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Getting the most from your guide

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Getting the most from your guide

Northern Ontario hosts more trophy muskie waters than anywhere else on earth, as these anglers discovered while fishing in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

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I've long had a soft spot in my heart for muskies. And with the season now officially underway in Northern Ontario the old ticker is once again beating with an extra dose of adrenaline, as are the hearts of many anglers -- especially those who have never tangled with a knee-knocking, Northern Ontario, big toothy critter.

Indeed, having the opportunity to host and fish with folks from around the world each year, I can tell you outright that the question I am asked most frequently, when we pull away from the dock is "Do you think I might catch a muskie?"

Of course, there is a better chance of doing it in Northern Ontario than anywhere else in the world, but I always remind the person asking the question that if they truly want to satisfy their quest to catch a muskie -- or a big bass, walleye, or other species -- the best thing they can do is hire a competent guide.

It is precisely what fellow outdoor writer and muskie fishing buddy, Wally Robins and I were discussing the other day.

"Most folks who hire a guide check references, pin down the best calendar period and know what gear they should bring,"Wally said, "and then they think their job is complete. Well, having fished with some of Ontario's elite guides, I would suggest that their preparation has barely begun."

As Wally wisely noted, every guide worth his or her salt wants you to be successful. Let's face it. It's a reputation builder for the guide and a sure-fire way for him to generate both repeat business and new customers.

Wally Robins proudly holds a gorgeous Ottawa River muskie he caught using a top water lure under the tutelage of guide John Anderson. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Wally Robins has caught many trophy muskies, like this beautiful fish, using the knowledge he has gained fishing with many of Ontario's top muskie guides. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

But what constitutes "success"?

"Is it catching a number of fish or landing the trophy of a lifetime?" Wally wonders out loud. "Do you want to learn new techniques or fine-tune the ones you already use? Or, do you simply want to enjoy a day on the water and let the chips fall where they may? Being clear about the day's goal is important not only for you, but for your guide as well."

Case in point: as good a muskie angler as Wally is -- and trust me, he is very good -- he was quick to point out that several times last season he hired famed Ottawa River muskie guide John Anderson, who operates the Ottawa River Musky Factory to teach him several new tricks-of-the-trade.

Spending time on the water with Anderson, also gave Wally a unique opportunity to pick the seasoned guide's brain about how anglers can get the biggest "bang for their buck".

First, and foremost is informing your guide about what specifically you want to do and learn. Anderson even goes as far as recommending guests email a list of questions and objectives to the guide a week or two before the trip. Not only will this enable him to understand your goals, it will allow him to "read the water" before you arrive and to tweak tactics and locations based on current weather conditions and fish behaviour.

Anderson says also, that if learning a new technique or tactic is high on your list of priorities make certain you tell the guide what it is you want to be taught. He chuckles, too, that when you do this, it is best to be honest about your ability level.

Most guides are experienced with a wide range of customers, from raw recruits to highly skilled veterans. If you are sub-standard with a jerkbait, crankbait or bucktail, be up front with the guide about your fishing abilities.

Here is something else that is mighty important. Be very clear about whether or not you want your guide to fish during your day together.

"Some customers want their guide to focus only on choosing locations, positioning the boat and recommending lures," Wally said. "But I prefer my guide to fish with me, and here's why -- I learn best through observation. If my guide is a better glide bait angler than I am, I can watch how he retrieves his lure, how he positions his rod and thus, improve my skills accordingly."

"There are also unexpected side benefits to having your guide fish with you," Wally said. "On one trip with John Anderson, I was targeting muskies by throwing top-water lures. While I was working my Top Raider along edges and across flats, I noticed that John's casts were splashing down on the opposite side of the boat. That aroused my curiosity. Anderson told me that his clients have far more success when a surface lure is not competing with any other bait. It is a subtle point that is now standard operating procedure in my boat when I am fishing for muskies with one of my buddies."

"To underscore the point, I caught my personal best musky, a beast measuring 53.5-inches by 23-inches, while chucking a top-water with John last year. Talk about the proof being in the pudding!"

Also, don't be afraid to ask questions. Anderson says your learning curve will skyrocket if you keep asking, "why".

Gord Pyzer displays a trophy muskie that weighed over 40 lb that he caught in Northwestern Ontario's Lake of the Woods while filming an episode of the In-Fisherman television show. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Why this spot? Why now? Why are we throwing bright colour lures (or neutral ones)? Why are we approaching this spot from this direction?

You're are not second guessing your guide's decisions, but rather, acquiring knowledge.

"I have yet to meet a guide who is unwilling to divulge what he has learned over the years, from the thousands of hours he has spent on the water," Wally told me. "So, to capture as much of that knowledge as possible, I carry a spiral notebook and pen in my tackle bag and jot down key points throughout the day."

"One question I always ask my guides is what they do when the fishing is brutally tough. Guides have to fish through blocks of unstable weather, transition periods and peak fishing pressure. They have to put fish in the boat when the rest of us struggle. I am fascinated to learn how they do this and I guarantee these nuggets of information will pay off handsomely for you down the road. Just as they always have for me."

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