Last weekend marked a favorite holiday for many anglers - the walleye season opener. While walleye season means one thing to the casual fisherman, there is a different side for local fishing guides serving area lakes.
While area residents have the benefit of tried and true fishing spots, those anglers who are merely visiting family on weekends or vacationing for a brief amount of time likely don't have the convenience of a familiar lake, much less fishing equipment.
Several area guides said these are the groups that often hire them for their services.
"People that come up here, even if they're going to stay for a week, if they hire a guide we're on top of the fish most of the time. Their chances of catching a fish right away are considerably better by hiring a fishing guide," said Paul Coventry, an independent guide from Brainerd who has been a guide for 34 years.
With the help of experienced fishing guides, vacationers can act like professionals for an afternoon without having to invest in a boat, safety equipment, a rod or any tackle whatsoever.
"We are providing a convenience. The biggest thing is they walk away with a smile on their face and have a good time," said Lenny Hodgson of the Nisswa Guides League, who has been guiding anglers since 1973. "About all they have to show up with is a fishing license."
"A lot of times I'll have somebody staying at a resort on a lake, and they'll hire me the first day to give them tips and places to fish, how to fish," he said. "And then we get the person who comes up and doesn't want to drag their boat up."
Fishing guides provide more than just equipment. While they are being paid to guide, the fish aren't always guaranteed to bite. It is during those times that guides often need to entertain their customers, meaning guide services are part fishing and part public relations.
"You have to be able to know what the people in your boat like to talk about," said Butch Blasing of S&W Guide Service.
Coventry said even experienced anglers sometimes enjoy booking a guide service because they don't have to run the boat and can pay more attention to fishing.
"I'll fish with another guide and it's kind of a pleasure to just kick back and tend to fishing rather than run the equipment," he said.
Guides recognize that it isn't just the customers they have to satisfy. Many guides work in cooperation with the DNR to protect resources. They follow the laws of the lake and expect their guests to do so as well. They realize how important healthy lakes are to their businesses, and they respect those who work to keep them safe.
While some people are concerned about the limits of fish guided groups take, those groups often don't keep their fish. This is perhaps due to the inconvenience of cleaning and storing fish while staying at vacation spots where easy meals are already available. Hodgson, likewise, practices catch and release while guiding.
"When I'm on a guide trip I do not ever keep fish for myself," he said.
Independent guide Den Pluimer also strongly promotes catch and release on all of his trips and boasted a 98 percent release rate in 2009.
"I practiced catch and release even before it was in vogue," Pluimer said. "We kill very, very few fish."
As for the financial benefits of guided fishing trips, many guides use their businesses as a form of supplemental income for the summer. Many guides are actually teachers during the off-season; others may save up company vacation time so they can guide during the summer months. Either way, guiding is not a yearlong moneymaker, and it does not replace a lucrative career.
"It's really tough to try to make a living just being a guide," Blasing said. "There isn't a lot of money in guiding."
Many guides might suggest the real financial beneficiary to guided fishing services is the local economy. Guide service customers are often guests at local resorts. In addition to fishing they also golf locally, eat locally and overall spend locally. Because it is good for business, fishing guides often do their best to promote the area.
"I really promote Minnesota, and I promote the local area," Pluimer said. "I try to show people how clean the water is and how well maintained the area is."
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