A guided trip into the outdoors can be a wonderful experience. The vast majority of guides and outfitters are true professionals who do a great job but it’s important to know exactly what you are getting into.
It’s sportsman’s show season and you’ll find all sorts of guides offering all sorts of trips at these shows. The nice thing about attending a sportsman’s show is that you can literally compare trips between competing guides. Many look merely at the cost of the outing but cheaper is not always better. For example, a cheaper trip might mean you are on a large boat (commonly referred to as a party boat) with 12 or more fellow anglers where you are attended to by a Captain and a single deckhand. Not exactly personalized service and a select few anglers with a hot hand may well fill up the boat with a limit of fish before you reel in one or two yourself. On the other hand, two people on board a boat with a fishing guide will by design get much better service and attention.
An important question to ask of any guide or outfitter is how many client trips they do a year. You will quickly find there is a sharp divide between part-time and full-time guides. There are a lot of guides out there who are essentially weekend warriors who have a different job during the work week. Generally speaking, any fishing guide who says they offer less than 90 trips a year is not a full-time guide. This doesn’t mean they are not good guides, but the guide who spends 200+ days on the water is probably more dialed into what the fish are doing and how they are behaving on a daily basis.
Another important thing to consider is the personality of the guide or outfitter you are booking a trip with. Most guides don’t yell at you if you lose a fish or miss a strike but there are a few out there known to do that. The vast majority of guides and outfitters are truly “people persons” who really cater to their clients and provide excellent customer service. In fact, some of the most enjoyable days I have had on the water or in the field have been with guides despite slow hunting or fishing.
YOUR EXPERIENCE AND FITNESS LEVEL:
A lot of people are intimidated about booking a trip with a guide, thinking they need to have a healthy body of experience before they do so. Don’t think this way. Professional guides will tell you most of their clients have very little experience (especially as anglers) and they will also tell you they like that because unlike us experienced “know it alls” on the boat, inexperienced clients actually listen to their guide and do what they are told to do. This goes a long way towards explaining why the “new” anglers often end up with the biggest fish.
The same goes for outfitters offering horseback trips into the backcountry. Many of their riders have little to no experience riding and the horses used by professional outfitters tend to be gentle, predictable steeds that are not easily rattled.
Something else to consider, especially if you are booking a big game hunt, is your fitness level. Hunting can be hard work, requiring lots of hiking along ridges as well as up and down mountains. If your body is not up to the task, the likelihood of you succeeding with your hunt is very poor. This is probably the number one complaint I have had from big game hunting guides when it comes to not being able to help them fill their clients tags for deer, elk, mountain goats, bear or bighorn sheep. A lack of stamina and physical fitness is not the fault of the guide, that’s all on you so be honest with yourself before booking one of these trips and ask honest questions of your outfitter regarding this subject.
THE TIME OF YEAR:
Last but not least, the time of year matters too whether you are fishing, hunting or just booking a stay at a lodge. The shoulder seasons tend to be cheaper but the weather and the hunting or fishing can be variable. If you have the money, hold out for a trip during the height of the season but if you are more into the experience than potential success, a shoulder season trip might be a good investment for you!
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