So You Want to Become a Guide?

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 By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA
Capmel.com site contributors and guides: Markham and Toney

Don’t know why, but right around this time of year, many get the itch to become a full-time fishing guide. Just think – being able to make your living out on the water – fishing! Sound’s like a dream come true. All you need is a captain’s license, a decent boat, some tackle – and you’re in business. Right? Well, there a bit more to it than that – as a matter of fact, a lot more.

First of all, you must realize that, in effect, you’ll be going into business for yourself. You will need to set up some kind of business structure — perhaps a corporation or, at least, a sole proprietorship.

As with any venture, you will be required to get insurance, file the necessary paperwork throughout the year and report all your income and along with necessary expenses. That’s the only way Internal Revenue will allow you to deduct those expenses.

Now that you’ve got all that taken care of, you’ll need one major ingredient to the success of your new guiding business – customers. There’s a common misconception that, once you set up shop, folks will beat down your door to hire you for a fishing trip.

Unfortunately, no matter how talented an angler you are, how beautiful and well equipped your vessel, nothing will happen until you get the word out. Yes, that means some form of advertising or promotion. Even then there’s a long period of developing name recognition before you get to the point where you can regularly count on folks calling you for fishing charters.

Many guides pay for ads in local fishing publications, take outdoor writers fishing in hopes of having articles written about them, do seminars when they are dead tired after a long day on the water. But it must be done if your are to succeed.

These days, several skippers spend hours at the computer, working on a Web Page, submitting it to Internet search engines and promoting links on other web sites in hopes of generating tourist business.

Then there’s the pro-staffer deal. If you are going to avoid spending all your profits on boats, motors, tackle, lures, etc. – you try to become a rep for the various fishing related industries that use guides to help hawk their product or service. This will often require you to spend some days at boat or outdoors shows, working a sponsor’s booth at a time you’d like to be sprawled out on the couch watching a ball game.

Once you take out a customer or two, you begin to realize that it’s a whole different ball game than fishing for fun. Your clients are plunking down a couple three hundred bucks, and they not only demand service – but some kind of fishing action. Some may bug the bejeebers out of you – with the way they use your tackle – or tossing bait into trees, or not following your fishing advice. Believe me, many of your customers will be ingenious in their ability to drive you nuts.

Be prepared for long days. Remember how, when fishing with a couple of buddies, you call it a day early? Forget about that. Your paying customers expect a full day for their money.

So you must get up before light, get everything ready and pick up your charter. Then, by the time you send them on their merry way, you still have to clean up the boat and tackle, flush the engine and have everything ready for the next trip. Once all that is accomplished, you pull into your driveway at dusk, ready to collapse. If you’re lucky, there’s another trip the next day and, yes, you must get to bed early.

Now you might have come to the conclusion that I’m trying to discourage you from becoming a fishing guide. Not at all. It is my goal to provide you with a reality check so that you go into it with both feet and your eyes wide open. Then you can decide whether you really want to give up your day job.