One of my first clients as a kayak fishing guide showed me exactly what a guide provides to someone who fishes spots instead of patterns. He was an excellent stick when on the right location. I placed him in a remote pool on the Rappahannock River in central Virginia that was loaded with 18 to 21 inch smallmouth. He capitalized on the opportunity. His personal best smallmouth was caught on that guided trip, in that pool, and we both left the river satisfied and proud.
The spot had taken me years to come across, recognize its potential, thoroughly probe and understand the daily and seasonal feeding hot spots within it. On that guided trip, my focus was on the patterns that had been the most successful: dragging a Texas rigged tube through a jumble of wood cover that had become part of the steep bank. He picked up the tactic quickly.
He also picked up a great deal of faith in that pool. Unfortunately, his faith in it kept him from exploring and using the tactic I taught in other pools. Within the next year, I returned to the pool several times. All but one time, my former client was there, usually with several friends. He was regifting the spot. He would also send me emails with photos each time he went, happily showing me how well he continued to do there, thanking me each time.
It was polite and appreciative, but it kind of chapped my hide. I don’t feel that I had the right to be upset with this individual, as we had an exchange of services for money. I just wished that he had focused on the “how” instead of the “where”.
The saying “patterns not places” seems appropriate here. This focus on location, and the confidence it instills is common in the guide/client institution. It’s a big part of why I burned out as a guide. The guide’s job is to lead the client to fish, and if the guide is good, he will also teach him a new tactic. The better guides I’ve known have all been teachers of some sort.
Pennsylvania Kayak Fishing Guide Juan Veruete addresses this issue directly with his clients. He explains, “I’m pretty honest with my students. I ask them up front not to share the stretch of river I teach them on through public forums or social media. In the same discussion, I also challenge them to progress in the sport by using the strategies and concepts that they will learn during my class to develop their own patterns and find their own smallmouth honey holes. My experience has confirmed that they take my advice to heart. On rare occasions, I do see former students on the same water the very next weekend with a fishing buddy. For these students, the familiarity of the water helps give them confidence as they practice their new skills. I rarely see these students on a piece of water more than a time or two.”
Some of the best guides I’ve fished with have never taken a dime from a single person they’ve taught a new tactic to, or brought to an active feeding location. They are just weekend warriors who are particularly good at finding fish, and enjoy company with other anglers when they do. Sometimes they aren’t that skilled as anglers, but the sheer number of hours they are on the water translate to always knowing the next transition of the fishery. Their payment as informal guide, comes in the form of hope that the informal client will reciprocate the gift of showing their fellow angler a good bite.
Last fall I received a text message from my fishing buddy Alan Battista, author of Light Tackle Kayak Trolling the Chesapeake Bay. It threw me for a loop. I’ll paraphrase. He expressed some disappointment that I was planning on fishing for river smallmouth again instead of the Chesapeake with him for striped bass. After recoiling from the comment, I understood it. He had been generous with me, showing me spots and tactics, some of them things that nobody else was doing, and they worked. He wanted reciprocation. His disappointment in me was also a compliment. He believed that I could reciprocate.
I still fished the Susquehanna that weekend. I had a photo deadline for a magazine article. But as soon as I could get back out with Alan, I did. More importantly, when I was able to get out when he was not, I went exploring instead of hammering the spots that he had shown me. I went as far as taking photos of my depth finder screen with waypoint coordinates of new productive spots I found and emailing them to him.
Some of those spots revealed themselves to me after multiple hours and at times days without a bite, just like that pool on the Rappahannock. I guess that my point in writing this is that if you are the guy who finds the fish first, be smart about who you share that location information with. Share it with those who can take your location and pattern information, process it, apply it to new spots and hand it back to you with interest. Or they can regift it to others without reciprocation. It’s tough to be a good judge of character in that manner.
If you are the guy who has the buddy who always seems to know where the next hot bite will happen, don’t always be a follower. Sure, continue to fish with them, but find some spots on your own, and reciprocate that fishing buddy’s generosity. It’s how tight networks of skilled anglers are formed.