Things to Ask a Salmon Fishing Guide Before Booking

This is not to sound that I am trying to undermine any guide, and most of the time we have had some very good experiences. However there have been times when I wish that I had known more before I had gotten into the mess. After one such trip off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, where the outfitter went bankrupt, 2 of his skippers who had not gotten paid the year before split the outfitter’s following years bookings of 2 different areas and tried to cover the bookings for just the price of the balance due. We did not have a map of the area or even have decent directions for the marina, as we were still dealing with the ex-outfitter by e-mail and did not find out the truth until the 2nd day into the trip. And Port Renfrew is the end of the road where the hoot-owls make love to the seagulls.

Needless to say the skippers had not communicated with their ex-partner as to what the clients were expecting as far as the type of fishing we were interested in. Our skipper was guessing we would bring cash, and he would not a honor money order or cashiers checks made out to the outfitter who we believed was still running the show, but now lived in interior BC. Two of us had to borrow cash from the other fishermen to pay the balance owed for the trip. We had to be careful on where we ate to conserve money, and when we got back home, I had $2.36 Canadian in my pocket other than the un-cashed cashiers check. Total lack of communication and frustration on our part. Oh, and he double booked us with another party. We lucked out, but they got shoved off onto an older smaller slow boat and they were not happy at all.

His boat was a new 27′ aluminum, Volvo I/O, with lots of room as it was designed as a dive boat, his other business. This guide only used 2 rods for 4 fishermen, we drew straws and had to rotate. He only supplied knucklebuster reels. It was the last week of the season and the game wardens had went home. I asked if he minded if I took a GPS reading of one of the halibut spots we were at on Swiftsure Bank. His comment was “only if you do it behind my back”. I did just that and later found out that we were fishing inside the Canadian halibut closure zone.

The last morning he ran up the outside coast, but there were few fish and for the rest of the day he just trolled down the coast toward the home bay just killing time. He was using downriggers in 30′ of water with 10′ rods set out at 90 degrees to the side of the boat with the tip low near the water with the herring ran 60′ back off the clip. There was so much belly in the line and considering the long whippy rod that when a fish hit, by the time we got the slack out of the line the fish was gone 90% of the time.

With the fishbox low on fish, about noon, I asked if he had ever used a diver ahead of an Apex off the stern. His answer was no, and he would not know how to rig one anyway. He reluctantly agreed to let me try one, before the rest of the day was over, we caught 3 of the 8 salmon off my one rod, which he later did not even acknowledge. Mind you that I put my rod out 1/2 way thru the day. The only reason we limited is that he happened to find a underwater reef with a eddy at the entrance to the bay and when he trolled into this eddy getting close to rocks, then turned away, we hooked enough fish to limit the boat for the day. We came into the marina limited out which made it look good for him. That day, over 1/2 of the fish we caught were not because of his expertise. Sure he knew the area, but he his knowledge of salmon fishing did not rate real high on the list. He just happened to be in an area where there were numerous fish and we drug the bait in front of them. Sometimes even a blind squirrel finds an acorn.

Now I understand fishing is just that, otherwise they would call it catching. And if a guide tries many locations, lures, presentations and you still come up with a blank, if he really tries, I will give this guy credit with the fish or weather being uncooperative, as compared to just getting thru the day and take your money. Sure he doesn’t want to lose money, but in the long run, he will loose customers. And some customers may just know about as much as a mediocre guide, so before the day is over they can pretty well peg him. I have fished with numerous guides in the lower states and Alaska with the majority of them being VERY GOOD at what they do.

Sure you can go to a great website with glowing photos and testimonies, but remember they will not be telling you about the skunked days.

After the above Canadian incident, I came home and made up this list before I cooled off before my memory mellowed some. So possibly I got a little carried away in the process.


(1) How long have you been in business continuously as a guide?

(2) Do you have specific waters that guide on? Do you follow the fish? How far do you travel?

(3) How far in advance do I need to book a date?

(4) What size is your boat/boats?

(5) What is the age of your boat/boats?

(6) What is the size of engine/engines on your boat & how old are they, & do you maintain them?

(7) Is your trolling motor a 2 or a 4 stroke? (Less smoke with the 4 stroke)

(8) Do you brief the clients as to life jacket/fire extinguisher locations before departure?

(9) Do you brief the clients as to your fishing procedure & what to expect before departure?

(10) Do you ask input from the clients as to their fishing preferences prior to the booking if there is an option, or each day of the trip?

(11) What species of fish do you target?

(12) How many clients do you take out on your boat at a time?

(13) Does everyone have a rod, or do we share rods & rotate? How many rods do you run at a time?

(14) In your home waters do you normally troll, mooch, jig, backbounce, backtroll, or use bobbers?

(15) Do you supply the rods & reels?

(16) Do you use the long “noodle rods” & single action reels, common in Canada?

(17) Do you offer star drag & or Left Hand reels & downrigger rods as an option if the answer is yes to any of #15 above?

(18) Can I supply my own rod & reel if I am left handed & or bring gear that matches your requirements?

(19) What angle are your rod holders mounted for downriggers, & are they out to the side or basically straight up & facing rearward?

(20) What brand of downrigger do you use, & is it electric?

(21) How far back from the release clip, do you normally run the flasher for salmon?

(22) Do you run bait, or lures?

(23) Do you use scent on the bait/lures?

(24) Do you clean & provide for packaging & freezing of the clients catch if applicable?

(25) Do you supply the clients with a detailed map of how to initially find your location?

(26) Do you make provisions for client’s motel/cabin stays if applicable?

(27) Where do we meet you for a day of fishing, at a convenient location, our cabin or the dock?

(28) Do you supply rain gear?

(29) When is the departure time, & how long are we on the water?

(30) Do you offer some sort of a “Rain Check” provision for unfishable weather?

(31) Do you cancel a trip if the fish do not show, or do you “Tough it Out” & hope for the best?

(32) Do you have a maximum fuel allocation per trip?

(33) What is your guiding fee?

(34) Is your fee is based on how many clients per trip?

(35) Is this fee all inclusive or are there any extra hidden charges?

(36) What type of funds do you require?

(37) How much of a deposit do you require?

(38) When is the balance due?

(39) Can I bring my wife along as a non-fishing guest that stays ashore? At what additional fee?

(40) If we have a cancellation of one of our clients, can a new client be substituted, even at the last minute?

(41) Do you have a “Standby List” of names to fill in for a cancellation, who can come on a short notice at a reduced rate?

(42) Do you have a back-up guide in case YOUR boat/motor is disabled, or YOU have health problems?

(43) If fishing salt water do you have any crab pots that you offer your clients the use of?

(44) Do you stay abreast of any new fishing regulation changes?

(45) Do you have a e-mail & a web-page?

(46) Do you have a cell phone that we can contact you if need be?

(47) I realize that tips can be appropriate at times, is this the case with you, or do you incorporate tips into your fees?


I realize that I may well have gotten a bit carried away here, and you may piss off a guide by asking all the se questions, but you get the point. Don’t assume a thing !

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