Capt. Owen Plair, like all fishing guides, is in a demanding business; hospitality. While most do not think of guiding in that light – think about this. A restaurant owner caters to all his customers and wants them back because they had a good experience. A (good) guide employs the same customer appreciation approach as the restaurateur. But the similarity ends there.

A guide is the maître d, waitstaff , chef, sous-chef, dishwasher, contractor, counsel, accountant, marine mechanic, casting instructor, fly tyer, big-time services consumer, taxpayer, fishing guru, scheduler, environmentalist, naturalist, good conversationalist, meteorologist and guardian of his client’s life. So to say a guide has a cushy job is to be oblivious.

Here is Owen’s take on guiding as told to Louis Cahill of Gink & Gasoline

Making a Living on the Flats

By Owen Plair

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ately, it seems that everyone thinks guiding is the dream job.

Every day someone who likes to fish buys a brand new boat, pays for a website, posts fish pictures on Instagram, and calls themselves one of the top guides in the area. They usually have a full-time job doing something else.  From Internet videos and social media, people think guiding is all glory, easy, and something anyone can do. You have to start somewhere but you cannot create a career with a fancy boat, a website and some good photos on Instagram. You make a career with experience on the water and by sharing with anglers your passion, experience, and knowledge of your fishery. Many people soon find that guiding is not for them, which is why guides are a select few.

“You are living the dream.” I hear that all the time, or “You have the best job in the world,” or even better, “You have the easiest job!”

There are so many people who think that being a fishing guide is the easiest way to make money and the dream job. Some people even have the audacity to say it’s not a real job. That’s like saying being a doctor isn’t a real job. Yes, it’s an amazing feeling creating a career in something you are passionate about, but it is far from easy, and always work. Imagine poling a skiff or rowing a drift boat 8 hours a day, 200 days a year. That physical labor is the easiest part of the business. That should give you a taste of just how much is involved with being a full-time guide.

Owen in the salt marshes of South Carolina coast looking for "sings" of reds. Image Louis Cahill.

Owen in the salt marshes of South Carolina coast looking for “sings” of reds. Image Louis Cahill.

If you really like fishing and own a boat you could be a guide, right?

Not even close to true. Pursuing a career as a fly fishing guide is a never ending task and the reason the fee for a guide service is not cheap. You’re paying good money for a service that no one else can provide because it’s a job that not many people can do. Imagine not being able to work for 5 days because of bad weather. Not being able to put food on the table for your family.

The select few people who have been successful through guiding are the people who were born to become fly fishing guides, because guiding is a lot more than catching fish and making money doing it. I have been guiding full time for almost 7 years here in Beaufort, SC including a 6-month season on the Ponoi in Russia for Atlantic Salmon. As a young guide in the industry, one thing I’ve learned over the past years working, fishing, and hanging out with guides from all over the world is that we all have the same list of attributes. A common mission to pursue a career in fly fishing that was born from a passion. We are not guys who just like to fish, we enjoy watching others catch fish, and have an obsession for always trying to better ourselves as anglers.

I lived in a single-wide trailer for the first 3 years of my career. I was 18 years old. It was a real-life experience and trying to make a living in fishing was incredibly hard. I didn’t go to college and worked in the fly shop part time to pay bills and try to get new business. There were days I can remember emptying my bank account just to put gas in my boat before a trip and crossing my fingers I got a good tip afterward to put gas in my car to get back home. When I’d have to cancel 3 or 4 days because of weather I wouldn’t be able to afford real groceries and things like Ramen Noodles, Naps Crackers, and tap water became a staple. Just keeping the electricity on was a task sometimes. I even thought maybe guiding wasn’t for me at one time.

Living trip to trip was not an easy start, even as a local born and raised here, fishing Beaufort my whole life. I used to wonder how in the world people made any money as guides and with a little time I soon learned. It took 3 years of dedication, passion, and hard work to realize what being a fly fishing guide was all about and to finally have the ability to make a living doing it. I built my business from fishing with people, creating long time relationships, and started to realize how lucky I was to have the support of so many anglers who truly enjoyed fishing with me. Those 3 years were tough but it was something I had to go through to start a business in fishing.

As a full-time guide there are a lot of things happening behind the curtain you don’t see

First of all the amount of time a guide spends learning what he or she knows is incredible. The number of years, days, and hours on the water spent researching and learning are more than most people will ever spend in two lifetimes. That experience is what you are paying for and why that experience is not cheap.

That one spot where you catch a trophy fish could have taken years to find and countless hours to figure out. A full-time guide is obsessed with fishing and has a passion for constantly perfecting their strategies and constantly learning every day the best ways to stay on fish. Without that passion or obsession, there is no way you can be a guide because you have to always be on the very top of your fishery and know what’s going on every day of the year.

Being social, fun, and outgoing is part of the game. After 15 straight days, or more, on the water with clients your true colors start to show. If you are still having fun then you’ll stay on the top of your game no matter how many days you fish. You have to understand business and know how to market your business. How to show what you provide, and what you specialize in. You have to create your own market of people that want to fish with YOU because of what YOU provide, and where YOU guide.

Read more at Gink & Gasoline . . .

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Capt. Owen Plair is the head guide at the famous Bay Street Outfitters in Beaufort, S. C. and can be reached there.

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