go out of my way to avoid that bad-mannered slob.
Then, just a few weeks ago, on a trip up to Maine, I hired a local fishing guide there for an afternoon of a little smallmouth fishing. This trip was for my wife, daughter and I. I found this licensed guide through a search on the Internet.
We were to meet at 3:30 p.m. in a large, well-known parking lot in the city of Augusta. When he didn’t show up at 3:45 p.m., I called his cell.
“Running a little late with the Augusta traffic,” he said. We went through that same Augusta traffic and had arrived 15 minutes early.
When he finally showed up, the three of us parked our ride and transferred into his tow vehicle for the short trip to the lake. The seats of his truck were covered in dog hair. As we had agreed, we used his fishing equipment. The rods and reels were fine, but upon feeling my line, going up several feet from the lure, it was covered in nicks and burrs.
All afternoon, my daughter had a hard time with line twists and my wife lost a really nice bass because her line simply broke under the strain. She wasn’t doing a single thing wrong. All the equipment we were using badly needed new line spooled onto the reels.
All those things being late, dog hair-covered seats and old line are absolutely inexcusable for any professional fishing guide.
When I step aboard a charter boat or into a guide’s bassboat, I want to see everything clean, as in surgical-theater clean. If it’s a charter boat and we’re going to chunk for rockfish using the boat’s rods and reels, those reels should be fully spooled and the line fresh. Fish guarantees aren’t important to me.
I really have fished with a lot of guides, from Florida to Maine, and just going out and having a good time, seeing new things, learning a different technique or sharing a few laughs can make a most enjoyable trip without ever catching a single fish.
Of course, catching fish is a whole lot better than not catching, and I honestly can’t think of a single time on a paying trip where we didn’t catch something.
After we returned from Maine, I asked two local professional bass guides I know well and recommend without hesitation for their thoughts on a guide’s fundamental responsibilities.
Andy Andrzejewski with Reel Bass Adventures (301-932-1509) said, “Be on time, in fact be early. I like to be at the ramp and have my boat in the water ready for my clients to get out of their car and step into my boat. Be professional, in appearance and actions. Provide quality equipment for your clients. Discount rods, reels and lures have no place in my boat. Boat and equipment should always be well maintained, including all safety equipment.”
Ken Penrod, with Life Outdoors Unlimited (301-937-0010) said, “Know your water and species intimately. Be brutally honest as to expectations. Dress well, be clean, maintain all equipment and tackle as if you were entertaining VIPs every day. Teach, teach, teach.”
Penrod also added, “I have always taught my guides that my definition of a good guide is the man that worked with his clients all day long and they never caught a fish, but the clients asked at the end of the day about how soon they could schedule another trip."
In Southern Maryland, we have lots of choices about where we spend our money for a good time on the water, but anybody can hang up a guide’s shingle.
To be a certified guide, Maryland only requires certain things like the right licensing, CPR and first aid training, proper Coast Guard qualifications, things like that. Being a real professional, knowing how to catch fish and being competent in all fishing matters doesn’t factor into it.
To find a guide you’ll be happy with, ask around; certainly ask your friends about their own experiences. Go to the big winter boat/outdoors shows and you can meet many of the area guides and charter captains in person. Spend a few minutes chatting and get to know them better.
After all, it's your money. Spend it wisely.
Readers sometimes send me emails asking about charter boats or fishing guides and I’m always happy to answer or offer specific recommendations. I assure you, I care a lot about my own reputation and would never suggest anyone I’m not 100 percent certain will give you a quality experience. I also know who not to recommend.
Huge blue cat
Chris Dollar at the Capital Gazette first reported on fisherman Ed Jones of Aloha, Ore., who recently caught an 84.28 pound blue catfish from the Potomac River near Fort Washington. Jones was fishing with Capt. Josh Fitchett, who operates River Catin’ guide service.
The old Maryland record for blue catfish was 80.12 pounds, caught just last February, also from the Potomac.