Fishing for a living and fishing as a form of recreation are two very different things. Here’s one professional guide’s perspective that’s enlightening.
I’m blessed with a very exciting job and I know it. Writing for a living is something many people dream of doing, but in reality, there are fewer full-time outdoor writers than there are players in the NBA.
The pressures that come with writing and filming TV shows are many, and not until I got into this industry did I realize professional guides lead much the same lifestyle.
Growing up I never fished with a guide, though knew many.
But when I jumped into the world of outdoor writing and entertainment, things changed. Suddenly, my time was very limited and I felt the pressure of having to catch fish everywhere I went. No fish, no magazine articles or TV shows, and nothing for my wife, Tiffany, to use for recipe development. That’s when I started fishing with guides.
For me, spending 250-plus days a year on the road is the norm, meaning I have little time to prepare my gear, boat and do the research I used to in order to keep on top of fish runs.
It instantly became tougher for me to track where the hottest bites were happening and what methods were producing the most fish. It was obvious I needed help, not from friends who are outstanding anglers but largely limited to fishing weekends, but from guides who are in the trenches day after day.
I’ve been fortunate to pursue salmon and steelhead throughout much of Alaska, Oregon, parts of Washington and northern California, and connecting with guides has greatly impacted me. I’ve spent time with many top guides, as well as folks like Buzz Ramsey, Nick Amato, Mike Perusse and Scott Weedman. Though these gentlemen are not guides, they make their living in the fishing industry and know far more than I ever will.
As for the guides, they’ve taught me a lot, and for that I’m forever indebted. Guys like Jody Smith, Bob Cobb, Bret Stuart, Brett Gesh, Greg Brush, Tom Baumgartner, Bruce Slightom, Todd Calitri and many others, have enlightened me to the world of salmon, trout and steelhead fishing beyond what I ever could have accomplished on my own.
As a columnist for various magazines, the one I looked most forward to writing was entitled, “What The Guides Do” and ran in STS for a couple years. Unfortunately, my time on the road cut into making the necessary footwork to complete the column, and it went away. But what those guides taught me–and many STS readers–greatly impacted how I fish.
One guide I’ve spent the a lot of time with over the years, in a variety of settings, is Jeremy Toman. We’ve spent time together in Alaska, chased winter steelhead on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, gone after chinook in Tillamook Bay and endured 113º temperatures for summer steelhead on the Deschutes River. All were successful trips, and I learned something each and every day.
Having spent so much time on the water with Toman, I also learned a lot about his perspective on guiding for living, and how it emulates so many other full-time guides I’ve been fortunate to fish with and learn from over the years.
Full-time guide, Jeremy Toman enjoying what he loves.
“There’s no substitute for spending time on the water,” shared Jeremy when asked what gives guides the edge. “When you can spend several days in a row on the water, you learn a lot. Even if I take a day or two off, it can be hard to get back into the routine of tracking fish runs, finding where they’re at and figuring out what they’re biting. More importantly, being on the river each day allows you to see how things change in terms of where fish move and what they’re biting. If you’re not there to see these changes take place, and figure out what you have to do in order to catch them again, it can be very frustrating.”
Jeremy is also an advocate of trying something different. “One thing I’ll do within any given season is try something very different, something that no one else is doing,” continues Jeremy.
“For instance, I’ll try different color patterns of lures that traditionally don’t work in the area I’m fishing, or I’ll tinker around with the action of plugs to get a different movement. I’ll try different egg cures, change-up my handling process of baits and mix up the presentations with different sizes, colors and styles of driftbobbers. Sometimes is a simple, subtle change that triggers a bite.”
I’ve noticed in my time spent with Jeremy that he’s never content for very long. He applies methods that have worked for him over the years, but he’s continually looking for something that might work better. This isn’t easy for anglers to do, stepping outside their comfort zone, but it can pay big dividends that yield an obvious advantage.
As a guide, like many in the business, Jeremy’s job is wide-ranging. From someone who is supposed to catch fish for clients every day, to much more. A guide’s work often finds them being a mechanic, a cook, counselor, liaison among friends, and more. But the greatest pressures could lie in the day to day grind.
“It’s tough being on top of things all day, every day,” smiles Jeremy. “After weeks on end of being sleep deprived and trying to catch what can be finicky fish, it can get to you. It’s physically and mentally exhausting and the most challenging part can be keeping things fun.” That’s one thing I’ve always respected during the times I’ve fished (and hunted) with Jeremy, he’s always been in a good mood and made for fun times, no matter how brutal the weather or how slow the action.
Scott Haugen and Jeremy Toman worked their way into this Deschutes River steelhead in 113º temperatures, proving that never giving up does pay off.
Guides are not only motivators and people who are expected to catch fish, they are teachers. Clients book trips for many reasons: some just to get away from work, some to put fish in the freezer, some to learn specific fishing methods or how to run a boat or particular section of river. Some of the best do-it-yourself anglers I know book guided trips every year to learn new approaches that might offer them an advantage. As long as you’re honest about what you’re looking for in a guided trip, most guides are usually eager and accommodating.
For those new to the world of salmon, steelhead and trout fishing, there’s much to learn, and Jeremy offers sound advice. “Be sure to research the area you intend on fishing. Put yourself in an area you know holds fish so you’re not doubting that element. Also, use gear that works for what you’re doing. If the gear’s not right, you won’t catch many, if any, fish. Learn the riggings, the best setups and use what people have already proven to work in the waters you’re fishing.”
“I’ve seen fish caught on some weird stuff over the years, so I’m not saying you have to do exactly what everyone else is doing,” Jeremy clarifies. “My point is to put yourself in the best situation possible in order to find success, and this often comes through learning from people around you.”
As for Jeremy’s advice to experienced anglers looking to gain that extra edge, he advocates investing in new gear. “I’m a big advocate of new gear, and with so many specialized forms of tackle on today’s market, don’t lose sight of the fact that these things are designed with the intent to help people catch more fish.”
Jeremy Toman is continually experimenting with plugs, lures and baits to find something that might work just a little better.
“Every day I try new gear for whatever reason,” shares Jeremy. “I might get two identical lures, one will catch fish right off the bat, the other won’t even get bit. I continually test new gear that keeps fish biting, and this can change from day to day. Even if you’re only free to fish on the weekends, try new lures from one week to the next. I’m not saying to give up your favorite lure, fly or egg cure, but try something different to find if there’s something that might work better. You never know unless you try. Case in point, I’d say 90% of the salmon we catch in Tillamook Bay are caught on new lures; there’s just something about them the fish prefer.”
Once you find a lure that catches fish, Jeremy advocates keeping it clean. He, like many top guides, washes down his gear with lemon scented Joy dishwashing soap. However, once his hot lure quits getting bit, even after a thorough washing, Jeremy will switch to a new, identical lure to see if that makes a difference.
“Pay attention to the little things, like changing out line and tying good knots,” concludes Jeremy.
“When possible, one of the best moves you can make to get marked improvement is to spend more time on the water. If you can, fish longer hours and push through those hard times of the day when most people give up. This is when you really begin to learn what has to be done in order to catch fish. This is when you are forced to study the water, pay attention to levels and clarity, then figure out what has to be done to make fish bite. It’s challenging, and not easy to break free from work or family obligations, but nothing will make you a better angler than spending more time on the water.”
In the range of conditions I’ve pursed salmon and steelhead in with Jeremy Toman, it’s his mental approach that highly impresses me. His mind has no “off” switch, as he’s always thinking.
He, like many top guides I’ve been fortunate to spend time with, is always exploring ways to catch more fish. He’s rarely content, always looking at ways to improve. This is not to be confused with a lack of confidence in the gear or techniques being used, rather a testimony to how driven a full-time guide must be in order to find consistent success and make an honest living.
- written by Scott Haugen