Wanna Get Your Fish On? A Guide Is a Good Way To Go

What kind of guide should you hire? Depends on what you’re after…

By kncitom on June 19, 2019
Pretty good day on Folsom Lake, May 2019

Fishing in Northern California is some of the best anywhere in the United States. Our lakes and reservoirs are stocked with schools of bass, rainbow trout, king salmon, sockeye salmon (known as kokanee) and come late summer and fall, ocean-run king salmon make their way up the Sacramento River and its tributaries. There is literally something you can be chasing, year-round.

My buddy Joe and a nice landlocked king salmon from Folsom Lake

And while many of these waters can be fished from shore (one of the easiest is Donner Lake, where public access is available on all the piers along the west shore), most often the best fishing is going to be from a boat, especially in summer when most species dive deep to stay in cooler water. So, what’s the best way to target them?                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Hire a guide.

Now, I have my own boat and have been fishing here a long time. But when my family and I first moved here, I didn’t know much about the fishing at all and hiring guides became big part of how I learned. I don’t want this to read like an infomercial so I’m not going to recommend specific guides. Instead, I’ll list some things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about hiring one (And by the way, even though I’m coming at this as a guy who primarily fishes lakes and the Sacramento River, if you’d rather fish smaller streams or rivers, or even the ocean, these points can be applied to hiring guides who fish those waters as well).

  1. It’s Gonna Cost. Guides aren’t cheap–a typical day trip can cost $200, and more if it’s peak season somewhere. But, at the very least that should always include gear and the cleaning of any catch at the end of the day. See if they offer discounts for kids, the elderly or veterans. Some do. 
  2. Why Are You Going? If it’s just to catch some fish with minimal stress and fuss, great! But if you’re thinking you’d like to take up boat fishing yourself, going with a guide can potentially save you a ton of time and effort. At most, you may be fishing with four or five other clients in a boat that’s probably no more than 20′, so you’ll have a lot of time and opportunity to observe and converse. And by the way, most guides are totally fine with sharing their knowledge because A) most fishermen, even pros, love to talk and B) because they know the more people who take an interest in fishing, the more reason Fish and Game will have to maintain a healthy fisheries program in California. If you have a guide who is stingy with information..? Go with someone different next time. 
  3. Research Your Guide. Not all guides are created equal. Some are more hardcore than others. Some love teaching the sport. Most are a mixture of both.  Either way, they oughta be friendly; you’re gonna spend up to six or seven hours in a confined space with them…you do not want a grump or one who loses their mind if you lose a fish. Word of mouth is the best resource but if that’s not available, read reviews and when you contact them ahead of time, explain your expectations and see how they respond.
  4. What Do You Want To Catch? This may seem obvious, but there are defined seasons here for catching different types of fish. What species would you most like to target? If it’s a beefy Sacramento River king, you’re looking at late summer through fall. Hard-fighting Striped bass on the Delta? Winter and spring. Tasty Stampede Lake kokanee? Late spring through late summer. Do a little research and determine what species you’d most like to chase then find a service that fits your needs.
  5. Maintain Realistic Expectations. While yes, you’re spending a lot of money on your guide’s experience and expertise, even the best whiff sometimes. It happens. On all but the slowest days you’ll still likely catch more than the average fisherman, and even if you get completely skunked, that doesn’t mean the guide’s knowledge and know-how is somehow wrong. Some days the fish just win, and that’s when you have to look at it this way: you’re still gaining valuable information and hey, no matter what happens you’re still out on the water.

I’ve fished since I was a kid, but much of that was in the Pacific Northwest. When I got serious about fishing down here, I went out with a few different guides who helped accelerate my learning curve so much. I even became friends with a couple of them and stay in contact. It’s a super fun hobby and, for me anyway, there’s no better rush than the first few moments of a rod doubling over and line zinging off the reel. And for fisheries I don’t know much about, I still hire guides; a buddy and I had a great experience last winter with a guide on Pyramid Lake in Nevada catching native Lahontan Cutthroat and yep, we were taking notes. 

Pyramid Lake Lahontan Cutthroat

 If you’d like to find out more about hiring a guide, check out the website for the Northern California Guide and Sportsman’s Association, here 

Good luck, and leave the bananas at home. 


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