by Daniel Kiazyk

I've done it for sometime now, from both ends so to speak (as client and guide), but each charter I've been on has its own charm, excitement and yes, disappointments. A catfish charter is "dynamic" to say the least. No two are alike, but common components exist. What can you expect or what should you expect from your catfish adventure? In what follows are a few of my observations and expectations for a catfish charter.

Prior to your Cattin' Day

Initially it should be said that many details need to be clarified before you'll even meet your guide. Price is a main concern, but a more important question to ask is: "what are you getting for your money?" In most cases I've found …. you do get what you pay for…. very rarely have I booked a bargain basement service and received top notch service! Do some shopping, get the deal you can live with. Your chances of having a good day fishing, learning about the resource and perhaps catching a trophy should all are enhanced via a paid charter.

Ask about the duration (how many hours of actually fishing); meals and gear you'll need to bring. In some instances photos/photography may also be available (so you can leave that expensive camera at home if you wish). One question that you (the prospective client) should ask the guide is if he/she has any references. These contacts can save you a lot of grief and will give you another point of view about your guide's talents. Doing a little homework will go a long way towards making your trip an enjoyable one.

If you actually decide on a service, there are some crucial details which need to be discussed prior to meeting your guide. Cancellation and payment schedules need to be understood and followed. Ask your guide about licenses and lodging (if lodging isn't already a part of the package). A meeting place and time are also required for the morning where you'll actually meet your guide. Keeping in touch with your guide prior to the charter is a really good idea. E-mail, telephone, letters are possible means of keeping in touch. If you can't make the trip he might be able to refund your deposit – but don't expect it as these folks have to probably turn down other people's business once you've booked a day with them.

Your Cattin' Day

Perhaps it is not said often enough but it's always good to be prepared for your day and all of its possibilities. Have a rain suit ready as well as some sun block and sunglasses. These latter items will often save the day. Appropriate clothing is a necessity. Most services don't provide a lunch, so you'll have to come with your own lunch. Generally you can leave the rest of your gear at home. Rods, reels, tackle, and bait are provided by the outfitter. On the Red river for example I'd shudder to think what a thirty-pound channel cat would do to most medium walleye outfits.

Get to know your guide. If he/she is going to give an orientation session before going out, get involved. Safety should be a primary concern. Even if you think a question may be dumb – go ahead and ask it. Too often a guide will forget the simplest of issue because it is done so often this or that way. Ask it might make a difference. I've had some anglers not really interested in the orientation I'll often give before going out, but once on the water, they'll thank me for having prepared them for certain eventualities. The guides I like best are ones who are "teacher-like" and want to share what they know about the fishery they call home. The clients I like are those guys who aren't know it alls and want to learn about the fishery. The other quality to an interesting guide/client is some one who knows how to relax and share things about themselves and what they like to do---- fish.

Having said all the latter, don't count yourself out of the equation if you know something about cattin'. Your guide is probably knowledgeable about the river/lake reservoir you're fishing but should be open to suggestions. I enjoy feedback from my clients and have benefited on occasion from the knowledge of others. Your guide however will do the lion's share of the day's work… and rightfully so; he or she is the guide! Lay back and enjoy the day. Let the guide do the work.

As for angling it is good etiquette for your guide to ask if s/he can angle with you. Most guides I know will pass their line to you should they hook up, in effect you are only doubling your chance at a fish. They will however (and probably) cast the line for you and will set the rod. If you feel comfortable doing this ask your guide if he minds if you cast and set up your own rig. Remember (and I don't want to sound pedantic), you will be in the guides boat, and courtesy is not something you leave at the launch.

Perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of being a guide is seeing your clients catch big fish and lots of them. I do my homework and preparation with a view to putting my clients on big fish (people don't realize that I'll often be on the river a day in advance of a charter even if I don't have a client the day before their charter). I believe that is a significant quality for any guide --- they should genuinely be fired up when you're catching fish. Finally, listen to his stories about past trips and experiences had on the river by your guide. I've been on both ends of the teaching function that the latter can play during a charter, especially when I've had trouble hooking fish and when clients have had trouble hooking cats. Listen and try to change your outlook, preconceived notions, you might be surprised at what can happen.

The end of your Cattin' Day

Once your day is over, you'll have a chance to speak frankly with your guide about your day. A guide has something to learn form every client/experience. If your experience was good one, a tip is a good idea. Don't punish your guide if the day was less than stellar. Cold fronts and changes in the environment can put cats off for a while. Remember this is fishing and if it's meat you want you're better off going to the supermarket. I've been on charter where I haven't caught much but I felt a tip was required looking at how hard the guide worked at it ….. all day long…. If you think you'll fish with that guide again next year, get a booking right then and there or ASAP….. good guides are often booked well in advance. Now the other side of the coin holds true. If your day wasn't a good one, no tip is required. Just remember fishing ……. Is just that, it's the whole experience not just the catching that counts.

A good guide/charter can make a day out on the water that much more enjoyable. Do your homework and have some fun, because that what it's all supposed to be about.