How To Become A Professional Fisherman Or Fishing Guide

"Here goes with my other advice: Be on the water absolutely as much as possible.  Fish on your days off.  Learn to navigate without GPS.  Constantly learn new water with passionate intensity."

"Here goes with my other advice: Be on the water absolutely as much as possible.  Fish on your days off.  Learn to navigate without GPS.  Constantly learn new water with passionate intensity."

Tom’s rant and advice for getting into pro fishing

A fan wrote in and invited me to come to his area and go redfishing.  In the same email, he asked some great questions about how to become a professional fisherman.  I spent some time on the response and thought I would post it here in hopes that it might help others as well. 

Here is my response:  

Thanks for the email and for watching the show.

I would love to come up there and catch those redfish with you.  Maybe I can bring one of my kids.

As for how to do this for a living, I do have some advice.

When I first started guiding (this will make me sound very old, but I am only 44…the world moves fast) there were no GPS units, no internet, a few answering machines, no cell phones.  Pictures were taken on film which had to be developed.  Social media was going to a tournament where people actually saw you.

The only way, ONLY way, any guide developed respect from other guides, tackle shops and customers was through time on the water.  The guy who’s truck was at the ramp first and still there at the end of the day started to develop a little respect from other guides.  After that was done for about 2 years then some trips started to come your way.

I did this, for years.

Once I got a customer, they were like gold.  I treated them with respect and I was there before they arrived in the morning and my boat was perfectly prepared for the day.  I got the very best tackle I could afford and I took care of it.  When it broke, I bought better tackle.

Those customers went into the tackle shop and told them about their day.  After about a year of this, the tackle shop would send a few customers too.

My excited customer would go home, develop his film and tell his friends about the trip.  A few weeks later, he might show off a picture.

Things moved slower back then.

The best guides were very hard to get on the phone because they worked every day, often 15 hour days.  Customers did not expect to get a call back right away.  A guide that called back too quickly was a red flag that they were not fishing on their days off and should be avoided.  Customers were patient and would wait for the best to call them back.

At the end of the day, I would check my answering machine. Yes, we had those…it had real tape in it and it would get filled up.  You couldn't really skip over the messages effectively so you just had to start calling people back one by one.  Yes, we actually talked to people on the phone back then.

Sometimes I would get home after 12 hours on the water and call the first person.  That might turn into an hour long phone call and that might be the only one I could make that night.  The calls would continue to mount up.

I kept a paper schedule, didn't take credit cards, asked people to send a deposit by mail.  My social media was sending every person I fished with a personal handwritten Christmas Card with a picture of their trip if I had it, if not, the card included details of their trip.

A lot of things have obviously changed with many of those things, but the biggest change I see in guiding is with which guides are rewarded with trips.  When I started, the more time you spent on the water meant the more trips you were sent.  The more fish you caught meant the wider your reputation spread.  The more tournament wins, the more happy customers you had and every hour you spent on the water was rewarded with success.

I don't think this is the case as much any more.  Today, with the internet, digital photography, social media, and other stuff I probably don't even know about yet, the guide who stays home and works on his website, tweets constantly, posts pictures and facebooks is the one who is instantly rewarded with trips.  He can book them immediately because he is there, at a computer, by a phone or even through text.  The guy who is offshore catching fish or out of range of the cell phone today, tomorrow and every day gets the call, but doesn't book the trip because it has already gone to someone else.  So the reward system has been reversed.  The guy off the water is now being rewarded.  The guy on the water is not.

If I were a customer looking for a guide, I would definitely stay way away from the glitzy websites, slick marketing materials and try to find a guy who you had heard of who has a horribly outdated website.  You know why his website is outdated?  Because he works every day, 12 hours a day actually catching fish, actually taking customers fishing, actually being a fishing guide.

What happens with these guys is that their customers who know their value continue to age, and eventually stop fishing.  It is then hard for them to pick up new customers because they are living in a different world now.  Sometimes it is sad to see such talent and such experience be undervalued.

So why am I telling you this?  Believe me, it is not to make me seem older and wiser.   Don't think I am wiser, and I sure don't need to feel any older.  I am telling you this because it is the best advice I have to give anyone.  I am going to send this back to you and I am going to post it on my blog as well in hopes that maybe it helps a new generation of fishing guides.

My advice is to pay attention to the social media, to the web, to photography and video.  Get good at it and use it every way you can, BUT DO NOT LET YOUR FISHING SKILLS DEGRADE!  Here goes with my other advice: Be on the water absolutely as much as possible.  Fish on your days off.  Learn to navigate without GPS.  Constantly learn new water with passionate intensity.  Be around other guides, learn from older anglers and guides.  Pick up everything you can.  Read books written in the 30’s and 40’s about your type of fishing.  Honor those who came before you.  Take care of your resource, protect it for your children.  Fight all closure to fishing.  Be a staunch conservationist while being a staunch protector of your fishing rights. Treat every customer like a brick of gold, honor them, respect them,become their best friend.  Teach your customers, learn from them as well.  Have respect for the older guides and earn respect from them through long hours on the water in every condition.  Don't fake it til you make it.  Enter tournaments even if you don't want to…they will show you where you stand.  If you are dissapointed in your performance, get better.  Have passion for your profession, it is an honorable profession.  Member that you are in the customer service business.  Remember that your customers time is valuable, probably more than you can imagine and treat it with respect. Give, your experience, your expertise and your knowledge.  Never give a poor attitude or poor performance.  Remember that this is going to be a slow process.  It will not happen overnight.  After 15 years of going at it harder than you can possibly imagine now, you could become an “overnight success”.

If this is really something that you want to do, do it.  Burn the bridges, quit all other jobs and be prepared for alot of tough times.  But if this is something that you ally want to do, some of the best meals you will ever eat are Ramen Noodles, because you are happy, and doing what you love.  Do it because you love it and do it longer and harder than anyone else around you.  When people start telling you that you are obsessed, crazy, insane, stupid, off the deep end, weird, or bizarre, you may have just begun to get on the right track to make it.

That is what it takes.  No one that I know that has “made it” (whatever that means) has done it any other way and when I look around, I see alot of people trying to take the easy road.  There is no easy road.  The road is so hard that only the ones who are passionate about it and love it like nothing else are capable of going down this road…you know why?  Because they dont even notice the long hours or hard work.

So there is my advice…take it or leave it.

Good luck!

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