The purpose of this column is to highlight some of the guides we have here in the Pacific Northwest for our readers to aid in the selection of a guide who fits your needs. We are hoping that this helps to outline some of the things that make guides successful, fun to fish with and for other guides, tips on how to become a better guide, both on the water and as a business owner.
Ray and the author with a Skykomish River summer steelhead.
I have been fishing my entire life, but even today, try to fish with at least two to three different guides a year to learn new techniques and methods. Outside of time on the water, fishing with a guide is the single greatest way to become a better fisherman. Even the most experienced fisherman can learn new things.
What amazes is how much methods can change from one place to the next and even within a specific system, such as the Columbia River. I am also surprised how confident guides are in their techniques and how much those techniques may differ from other guides fishing the same system. As a client, I receive a constant barrage of feedback on what I am doing correctly or all wrong and why. It seems that one guide tells me to fish a certain way and when I replicate this fishing technique with a different guide, I am re-educated. As hard as this is, it does build perspective and allows us to become better overall fishermen.
Something that stands out to me from fishing with many guides is how different their client approaches can be. I have categorized guides into three categories, the great, the effective and the no thanks.
The first guide type is without question my favorite. Though they might want to put you on fish, their goal is to provide an experience and make sure that their clients have a great time. This is the approach that makes fishing fun and the type of guide to fish with, regardless of how “fishy” they might be. I highly recommend that you seek this type of guide to fish with as I guarantee that you will fish with them again and again and laugh every time. They tend to be a lot of fun, laid back, funny, and are willing to teach you little things that allow you to become a better fisherman.
The second type of guide is generally very intense and competitive, but also willing to put in a long day to create opportunities. A fisherman can learn much from this guide, but often the experience is intense, and the fisherman might leave feeling inadequate and exhausted. This is a tough one because you do leave better than you arrived, and often have dinner in the bag. I have not entirely determined the approach to use with this type of a guide, but I feel like you should give them feedback on their approach and define limits of your expectations. It is a toss-up whether I fish with this type of guide more than once, but again, they tend to be very good fishermen, and much can be learned while fishing with them.
The third is the guide who wants to put you on fish and get you back to the launch or dock as quickly as possible. I tend to avoid these types. As an example, I recently had a guide in Alaska who asked us to be at the ramp at 3:45 a.m. No big deal for me, but a bit tough for my 17-year-old son. I inquired about going an hour later and the guide responded by telling me that he had six fish in the freezer and would be happy to give them to us if we wanted to sleep in. Really? Did he think that we were only going out to fill the freezer? Needless to say, I will not be fishing with this guide ever again.
The purpose of this column is to highlight some of the guides we have here in the Pacific Northwest for our readers to aid in the selection of a guide who fits your needs. We are hoping that this helps to outline some of the things that make guides successful, fun to fish with and for other guides, tips on how to become a better guide, both on the water and as a business owner. If you are a guide and would like to be interviewed, you can contact me at email@example.com. The same goes if you are a fisherman/client and you would like to recommend your favorite guide.
The decision to start guiding full-time came when Ray realized that he could hold his own and catch fish as well as the full-time guides. Since he was confident that he could produce and had such a passion for fishing, it was a no brainer to dive into it headfirst.
With social media prevalent, it is much easier to find a guide to-day who meets your requirements and expectations. It is also much easier to determine client approval ratings before you spend money fishing with someone you will never fish with again. This makes things better, but it also does not tell the story of who the person is. Getting to know the guides that I fish with and building a lifelong relationship is not something that can be done on social media.
As we highlight guides in STS, there will be some who have had wonderful experiences and others who have had dreadful experiences with the same guide. This is normal and fishermen and women need to understand that they play a role in their success and the experience itself. The guide can only do so much; you need to meet them in the middle, listen to what they tell you and engage with them. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you want and how they are doing. If they exceed your expectations, tip them well as they work hard for a meager income. A decent tip is around $100 per person, per trip.
I love to meet new guides and would love to fish with many of you and interview you for future Guide Spotlights. Just email me and we will set something up.
Finally, this column will be a great resource for guides to learn new things about how to create happy clients. Fishing techniques are often highly guarded and that is fine, but real success lies in the feeling that your client has as they leave the ramp and head home. Hopefully they are thinking about the next trip with you and not the research that they will do when they get home to find a new guide who better meets their expectations. Customer service 101 says, ask your clients if they are happy with their experience and what would have made it better. If you don’t ask, you will not know and you will not grow.
Enjoy this column and become a part of it. I look forward to the journey ahead and all the great guides and people that I will meet along the way.
Ray holding the author’s first winter steelhead.
Ray Vermillion—Lucky Strike Guide Service
I first met Ray in 1997 when I was selling safety equipment and he was working for Genie Industries in Redmond, WA. Ray worked in the wet paint area of the Moosewerks facility, the former television set of Northern Exposure. Though Ray was not my primary contact at this Genie location, I got to know him and was lucky enough to work with him on specific needs that they had. Over the years I maintained contact with Ray through mutual friends until he retired from his day job in 2008. Ray is someone who is very near and dear to me.
Now I grew up fishing the waters of Puget Sound and did not really take an interest to river fishing until sometime after 2012. Like most, I started buying gear and trying different things out to feel my way through this new kind of fishing. I was instantly hooked for several reasons, including the scenery, the ever-changing water conditions, the chase, and the agony of defeat. Somewhere along the line, I reconnected with Ray and scheduled my first trip down either the Skykomish River or a Washington Coast river, I can’t really remember. Either way, I have fished with Ray many times since and try to fish with him 5-6 times every year.
I am a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I think that it took me well over 10,000 casts and at least ten trips before I caught my first steelhead. I will never forget that first fish or the day that I had with Ray on a very remote coastal river in Washington. Like many trips before with Ray, the day started early with a long drive on a cold and dark winter morning. We floated about 15 miles that day and I went 3 for 4. My first steelhead takedown felt very much like the 1000+ rocks that I had caught before, except when I reeled down, my float dropped and took off for the opposite bank and then upriver. I was in shock as Ray talked be through every step of the fight. This fish was hot and was like nothing that I had ever experience before. It ran upriver, jumped into the air and then headed down-stream, only to turn towards the boat and swim back upriver, under the boat. In the end, I landed a 16- to 17-pound wild buck, winter steelhead. We kept the fish in the water, snapped a few quick picks and then watched it swim away. It was a moment that I will never forget, and I owe that to Ray.
Payton Knight’s first river caught Chinook.
Like most guides, Ray started out fishing as a young boy and has fished his entire life. He spent his time with his dad chasing trout in local lakes and streams. It was not until the age of 22 that Ray caught his first steelhead. Like all of us, he got hooked and bought his first drift boat a few years later. He has been chasing these amazing fish ever since.
Ray began working full-time as a fishing guide in 2008, pursuing his greatest passion. Prior to 2008, Ray guided part-time from 1985-2008. He has always loved to be on the water. The decision to start guiding full-time came when Ray realized that he could hold his own and catch fish as well as the full-time guides. Since he was confident that he could produce and had such a passion for fishing, it was a no brainer to dive into it headfirst. Ray is unlike any guide I have ever fished with, and I will fish with him as long as we are both able.
The thing that makes Ray so unique is that he is such a nice guy. We don’t always catch fish, but that does not matter to me. Ray is always teaching, he is telling stories, he is joking around and making a day away from the office as fun as it can be. Catching fish is always a plus, but it is not why I fish with Ray.
Ray Vermilion and his legendary smile. Ray spends most of his time in NW Washington on a few of our infamous rivers. He has also spent many of his fall and winter seasons on the Washington Coast. One thing is for sure, Ray knows his rivers and has a knack for knowing what works and what doesn’t, even as conditions change. There is nobody on this planet who has taught me more about fishing than Ray.
Ray is a huge advocate for guides and the etiquette of fishing. He believes that all guides should be patient, should evaluate their clients fishing levels to constantly teach and drive them to become better fishers, even without them knowing it. Finally, it has to be fun. If a guide does not make the experience fun, then people will not come back. One area that Ray emphasizes and sets a great example is respecting others who are on the water. You will never see Ray fish through another fisherman’s water.
Ray spends most of his time in NW Washington on a few of our infamous rivers. He has also spent many of his fall and winter seasons on the Washington Coast. One thing is for sure, Ray knows his rivers and has a knack for knowing what works and what doesn’t, even as conditions change. There is nobody on this planet who has taught me more about fishing than Ray. If he had to choose his favorite fishery, he told me that it would have to be either fall Coho or winter Steelhead on NW Washington or coastal rivers. Catch and release wild steelhead might just take the cake as his number one.
Ray taught me to bobber dog and got me interested in pulling plugs. These are two methods that he employs often and I would call his bread and butter. Ray is successful with these techniques everywhere that he goes, with consistency. What he likes most about bobberdogging is that it is hands-on and allows the clients to learn to read water, cast and actively fish.
Ray spent most of his career as an industrial painter. He was a good one and continues to paint recreationally today. Aside from guiding, Ray loves his classic truck and works on classic cars. He also organizes an annual car show in Snohomish each year.
Since I know Ray so well, I will tell you that he is all about the experience that we have with him as a client. Ray is never in a hurry, puts in the time to prepare, does not cut corners and makes sure to be a great tour guide. For this reason, it would be hard to find a better time than a day on the water with Ray.
Here are a few quotes from Ray’s clients.
“Simply put, Ray is my favorite fishing guide. I average four to five guided trips per year in a variety of fisheries, but fishing with Ray on the Peninsula Rivers has become my favorite. Ray is always impeccably prepared, and his drift boat is awesome. Bottom line is we catch fish!”
“I have fished with Ray Vermillion for over 30 years and am convinced he is one of the premier Pacific Northwest river guides. He has honed his skills over the years and continues to produce excellent fishing results in many Puget Sound & Olympic Peninsula Rivers. You will not be disappointed when fishing with Ray.”
“After some surgeries I was limited in what I could physically do. A close friend who fished with Ray suggested guided float trips, and since Ray often fished the Humptulips, the river I fished as a young man and loved dearly, I gave it a try and became “hooked”.”
“Firstly, Ray was patient, pointing out the differences in how to present baits and lures from a boat compared to being on the bank. He was also patient with our many casts into the trees and sunken logs! Mostly, however, he was instructive in a positive way about getting the baits into the seams and runs where he knew fish lay, and the results were positive!”
“The trips with Ray became frequent and highly anticipated, both for the fish and Ray’s company and humor. I appreciate Ray’s love for his work and his knowledge. He clearly enjoys getting us fish and having a great experience, seeing eagles and otters and occasional deer and elk along the way; even a young Bobcat on one occasion.”
“Lastly, as one who has owned a whitewater raft, I am impressed with Ray’s skills operating a drift boat, as if that was all he did. While positioning the boat Ray also keeps us baited up, makes sure we fish at the right depth and with the right gear, directs our casts to the right seams, mans the anchor, nets the fish, keeps us warm and comfortable, and tells bad jokes. Can’t wait for next time!”
Ray is a steward of his community, and he is very kid centric. Ray provides guided trips in the summer to get kids interested in fishing.
If you talk to guides who know Ray, they will all tell you the same thing. He is about the nicest guy you will ever meet. He is competitive, sure, but always willing to help anyone out, including other guides. I have personally watched him take other guides down a river to teach them how to fish it safely. Who does this? Again, this is a testament to what a great guy that he is.
Ray is also a huge advocate for sustainability. He has been an active member of the Grays Harbor Guides Association for years and is constantly working to preserve our fisheries. In addition, Ray is a steward of his community, and he is very kid centric. Ray provides guided trips in the summer to get kids interested in fishing. This is something that you just don’t see very often. He is constantly sharing his pas-sion with the next generation and always teaching.
To book a day on the water with Ray, you can call him at (206) 661-1189 or visit his website at http://luckystrikeguideservice. com or http://www.fishingforanexperience.com.