Our Man In Canada
May 23rd, 2005

Fishing Horror Story - Or How to Choose a Guide
By Christopher Chin, Jonquiere Quebec

Lots of folks from all over the world post the same question on numerous Forums around the Internet:

"What do I need to do to find a guide service for the River?"


I just love that MY homewaters are a dream destination.

I've been a part time Guide on Ste-Marguerite River in Central Quebec for several years now. To try to answer this question, (without looking like a vulture trolling for prospective clients), I'll use a little case study.

A few years ago, I was getting a little personal time on the river in the tail end of the season. I was going through the motions of signing in when I noticed a rather sporty looking young fellow pull up in a rented SUV. As I was finishing up with my rod fee he asked, "Excuse me, but is there a preferred place to fish for Salmon on this river?"

I was a tad taken aback as the season for Salmo salar had been closed since the 15th of September (almost 5 weeks earlier). I went on to explain that the upper reaches were closed for the season but that the second run of sea run Brook Trout was in full swing. Salmon were however closed, even on the lower sections of the river.

The young fellow (sheepishly) explained that he had been hired as a guide by these Italian tourists (husband and wife) for a day of salmon fishing. (here we go).

Problem #1 – guide has not explained to clients what is available/realistic/potential for the outing.

He explained that he usually guides up North for Pike and Walleye, but a buddy called him up. Seems that our tourists were vacationing in Quebec City and decided to give a go at fly-fishing. They bought two complete sets of gear, waders, vest etc from a well know purveyor of sporting goods in Quebec City then asked the hotel's Concierge to book them a Guided day on a Salmon river. Not knowing where to ask, the Concierge asked around the office and one of the secretary's brothers finally called up this young apprentice Salmon guide.

The day was booked and pre-paid without either party ever talking to one another.

Problem #2 (well,...should be #1) – Lack of communication during the booking.

Our young and enthusiastic guide meets up with the clients bright and early Friday morning and realizes that they only speak Italian and English. He can only speak French and a bit of Montagnais (local Indian band). Through hand signals and a bit of cussing, he manages to load them into THEIR rented SUV and they head off for a day of adventure.

Did I mention that when I first met this group, it was already 10h00 in the morning? Seems no one figured out that the river is almost 3 ½ hours from Quebec City.

Anyway, I figure I can't do any harm (oops) so I explain that with the high water, one of the only places to reasonably fish would be on the far side of the #8 pool. Too much flow to wade across, but I have a canoe, paddles AND PFDs pulled up on the beach.

As I was planning on fishing the #8A anyway, I had them follow me back down the river to the pullout for the #8.

As they piled out of the SUV, the guide pulls out a submarine sandwich he had picked up early that morning at a 7-11. While his clients start suiting up, he starts munching out. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the clients looking at each other, then the sandwich, each other, the sandwich. In English, I ask them if they have any food. No,...they figured that the guide would have taken care of that. I tell them I'll see what I can do and set out for the pool about 100 yards upstream to check out some nice spots.

While I'm looking over the run, I can see down to the beach on #8. The tourists are strung up, but by the way their winding the reels, I know that they are attached to the rods backwards. The guide doesn't seem to notice as his is backwards too (apparently, he usually guides with bait casters and really doesn't have any idea how to cast a fly line).

None of the unlikely trio seems to be able to comfortably cast more than 20 feet (9 feet of rod, 7 feet of leader and 4 feet of fly line). That's a problem because about then, the back eddy on the far side starts coming alive with splashy rises as the trout start waking up for their morning feed (the water is only about 45 degrees Fahrenheit).

The clients notice (before the guide) and start pointing at the canoe, the far side, the canoe, the far side...Finally the guide realizes they want to ferry across.

They pull out the canoe and (thank God) put on the PFD's that are stashed in it. All three climb in and push off gingerly from the beach. I knew from the first instant that none of them had EVER BEEN IN A CANOE!

I immediately spool up and start back towards the #8. At the same time, 2 friends arrive in the pullout. They had stopped because they found it weird that someone was in MY canoe. By the time I arrive on the beach, my two buds are there too. The 3 Musketeers are about half way across and just getting to the seam where the gentle current merges with the back eddy. Sure enough, as soon as the bow touches the back eddy, the canoe starts swinging left. The sudden surge of movement startles all three. Arms go up into the air (why do people do that?)

Two eternal seconds later the whole trio is swimming. Shouting orders and encouragement in French and English, me and my buddies manage to get they to drift down to the head of the rapids. We secure lines and wade out and walk them back. About the same time, another Guide comes up in his pickup, grinning ear to ear, my canoe and one paddle on the rack. (He saw it drifting and pulled it out 2 pools downstream.)


The beach on #8 - Nice place to visit, not too warm for swimming in October (low water conditions in photo).

Between the four of us, me, my buds and the other Guide, we get a fire going, scrounge around in the coolers to find the fixings for some soup and warm up the survivors.

Next problem is that they don't have extra clothes. Nothing even we can do to help them out there. That said, one of my friends (a real Guide from the area) explains to them that they should come back the following summer for a nice initiation course in FF'ing and salmon tactics.

We packed up all three in their SUV and sent them on their way. They apparently made the almost 4 hour trip, in their underwear in total silence. (We know this because the couple DID come back the following summer for a 3 day Guided stay).

The locals scoured the pool for the next two weeks looking for 2 brand new Orvis outfits which were never recovered after the canoe was swamped.

So what can we learn from all of this misadventure:

    1. If possible, plan ahead. Getting ready for the excursion of a lifetime is part of the fun. Do the research on the river, history, services, fishing.

    2. Now the hard part. What do YOU want and what are your real capacities.

    • Do you prefer a quiet day or are you looking for non-stop action.

    • Try to think about how you can articulate this.

    • Do you prefer calmly wading along a brook or furiously bombing the banks from a drift boat.

    • Do you want/need lessons on casting, presentation, tactics?
    3. Ask LOTS of questions. By doing your research (Internet is fabulous for this), you'll be able to ask some really informed questions to your prospective Guide. Questions like:

    • What is the refund policy if the water is un-fishable (too low, too high).

    • Can we wade?, Can we drift?

    • References please.

    • How long have you been Guiding (Sure,... everyone has to start somewhere, but do you really want to be this Guide's very first solo client in YOUR dream vacation?)

    • What can you realistically expect to get in the way of ACTION? No, this isn't a dumb question.

    • Can your Guide (prospective) get a realistic evaluation of the water/river conditions as well as some "insider" fishing reports?

    • What services are offered? (Lunch, equipment, flies, lessons, transportation, licenses, rod fees...)

    • What is the order of the day? Schedule?

    • Rates? Tips? Extras?

    • What to bring (which rods, which flies, warm clothes, cool clothes, bug dope...)

4. Get a confirmation of the booking in writing.

5. Get a follow up contact just shortly before the booked date to confirm that everything is still A1 and in order (things change,...zones can close, trends for the season may see the Guide wanting to adjust the itinerary a bit...)

A good Guide is there to make sure EVERYONE has a pleasant day. By doing some research, a bit of soul searching, being realistic in your expectations and capacities and asking the right questions, the client can help a professional Guide do their JOB properly.


Peter and Jean-Yves on a sunny afternoon on the #9. Not a lot of fish, but a pleasant day for all. ~ Christopher Chin – Jonquiere Quebec

About Chris:

Chris Chin is originally from Kamloops, British Columbia. He has been fly fishing on and off ever since he was 10 years old. Chris became serious about the sport within the last 10 years.

"I'm a forest engineer by day and part time guide on the Ste-Marguerite River here in central Quebec. I've been fishing this river for about 10 years now and started guiding about 5 years ago when the local guide's association sort of stopped functioning."

Chris guides mostly for sea run brook trout and about 30% of the time for Atlantic Salmon. "I often don't even charge service fees, as I'm more interested in promoting the river than making cash. I like to get new comers to realize that salmon fishing is REALLY for anyone who cares to try it. Tradition around here makes some of the old clan see Salmon fishing as a sport for the rich. Today our shore lunches are less on the cucumber sandwich side and more toward chicken pot pie and Jack Daniel's."

Chris is 42 years old as of this writing. He is of Chinese origin although his parents were born and raised in Jamaica. He has a girlfriend, Renée. "She and her 12 year old son Vincent started fly fishing with me last October 2002."

To learn more about the Ste-Marguerite River, visit Christopher's website http://pages.videotron.com/fcch/. ~ Christopher Chin

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