This past spring, I set out to try and use my experience—plus an extensive collection of fishing kayaks and gear—to work locally as a kayak fishing guide. What followed was an education not in fishing, but in running a small business. Here is some useful advice to follow if you, too, are considering working as a kayak fishing guide in your community.
How To Become A Kayak Fishing Guide
First and foremost, set your financial expectations low. No one is going to get rich being a part-time kayak fishing guide, especially if you paddle in public waters and target relatively common fish. Salmon guides who operate out of high-end resorts can charge $500–$1000 per day, but your average recreational fishing guide has to be more affordable. My only financial goal starting off was to have my obsession with kayak fishing pay for itself. My earnings go toward new equipment or replacing items that wear out, break or get lost.
Next, be sure to keep your work/life balance in check. I work full-time as a software engineer, and combined with my responsibilities as a husband and parent I can only offer guiding services on a part-time basis. Even with the reduced availability, this means passing up on weekend family outings, trips out of town or evening drinks with friends if I have a client booked early the next day.
Are There Enough Boats in Your Fleet?
Before declaring yourself a guide, determine how big a group you want to guide at once and stock up. You’ll need to collect all the fishing and kayaking gear for a party of that size before you can begin. For example, with five fishing kayaks I advertise that I can take four people at a time. To meet the needs of a group this size, I have nearly twenty rods set up to pursue a wide variety of fish. Not to mention the eight PFDs, six anchors, twelve rod holders, etc. Some of the not-so-obvious gear you should stock for each kayak includes pliers, a safety knife, a light, a whistle and bottles of water. As the guide, you should always carry extra supplies like toilet paper, a first aid kit and extra batteries for your phone.
Be prepared for long days with potentially minimal fishing. As the guide, you’ll often have to do all the work and let your clients have all the fun. Make it to the launch ahead of time to set up the kayaks and equipment before your clients arrive. Set aside time to clean up and pack everything away after your clients leave.
During your outings, concentrate on ensuring the clients are safe and comfortable first. Set them up for enjoyment by doing everything appropriate to catch the target species of the day. I have always been able to get some fishing in myself, but only after the client’s needs are met.
As with any other service industry profession, customer service is everything in the world of guiding. You must be prepared to go the extra mile to meet the unique needs of a client. This may mean towing someone who is unable to paddle for longer distances, or baiting the hooks for children who don’t want to touch a worm. You’ll be more likely to land repeat customers when they know that you are happy to do anything it takes to ensure the perfect outing. They will be far more likely to tell their friends about you, too!
Find a Niche and Cater to Your Clients
To maximize your client base, have at least one setup suitable for kids. A few of my outings have been with kids as young as ten years old. Between the kids and the smaller adults, my Ocean Kayak Tetra 10 gets used as often as my Old Town Predator MX—not something I would have ever imagined before! For even younger children I equip my Old Town Predator 13 with a foot stool, so a very young angler can ride along and enjoy the adventure.
To get the most out of each trip, capture the best footage you can. Clients will be your best advertisement if they can show off how they had a great time. Use quality equipment to provide compelling footage, allowing clients to share with their friends—who may in turn be future clients. My best investment was a Nikon 1 AW1 Waterproof camera, ideal for a kayak guide! Now, all of my clients receive video and high-res photos of their adventures.
Finally, look for a unique angle to market yourself and your services. I built a reputation as one of the more prolific shortnose sturgeon anglers in our area. As the only kayak fishing guide in our area who specializes in sturgeon, I am able to differentiate my services and raise awareness. Anytime you can offer an adventure that no one else in your community does, then you should be able to develop an audience.
Is Kayak Fishing Guide Your Dream Job?
Does the prospect of being a kayak fishing guide sound like a lot of work for little reward? Perhaps so, if you are purely thinking of finances, but for an avid angler the fringe benefits can make it worthwhile. It’s an amazing experience to be there for the moment a four-year-old catches their first ever fish.
Working as a guide, you get to meet all sorts of interesting people and make a lot of connections in the fishing world—from local professionals and fishing fanatics to travellers visiting your area from afar. Best of all, your efforts will help to build and strengthen the local kayak fishing community.
Many anglers think being a kayak fishing guide is the dream job, because it is. | Feature photo: Courtesy of Old Town Canoes & Kayaks