Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Guides need to know where their place is
Have you ever heard of the old saw, "Never poke a man's fire until you've known him for seven years?" That aptly describes proper conversation between a guide and his clients and between clients and their guide. The usual rapport between these two factions can be quickly destroyed by a few words exchanged without first giving thought.
We've guided both hunters and fishermen since the mid-1960's, just recently having to let our Captain's license for saltwater charters lapse because of a history of heart problems. But our memory hasn't failed us and we have several great examples of how to screw up your relationship with a guide or how a guide can cause you to never, ever want to be back in his stewardship.
Here's a classic. This happened years ago, actually in our first year of guiding. We used a 16-foot aluminum skiff for navigating the tricky and often shallow waters of the Piscataqua River and Little Bay, which was well suited for fishing this tough water. My clients appeared at the chosen meeting spot and first out of one of their mouths was, "Is this old thing what we'll be fishing out of?" My answer was, "Yup, if you plan to go fishing, or you can choose to just go home."
We had a no-catch, no-pay clause. This was very easy to fulfill as we had the striper fishery down pat. So for their half day we kept them out of the fish area as they were constantly complaining about every imaginable thing. About 15 minutes before quitting time, we tied on a couple of five-inch Rapala lures and swung in over some non-fail striper ground. Both of them instantly hooked-up. And since then our striper size limit was a small 16 inches, they both went home with less cash in their pocket but a tiny striper for their bounty. We never heard from them again, but continued on with some excellent clients who often caught fish up to 40 pounds.
Here's a real common problem with guides that hunt waterfowl or game birds with dogs. We've always welcomed dogs, but always ask how well they are trained and are they steady. It's not a problem if they are not steady as long as we know and we can make adjustments. Hunting with my own dogs, which often were not steady at waterfowl hunts, we always kept them on a lead until we needed them to retrieve. And we always told our "sports" that we'd let our dogs take turns on retrieves. On this one hunt, our two guests on a field duck hunt were Maine sea duck guides with a great Lab retriever who worked strictly from a boat. His dog was not steady and stole several retrieves from my old dog. I finally told him to tie his dog up or go home. He reluctantly did tie his dog up but the dog pulled his lead out of the ground and got in a fight with my dog on his retrieve, trying to take the duck away. That was the end of that supposed three day guided hunt.
Since much of my guiding has concerned field goose hunts, here are some other beauties that came from those days. "Hey, why don't you leave a hole in your decoy set for the birds to land in?" "Why don't you set a bunch of upright ganders together like they are calling to the geese coming in?" "I always keep calling until the birds start to flare off?" (that one is too funny!). One of the best ones is: "I guide at home and make thousands of dollars doing it. Why don't you do (whatever, whatever, whatever?")
One of the sleaziest tricks that we've ever heard of is when a guide has taken a sport to a special place that took years to get the landowner to agree to hunting there on his property. And after you've taken hunters there they try to bribe the landowner with lobsters or things like that to let them hunt the property, after you've spent years cultivating the owner!
Ever tried to get ducks or geese to come into a set of decoys when the so-called sportsmen or sportswomen let their dogs run all around their layout blinds when the birds are coming in and then complain about your lack of skills to get the birds into shooting range?
Even though we've guided for years, we still often use the knowledge and skills of a guide when we go to new ground or don't have the equipment to do what we want to do. Fishing on the Great Lakes we've always hired guides for a couple days to get us set straight. First thing we do is tell our guide that we are ourselves a guide. But then we never, ever try to give advice and only when they urge you for information try tactfully to tell them that they are doing "it" exactly like you'd have done it. And we try to stay off of their favorite places if they are on the water when we are.
We'll have to admit that most guides do have some ego. We know we do but also try to keep a handle on it. We also know a lot of so-called sports have egos and we also try to feed their egos. But every once in a while things get out of hand. We've learned over the years to just grin and bear it but never, ever accept a guiding job with those same people again.
"Never poke a man's fire until you've known him for seven years!"
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If you missed the first couple days of the New England Paddlesports Show at the UNH Field House, then you still have Sunday to make it. The show's last day runs from 9a.m.-4p.m.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.