What’s the biggest misconception about the life of a fishing guide? It’s a question I’ve been asked, and have heard asked, countless times. If I had to provide an answer, it would be that it’s easy. That it’s as simple and stress-free as simply taking someone fishing. That the day begins and ends at the boat ramp.
Behind the veil of a full day’s guided trip, there are countless hours of accrued fishing knowledge and local knowledge; years spent locating fish and studying their behavior and tendencies in order to nail down just how to get one to eat a hook; hours spent tying flies, building leaders, and maintaining gear; vehicle and boat maintenance; time spent preparing food for lunches; drive time; hours spent riding a desk making travel and booking suggestions; keeping insurance, advertising, and other business operational mechanisms in tune; on-the-water instruction; and the immeasurable slew of decisions that must be made well to keep anglers on fish and having the most enjoyable experience possible. It is, after all, the service industry.
And because it’s the service industry, tipping is customary. However, there is still a good bit of confusion among anglers as to how, when, and why guides should be tipped. These days, it is generally accepted that an appropriate tip is approximately 20% of your trip cost. For a full-day float (whether one or two anglers are in the boat), that typically works out to around $100. For offshore or pricier charters, it might be more, while for a walk-and-wade day on a small trout stream, it might be a bit less.
But, instead of leaving you with my one-sided perspective, I’ve recruited the input of a diverse assemblage of some of the most respected guides from around the country and asked them to share their thoughts why, when and how much you should tip your fishing guide.
Brian Pitser—The Northern Angler
“One of my most memorable tips was early on in my guide career. I took a father and son out fishing and I could tell right away they had really been saving for the trip, and we had a spectacular time. We created some great memories for those two to share, and at the end of the day the shop person asked if they would like to leave a gratuity for the guide service. This completely caught them off guard, and it was apparently unplanned and probably out of their budget. The guy reached into his pocket and gave me $17 for a full day trip. He shook my hand and thanked me with a most genuine smile, and assured me they had a wonderful day and that this was an experience they will both remember forever. I thanked him genuinely for the gratuity, and with a bit of a lump in my throat, I slid his hard earned cash into my pocket. I am pretty sure it was their gas or food money for the ride home. To this day, it still ranks as one of the most generous tips I have ever received.
Generally, your tip for a fishing guide should be based upon the total experience of the trip. There are days where the fish won't stop biting and days that you work as hard as possible and catch nothing for the efforts. The amount of gratuity should be based on how the guide controls all the variables, not on the number of fish caught. I believe that most guides worth their salt would agree. As a guide, I have the privilege of sharing very special times with clients. My clients work hard to make their money and I work hard to provide them the best overall experience in return. A typical guide gratuity for our outfitting service is 15 to 20%. That, more or less, has become a standard in the industry. Regardless of the tip amount, the effort is the same on my part, and I’m incredibly thankful for any gratuity on a day’s guided trip.”
Patrick Fulkrod—South Holston River Company
“Whenever I travel to fish, I hire guides. I feel my expectations of the guide may be higher than most. However, being a guide myself, I always tip. I am not saying a tip is mandatory, but it is an easy way to acknowledge a job well done. I have this same philosophy with the waitress at the restaurant, and the guy driving the Uber. The amount of tip can speak tremendously to the satisfaction of the guest. I think the guide needs to feel like he earned the tip. When I am asked by a guest about the protocol on tipping, my motto is: ‘A tip is never expected, but always appreciated.’ Guides are full of cheesy one-liners so there's another to add to the list.”
Brian Porter—Far Out Fly Fishing
“Having worked in a number of bars and restaurants over the years, I try to look at tips as not expected, but always appreciated. That said, its takes pretty poor service for me to tip less than 20% for food or drink.
Guided fishing trips are a bit different, though, and due to the unpredictable nature of the sport, it can be easy for people to gauge the trip, and consequently the tip, based on the ‘success' of the day. Most folks who hire a guide are hoping for a great day of catching, and so a lot of times a good tip is given when that happens. What a lot of them might not realize, however, is that the guide's job is much more difficult when conditions are less than ideal. That’s when you really earn your tips. Success on a tough day usually means having to dig deep and work hard to overcome high water, bad weather, uncooperative fish, or any of countless other factors that make the game of fishing what it is. To me, being able to keep customers engaged, having fun, and learning when fishing is slow is a crucial skill set for a fishing guide. Getting a really good tip for working your ass off on a difficult day is always a great feeling. Any guide worth hiring is going to want their customers to catch fish as much, if not more, than the customers do.
Early on in my guiding career, I had a really tough steelhead trip where my guy got blanked and I felt horrible about it. When I got home, I realized that he had left me the biggest tip I had ever gotten at that point, and I was pretty sure that he'd miscounted. Already bummed about the day, I became super worried that I had taken too much money from this guy, so after stressing about it for an hour or so I decided to call him and make sure. What started as an incredibly awkward phone call ended with him telling me he had really enjoyed the day, learned a lot, and that I had earned the tip. Needless to say, I went from bummed to elated in less than a minute, and on top of a great tip, that gentleman left me with a lesson I’ll never forget.
It’s easy for a guide to be the hero when fishing is easy, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with leaving a good tip on those days to show that you've enjoyed it. Nobody wants to struggle with nasty winds or high water or any other difficult conditions, but those are the exact situations that make guiding an occupation of skilled labor, as well as a service deserving of gratuity.”
Brian Shumaker—Susquehanna River Guides
“Tipping should never be expected, nor should it dictate the quality of service that the guide provides on a trip. I have clients that haven’t tipped or tip very little, but have fished with me for years and they are great clients, and I have clients that tip above and beyond. I think it really depends on the background of the clients, as far as if or how much they tip.
The reason for tipping guides: You can have bad weather, the fish don't want to cooperate, etc., but if the guide does everything that they can to provide a quality experience, then yes, I do believe they deserve a tip. If you catch an exceptional fish or fish, if you learn something new, or come away a better angler (improve your casting or technique) it is worth tipping.”
Jason Shepard—Fly Times Charters
“I never mention tips, but appreciate them. The fee for the charter covers the trip—the boat wear and tear, gas, gear (your rods, reels, and flies), knowledge, license, the convenience to fish a new area, and having somebody stand on a boat and push or row you around all day.
Tips, in my opinion, are for how well the guide performed. Was he on time? Was he professional? Did you catch fish or did they at least put you on fish for opportunities for shots? Did you learn anything new that day?
I feel that people that bait fish and switch to fly fishing and go on trips often don’t understand how much more goes into our side of the sport. It’s a lot harder than sitting on a hole for hours, dropping bait, waiting for a bite, and then going home. We are pushing or rowing boats, fighting currents or tides, hunting and identifying fish, and putting the client in the spot to get his shot.
Now, as far as the amount of a tip, that’s up in the air. Most of the time, for a good trip, it will be $100. That’s kind of standard. Tarpon trips can be more with multiple hook ups. There are days when it’s $0-$50, even though they caught multiple fish with a ton of work by you. However, there are days where everything just isn’t there working right—no fish, bad weather, wrong area, and so-on. If I haven’t done my job or performed as a professional guide, I turn down the tip. That said, it’s important to not punish the guide with no tip or bad reviews for not catching fish when he or she put you on them all day. It’s our job to give you the opportunity to catch the species you are chasing.
The bottom line is this: if you enjoyed your day and had opportunities at fish, whether you caught anything or not, your guide should probably be rewarded for a job well done.”
Consider these perspectives the next time you’re planning to take a guided trip, anywhere. Guiding fishing trips is not an easy line of work, and chances are, if you hire a guide, you appreciate their time and energy. It’s important to realize that, at the end of the day, you are supporting a person, just like you are when you spend money with any other small business. So, if you appreciate the experience you have—or even if you don’t, but you understand that the negatives were outside of anyone’s contro—tip to support the guide as an individual, to keep their lights on, and to keep them in business and on the water for next time.