St. Simons Fishing

so you want to be a fishing guide...

If you're like me, you have wanted to get paid to fish and do it for a full time living for most of your life. To be honest, I never thought that the demand was high enough in my area of the world to do it beyond a part time gig. Man was I wrong.

It has actually been quite the opposite. We run in the neighborhood of 150 trips per year, and given that 70% of them are from May to September, we really work our butts off in the Summer season.

I guide out of St. Simons Island, Georgia which is a small tourist destination when compared to St. Augustine, the Florida Keys, Charleston, Savannah, and other more widely known vacation spots in the southeast. The opportunity has certainly been here though as the next thing that most people think of when they are on the coast after the beach is fishing.

There are some things that I definitely did not expect to encounter while I was contemplating going from fishing tournaments to being a full time guide.

The first thing I found out was that there is hardly enough time in the day for what needs to be done. I wake up hours before daylight to go down to the boat to get fuel, bait, ice, and get rigged up for the day. Then I check the weather... again... to see if anything has changed.

I pick up my party for the day, and this is where you have to do some quick thinking. You can't tell over the phone what kind of people you will have. They may be elderly, in bad health, very young, highly experienced, inexperienced, and they all have different expectations. I have to get to know them a little bit and tailor my plan to suit their needs, and that plan may or may not be plan "A". I try to make sure that I do everything I can to make their trip as successful as possible according to their expectations, abilities, and skill level.

Then we get to fishing. After riding to the fishing grounds and possibly stopping for bait along the way we get down to what we came to do. We give a quick briefing on how to operate the equipment and what to expect when a fish gets on the hook. Sometimes it takes a while for customers to get into the rhythm of the operation. You have to decide how much instruction to give. Some people want to be left alone and others want to be taken through each step in detail. The main thing is to make sure that they are able to relax and enjoy themselves. Barking at them to set the hook or keep their slack out of the line is not a good idea. Sometimes they miss fish or lose them and there is nothing you can do short of taking the rod and doing everything for them, but that isn't what they came to do. You have to know that you have put the right equipment in their hands, in the right spot, with the right bait and try as hard as you can to get their fish to the boat. They might blame you for their mistakes, and your best bet is to suck it up.

Let's say that you get to your first spot and look at your depth finder to see that there are fish stacked up under the boat. They drop down and catch several fish on your first drift and you are happy to know that the day is starting well. Then the question comes... "are we going to catch anything (bigger) (smaller) (easier to reel in) (insert anything you can imagine). You have to now either convince them that you should stay in that spot or violate one of the main rules of fishing... don't leave fish to find fish.

You go to another spot and find some more fish. They are filling up the fish box but still aren't satisfied. Then they tell you what they really want to do... catch a Marlin or a Swordfish or something that is not realistic. You know that you told them over the phone what you would be targeting, but they expect something different. Despite an outstanding day, they are left wanting more.

Now for the good ones. They get in the boat and immediately start cracking jokes and talking about how happy they are to be away from the office. They ask how the fishing was yesterday and compliment your boat. You head out in search of fish but don't find them right away. You reassure them that you will find them and they remind you about how happy they are to be there no matter what. Finally you find the fish and share some high fives and you can feel the pressure leave your body. They shower you with compliments and tell you how great of a fishing guide you are... and best of all they give you a decent tip.

Then you get back to the dock. You take a few pictures and clean and bag their fish for them. You recall a few of the good stories of the day and laugh about them. They hand you their money and you almost feel guilty for taking it because now you see them as friends and not just customers.

You wash the boat and clean your equipment. You cut off your wasted rigs and gather the empty beer cans from the cooler or wherever else they might have tossed them. You scrape the cheese sandwich that someone dropped out of the non skid.

By now it is late afternoon and you think it's time to go home. But you have to stop by the tackle store and pick something up. You spend a little of your hard earned money and start home. On the way you call some of the other captains to see how their day went. Some will have a good report and others will tell you an unbelievable story about crazy people that did this or that.

You get home and check your email and voicemails and spend an hour or so returning messages. Then you update your fishing reports and download pictures from your camera of the days catch. Marketing is a never ending job and should get a portion of your time every day.

You scarf down some food because all you have had time to eat all day is a pack of peanut butter crackers. Your wife tells you to get in the shower because you smell like a combination of rotten fish and death. You sit down on the couch for a little family time but quickly fall asleep sitting up and wake up to start all over again. Seven days a week like this. You have to do it while you can because when the season is over you don't want to have left a single dime on the table.

Now there are some other things that happen from time to time. You have several trips on one day and one of your boats has an issue. It might be the engine, the gps, or any number of things. Now you have to figure out how to get those people on a working boat. You rush to fix the issue but find that you have to wait several days for a part and you don't have time for that. You call the other captains that you trust to see if they are available to take your people out. They aren't because they are good at what they do and stay booked. Now you have a dilemma... cancel the trip or roll the dice on a captain that you aren't sure about. I advise to cancel the trip after you have done your best to reschedule. You don't want to be the guy that puts someone in the boat with Capt. Gilligan.

Another big, big issue is weather. You have a group that is driving or flying in just to fish with you, but the weather is questionable. It might be fine but it might be a total washout. You talk to them and they put the ball in your court, of course, because you're the captain. You tell them to plan of fishing only to get to the boat and see that the weather is horrible. They are here to fish and you don't think it's safe or worthwhile. They can't reschedule and they have taken two days off from work and spent a lot of money traveling. There is no protocol for handling this. You might find a way to fish in safer waters, but you might just have to apologize profusely.

Sometimes the weather is safe but less than desirable. Imagine seeing that the seas are going to be choppy and you know that the day will be uncomfortable. Then your customers show up and some of them are barely able to step into the boat, how are they going to handle rough seas? Or they have two giant coolers full to the top with every beer you can imagine and they started drinking when they got out of their car. You tell them that the weather is not great today but they assure you that they still want to go. Five minutes after getting to the first stop all you see are butts in the air as the vomit all over the side of your boat. You offer to go in, but they don't want to. Guess what... it's going to be a long day cap'.

Being a fishing guide will also provide you with no shortage of friends. By friends  I mean people that never call you to see how you are or how your family is doing. They call and the first thing they want to know is how the fishing has been. Or they want some advice about this or that. Have they ever booked you? No. Have they offered a million times to pay for gas if you take them fishing? Oh yeah. Be careful about how many of these friends you allow into the circle. Part of your job, let me say it this way, if you aren't a jerk part of your job will be talking to people about fishing techniques and patterns and that sort of thing. You don't have to be secretive, but be careful about being taken advantage of.

Charter fishing for a living is the best job in the world. Don't let some of these negative attributes of the business steer you away from giving it a shot. Just know ahead of time that the weather isn't always perfect, the fish don't always bite, the customer isn't always cheerful, equipment fails, and if all goes well you will be exhausted.

I'll leave you with some of my favorite customer quotes.

"I don't like fishing, that's why I brought my Blackberry."

"These fish are too big, is there something smaller? These fish are too small, is there something bigger? I've caught plenty of Tarpon before and we've caught too many sharks, what else can we do?" (all during a 4 hour shark trip that turned into a Tarpon bonanza)

"You can't drink all day if you don't start first thing in the morning!"

"I used to be a guide."

"Jellyfish!!!" (A kid screamed this while fighting a monster shark. Hilarious!)

Customer 1 "I dropped my cigarettes overboard" Customer 2 "I have some more" Customer 1 "That pack had my special cigarettes"

Customer "Is that a Grouper?" Me "No. It's a Whiting."

Tight lines!