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Here in Montana, guides and charters are big business due to the abundance of our lakes and rivers and their strong hatch every spring. Because of this, we have outfitters/guides to spare so to speak. In Hamilton, for example, you’ll see three fly fishing outfitters at the same intersection – it is kind of crazy.
There are many different things you should consider when considering some extra help fishing and we are going to discuss that here. I love outfitting because it is a great local source of revenue for the area and if you are unfamiliar with the area, it really helps to have a local assist you.
The benefit of hiring an outfitter or charter guide is that you will get the local knowledge and expertise that can make a difference between a so-so outing and a great day of fishing. These are the folks that have probably been fishing the local waters since childhood and have all the information you need. This does not make everyone a perfect fit though.
So how should you shop for a charter or outfitter? To answer that question, you must ask yourself what you are looking for, and you need to consider a few extra things as well. Let us look at a few different things to keep in mind when considering some help with your fishing adventure.
Fishing Charter vs. Fishing Guide/Outfitter
Let’s get started by first clearing up some differences between the two. One thing I have heard is that there seems to be some misunderstanding between these two operations, and I will clear the air and explain. Charter boat fishing generally means a larger boat typically whereas a guide or outfitter may only accommodate a small party.
Charters are often more prevalent in coastal areas such as Anchorage Alaska, for example, and smaller operations may operate the inland waters with smaller vessels, however, I say that loosely. However, I have seen large vessels charter a river too.
A charter can accommodate more people which is great for a family trip whereas an outfitted trip may be appropriate for you and a buddy only. A more personalized experience can typically be found with the little outfitter which folks often claim was what made the trip.
Which you end up choosing depends on what you are looking for in your trip and both are excellent choices. I enjoy the smaller experience so an outfitter to take me to fly fishing the Bitterroot River here at home suits me just fine.
6 Charter and Guide Hiring Tips That Will Set You Up for Success
1. A Great Experience Starts With Good Communication
One reason people leave unsatisfied with a charter or guide service is that there was poor communication. If you do not explain in detail what you want from your trip, the outfitter has nothing to work off. Just be open and explain to them what you want when you visit.
I have heard of people calling and demanding the world from these folks, and you would be surprised to hear that many of them will try to make just about anything happen for you. But you must understand that they cannot do everything and if it’s outside their skillset, they usually will send you to another outfitter or charter that can do it.
In busier areas where tourism is dominant, you can expect to find them very booked and because of this, clear communication includes booking early. There are some highly recommended outfitters here in Montana that can at times be two seasons out in terms of getting a spot, so consider that as well. Make good, early communication a priority and you will most likely have a great experience.
2. Prepare for All Aspects of Your Trip
One thing that you will find is the frustration of understanding the town you are staying in during your trip. Now here in Montana, our towns and even our cities are relatively small, so this may not be a huge deal here, but in larger cities, you should get the lay of the land before making the trip.
Consider hotels and where they are in relation to the outfitter or the place you are meeting. Perhaps consider arriving a day early and just enjoying the town and stopping by the outfitter to make a detailed plan for the next day.
Make sure your licensing and other legalities are in proper order before traveling as well. I remember a few years ago a trip north to Canada and having to get ready to just get across the border. I was happy that I was prepared for the trip and that preparedness saved me quite a bit of time.
3. Charters and Guides Are a Wealth of Local Information – Use Them to Your Advantage
This one ties in naturally to our first tip. Reach out to the charter before you arrive on the local scene. They live there year-round and will know where not to eat, stay, shop, etc. Rely on them for just about everything you will need to know.
You are likely going to learn a thing or two in terms of technique from your guide and that is a part of the experience. I use a few tricks myself that I learned from a guide when I was a kid. Absorb this information and use it to make things go smoothly.
Get to know your guide. Learn their story and you will likely make a friend. You are going to spend some time in a boat with them possibly so might as well get cordial with them. I have heard some wonderful stories from folks who fish for a living and I am sure you will too.
4. Understand Seasons and Rates
Rates can vary and they almost always go up during peak seasons such as during the hatch in the spring. Some guides have little openings during this time, as we spoke about earlier, book ahead. One thing that I see often is folks booking off-season trips.
Here we have ice fishing guides in the winter and that is quite popular. Many outfitters here close shop in the off-season, but some stay open or shift their focus to the hunting season and the upcoming rut.
Often, you can book these off-season times for a much cheaper rate depending on the location and conditions. If you are looking to have a good fishing trip on a tighter budget, consider looking at trips throughout the entire year rather than just peak season.
5. Take the Time to Read Customer Reviews
This may be the most important aspect of choosing the outfitter or charter company for your trip. Thoroughly look at reviews and really take the time to dig deep. Most outfitters will have customer reviews on their website.
These reviews on their site are what I call “rave reviews”, meaning that they are all the nicest of the nice. Lok elsewhere online for the reviews that are not as nice. Do not be discouraged by a few bad reviews either, always remember that you cannot please everyone.
The best advice I can give you is to look for a highly recommended outfitter or charter company that has a few blemishes. Also look at the bad reviews, specifically because you will laugh at some of the silly things people complain about, like the weather for example.
6. Make Sure the Charter or Outfitter Is a Fit for You
Outfitters and charter companies will almost always display packages on their site or at least a general idea of what they offer specifically. Read this information very thoroughly and always call and talk to them. If it’s a deep-sea tuna safari you’re looking to do, for instance, hire a charter that specializes in it.
Make sure that they are going to satisfy your needs. Often, customers arrive, do the whole trip, and leave disappointed because it was not how they imagined it in their head. I would argue that this can be avoided with due diligence and research.
If an outfitter cannot offer what you are looking for, ask them who they would recommend in the area. They will usually have a shortlist of outfitters in the area that can be more specific to your needs. Most outfitters are happy to get your needs met, even if it means referring you elsewhere. Just make sure you inquire with them to get the info.
Making Lasting Connections and Memories
Hiring someone to take you somewhere exclusive is a great way to have a wonderful trip and make sure you make memories that last. Consider the details we have spoken about above when choosing and you can be sure to have a good time.
Booking charters and outfitters is a great way to help local businesses where you visit. Because of the local vibe of your outfitter, you are sure to have a personalized experience that you will not forget. Many people who take a guided trip come back to the same company again and again.
Enjoy a trip where most of the technical choices and difficulties are taken care of and simply focus on the joy of the journey. Outfitters usually make more than money doing what they do. They are very often passionate about what they do, and they enjoy their job when you enjoy your trip.
Be sure to relax, enjoy yourself and not over worry things. Guided fishing is supposed to be a fishing vacation with some of the work taken out so remember to simply enjoy the moment.
On a guided fishing trip there is so much more to take in than just catching fish, and if you allow it to be, it will be a trip that lasts a lifetime.
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