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Written by Gary Lacey on October 12, 2021

When paddling or fishing on awesome new waters – whether on a 'bucket-list trip' or if you just want to truly max-out your precious limited time – a certified professional guide can make a world of difference in providing a safe and epic experience by leveraging their expert insights to enhance that investment. Even if you're a veteran angler or paddler, hiring the right guide can improve your chances of accomplishing your goal, because they likely have countless client trips where they've learned from trial and error and honed their approaches.

If you're a beginner, then a knowledgeable guide can also provide faster instruction and help instill confidence to help propel yourself into a new experience or passion.

How Do You Hire A Guide?

For some, the idea of hiring a guide may be intimidating, because of the uncertainty of what to expect. You may have questions such as "What do I look for in hiring a guide?" or "How much should a guide cost?" or "What gear does a guide typically include, and what should I bring?"

¬ What do you look for when hiring a guide?

First of all, in many places it's illegal to hire someone as a guide who isn't licensed by the state, so making sure the guide is licensed where the outing will take place is a good first step.

Conducting an online search for "licensed guides" in the state and region where you'll be conducting your excursion will likely produce some good leads and give you a chance to check out reviews, good or bad. It's always a good idea to hire someone intimately familiar with the area of water you plan to be on. Any legit guide should be able to confirm any pricing or trip package options via their website or printed marketing material.

If you're doing a local trip and you know people who are more experienced at paddling or kayak angling than you are, then you can ask them for guide recommendations. Look for a guide that, personality-wise, gives you good vibes with you or your group (if it's a group experience) because you will spend all day, or perhaps several days, with your guide.

A good, professional guide should make booking easy and simple, and their website should provide answers to frequently asked questions and clearly state pricing rates as well as the cancellation policy.

¬ What should a guide provide for gear and services?

A professional guide with sufficient client experience usually provides all of the necessary basic gear and supplies for your outing, except a fishing license – and that if it is a full-day outing, they most often will provide a lunch.

Also, consider "safety" when assessing what a guide should provide in terms of gear and services. Look for a guide who is experienced in first aid and has current, up-to-date certifications, as well as the basic necessary safety gear, such as a PFD and a first aid kit, while out on the water fishing.

Certain critical basic items you will definitely want to own yourself if you don't already, such as a hat with a brim to block the sun, a "sun jammer" to keep the sun, wind and bugs off your neck and face, a good pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes and help you see fish and underwater obstructions, and a good pair of water shoes is very helpful when getting in and out of your kayak.

In terms of skills-sets, you should find a guide who has knowledge of the target species you are hiring them to guide for. For instance, if your goal is to land a nice trout or salmon on the fly, you probably shouldn’t hire a guide who primarily fishes for bass with conventional tackle.

Some guides pride themselves in being proficient in many things, but if you're seeking a very specific type of experience, it's best to hire a guide who is an expert in that specialist activity – such as saltwater fishing, or paddling a more technical area of water, or fly fishing, for example.

¬ How much should I expect to pay for a day of guided activity?

Cost for hiring a good guide depends a lot on the activity. For instance, a day of fishing in a local trout stream may cost less per day than a guided tarpon hunting expedition in a highly trafficked tourist area, mainly due to the guide's added expense of producing such an experience and the competition for her or his time.

Generally speaking – and depending on the activity – most guides offer full and partial day options, and such rates absolutely vary geographically in the country, or elsewhere, where you will be conducting the activity; especially if the area has lots of tourists. Guided rates could start around $200-250 per person per half day and certainly go up depending on the activity, and whether you are fishing for certain species, and where you will be geographically and the difficulty level of getting to the activity location.

For chartered fishing trips, sometimes guides require a minimum or maximum group size (depending on the number and type of kayaks required, and the trip length) and may charge a group or per person rate.

Always keep in mind that while guides are hired to give you the best chance at catching your target species or seeing and experiencing things you likely wouldn't on your own, they cannot control the weather, or the bite, or the conditions. There is also never a guarantee of catching fish – even though they always drastically increase the odds of doing so – so if you have a rough day on the water, it's very likely not the guide's fault.

If your outing is hit by bad weather or unfortunate circumstances, consider asking them when might be the best time of year to book with them next time to increase your chances – and try and appreciate the fact that even a bad day paddling and fishing with friends is better than a good day of not doing so.

¬ What is the general etiquette when hiring a guide?

It is always good to understand your own ability level, physical abilities, and limitations, as well as those of your group who will be joining you. Be honest with your guide and let them know, so that they can make sure they quote you the right general cost and create the best and safest experience for you and your group – or even point you to another guide who may be more suited to your needs.

No matter whether you were successful or not in your guided outing, or if the weather cooperated or didn't, the guide's job is to leverage their years of knowledge and expertise to provide you with a safe and enjoyable experience outdoors – and it is generally a custom to tip the guide some amount in addition to their normal guided rate, since margins on trips are generally low when you account for equipment usage, and travel expenses, and other items. So if you had a good experience, regardless of weather and success, consider tipping your guide 15-20%, if possible.

In addition, positive reviews online and recommendations to others are the life-blood of guides and very important to their livelihoods so that they can remain guides, continue to improve their skill sets and knowledge bases, and provide other people with amazing experiences and memories which can not only create more paddlers and kayak anglers in the world, but also people who understand how important it is to keep our waterways and the outdoors clean and protected for future generations.

If you've never had a guided trip, then you're missing out on a truly amazing experience that will increase your enjoyment and skill as a kayaker! So, decide on a kayaking activity or experience that you've always wanted to have, and go Google a guide using the tips mentioned above, and let them help you craft the memory of a lifetime.