The province of Ontario, despite its population and revenue generation capabilities through sport fishing, has no provincially recognized program for fishing guides. This means that any person with a fishin’ pole and a boat can call themselves a guide and charge whatever they want. However the potential ramifications of this are many and can be detrimental to those “legitimate” outfitters that carry insurance and require their guides to maintain a certain standard.
When I started guiding 20 years ago there were essentially two primary outfitters in the game with a staff of guides and for all intents and purposes, we set the bar in terms of pricing standards (It is also worth noting that fly fishing guiding rates in Southern Ontario have not increased at all since that time).
The original standard was put in place and was followed closely by the other guides who followed in the trade. Gradually improvements were made to the individuals programs to the extent that we now have a very solid product in our region with better than average value.
The reason that I write this is that there is an increasing number of “amateurs” getting into the game that are not only diluting or de-valuing what is currently the fair market price, they are also to a good degree, setting a standard of their own that is not the image that professional outfits have worked so hard to retain. Recently, I had conversation with a gentleman who decided he needed a guide to flatten the learning curve as there were a number of areas that he was struggling with. When we reached in our conversation the topic of rates, he was taken aback. We are not the cheapest or the most expensive so realistically, price should not come into play but because he had talked to another “guide” before us, his image of a typical day on the water was $150.00 with a guy who would show him around and yes, actually fish with him.
That’s the way of things in an unregulated trade and I’m not necessarily saying that I would like to see something put in place at the Provincial level as the status quo has been pretty good, but consumers need to be aware. If you break it down like this; the guide that charges $150.00 with a lunch is netting about $90.00 a day (lunch $20.00, gas $20.00 and terminal tackle $20.00).
That works out to about $10.00/hour or $1.25 below minimum wage. If you want to be guided by someone willing to make less than minimum wage than so be it, but don’t expect much. The guide will likely catch more fish than you and he won’t be around much to actually help out or… “guide” you.
In order to break down the current rate that the majority of Ontario fly fishing guides charge, you need to consider far more than just your day on the water. Typically, the most respected guides spend an extraordinary amount of time and money scouting so that you, the client has the best shot at fish. They spend more time on the road and at the fly tying bench than your average angler and develop a greater sense of what is going on in their region than most. Further to that, the typical day in the life of a guide starts long before you meet him and ends hours after you part ways. By the time you get your shore lunch, the drift boat is cleaned out, flies are replenished, coolers cleaned out and his tackle sorted, the average day is 12 to 14 hours long.
You also need to consider that although there are only a handful of full time guides in the region that rely 100% on the trade, there are several that although considered part time, it is still an important part of their income. These guys, both the full time and part time guides have websites, carry insurance, may have a brick and mortar retail operation and various other lines of overhead that great reduce their profit margin and let’s be real here, this is a business for these guys and not a past-time. You won’t see any of these guys carrying a rod unless it is for you and you can rest assured that he won’t fish with you. He will however, give you his undivided attention and will work harder than you can imagine to in his effort to find you fish because in the end, that is what he does for a living.