The Guide Debate

Jeff Gustafson hoists one of his clients trophy pike caught in the fall. Photo by Tracey Chartrand

The Pros and Pro’s of Hiring Fishing Guides

Whether you want to target new species, familiar species in new water or just enjoy a day learning new things, there are many benefits to hiring a guide on your next fishing trip in unfamiliar territory.



Exploring new-to-you waters on your own can be rewarding and effective if you have a good idea of where to look but it can also be daunting and overwhelming. Having done both self-guided and fully guided trips on new waters, I can say both have their perks, but if you’re on the fence about hiring a guide on your next fishing trip to new territory, or even familiar, here are some reasons I’ve chosen guides in the past. 

Efficiency 

Though I’ve been successful in my self-guided trips, there was a key part missing, efficiency. Either I wasn’t getting on the fish as fast as I’d like, or I’d be catching them like crazy briefly then the pattern would change and I’d be at a complete loss. It is one thing to locate fish, it’s another to read them and be able to follow them in new waters.

Guided trips often mean a lot of double headers! Guided by Jeff Gustafson.

There are a ton of factors such as current, wind direction at that given time, structure and water temperatures. Did you know what water temps were yesterday, or even earlier that morning? I bet your guide did. 

It can mean the difference between success and a total bust and given how most fishing trips go, you only have limited time in a new area, it’s worth getting the step ahead. No time spent fishing is a waste, but if volume is how you measure success, a guide is a step in that direction. 

Drastic Changes

If you go far enough, say northern Ontario compared to central Ontario, fish behave differently. Vastly so.

Guides can help you decipher those changes and how to manage them properly. They’ll also let you in on the best hit lures and sometimes even share little tricks they use to custom rig them, such as splitting tails, using nail polish (yup) in certain patterns or even their superstitions that always seem to hold true.

A proud angler with a new-to-him species, his very first largemouth bass guided by Jeff Gustafson! Photo by Alyssa Lloyd 

With a guide, you’re also liable to catch a species you’ve never targeted before and that alone is super exciting to most anglers.

More than Coordinates 

If you’re the guy that records the coordinates your guide took you to, good luck. Guides know their water. If they took you to that spot that particular day at that particular time, there was a reason. It may have been an absolute gold mine while you were there, but an hour later a switch could flip and you won’t see another fish all day. 

Kenora guide, Dean Howard navigating his home waters of Lake of the Woods. Photo by Alyssa Lloyd. 

An old trick that’s helped me through life, and now even more so with fishing is to learn, not just memorize. Try learning from your guide, instead of banking off them, they are after all trying to teach you, you’re just not hearing them loud and clear. 

Listen 

This goes right along with the theme of knowing their water. If a guide tells you to do something a specific way it’s because it’s been successful 100 times before. They don’t just talk to talk. If they say “work this bait in this particular manner,” do it. If they say “cast towards this seemingly unappealing structure,” Do it. 

Don’t question them, they won’t lead you astray. You’re in their home waters now, they are knowledgeable and trying to pass something on to you, embrace it! After all, when in Rome.

A beautiful spring season laker still located in deep water. When they weren't in the shallows, the guide knew where to look! Photo by Alyssa Lloyd 

Guides have told me that if there is an experienced and a new angler in the same boat, 9 times out of 10, the new angler will out-fish the experienced one because they are willing to actually listen to advice given by the guide. Would you rather be stubborn or catch fish? Your choice. 

If you give them permission (and sometimes when you don’t) they will give you constructive feedback on your techniques and help you become a better angler. Guides are by far the best option for new anglers. A lot of them love to teach new people and introduce them to fishing. Even if you’re not a beginner, you can always learn more from other anglers, always. 

Fellow Sunset Country Staff member, Erin Rody guided to large pike by Jeff Gustafson. Photo by Tracey Chartrand

Being a Good Client 101 

  • Don’t be late ( but don't be too early ) 
  • Tip well, it’s a good way to establish an ongoing relationship with your guide
  • Listen, absorb and practice the advice they’ve given you. 
  • Don’t question them too much, if you’re curious, ask questions, but don’t insult their logic. It doesn’t have to make sense to you, new body of water, new tricks. 
  • Guides will never ask but they appreciate it more than they'll let on if you pack extra snacks for them.
  • Prepare for weather. Some guides have rain gear but it’s best to bring your own, plus any other layers (or lack of) you may need. 
New lakes, new species, new memories! Photo by Jeff Gustafson

Featured articles