I’m sure it is because I am a professional fishing guide but it is almost a weekly occurance these days. Someone I meet on the street, a bait shop, or a sport show tells me they have thought about being a fishing guide or that they are working to get a guide service started.
The conversation from my end starts out the same way nearly every time when I ask, “do you have insurance.” And that either stops the conversation or leads to a more lenthy discussion.
Most people who say they thought about guiding have thought about it in the terms that they own a boat, like to fish, and want to make a few extra bucks. Believe me there are many great anglers out there and a lot of people who own boats.
I have also found that no matter how great of an angler you are, do you have what it takes to be a guide? Do you have all your legal and professional ducks in a row?
Lets take a look at what you need to be a successful fishing guide and if you are still interested I will explain how to make it all happen for you and how to be successful.
What Every Guide Should Have
So you want to be a fishing guide. There is so much more to it than being a good fisherman and a pretty face.
1. Do you have all the proper licenses that are required? Every state has different laws in respect to guides and outfitters. This should be step one in your research when you decide to make the jump to professional guiding. Minnesota does not have any sort of outfitter license so basically you can simply print a business card and go fishing in most cases.
On the other side of the spectrum North Dakota requires fishing guides to hold a current Outfitter license that is not only a fee but also proof of insurance. We will talk more about insurance in a later section.
2. Once you determine whether you need an outfitter license in your state you need to determine if you are going to operate on a federal waterway. If the water you want to work on is regulated by the federal government (Coast Guard or Corp of Engineers) you are required to have a valid Coast Guard License to operate on that body of water.
3. Now you have established the licenses that are required to operate you should think about liability. Insurance is a necessary evil and for a fishing guide a very necessary one. You put yourself in the way of liability the second you pick a customer up at a hotel, have them walk to a dock or by just riding in your boat.
There are guide policies out there but in most cases you are only covered while physically in the boat. Because of this you should consider commercial coverage for the boat and gear then add a commercial general liability policy that will cover you wherever you are working and cover you during other times as well such as sport shows or speaking engagements where liability may be an issue
4. Even with a good insurance policy you can be at risk of lawsuit should something happen and be your fault. This puts your life in peril in terms of you could lose everything from your house and your retirement accounts. Even though being a fishing guide is a job and a way of life, losing your home over a fish just is not worth it.
Because of this you should make your business a formal state recognized company. There are many classifications of business but it seems that for fishing guides a simple Limited Liability Company (LLC) will be perfect for the required coverage.
5. Now the license, insurance, and legal status has been covered. The next question is how serious do you want to be about your business? Are you going to be a guy who just jumped through all these hoops and just hopes for a couple trips per year to fund your fishing habit or are you going to go for gold?
Marketing has got to be the most under rated aspect of fishing guides. Many new guides have a contact who owns a resort or bait shop. This is obviously the easiest way find guiding work but if you don’t how do you plan to get started and put your name on the map?
The real work in the guiding business is how do you handle the off-season. You have to utilize the off-season to market and build a name for yourself leading into the future. In the off-season, you need work the channels to meet as many people as you can. Many guides and professional anglers work shows on behalf of their sponsors, This allows them to promote the products they use and get their faces in front of as many customers as possible.
While this is a great way to promote yourself, a better way may be to buy yourself some paid advertising and find yourself some promotion, some paid and some not. The worst part of advertising a guide service is that it costs money and for most guides it is money they are not willing to part with.
The best part of paid advertising such a magazines or sport show booths is that you control the message. You get to tell customers exactly what you want them to know about you. In terms of sport shows the customers are not at your booth to see a product that you’re pitching they are there to talk to you. They want to get to know you and find out if you are the guy who they want to give their hard earned money to when they go on vacation.
Do you still want to move forward?
So you have made the commitment to move ahead with a fishing guide service, now where to begin.
1. You must call your state’s Department of Natural Resources, Game Fish and Parks or what every your respective state calls it. Ask them if they require any sort of outfitter licensing other than a fishing license, or if they require any extra renter boat licenses. The cost for these permits can be any where from not being required to a few hundred dollars per season.
2. If you are on federal waterways and need the Coast Guard License you will need to plan to do some work. Or a basic Operator of Uninspected passenger vessel for OUPV you will need to plan to attend a certified class as well as complete a background check, drug test, physical, and provide proof of boating experience as well as complete a TWIC or Transportation Worker Identification Credential. For more information on the requirements to acquire a license log on to http://www.uscg.mil/nmc. The total cost to all of this is $1,500 to $3,000 and takes one to three months to complete.
3. A good guide insurance policy will normally run a minimum of $500 per year for $300,000 in liability coverage. As stated before you may want general liability to cover everything. While this is more expensive it gives you a great coverage putting you at less risk should something happen. A general liability and boat coverage will run you $500-$1,000. To get a more exact number contact your local insurance agent.
4. The cheap part of this venture is setting up an LLC. Most states only require a little paper work and an annual fee. The original setup if you do it yourself is $125 to $200 depending on your state and an annual report is $50 to $100.
5. Lastly, there is marketing and there is no crystal ball to marketing. You need to figure out how much you want to spend and how much work you want to do. Starting out you will spend more than you will after you are established. Even after you are established you should plan to spend 15 to 20 percent of your gross income to put back into customer retention and advertising.
All of these steps to becoming a fishing guide and we still have not talked about the day to day aspects of buying bait, cleaning the boat, keeping gear in line, and fishing with different people every day. These tasks require many more hours of your time that does not count toward the time on the water.
Lastly once fishing becomes work you will not be able to fish for yourself. This is an aspect that eventually turns people away from the guiding profession. You are on the water every day but your job is to find fish for other people and not yourself.
So do you still want to be a fishing guide? If you do even after all of this then I congratulate you. It is not a huge profit making profession but for those of us who get to this point it is one of the most rewarding things you can do. There are many adventures to be taken, many friends to be made and of course many fish to catch.