So You Want to be a Musky Guide

By Roger Sabota

Each year while attending some of the many fishing shows or following a presentation at a Musky Club, I will be approached by several young fellows. The conversation will normally begin with a comment something like this. Gee, you live the ideal life. What do I have to do to make it as a musky guide? My response varies from time to time but usually takes a form something like a question about how much money he figures he needs to live on.

If the person who is inquiring is a young person, my first recommendation is that he first earns a college degree. As we discuss the concept of a degree the usual response is, But I don’t do school. All I want to do is hunt and fish?. I usually try to make the point that he will need a relatively good income in order to obtain the necessary equipment, and adequate boat and vehicle. Then there is the need to have a livable income while developing a client list. Occasionally I will suggest to a young fellow that he marry a lady who is extremely understanding (plus has an excellent job).

If you are one of those persons who are seriously considering quitting your job, moving to musky country and guiding full time, stop now and begin thinking seriously. Think about the musky guides who you know and how many of them are full time with no other sources of income. Not many of them are full time musky guides with no other source of income. Most of them have another business or an alternate income.

I have been guiding musky anglers for just over 25 years and truly enjoy the job most days. My interest in being with people and getting to know them is as strong as my interest in musky fishing. Although I have been guiding that long I have only been a full time guide for five years. Prior that I booked my guiding around teaching schedule. That full time job as a teacher allowed me to ease into full time guiding.

Frequently those persons who are discussing their dream point to Joe Bucher, who brought his wife and young son to Northern Wisconsin and made if as a fishing guide. Few of them realize that Joe and Beth managed a resort so they had a roof over their heads. Joe also wrote for several fishing magazines and was constantly presenting fishing seminars. These activities promoted his name so he could obtain bookings. He also affiliated himself with a bait and tackle shop, a Chamber of Commerce plus several resorts. Then too, he and his wife, Beth, started Bucher Tackle in the basement of their home. Yes, Joe Bucher made is as a fishing guide with a lot of work, the help of his wife and some superb timing.

Another point that must be considered is that working as a guide is very different activity from taking your buddy fishing. When you take a buddy fishing your expectations plus those of your buddy are normally to have a good time. When you are guiding you customers expect you to do your best to constantly have them on fish. They are paying you to do that.

When you are guiding it may be your 10th or 15th day in a row on the water with less than favorable weather conditions. For your customers it may be the day they have planned for over a year and they would like it to be special and memorable. It is the guide’s responsibility to do what ever is possible so that day on the water is special for his customers.

If you are buddy fishing and your buddy gets a professional overrun (back lash), it is normal to get all over is backside and remind him how poorly he is doing. When you are guiding you usually pick out the mess in the reel and try to set it up so your guest may have an enjoyable day of casting without that frustration.

A guide must go fishing in all kinds of weather, ranging from hot, still day in July, to the frequent cold fronts of August, to those windy, sleet filled days of October. A guide must go fishing on those days when customers are able to go fishing.

When I first began to guide people for musky fishing we used a fourteen-foot boat with a 7 ?-horse outboard and I rowed all day to keep my customers in areas where they had a chance to catch a musky. Today our customers expect us to have the latest electronic equipment plus an electric motor of sufficient size to hold a large, comfortable boat in any wind. They further expect their guide to have a variety of lures for any conditions plus a supply of rigged musky rods in excellent fishing condition.

A guide is in reality a teacher and the normal day is spent showing how and when to work a variety of lures while keeping the boat in position. A normal guide is spent answering questions about the usually unpredictable musky.

Back to the financial aspect of guiding. If you are indeed serious about becoming a musky guide, try to write down how many days you estimate you will be able to guide. In my area of Northern Wisconsin our musky season does not begin until the last week in May and is usually over by the second week in November. That gives us almost six months to guide. Next, multiply the number of days you estimate that you might guide times your anticipated daily rate. Will that be a sufficient amount of income for you?

You may believe that I am down on the business of guiding. I am not. Guiding has provided me the opportunity to meet some tremendous and extremely interesting people. Guiding is a people business that gives me the opportunity to be outside each day on some beautiful lakes and rivers. Guiding provides the opportunity for customers and guides to become good friends. Guiding provides the opportunity to learn about a variety of other geographic areas as well as life styles. Guiding also provides the opportunity to explore a number of different fishing techniques that do produce in other areas under a variety of conditions. I learn something about fishing form each person who fishes with me.

Guides, those who are successful and attract return customers, do not work an 8 to 5 schedule. At times they may start the day very early. At other times they may split the day with an early start a mid-day break and fishing with an evening of fishing. Normally the guide has an hour or so of work at the end of the day to get equipment ready for the next day.

When discussing guiding with young fellows, I also ask how they would publicize their guide service. In Wisconsin those who wish to guide must purchase a guide license from the state. Some states require guides to pass a performance test as well as purchase a license. If one intends to guide on the Great Lakes a Captain?s license is also required. The process of guide license does not automatically cause your phone to begin ringing with people looking for a guide. Of course the best way to build a client list is to have satisfied customers who will tell their friends that you are the person to hire.

Today, in the age of the Internet, many persons who want to get into the business of guiding are advertising their business through computers. The computer is changing all aspects of our lives. Many guides are getting known by potential customers by presenting seminars at Fishing or Sport shows. Presenting seminars at fishing club meetings is another way that aspiring guides may get the message out.

If you have that burning question knawing at you, Should I become a musky guide?, you might consider some of the items I have suggested. Even after some 25 years of guiding musky anglers there are times when I return home after a particularly difficult day on the water and say to my wife, Remind me why I want to be a musky guide. Or, there are those hot, calm afternoons when we are having very little action when I ask myself. Why do I want to continue doing this.

Following another musky season and several fishing shows where I have visited with customers it is easy to remember why I continue to work as a musky guide. Guiding is a job, perhaps no different from most other jobs, when some days are better than others. Will I continue to guide anglers for muskies? You bet I will. Just as long as it remains a challenge and continues to be fun.

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