For guide and customer alike, the goal is simple: catch fish.
Sometimes it is achieved; other times it is not.
But a bad day on the water still is better than the best day at the office or in a factory.
Well . . . sometimes for the guides it doesn’t seem that way at the time, especially when they are on the “receiving end.” Invariably, though, they can look back and laugh, despite wet feet, lost gear, assorted injuries, and other indignities.
Louisiana guide and outfitter Ron Castille remembers a client who agreed to back his johnboat into the water for him. All went well until the customer gunned the truck to head back up the launch ramp and the fender brace snagged the bow line.
“Possibly because the sun had already risen, the client was in a hurry and did not see me waving or hear me yelling for him to stop,” Castille remembered. “He dragged the boat behind the trailer for about 100 yards on the gravel and shell parking lot.
“Several giggling spectators and I arrived at his parking spot only a few seconds after he exited the truck. With the help of the gigglers, we were able to put the boat back on the trailer and the re-launch was successful.”
But the fun wasn’t over.
Later that morning, Castille “felt something wet and moving fast” hit his collar. It was his client’s spoon and pork chunk.
“I can still remember looking at him as he continued to try to cast me, along with his spoon, into the water. I think that it took about three times before he gave up.”
The Louisiana guide, however, still hadn’t learned his lesson. He later asked his customer to hand him the push pole. And, yes, that’s exactly what happened.
“I am still fighting with the trolling motor when I am clobbered on the head with the end of the push pole. With an open mouth and squinting eyes, I did not see where my sunglasses entered the water, but I could easily see my brand new white fishing cap sitting in the stinking black marsh mud.”
Lesson finally learned, Castille cranked the outboard and headed home, where he received a tip that he would have considered “really good” under normal circumstances.
A forgiving man, the guide agreed to take the man fishing again. This time, the client showed up “with a useless 4-foot push pole” as a joke.
“I fished several more times with him and we joked about our first trip together,” the Castille remembered with a laugh. “He continued the tradition of tipping me well and it was appreciated. I still have the short push pole.”
Once a guide, pro angler Dennis Tietje also received a generous tip for services rendered above, beyond and, well, below . . .
A father with five children asked him to take two out at a time so that he could videotape them fishing. The kids ranged in age from 2 to 10.
“The day was a lot of fun, but challenging,” Tietje recalled. “The funny part came when the youngest boy wanted to drive the boat and so I put him up in my lap, with his hands on the steering wheel. The dad thought that was great.”
The guide, though, couldn’t leave well enough alone. He started tickling the boy.
“I thought he needed to smile a little for the camera, so I tickled him a little harder. That’s when I felt something warm running down my legs. He peed on my lap! A lot!
“It was pretty funny and I got a really nice tip at the end of the day.”
And children aren’t the only ones to “share,” as Red River guide Homer Humphreys learned, when taking a couple of elderly clients fishing.
“One old gentleman wanted to stand up front,” the guide said. “He told me that he wanted to pee and he wanted me to hold him. I fish barefoot, by the way.”
You see it coming, don’t you?
As the client was taking care of business, he told Humphreys, “Homer, when I was your age, I peed like a bullet. Now it’s like a shotgun.”
But Homer already knew that because he was standing in the evidence. “And I couldn’t let go of him.”
Occasionally, accidents don’t involve harm or humiliation to the guide, but still can lead to unwanted exposure. That was the case for Bobby Gentry at Dale Hollow Lake, when his customer showed up with a battery-powered, glow-in-the-dark spinnerbait for a night trip.
“We were up one of the creeks and on his first cast, he put that spinnerbait 30 feet up into a tree limb,” Gentry remembered. “It broke his spirit to lose that bait.”
“Lose” might be the wrong word. The bait was disconnected from the line, but it was by no means departed to an unknown destination. That’s because it kept glowing on into the next day.
The client later told Gentry, “I had no problem finding the spot that you took me to.
The guide added, “The battery lasted about 20 hours, but for two years that spinnerbait showed where my bank was.”
Once in awhile, when the fishing is slow, customers can be good for entertainment value. Guide and lure maker Stephen Headrick recalls a couple who showed knowing only how to use push-button spincast reels.
“So, I got to helping them learn to use spinning rods,” the Tennessean chuckled.
“They wanted to turn them upside down. They said they felt more comfortable with them that way. So I was sitting in the front seat and every time I would look back, I would just giggle under my breath as I watched them fish with those spinning reels upside down.”
As they fished, the clients, who were “flatlanders,” asked Headrick what happened to all of the dirt that was dug out to create Dale Hollow. “Just in fun, and not meaning to be mean, I told them to look at all of the hills. And I told them that they took all that dirt and pushed it up to make those hills.”
Other times, customers are a life saver.
“I was fishing a Carolina rig and when I set the hook, it was like hitting a brick wall with no give,” said guide and bass pro Judy Wong. “The rod came out of my hand and, when I reached for it, I fell out of the boat.”
Her clients threw her a life jacket and helped her back into the boat. “They learned afterward that I don’t really know how to swim.”
Rarely, however, clients can be more irritating than fingernails on a chalkboard. Potomac River guide Steve Chaconas recalls one of those.
“One of the worst was a guy and his boss. The guy was great, but the boss was grumpy,” the guide said.
“We pulled up to the first stop and the boss lost a fish. I offered some advice and he told me that he knew how to fish. It happened again a few minutes later, and I again offered some advice.”
This time, the boss replied “Just drive the boat, boat boy!” And Chaconas agreed to not coach him anymore.
At the next stop, the guide quietly told the other client to cast his bait onto the bank and slide it into the water to avoid spooking the fish.”
“He whacked them! Ripped off 12 in a row.” Chaconas remembered with a laugh.
The angry boss kept casting into the water, scaring fish, without realizing what was happening.
“On the way out of the creek, he asked why he wasn’t able to catch fish while his employee was bringing them in one after the other,” the guide said. “I requested permission to speak and told him.
“He scolded me for not filling him in on the secret. I told him that I was just the ‘boat boy.’”
Still, by and large, the majority of clients are a pleasure to fish with, despite the unforeseen and embarrassing events that sometimes accompany them.
“I’ve never had a bad client in 37 years of guiding,” offered Humphreys.
“Most of my clients are good,” Gentry said. “I haven’t had any that I wanted to take back to the dock and dump off.”
And Tietje added, “Every now and then, you get someone with a different expectation about what you will be doing and you have to deal with that. But, in general, guiding is great, especially if it’s family oriented. When I was a guide, my biggest enjoyment was taking kids to catch easy fish.”
(A version of this article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)