In a nutshell, guiding is extremely difficult. Putting anglers on tough striper bites and having them grind it out successfully is so hard. Bottom line: someone is paying a lot of money, is probably a total novice and is expecting to catch serious fish. I hold myself to that standard. Day in and day out, this is the life of a kayak fishing guide.


A Day in the Life of a Kayak Fishing Guide

3:00 A.M.

Wake Up, Get Ready

I’ll get an extra five minutes out of my day if I ended up getting street parking close to my house the night before. That’s life in New York City. Lugging six rods and reels, drysuits, and other gear up and down my Brooklyn apartment is a daily routine. During the month of May, a 3:00 a.m. wake up is standard. The reality is I need to drive down to the boat yard, grab two or three kayaks and load them up onto my pickup truck.


 

kayak fishing guide Elias Vaisberg holds up a striped bass
The life of a kayak fishing guide doesn’t mean fishing, it means getting others into good fish every day. | Feature photo: Elias Vaisberg
4:30 A.M.

Weather Check, Unload Gear

I need to be ready to go and hit the water by 5:00 a.m. I always check the weather multiple times to make sure my strategy for the day is still feasible. I try to convey a sense of urgency on the phone the night before about an early start for any game fish as key to success. I also give myself 30 minutes for lateness and something to go wrong.

Luckily, I have a reputation of being a good bottom fisherman also. Fishing for fluke, porgies, and tautog rely more heavily on tides and wind condition and my wake-ups might be a slightly more modest 5:00 a.m. towards late June and July.

I face a typical two-hour cycle of loading and unloading every single day, especially if I am taking three boats out for the day. My customer might be well rested for the day, but even if I put five miles into my Hobie Mirage Drive the day before and I am physically shot, it doesn’t matter how tired or lazy I feel. Every day is 100% and my reputation is on the line.


5:00 A.M.

Hit the Water, Find the Fish

From the minute we meet in the parking lot and to the start of the urban and sloppy launch I am already providing loads of information. “This is exactly what we are going to do in this area and this is how we will catch our intended target.” If it’s someone out for striped bass this can get tricky since sometimes the window in which they will feed is extremely short. Also, physical ability is key. Even if I can handle the physical stress of chasing game fish…that doesn’t mean my student necessarily can.

Striped bass will typically be my most popular target, and unfortunately for me in the last two to three years they have become the most difficult to consistently catch. My student then has to learn a few years’ worth of experience in a few minutes. Most people have never caught a keeper bass or a good fluke, and that’s what I was hired for. I’ll typically fish very closely with my student at our first drop.

My intent on fishing is very different than the student: I am just making sure our target is there. Although it isn’t preferred, if I hook up with the first fish, credibility and confidence are established. After I put one bass or fluke into my kayak 100% of my attention goes back on my customer. I know the fish are there and now I move onto the next step. If my customer gets first stab at the fish, even better.


6:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

Get Client Their Personal Best

This is where things can get tricky. Explaining to someone who has never been in a kayak how to multitask while a current is making them lose ground. Or, explaining how to gently work a one-ounce bucktail along the bottom in 40 feet of water. I can stress certain things over and over, like mastering the hookset or not letting too much line scope out, but at the end of the day I can only reinforce positive behaviors in a challenging fishing environment.

How do you explain how to set the hook into a striped bass when the customer has never experienced the power of one running with your live pogy? You only have seconds to do all the right things, because some days it’s one special fish that makes or breaks the trip. One of the biggest challenges I find myself facing a few times a year is when the bite dies in an area. On a kayak, I don’t have the luxury of motoring off to a different body of water like a charter boat.

A lot of thought goes into every single day and where I am going to launch. I don’t tell my customers where we are meeting until the night before, especially when things are in transition. Picking up and relaunching is a lot of work, but I’ve done it. Covering an extra five miles might be the better reward at times, too.

You must have a backup strategy for any time of year, because sooner or later the strategy you were banking on will go bust. Most commonly, either the fish have moved off or you are swamped with other anglers. Once again, you can’t motor off somewhere else, so you must have Plans B through Z ready to go.


6:30 P.M.

Debrief, Re-Rig, Prep for Tomorrow

At the end of the day, I believe that if you have an amazing fishery that can provide catching opportunities five to seven days a week, eight months a year, then yes, maybe you should consider being a guide. I don’t have a good fishery, but I built my reputation on consistency, being well rounded with different species and catching fish that were thought to have “left for the season.”

However, my passion never left. I never got into this to make money, and I am probably actively fishing for myself about the same amount as when I was working a full-time job. But 99% of the time it works out, and I am photographing someone else’s trophy. After that it’s time for me to relax and finally wet a line also.

The life of a kayak fishing guide doesn’t mean fishing, it means getting others into good fish every day. | Feature photo: Elias Vaisberg

 

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