Capt. Steve Chaconas, Potomac River fishing guide and BoatUS ANGLER Pro Staff member, talks about choosing a fishing guide.

BoatUS ANGLER: Fishing Basics

Choosing a Fishing Guide

by Capt. Steve Chaconas,
Photo of Capt. Steve Chaconas holding a bass

Choosing a guide is tricky.

I get asked a lot of questions from prospective clients. They usually focus on the fishing and maybe the type of gear, including boat I run. I think the most important question they should ask is 'What form of liability insurance coverage do you have?' It might not be the first question, but it should be the deal breaker. If they do not have a 'commercial' policy, then you might run into issues if there is a problem. Many guides try to cut corners here because complete insurance coverage costs about double or more. They will try to cover their guiding business with a regular policy...if a company finds out, they will deny claims in most cases.

They should also ask about the level of skill required for the techniques being used. Some guides are not very good teachers and are not able to teach learnable techniques to new clients. Knowing the range a guide can cover might help as well. Some guides might not be able to communicate this, so it is up client to ask sufficient questions to determine whether a guide will be able to accommodate the skill level of their trip.

Alcohol or no alcohol? If alcohol is important to your trip, you should ask about it. I do not allow alcohol on my boat, period. Some guides do. That could be very dangerous, especially if the guide joins you. If a guide allows alcohol, even if you have no interest in drinking on your trip, this might mean they will be indulging and you might want to find another guide.

Find out about the boat and equipment. A new boat offers the latest in comfort and features. Older boats can be fine too, but, a really old boat might be trouble! Ask about gear too, like spinning or bait casting reels - a good guide has both and will teach you how to use either!

Find out how to identify your guide once you get to the ramp. Sometimes cell signals don't work at marinas and you could be asking around for a while to find your guide. Ask the guide what color boat is being used. Maybe other identifiers to make sure you can find each other.

Some guides add "extras" - find out if they do before you book! This could be a charge for lost lures, or for using equipment. Gasoline charges are ones to watch for too! This should be determined before it creates a problem. Of course, you might be charged if you break a rod or drop one overboard.

Ask what you need to bring. Sunscreen, food and beverages are often not included. Bring plenty. Offering to share with the guide might make the guide more willing to share with you too! Lose a hat or need sunglasses or something else, some guides will supply these. I supply Maui Jim polarized sunglasses for my clients along with Frogg Toggs rain gear. I always carry extra hats from my sponsors in case one gets blown overboard or someone forgets theirs.

A question I get asked a lot is whether I guarantee fish. I end up at 'no', but let them know I will do everything I can to put them on fish with the proper techniques. If nothing else, we are out to have a good time and I will do all I can to at least teach them something they will be able to use on other trips. It is very seldom we don't catch something.

Find out where the PFD's are located, including the throw cushion and fire extinguisher. Also note if the guide wears a kill switch lanyard. If not, you might be in danger. I would ask about it. I also would ask if I could bring my own PFD if I have an inflatable. Charters are required to carry TYPE 1 PFD's. These are the best for safety, but awful for fishing. A TYPE 3 vest will keep you afloat, but will allow you some comfort while fishing.

Always ask what you can bring. If not mentioned, ask the guide before you bring a lot of tackle or gear. Clients have shown up with changes of clothing, extra shoes, tackle boxes, nets, boom box radios, and more. This is all unnecessary in most cases and takes up a lot of space on a boat that is full of gear for three people. Remember, you guide has to carry a lot of "extra" stuff to accommodate the needs and skills of a variety of anglers.

Be on time! Most guides will be at the ramp early. With the boat out of the water, it is easier to load and there is less risk of dropping items overboard when loading. If this is the case, offer to assist your guide launching the boat. Know your limitations. Don't offer to back the boat in if you aren't an expert. Your guide shouldn't expect you to be anyway. Holding a rope is sufficient.

Same goes for the return. Offer to stay with the boat until the guide comes back with his trailer. It will be easier to unload with your boat on dry land.

Check all compartments where you might have stowed your personal items. If you leave something on a boat, it might be several trips before the guide even notices! It might not be worth the trip to meet up with him to retrieve your lost items!

Try to find out how you might be fishing before you go. This will prepare you better for the day. Most guides will be happy to chat with you to get you on the same page. This might be the time to ask about gear you might want to bring along.

It is always best to fish with a guide who you are referred to! But, the Internet is a good place to look for a guide. Once you find one, GOOGLE the name to see what has been written about them. Guides with better reputations might have been written about by magazine writers. If they haven't, it doesn't mean they aren't a good guide. It means you will have to check around to find out more about them.

You might also ask how far you will be traveling on the water during the course of a day. In some areas, like the Potomac, you can go 15-20 minutes to get to a spot and then another 15-20 minutes to the next spot. At the end of the day, you've been boat running for over an hour or so! If you don't mind, that's OK, but if you want to spend more time fishing, this can be an issue.

If you are taking one of your clients on a fishing trip to discuss business, you might want to let your guide know. If you end up with a "chatty" guide, this might interfere with your business relationship. A good guide will "know" when to invite himself into your conversations.

If you have any physical or medical issues, ask your guide if there is going to be a problem! If you have to use the bathroom frequently, let him know! He might be able to fish near a marina. I know a lot of people who live on the water where I fish. One day I had a pregnant woman on board. I knew "potty" breaks were going to be an issue, so I called one of the people on the water and asked if we could use their bathroom. This saved us a trip to the bank or back to a marina!

With medical issues, an observant guide will know what to do if you need assistance. Most of us are trained in Red Cross First Aid and CPR.

I have had client show up with an extra guest! This is a no-no! Some guides will take 3 clients out! I do not! Seating and safety is an issue and most licenses do not cover the extra passenger! Not to mention how difficult casting will be with the extra person. And you will be limited as to where and how you can fish due to space! I make it a policy to only take 2 passengers! No matter how big the boat, I recommend only 2! Some single clients want you to set them up with another person so they can split the cost of the trip! This can be a huge disaster! Don't even ask for it!

Most guides will take a check or cash. Have either since many do NOT take credit cards! Make sure you understand the payment procedure and amount before you book!

Ask about the length of the trip! I offer a 4, 6 and 8 hour trip! I suggest going with a 6 or 8 hour trip. This will allow you to fish through various parts of the day to learn how your guide adjusts to changing conditions.

The biggest misunderstandings surround what is included and what is not. I have had people show up with nothing to eat or drink, believing this was similar to a bay charter with food and beverage included. I have had others thinking we were going to keep the fish to eat. This turned out to be a disappointment when I told them this is a sport trip and there are health advisories limiting intake of fish on the Potomac.

Others wanted to use live bait only, but never mentioned it when they called, only to be very disappointed when they had to cast a crankbait all day! Some guides will use live bait. Others never. If it matters, find out when you call!

Call the marina and ask for the names of a few guides and what they charge. They might even recommend one. You can ask how often they are out, and if they know anything else about them. The marina is a great resource to find out who is doing this full-time or free lance!

Plan your tip well in advance! Go to fishing various fishing web sites to see postings by guides. You can learn a lot about them by how they communicate in their reports! If they are too brief, they may not be good teachers! You might even be able to find out a bit about their personality from their reports!

BoatUS ANGLER Pro Staff member Capt. Steve Chaconas is a former radio and TV talk show host, who has been fishing on the Potomac River since the mid 1960's. Steve fishes local tournaments and writes for several publications covering the BASSMASTERS Tournament trail for radio and newspapers. He also hosts The National Bass Fishing Show. Steve has been featured in the Washington Post, The Washington Times, The LA Times, ESPN BassCenter, BASSMASTER Magazine, BASSIN Magazine, BoatUS Magazine and many other radio and print media outlets.

Read Capt. Steve Chaconas' BoatUS ANGLER Pro Staff blog.

Visit his website at

Need more information? Use our 20 Questions Checklist when researching or contacting a potential fishing guide or charter.

<Return to Fishing Basics homepage

Online information about BoatUS ANGLER Benefits and Services

Request a free information packet about BoatUS ANGLER Benefits and Services