Recreational Salmon Fishing
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Using a salmon guide or charter boat

Salmon fishing in boatWhether you are heading to Washington for just a couple of days or you have lived here all your life, you may want to consider using a professional salmon guide or hopping on board a salmon charter boat. Using a guide or charter can help make your fishing experience more enjoyable and successful. However, you should be aware of the rules and laws governing the guide and charter industries, and you should take some time to think about what you want from a trip and which service will provide you that kind of trip.

In Washington, we have both salmon guides and charter boats. Although not specifically defined by rule, in general, “guide” means a person who, for compensation, offers services to transport, or accompany people in their fishing activities, and instructs them by sharing fishing techniques, expertise and knowledge of the fish and waters being fished. Professional salmon guides offer services relating only to salmon and only in freshwater areas, but they may not provide services in Lake Washington nor the Columbia River downstream of the Longview Bridge. A "charter boat" is a vessel from which persons may, for a fee, fish for salmon in marine areas, Lake Washington, or that part of the Columbia River below the bridge at Longview. When you go out on a charter boat, you are usually part of an unassociated group of anglers that made reservations for that day. In certain cases, if you have enough anglers, you can reserve all the spots on the boat. In some parts of the country, a charter boat may be referred to as a “head boat” or “party boat.”

We have put together a short pamphlet describing the types of guides and charters in the state of Washington, and their requirements to be properly licensed.

A reputable guide or charter operator will be able to show proof of state licenses, insurance, current first aid and CPR cards, and if using a motorized vessel, a U.S. Coast Guard license. As a passenger or client, you are putting your life in the guides’ or charter boat skippers’ hands and should feel free to ask to see their qualifications.

Reasons to hire a professional salmon guide or a salmon charter boat

  • Part of the fun of fishing is discovering new places to fish and learning the fishing methods and techniques that produce the best results.
  • We may not realize it, but we acquire a lot of information and knowledge before we go fishing; from magazines, books, and videos dedicated to providing this information.
  • We generally spend a considerable amount of time learning how to fish a particular water and spend considerable money on fishing equipment, boats, and suitable vehicles.
  • When visiting a new location, a guide or charter boat can be much quicker and less expensive, than learning a new fishery.
  • Fishing guides can be extremely beneficial, both to the inexperienced fisherman and the seasoned veteran. While sometimes costly, they provide many useful services (including equipment, tackle, and assistance with techniques) and help in locating the best places to fish.
  • A fishing guide is an expert in knowing the best places to find fish, techniques to catch the biggest and the most fish, water safety, and in navigating their particular body of water.
  • Good professional fishing guides are not only technically skillful anglers, who know the right times and places to enjoy good fishing, but they can also teach clients how to improve their own skills and knowledge.

Questions to Ask a Prospective Fishing Guide or Charter Boat Operator

  • Ask for a list of references, including clients who have fished with the guide or charter recently. Call the references.
  • Check with WDFW to determine if the guide or charter has the correct licenses.
  • Ask the guide or charter skipper if they fish full time. An operator who's on the water every day keeps up with productive patterns better than a weekender.
  • Does the guide or charter skipper fish himself? Your guide or skipper fishing not only shows you where the fish are but also allows for the opportunity to educate you further in techniques.
  • What does the guide or charter boat furnish? Should you bring your own lunch, water or other drinks? What about tackle, lures or bait?
  • How much gear should you bring with you: clothes, rain gear, sunscreen, etc?
  • How much does the trip cost? Are there are any hidden extras?
  • How long is the trip and how long will you be fishing?
  • Does the guide or charter boat practice catch-and-release fishing? Can you keep fish to eat if you want?
  • If catch-and-release only, can a trophy be kept? Can the operator handle getting a trophy to a taxidermist...or other options to have a replica made from a photo, etc.
  • If fish are kept for food who cleans and bags them?
  • At least have a telephone conversation with a prospective guide or charter service to try and determine if the two of you are compatible. If the guide or charter skipper wants to do everything for you, like hooking the fish, and you prefer to do it yourself, you probably aren’t going to enjoy yourself.
  • Does the guide or charter fish like you like to? If the charter trolls exclusively, and you prefer to mooch, you probably won’t have an enjoyable trip.
  • Is the boat adequate and safe for the water you will be fishing on?
  • What is the cancellation policy for weather days? Does the guide cancel for weather? Refund? Credit for future? Discounted future trip?
  • In some areas, guides have to charge more to make long runs to remote areas which may be the best discuss the option for this possibility and any extra fees that may need to be assessed for gas, a longer day due to the longer run, etc.