We’ve all been there: It’s the late-night scroll through the social media platforms, perusing photos and videos from current and past seasons from all over the county. This is a rabbit hole that you can find yourself going down for many hours. Then, out of the blue, there it is, the video filled with 4-10 guys laying waste to a full flock of mallards that seemingly dropped from the heavens through the tops of the flooded timber, or the boat full of guys standing there holding striper, flounder, rockfish, or crab pots overflowing with a bounty most people only dream of; Videos and photos that seem too perfect to be real posted by the average person. You realize that you’ve fallen upon one of the many guide services out there hoping to provide you with the same experience that these lucky people have bestowed with.

(Photo Credit: Rod and River Guide Service 530-870-6102)

There are many questions that immediately start to flow through your mind. Where does one book a guided fishing trip or hunt? What guide or outfitter should I choose? Will I bag my target species or limit out? Can I trust the person taking me out for this event? How many other people are going to be there? What happens if it’s we don’t shoot anything or catch anything, will I get my money back? The list of questions and “what-ifs” can be overwhelming, but it’s our hope that this post addresses some of the more common questions that might help you pull the trigger on picking a guide.

1. What guide or outfitter do I pick?

This is probably one of the hardest questions to answer but there are a few things that can help you get a better idea on which guides have their fingers into the best areas. Follow guides in the area you are looking to hunt/fish on social media. In this day and age, this is probably one of the best ways to get an idea of what guides are producing numbers trip after trip. Also, talk to your friends that you know have done outings with guides in your selected area, if they’re local to you, even better!

Read the reviews on their pages. Typically, you’ll find results on the outings there. Some may even say that they, unfortunately, got skunked BUT may still result in a 5-star experience! Remember, they’re guides, not Gods., there’s never a guarantee that you are going to be successful but doing your research on who to choose can greatly increase your chances.

2. How far in advance do I need to decide to book a hunt or fishing trip?

This typically depends on what game you are after. If you know you are looking to hunt waterfowl and the season is four months long that gives you a lot of opportunities for outings. Typically, the earlier you book the more options you have but that could be a double-edged sword. Booking too early in the season could result in flat weather and a lack of game. Trying to book too late and you may not find a spot once the season heats up and the birds show up. The same goes for fishing too.

A guide that has been in business for a good amount of time will know where the fish are likely to be day in and day out because they are out there almost every day. Talk with your guide, they will be able to recommend hopeful prime times. They know when the game shows up in the area as they have been scouting.

(Photo Credit: Rod and River Guide Service 530-870-6102)

3. Can I trust the person taking me and my family out for the day?

Safety is always the #1 priority of any guide or guide service. Every legitimate guide will carry all or most of the following assurances. In the state of California all guides are required to carry a State Guide License, Commercial Insurance Policy, be Bonded, and also have an MMC Card or (US Coast Guard Certification). These are requirements for each guide to meet which allows you to be rest assured you are heading out in the wilderness or open water with someone that has completed all the needed requirements to safely take you from point A to point B properly.

That being said, we’ve all been there and seen the “Facebook or Instagram Guide”. You know the random guy that slips into your DMs and posts on social media saying that he can put you and your buddies on birds or fish. These are the people you need to give a wide birth. Dealing with these “randoms” can be tiring, and worst of all dangerous. They are attempting to do this for monetary reasons and when that is the #1 drive for them reaching out to you that’s not someone I want my family or friends to be around with firearms or out on the open water with.

4. How many people am I going to be sharing my adventure with?

This is an important question and really is determined by the type of outing you are choosing. For example: Fishing charters for say salmon are typically filled with people other than just you and your family. These boats most of the time will have 20 or so people on board plus crew. Booking a private charter for say Marlin or Tuna is typically going to be a more intimate experience with it being your group of friends. For waterfowl, the same mindset holds true.

Personally, I have not taken a guided hunt with more than four hunters and typically one or two guides. This allows the guides to work together with the group, and the smaller numbers typically help raise the success rate. This is a question you can ask your guide of choice when booking.

If a guide hunts four to eight hunters on the regular, a lot of times they’ll give you the option to fill four to five seats with your party and then will not fill the remaining empty seats. You basically hit what I like to call “the make it worth it level”. This level is the minimum number of participants that the guide likes to take out and if that number is met by one group will sometimes allow that group to dictate that they would like to hunt as just this group and have no extras placed with the bunch. Again, this is something to discuss with the guide during your booking time.

(Photo Credit: Rod and River Guide Service 530-870-6102)

5. What happens if it’s we don’t shoot anything or catch anything, will I get my money back?

This is a question I unfortunately am asked frequently. In a world where people are accustom to getting a physical object in trade for money, this is sometimes hard to grasp. When you book a guide service you are not paying for the game you are going to take, you did that when you bought your license. What you are paying for is the use of the guide’s vessel or property. You’re paying for the hundreds or thousands of hours of experience that your guide has accumulated over the seasons of grinding in the good times and bad times. You’re paying for the wear and tear that you will likely have on the guide’s gear, decoys, pots, rods, hooks, weights, and bait. You’re paying for the couture experience that you are going to receive from your guide during the 4-12 hours you may be with them throughout that day.

Depending on the type of outing you book, you may even be paying for your room and board if you have chosen a destination hunt that offers a lodge and food during your stay. At the end of the day, there is one very important thing to remember, even though some of the guides you may be lucky to head out with may have a legendary status in your eyes, it is best to remember they are guides, not Gods, and there is no guarantee that you will be bringing home table fare, that’s just an added bonus, or the cherry on top if you will.

(Photo Credit: Rod and River Guide Service 530-870-6102)

I’ve found over the years that there are many different reasons one would want to book a guide service. Taking the opportunity to head out with a guide is a great way to introduce someone new to a sport they may eventually end up falling in love with or depending on who you talk to, obsessing over. It can be a great way to head out on a hunt with a relative that is no longer capable of long walks in the woods, trudging through the marsh, or even disabled. Guides typically have the means to help get people to and from the spot with the use of an ATV or gator.

Whatever the reason you choose to source a service just remember that there is only one guarantee. It will be something you remember your entire life and great memories will be made from that day.

If you are looking for potential guides in the Northern California area, please do not hesitate to reach out to us! If you’re not a member of the Hunt Bums community on Facebook please click here for more info and updates!