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updated: 4/16/2014 11:21 PM

Guides can be great, but not all are created equal

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Just because an individual assigns the title "fishing and hunting guide" to a name isn't always a sure-fire sign all is hunky-dory.

The late photo guru Mike Seeling and I had our bubble burst numerous times when we traveled to find good fishing and decent bird hunting.

A good 15 years ago I had some business to attend to in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. I figured while there, Seeling and I would sample some largemouth bass fishing from fabled Lake Fork, about 90 miles east of DFW.

One acquaintance suggested we hire a local Fork guide who made his reputation by supposedly catching a number of big fish over 12 pounds. I suggested to the guide we fish together for three days and try to cover some of his "special and secret" spots. I also promised him I wouldn't divulge his locations in print, but I also reminded him I was from the Chicago area, and people up here would be hard-pressed to uncover his honey holes.

I should have known better because Seeling and I watched this character sit in the bow operating the electric motor and taking the first casts at every spot where we arrived. It's simply called "front-ending," and it's more about a guide's ego than ability.

Mr. Pro outfished us five to one and caught some very hefty fish while were relegated to the runts.

His daily fee was more than enough to help feed a family of ten with steaks, chops, prime rib and lobster. I didn't have the guts to jump down his throat.

When I guided visiting anglers in Minnesota, I always placed the client in the elevated front seat and made sure his were the first lures a fish would see. I sat in the stern, operating a rear-mounted electric motor and kept the boat positioned so most every one of the client's casts wound up on the money, so to speak.

It happened again in western Missouri.

Seeling and I were lined up with a chap who had quite a bit of guiding experience on Truman Lake.

So Mike and I dipped into our nearly empty travel fund and wound up flying into Missouri on Schmekendorf Airways. We managed to arrange seats in steerage. Comfortable to say the least, ugh.

When we arrived at the pre-arranged meeting place to go fishing, our so-called guide for two days was in hiding, while perhaps nursing the after effects of an Ozarks hangover. We were unable to find another guide so we subsequently tossed our return plane ticket in the round file and drove home.

The late Darrell Baker was a "natural" guide, on the water that is, and his reservation list made up of satisfied clients seemed to be never-ending. It was his off-the-water escapades that brought him as much notoriety as his angling prowess. But when all was said and done, his repeat business was monumental while his story telling side became legendary.

And unlike others in his business, Baker wasn't flashy, especially with his everyday clothing and well-worn rods and reels.

Of course, a guide is only as good as the way and the number of times he puts his clients on fish.

I once invested a full day with a weather-beaten guide character on a pretty famous lake west of Milwaukee.

From the minute we left the boat launch until we returned six hours later, all I heard from his lips were tales of his past walleye and smallmouth catches. And yet we had nary a strike from any of this guy's spots.

Now, I admit that has also happened to me when I guided Lake Minnetonka west of Minneapolis. But I never bragged about previous catches.

I did guarantee clients a limit of catch-and-release largemouth bass, or their fee was on me. In five years of guiding Metro lakes up there I only gave up two freebies, and that was because my clients were each one fish short of the legal limit.

Taking on the mantle of a full-time guide is no easy task. I lump that job into the same category as being a tackle and bait shop owner. A lot of anglers think that just because one has a store filled with lures, hooks and live bait, the boss can take off and spend a half-day on the water. No such luck.

A guide can easily burn out both physically and mentally. Just ask Spence Petros how he's feeling after a spring and summer schedule of finding and catching fish on Geneva and Delavan Lakes.

• Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and podcast at

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