I see many newly minted guides online these days and want to congratulate each one for their perseverance and knowledge. The process has become more standardized in the roughly 40 years since I first got my license but no less daunting, Well done to each of you and proud to have you join our ranks. You have demonstrated a knowledge of Maine’s environment, fish, wildlife, and safety considerations that only a few possess.
Some things that you should know now that you are a guide. A guide’s license represents a huge trust and a responsibility to the resources you depend on and the safety of those that make use of your services. An important part of that is to make sure that your equipment is in top working condition. I have more than once hired a guide to help on a group trip and have them without a working outboard. It can happen to any of us but do your best to make sure it is not you. Nothing spoils the fun like not knowing if you will be able to return to the starting point. I'm not perfect here; even had a fuel pump go in the truck at the start of a multi-day canoe trip but was able to piece it all together. Still do your best to make sure everything works as it should!
There are few full-time guide positions and of those none that I know of that pay a decent wage. Got a request one time to apply to be a guide from a well-known retailer; the pay would be just over minimum wage and the hours sporadic. Most guides work as independent contractors which means you will be operating a small service-based business. There is a lot more to running a business than most know and at the beginning is the best time to seek advice on making the decisions that will shape your business for (hopefully) years to come. Like any small business you need to know your costs or at least have a good guess before you can figure out what you need to charge for your service. The marketplace does not care if you are profitable and will love it if you undercharge. In fact, most will be delighted to have you subsidize their outdoor recreation or business operation. The expenses of guiding can be and are significant also frequently not obvious to the uninitiated. Many costs have more than tripled over my career causing me to have to raise rates just to keep up. Still there are no wealthy guides unless you count the other things that they amass over a lifetime that are not measured with money.
You are not in a business that is about fish wildlife or nature. Those things are important, to be sure but you are first and foremost in the people business. Clients come to you with the skills that they have and want you to make them as successful as possible which really means having the best time you can arrange. Most if not all overestimate their skills or have issues that will make an activity difficult for them. Some are very good at what they are with you to do but most are not. People are also not used to being outside in the weather in these days and that can be a challenge on even a short trip like my half days. Mostly my advice is that they are here to have a good time get out of the way and let them have it. Within the bounds of safety and the law. My favorite version of this is the 10-minute expert, been on the water here for only a few minutes and is now asking my why are we not fishing over there? Great let’s go see what we can do over at that spot.
Being in the people business though does not mean that you do not have an obligation to the conservation of our natural resources. That obligation can be fulfilled with your time talent or treasure. You can donate to groups that focus on specific species of wildlife or fish. Ensuring that your clients have licenses for fishing or hunting is a direct way to support conservation of those resources in Maine. A broader scope would be to support land conservation in general. All of these support the goal of passing forward an environment better than we found it. Always take a moment to see where the groups stand on guiding; many conservation groups do not support guides and even our own groups sometimes only support certain types of guides or a certain agenda. Nuff said.
I want you to be aware that guiding is the most dangerous profession in the country. Don’t believe me? Check out this article online from CBS
A few things to be aware of from the long term perspective. Some of the injuries are not obvious. My hearing started to fail in my late 50’s and I required hearing aids by my early 60’s. At least partly a result of having clients shooting while I was close by. I remember coming home from a really good duck hunt and not being able to hear at all for the rest of the day. Less severe impacts over a long career guiding grouse hunters and running a variety of outboard motors have also had an effect, I am sure. I have been stuck with fishhooks more times than I could count; most of those were simple to remove and only a couple over the years required medical assistance to get out. Two points; first always wear glasses when fishing. A hook in the eye could be a game changer. Second remember to factor at least one medical visit into your pricing. I have also been shot by a client while bird hunting and still carry 8 or so pellets (well over 100 were removed) from that one. Long story that I have told many times but truly an accident. Over the years I have also been struck by stray pellets but none drawing any blood thankfully and one accidental discharge that was a lot closer to my feet than I like to think about. Again, wear glasses to protect your eyes and begin every trip with a very serious safety discussion. I have also been bitten by a client’s dog bad enough to require a visit to the emergency room for stitches.
An observation that those who really do cause you injury will simply fade into the world, and you won’t hear from them again. Embarrassed? I imagine. Fearing a lawsuit? Perhaps. The reality though is that I have not heard from the client who shot me in a very long time and never have heard from someone who buried a fishhook in me let alone had them book another trip. The outfitter that I was guiding for when I was shot has not once asked about any long-term effects.
Successful guides are usually not showy the guide patches we were all so proud to get are not usually worn. We all have one and it does not come out often. Certainly not on trips to the grocery store in town where I see the newest ones. I can only think of a few times when someone saw me somewhere, asked for my card and later booked a trip with me. It has happened to me but maybe only twice in 40 years.
On the upside, which far outweighs any negatives, I have been able to earn a living for a remarkably long time showing others my part of the world and as a result got to see and understand that world in ways that are simply not possible until you have done something or been somewhere a hundred times. The mystery is still there, most summers I catch a few fish from a place where I know I have not seen one for years. Sometimes a thunderstorm appears from a place i was not expecting it. All adds to the interest if you ask me.
The biggest positive about guiding is the folks I have been able to spend time with and see my world through their eyes. That perspective makes me appreciate it every time; even on trip 100 for the season. Another great thing is being part of a success like the fish of a lifetime or a first, my favorite is someone catching their first fish.
Over the years more than a few clients have become friends and have given me the privilege of spending time with them, their kids and now their grandkids. It is a real joy to relate a story to a couple of youngsters about something that their parent did with me when their parent was their age a very long time ago. It is a similar pleasure to see my own kids take up guiding each in their own way. I especially love getting a call from a client i have not heard from in years telling me what a great time they had with me and could I possibly fit them in this year? Have not spent time with them for a while but we are still friends.
Guiding has been a source of pride and pleasure throughout my life welcome all of you to the fun!