Want to gain a ton of fishing experience, fish with loads of random people and spend your days in a really cool office? Well then, I have just the summer job for you - fishing guide! As soon as you get your guiding permit and insurance, everyone you fish with becomes an expert, your equipment all works perfectly all the time and fish simply jump in your boat. It’s awesome - and a giant lie!

But, given that fishermen as a lot are known as liars, giant lies are just part of the mystique of being a professional fishing guide.

Jokes aside, guiding fishermen truly is a rewarding way to earn your kibble - you do get a cool “office” and sometimes you even get clients that can really fish. Having been a guide for 14 years, I can tell you those are rare.

Why am I telling you this? Surely, it’s not to bust up on clients; after all, most of them can at least handle a spinning rod, but very, very few can fish at more than what I’d call a basic level, regardless of what they tell me during our pre-trip phone briefing. And this is not necessarily to be unexpected; we promote our trips more around angler education than trophy trips or grocery gettin’ (in fact our trips are purely catch and release to protect our resources). It’s likely true that those with very high skill sets have boats and don’t hire guides in most cases.

I tell you all this to set the stage for my system. See, catching fish can be easy, but it’s always a lot harder to get someone else to catch fish, especially if you don’t know that person’s fishing skills or habits. We guide for smallmouth bass and walleyes using strictly artificial lures, mostly casting and as a guide I can park my boat on top of a school of fish and tell you what to do, but it will still be up to you to put them in the boat. Over the course of a season (April - October), we run the gamut on presentations, our water levels will fluctuate 40+ feet and on many days we’ll bounce around between species even. Yet, I have two anglers in a bass boat and can only haul so much tackle. And, said tackle has to be useable by anybody (literally), durable and affordable too . So, I’ve simplified and I’m describing it to you next because, if this breakdown of tackle can work in my scenario with a huge range of anglers and conditions, it will certainly work for you as well.

Our most common presentations are jerkbaits, crankbaits, topwaters, finesse jigging and dropshots. One of those five will catch fish on any given day here. We’ll add a few more specialized techniques from time to time, but those five do the heavy lifting and the system is built around them. Once those are somewhat standardized, we can move to rod combos to present them on and keep in mind we’re limited on both boat space and budget.

My guide rods are St. Croix Avid X, Mojo Bass and Eyecons. The Avids are the lightest and most sensitive; they are 6’9” medium-light power, extra-fast action and handle the jigs/dropshots. The Mojo Bass rods are 6’8” medium power, extra-fast action and handle the jerkbaits and most topwaters. The Eyecons 7’ medium power, fast action and built on an overall slower blank; handle all the crankbaits and occasional topwaters. These rod lines represent the middle range of St Croix’s offerings, with a balance of performance and value. Notice I only carry two powers? That’s accomplished without sacrificing feel by choosing my lure selection to fall within the physical weight range of these power ratings. Yes, there is a bit of sacrifice involved (I’d love to have my entire lure selection available daily, you know, just in case!), but it works.

Reels are very easy. All my guide rods have #30 Abu Garcia Revo SX spinning reels on them. They are workhorses with plenty of line capacity, smooth drags and fast enough retrieve speeds to keep us efficient. They represent a great balance of price and performance.

Line is simple too, at least these days. I used to differentiate, putting 10# braid on the Avid X’s and 15# braid on everything else and before that I even ran fluorocarbon on the jig and crankbait rods. I learned that most (not some, most) anglers don’t control slack line enough to fish fluorocarbon (or nylon mono) without tangling it, where-as braid is far more slack-line tolerant. Deep hooking jig fish was also an issue; braid increases the sensitivity level exponentially.

These days I use 15# Trilene Braid across the board. It is bombproof, handles easily on spinning tackle and is supple enough to use with anything from light jigs to robust cranks. In most cases, I adjust the presentation with a Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader about 12-18” long; 8# leaders for jigs/dropshots, 15# for jerks/cranks and 15# Trilene XT mono for topwaters because fluorocarbon sinks. See, simple.

If this matrix of three rod/reel/line combos can cover my entire season of guiding for different species with all sorts of anglers, I’m certain it’ll work for you as well. After all, it’s been 14-years in development and testing.