It might seem like the dream job, but fishing guides have a pretty tough existence. They get up early, they carry the heavy stuff, they untie our tangles and tie our knots, and they find us fish. All while under the pressure of hoping the work doesn’t dry up and that the next fishing season will be a good one. It’s not a job for the faint-hearted, but for the driven. For the passionate. For the determined. But these unsung heroes have had perhaps one of their hardest and most uncertain years in living memory with the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are a truly vital cog in the fishing industry machine.

Why should you care? Well, there are plenty of reasons why guides are important to the fishing industry:

  • They help beginners have good experiences and subsequently become lifetime anglers
  • They teach novices good practice in terms of techniques, fish care, being kind to the environment and etiquette
  • They have an active involvement and interest in environmental issues
  • They put a lot of money into your cash register
  • They help to create more responsible anglers through education
  • They are incredible brand ambassadors; their customers will take note of the tackle they use and probably become customers themselves
  • They have an international audience – for most guides, international visitors and tourists make up a large portion of their client base

That’s just a few of the reasons why as an industry we need to ensure guides survive the current storm and come out the other side in one piece. After all, these guys and gals could really help stimulate sales for your businesses in the future both short and long term. So, what can we do to help and reap the many benefits they bring long into the future?

Recommend the good guys

Word-of-mouth promotion is one of the best marketing tools out there for a fishing guide. So, if you have one who regularly visits your store and generally gets rave reviews from clients, then recommend them. Naturally, recommending someone who isn’t employed by you to your customers carries some risk, but when you find guides you can trust, you should absolutely advise people to use them. You are a trusted source of knowledge on fishing to your customers. By encouraging customers to use guides, you are also increasing their chances of having a successful day fishing with tackle bought in your store on your local waters, which can be no bad thing.

Keep up that discount

Guides can spend a lot of money in your store and have the potential to introduce a plethora of new customers to you, so you should really show your appreciation where you can. Many tackle shops already offer discounts to guides but consider increasing that discount during this difficult year. A limited time increase in the discount will not only help guides bring their outgoings under control when income is reduced but will also be a great gesture that is sure to enhance their loyalty towards you for the future. Talk to your local guides, find out what is working for them and what they need. Perhaps they need the discount only on certain items? By working more closely together on this, you can both reap the long-term rewards. You could even try giving guides promotional codes that they can share with select customers for certain items to help boost sales of specific products.

Promote domestic fishing

Adam Priest is a fly fishing guide of 10 years in New Zealand. In a normal year, about 90% of his customers are international visitors from overseas, but when COVID-19 struck that all changed. A renewed focus on domestic fishing and the promotion of that would go a long way to helping guides like him.

“It’s always good to be promoted by brands and retailers through their websites and social media platforms. What would also be really helpful right now is encouraging the domestic market to have a go at fishing with a guide. It’s impossible to tell what will happen. With the borders closed and no decisions being made on when they will open, next season is not looking good. The Government has said they borders may remain closed for up to two years. If that happens, we need to focus on growing the domestic market.”

Just because you’re a native and an experienced angler, doesn’t mean you couldn’t benefit from using a guide.

Organize a staff trip

With guides across the country experiencing cancellations in their hundreds this summer, one way you could help out your local guide is by using them yourself. Why not organise a fishing trip for your staff and get a guide or two to take them out on some lesser explored waters? This would help them financially but also give you and your staff a closer connection to local guides, which could ultimately benefit your business if they see you are someone they can trust and rely on in times of crisis. 

Be innovative and educate

Andrew Taylor is an England international fly fisherman and guide of over 20 years. For him, innovative ideas and wanting to create better fishermen are the most important things the industry can do to help guides at present. 

“One thing I’d like to see more of is try-before-you-buy opportunities and for brands and retailers not to flood the market with poor product. I see so many anglers who come for tuition with tackle which isn’t right, poor quality flies and leader. We need new anglers to have the right equipment, so they have a good experience.”

Smart ideas like letting customers try products under the stewardship of a good guide, might encourage them to buy something a little more expensive than they’d planned, and will be the right gear that they know works. There’s a reason test drives are a thing, you know.

Taster sessions

The ability guides have to help create new lifelong anglers has already been championed in this article, but you could really enhance that ability by organising some taster sessions. More and more people are turning to angling as newcomers or returning after a long time away right now, and taster sessions could be the perfect way to ensure they stay on the hook. Tasters could help ensure people are learning how to fish correctly and are using the products you stock and want to sell via the guides. It’s also a good way to get your shop name out into the local community more.

Not just now, but anytime, we should be looking out for each other as an industry and trying to make the most of the opportunities and overcome the challenges thrown our way. Just don’t forget about your friendly, neighbourhood guides. They’re the real heros.