Q: What questions should I ask a guide before booking a trip?
A: Whether you book with me or not, you should ask any guide you are considering booking with the following questions, at a minimum:
Q: How would you answer the above "pre-trip" questions you recommend I ask?
A: Here are my answers:
All equipment (rods, reels, lures, bait, etc.)
All lifejackets and safety gear
A stable, seaworthy Maritime 20’ 9” center console boat with a clean, reliable, quiet 2018 Yamaha 4-stroke outboard
Digital photos of your catch, sent by e-mail, within a week of your trip's end
Transportation to and from your local lodging, if requested
All you need to bring is adequate clothing, sun protection, your license (if 17+) and snacks
How many PAID trips do you conduct each year? You should expect an answer of at least 150 trips or more per year. This indicates the guide is established and is on the water regularly enough to keep up with the seasonal movements of the fish so you don't waste much of your trip searching for fish. The wherewithal it takes to make guests successful is very different than being a successful fisherman yourself. Many successful tournament fisherman do poorly in the guide business due to the inability to teach, coach and express themselves clearly, and due to a lack of "people skills". Thus, it is not enough to know how often someone fishes, but rather how often they fish with guests aboard.
When was your last trip? You should expect that your guide has been fishing within the last week. There are guides who fish only seasonally, go hunting all winter, fish only when fishing is easy,fish on their days off from their “real” job, etc. There is no way part-timers can keep up with fish location with frequent, long periods off the water as well as a professional, full-time guide who is on the water continuously.
Can you describe a typical trip for this time of year? You should expect your guide to tell you what species you'll pursue, how you'll pursue them, and be willing to share what success he's experienced on recent trips so you know whether you should expect to catch 5 fish, 25 fish, or 125 fish. A “we’ll see what the fish are doing” approach should be a red flag that a guide is not in touch with the fishery.
Do you carry liability insurance? You should expect your guide to carry liability insurance. This is the one question that separates the professionals from the fellows just looking to make some gas or beer money. Sad to say, liability insurance is NOT required in Texas for freshwater guides. Many guides will say they are insured when, in fact, only their boat or tow vehicle is insured, leaving you, the client, unprotected. Ask specifically about liability insurance.
What happens once I catch my limit? Beware that many guides fully intend on taking you right back to the dock once you catch your limit of fish, whether that takes 30 minutes or 4 hours and 30 minutes. This is especially true amongst guides focusing on hybrid striper and full-blooded striper. This unethical practice is known in the business as “rock and dock”. If you book a half day trip expecting to spend a half day on the water, be sure to know the answer to this question before you put your money down.
Is there any way I can lose my trip deposit with you? You should expect the guide's website to have a clearly written refund policy and for your guide to be able to explain the circumstances which could lead to forfeiture of your deposit.
Finally, if you have a specific species you want to pursue, a specific technique you want to learn, or a specific body of water or part of a body of water you want to fish, ask the guide ahead of time if he can accommodate you. A good guide will tell you if what you want to do will be feasible given the time of year and current fish behavior. In fairness, do not "spring" this on your guide as you show up at the dock, because he should already have a mental game plan that he intends to pursue and to vary from it will likely cost you fish.
How many PAID trips to you conduct each year? In 2023, I fished 171 paid trips; that's being on the water ~1 out of every 2 days, all year. I willingly forfeit a number of trips each year simply because I know the weather, though bearable, is not conducive to my guests catching fish (for example, following a cold front's passage, or during a strong low pressure system's passage). I also refuse to fish weekend from Spring Break through
Labor Day, knowing the crowding will prevent you from being as successful as you will be on a weekday.
When was your last trip? I have a "Fishing Report" blog connected to my website so you can know exactly when I last fished, how many fish we caught, and what techniques we used.
Can you describe a typical trip for this time of year? As we discuss a booking date, I will tell you exactly what to expect given the water and weather conditions.
Do you carry liability insurance? Yes. I carry liability insurance to protect you and me. My policy is with Charter Lakes Marine Insurance, the most respected name in the American charter fishing industry.
What happens once I catch my limit? Because my guide service is 100% catch and release, bag limits are not a factor on my boat. When you pay for a half day of fishing, you get a full 4-plus hours of fishing. Once a limit is caught and released, we go right on fishing for your full 4+ hours.
Is there any way I can lose my trip deposit with you? You will not lose your deposit with me on account of weather. You will lose your deposit with me if you fail to show up for a trip or cancel close to the trip date. Once you book a trip, I take that time "off the market" for your party. If you don't show up or if you cancel close to the trip date, I stand to take a loss and cannot afford to do so; your deposit is your earnest money telling me you will show up as you committed to doing when you booked.
I won't sugar-coat anything for you when it comes to giving you a fair set of expectations for your trip. For example, if you're dead-set on trying to catch sunfish on a dry fly and a flyrod in the sub-freezing temperatures of January, I'll let you know that your chances of success will be nil and will both suggest something that is more seasonally appropriate as well as suggest when you might be able to accomplish your goals.
Q: Why do you have a 100% catch-and-release policy?
A: In a typical year, my customers and I will boat from 15,000 to 20,000 fish or more, almost all of which are caught out of Belton Lake and Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir. If these fish were not returned to the environment, our fisheries would suffer. I am not the only guide who works these waters, and there is plenty of intelligent non-professional pressure on these bodies of water, as well. It seems very short-sighted to me to think we can take and take and take and never give back and still expect a quality fishery. So, in the interest of conservation and in the interest of preserving the excellent fishery we now enjoy, I have decided that all the fish we take must be returned to the water. Yes, I know I forfeit a few trips due to this, but, I feel the respect I gain from those who understand why I do what I do is more than worth the few dollars I didn't earn while turning a blind eye to those who would kill all they catch. Think about it ... we all want big fish and lots of them; yet, no fish continues to grow or reproduce after it is filleted!!
Q: You refer to numbered "areas" in your fishing reports. Are these areas shown on any kind of map?
A: Up until 2007, I provided in my fishing reports fairly detailed descriptions of the places where I'd been catching fish. Unfortunately, this courtesy was abused when on multiple occasions persons used this information and began fishing so close to me and my clients that I actually had my buoy line snagged, my anchor rope snagged, interference appear on my sonar equipment due to others' units being in close proximity, etc. It was then that I decided I had to stop being so liberal with the information I shared. I now identify my productive areas with GPS waypoints and store these on my boat's chartplotter. This allows me to report on productive areas so I can review past successes without divulging these location to the general public. As the saying goes, "One bad apple spoils the whole barrel".
Q: Do you fish year 'round?
A: Yes, I fish 12 months a year. For the cold weather months of Nov. through Feb., I recommend the following dress:
Q: Do you also fish during a trip with customers on board?
A: Yes, I typically do fish briefly during a least a portion of the trip, typically when we first arrive at a new area. I do this to ascertain the activity level of the fish, to determine how they are taking baits or lures, and to figure out any presentation tweaks that must be used in order to provoke strikes. Only after understanding these things myself can I do an adequate job of coaching my guests to emulate these things so they, too, have success. Once we figure out how fish want a presentation, I stop fishing, take a backseat, and quickly release your caught fish for you so you can get back and catch more!
Q: What should I bring with me on my trip?
A: You should bring the following:
Q: Is there anything of interest for the non-angler to do?
In Salado: Art Galleries, Antiques, Crafts, Women's Fashions, Stagecoach Inn, B&B's galore, Carriage Rides
In Austin: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Museum, Congress Street Bat Flight, Austin City Limits Tour, LBJ Library, Texas State Capitol Complex, Governor's Mansion, Bob Bullock State History Museum, Junk Cathedral, iFly, Top Golf
In Belton: Summer Fun USA Water Park, U. of Mary Hardin Baylor, Bell Co. Museum, Cochran Blair & Potts Dept. Store, Miller’s Smokehouse BBQ
In Ft. Hood: 1st Calvary Museum, 4th Infantry Museum, Mayborn Planetarium, Wal-Mart, Restaurant Row (must show ID to obtain a visitor’s pass)
In Round Rock: AAA Baseball Team "Round Rock Express" at Dell Diamond, Innerspace Caverns, Salt Lick BBQ
In San Marcos: Aquarena Center, Wonder World Cave, Commemorative Air Force
In Waco: Dr. Pepper Museum, Texas Ranger Museum, Cameron Park Zoo, Mayborn Museum, Sports Hall of Fame
Q: Do you fish in any other lakes?
A: The five lakes I primarily fish are Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir, Belton Lake, Granger Lake, Decker Lake (a.k.a. Walter E. Long Reservoir) and Lake Georgetown. I will gladly consider fishing elsewhere on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you would like me to come to you and teach you to vertical jig or to fish with downriggers on "your lake" with my equipment, we can work such a project out. Obviously, standard rates will not apply.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for local lodging?
A: There are two establishments I recommend locally. I have had nothing but positive input from my clients who have stayed at these locations. For those fishing Stillhouse, I suggest the Holiday Inn Express in Salado (254.947.4004). For those fishing Belton, I suggest either the Holiday Inn Express in Salado (254.947.4004) or the LaQuinta in Belton (254.939.2772). See links for these locations on a separate webpage on this site under the Links tab.
Q: What about a fishing license?
A: Clients 17 and older MUST have a license, but that need not be expensive. Read on ...
For your feet: polypropylene sock liners, heavy socks, insulated boots
For your lower body: 1 or 2 layers of long underwear, pants, windpants
For your upper body: t-shirt, 2 layers of long underwear w/ turtleneck, polar fleece top, windshirt, a “puffy” vest or jacket, a Gore-Tex outer shell w/ hood
For your head: Ski cap and neoprene facemask, or balaclava, neck gaiter, baseball cap to block sun, sunscreen and chapstick
For your hands: Thin gloves worn under thicker fingerless gloves, bring extra gloves in case a pair gets wet, mittens for rewarming cold hands, and hand warming device(s)
A current fishing license if you are age 17 or greater (see "What about my fishing license?" below)
Adequate clothing (layering is smart all year round)
A windbreaker (to keep boat spray off when we travel at high speeds)
Raingear (if the weatherman indicates)
A hat (and don't forget to protect your neck, too)
Sunblock (I use SPF 100 by Coppertone year 'round)
During cold months bring fingerless gloves, as well as full length gloves which will fit over the fingerless gloves, and a stocking cap
Q: Where may I purchase a fishing license?
A: I strongly suggest that you purchase your license before you travel to the area. Fishing licenses are available at all Academy & Wal-Mart stores in Texas. Should advanced purchase not be possible, these local outlets are available. Please attempt to secure your license no later than the night before your trip. We cannot fish without a license, and we stand a chance of missing the early bite on a morning trip if we're not out at first light:
In Belton: Wal-mart, 2604 North Main Street, 254-939-0962
In Harker Heights: Wal-mart, 2720 Eastbound US Highway 190, 254-542-7600
In Killeen: Wal-mart, 1400 Lowe's Blvd., 254-526-4102
In Killeen: Academy, 2500A East Central Texas Expressway, 254-501-6800
In Temple: Wal-mart, 3401 South 31st Street, 254-778-9235
In Temple: Academy, 1407 Marlandwood Rd., 254-742-7350
Texas residents at least 65 years old, and born on or after Sept. 1, 1930 may purchase an annual license for a reduced price.
Texas residents younger than 65 may purchase a one-day license for a reduced price.
A current listing of all license types and costs may be found here.