‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ for Booking a Fishing Guide

Brittany and Bryan Sapp from Pennsylvania have been visiting Chattanooga to book a guide several years in a row because they know how great the fishing can be on the Tennessee River. (Photo: Richard Simms)

“What time does your boat go out today?”

As a fishing guide, that is a question that always makes me smile. I immediately know the only time this person has ever been on a paid fishing trip is most likely in Florida on a party boat that chugs away from the marina precisely at 8 am and 1 pm every day. They have never booked an inland, freshwater fishing trip where guides generally work on much more individualized, appointment-style schedules.

But I don’t laugh at the question. It is all part of the learning process, sort of like this story. I have booked guided fishing trips for myself for decades, and I’ve been on the other side of fence as a fishing guide for 14 years. Here are some of the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” I’ve learned from playing on both sides of the fence.


#1 – Please read the guide’s website closely before asking questions. Guides (or web administrators) spend massive amounts of time trying to include excellent, detailed information on their websites that all too many people refuse to read. I routinely get e-mails that are generated directly from my web “Contact” page asking, “What are your rates?”
The person was already ON the web site and immediately above the form they were filling out was a prominent link titled, “Rates.” All they had to do was move the mouse a few inches and click for the answer to their question. (smacking my forehead) Read the guide’s website… all of it.

#2 – Indicate your preferred dates to go fishing. Don’t ever ask an open-ended, “What dates do you have open.” When I get that question I don’t know if you mean this week, this month, this year or this century.  Even if you don’t have a specific date in mind it is best that you suggest one or two date ranges that suit your schedule. That will speed up the process of nailing down a date for everyone.

#3 – Unless the guide clearly focuses only on one species, tell them if you have a specific preference on what species you want to pursue and how many people want to go. Some guides pursue a variety of species, or like my business, have multiple guides that focus on different species. We also have guides with bigger boats and smaller boats so the number of people who want to go fishing helps insure we get parties on the right size boat.

#4 – Ask about keeping fish and fish cleaning services. Some guides have a strict “catch & release only” policy. Others, like us, allow clients to keep any legal fish they want. But unlike all the high volume guide services in Florida, there are not fishing cleaning facilities or businesses here. Therefore, we do not clean fish for clients. If you keep them you are responsible for caring for them.

#5 – Please be prepared to submit a deposit immediately to confirm a reservation, especially if you are booking with a guide for the first time. If you are a previous client a guide knows and trusts, they might add you to their calendar without a deposit in hand. Otherwise, you cannot consider your fishing trip “Booked” until the deposit is paid.


#1 – Don’t ask, “Are we guaranteed to catch fish.” Some guides do offer a guarantee, which is great. But if they offer a guarantee it will be featured prominently on their website. Most guides simply cannot or will not do that because (a) Mother Nature always has the last word, and (b) because success or failure is often dependent upon the abilities of the customer. It is kind of like a hunting guide who might guarantee you will have the opportunity to shoot at game but they cannot guarantee your ability to hit it.

#2 – Please don’t show up with five coolers, 3 backpacks and a camera case. I often have individuals show up for a 4-hour fishing trip with enough food to seemingly feed the castaways on Gilligan’s Island for a month. Folks, we’re basically just going to be on the water between breakfast and lunch.

#3 – Ask about fishing licenses. In some states the guide’s license covers his clients and their clients are not required to buy an additional license. Remember, also, to take that into account when reviewing rates for trips. However many states are like Tennessee where clients are required to buy fishing licenses on their own prior to their guided trip.

#4 – Check reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor. If a guide service is on TripAdvisor (or a similar site) chances are they are bona fide because it is not an easy process to get listed there. But don’t just go by the number of stars. Unlike reviewing an impersonal business, reviewing a guide is very personal. If clients choose to do a review, they generally rank their guide high because it is so personal. But read the text of the reviews. That is going to tell you about a guide’s effort, personality and work ethic.

#5 – Tipping guides. It is a personal choice. Sometimes clients actually ask me, “How much should I tip you?” That’s awkward and sometimes I want to answer, “$1,000 should cover it.” We’re  not like waitpersons who are paid a reduced wage with the expectation that they glean much of their earnings from tips. But personally, I have never booked a guide that I didn’t tip something. Personally, I consider 10 percent of the full rate for the trip a good average… and I will deviate up or down based upon the guide’s service. However, I do NOT tip based upon the number of fish caught (See #1). In my humble opinion tips should be based upon the guide’s attitude, effort and work ethic. In other words, was he a fun guy to fish with.

Here are a few area guide websites you can check out:






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Richard Simms is a professional journalist and fishing guide in Chattanooga. (See www.ScenicCityFishing.com) He is also a former wildlife officer for TWRA, a book author and a self-proclaimed "River Rat" with a sincere desire for spreading the message about our bountiful natural resources and the people charged with using, or protecting them.


  1. Thanks for this advice for getting a fishing guide. I’m glad that you mentioned you should try to read the guide’s website before you ask any questions. This sounds important if it can also help you know what you can expect hiring the guide and what kind of trip they can take you on.

  2. I like that you mention thoroughly checking the website of the fishing guide before you ask questions. Before doing this, it could help to create a list of questions beforehand. You could then write down the answers that you find on their website as you’re reading and even add anything new so you can know what questions you have for them to help you determine which fishing guide to hire.


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