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Catch Fish, Have Fun, Eat Well, Go Home Happy

Catch Fish, Have Fun, Eat Well, Go Home Happy

A Lake Erie fishing guide launches his boat in Port Clinton Ohio.

How to get the most out of your Lake Erie fishing charter trip.

Relationships and fishing trips crack along the same fault lines. Needs. Boundaries. Expectations. Dreams. 

Get it right and find true joy and fulfillment. Get it wrong, and you’re going to have a really bad time.

While booking a guide will often lead to more success and enjoyment than trying to figure out a new fishery yourself, some guided clients will not go home happy. Sometimes that’s due to unforeseen circumstances. Like relationships, however, those failures typically come down to a simple lack of communication.

Capt. Ross Robertson has guided several thousand anglers on Lake Erie over the last 23 years, more than half his life. That’s plenty long enough to recognize the pitfalls in client/guide dynamics.

“I’ve seen a lot of trips go south because of things that are all very avoidable,” Ross told me.

How to Make Sure a Guide Is a Good Fit

Ross has a hard Rule Number One for booking a fishing guide. 

“We’re in a world where we all want to email and text,” he said. “Pick up the phone and talk to the guide before you book and make sure that you’re a good fit.” 

Ross, for example, might not be a good fit for a group of nuns or anyone offended by cursing (though you might be hard-pressed to find any fishing guide who doesn’t use a few choice expletives). Fishing guides are a notoriously colorful breed, so you at least want to know if you can handle being stuck in a boat with this person all day–or if they can handle being stuck with you. High-demand guides are usually more than happy to turn down potential clients with whom preferences, personalities, and ethics don’t match. 

“I have five guys that work with me and we’re all very different people,” Ross said. “Certain people just don’t jive [sic] with this personality or that personality. And it’s important because we’re out to have a good time aside from just catching fish.”

How to Make Sure a Guide Can Meet Your Expectations

“The other thing is making sure we’re able to offer what you want,” Ross continued. “A lot of trips I think are bamboozled with people’s expectations because they’re not open and clear about what they’re trying to do. Whether it’s species, size, timing, or something as simple as asking, ‘What’s the best time to go fishing?’ Well, that means something different for one guy than it does a husband and wife couple.”

A very serious, experienced angler often seeks a different day on the water than a novice. Guides will employ different tactics and approaches to load the boat than hunt for a trophy.

Ross said he’s had clients request a 10-pound walleye and a limit. While quite possible—it happened to me the first day I fished with Ross—expecting such an objectively challenging feat of fishing beckons disappointment. 

A Trophy Lake Erie Walleye

If you want to fly fish, say so upfront–and prepare yourself to catch far fewer fish unless they’re heavily congregated in a reef or river. If you want direct-contact takes with the rod in your hand, seek out a jig specialist guide. Captains who spend more time trolling spinners or crankbaits may prefer to stick with what they know. If you don’t do well with long runs, bright sun, or big days on the water, don’t hide that fact until you step onboard.

How to Handle Unpredictable Weather With a Guide

It’s foolish to assume the weather will follow just one pattern on any given day on the water. 

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Anglers holding trophy Lake Erie walleye

“People think, ‘Oh, it’ll just work out,’” Ross said. “Something will happen or, you know, all of a sudden I’ll be fine in shorts at 50 degrees on the Great Lakes.”

Rains arrive out of nowhere, the wind comes up, and the sun’s heat can go from nonexistent to unbearable in minutes. The weather can sometimes be more pleasant in April than in July. As a matter of course, you should pack for every eventuality. Bring shorts and rain pants. A sun hoody, rain jacket, and a coat. Don’t haul the kitchen sink, but it’s more than acceptable to bring a backpack or duffel bag per person to make sure you have the required clothing. Essentials like sunblock, sunglasses, a water bottle, and a fishing license can go in there, too.

But you should be aware of the weather–and the chance it might be prohibitive–on the day you’re scheduled to fish. 

“I understand everybody has different budgets and time away from work,” Ross said, “but I tell people to book three days on the Great Lakes. One day we’re probably gonna sit on the shore, one day you’re gonna think you’re back home in some puddle, and then one day you’re gonna have the best fishing day of your life.”

Don’t expect to be able to book extra boat time on short notice if you’re stuck onshore during a squall on your original dates. 

“You can’t just be like, ‘Oh, let’s just add a day today,’” Ross said. “All of the good guides are booked. You have to plan this more like a hunting trip, not a traditional fishing trip on a small lake.”

Erie is the eleventh-largest lake and the single greatest walleye fishery on Earth. Communicate honestly and effectively with your guide or charter captain, show up with the proper expectations and gear, and you’re bound to build a bountiful relationship with this inland sea and the professionals who ply its waters. 

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