I usually go out fishing with a couple of friends off the waters of Hilo on Hawai’i Island. One of my buddies has been taking people out fishing for years and has recently begun offering his services as a professional Kayak Fishing guide.
That sounded pretty interesting. How cool would it be to earn a living Kayak Fishing?! I just had to learn more. He gave me some tips on the business of Kayak Fishing as a Guide. I’ve taken those tips and compiled them into this How-to on Making Money as a Kayak Fishing Guide.
Am I Experienced Enough to Really Be a Guide?
To be a successful guide, you need experience. People want to catch fish, that’s why they signed up with you.
Licenses and certifications get you in the door, but do you know how to get others to land fish consistently?
An experienced guide should be able to do the following:
- Can catch fish on a daily basis
- Can manage your kayak in almost any condition; large surf, gale force winds, etc
- Have taken people out already
- Knowledge of basic first aid
If you can confidently say that you can cover these 4 basic components, then you’re ready to become a guide.
How Much Money Can You Really Make as a Kayak Fishing Guide?
Let’s get this question out of the way first. Everyone wants to know how much they can make as a kayak fishing guide. That really depends on you. A lot of people are expert fisherman, but horrible at business. Like any business, you can struggle or find yourself a nice full time income. Let’s run some numbers to see what the potential is.
|Clients Per Outing||Length of Outing||Price to Client per Outing||Cost For You Per Outing||Profit Per Outing|
|Low End||3||4 Hrs||$100||$100||$200|
|High End||3||4 Hrs||$500||$200||$1200|
First off, if you live in an area where there is not much demand for kayak fishing, you’re going to have a little more work cut out for you, but you can do it. The best locations to be a guide tend to be popular fishing destinations.
If you are just starting out or live in an area with less clientele, you will be charging on the low end of the scale. I called up a few guides across the country and have found this level of pricing to be anywhere from $80-$150. I used $100 as a baseline for the average price a beginning guide could charge.
If you live in a popular tourist destination and have put some years into being a guide, you can charge up to $1000 a day! I know a couple of guys on the Kona Coast of the Big Island who easily charge $500 a day. They’re guiding people onto some 100+lb catches. If that’s your situation, real money can be made.
How many people you take out is up to you. As a beginning guide, I suggest taking only one person out at a time until you gain more experience. Then again, as an expert guide, you may only want to take out one person at a time for a more custom experience. On average, most guides take out between 3-4 people on each trip.
While the length of each excursion is 4hrs for the client, it’s actually more like 6 hrs for you. You need to setup all of the gear, handle any paperwork, clean up the gear after the trip and pack it all away. Give yourself at least 2 extra hours for all the behind the scenes work that you have to do.
Remember not to forget your costs! Advertising, parking fees, licenses, lines, hooks, swivels, bait, replacing broken gear, taxes, etc. This all adds up. Each excursion should include these costs built into the price.
As you can see, it is possible to make money as a guide, but real success begins with marketing.
Differentiate Your Guide Business to Become a Leader in the Industry
To be a successful Kayak Fishing Guide, you need clients. To get clients, you need to focus on marketing. Marketing doesn’t come naturally for most people, but it’s not something you should shy away from. As long as you are authentic and can get your brand out there, people will flock to you.
- Start a Website/Blog – Having a web presence will give you a place for your clients to sign up for your services, to read reviews from your past clients and for you to share your knowledge with potential clients before they even sign up with you.
- Start a Youtube Channel – A great way to establish your authority is to have a Youtube channel. Share videos of past fishing excursions. Give your subscribers kayak fishing trips. Youtube has been producing amazing results. Make sure you get your business on there today!
- Compete in a Local Fishing Tournament – Placing in a local fishing tournament is a surefire way to cement your position as a guide. It gives you credibility. Everyone wants to learn how to catch fish from a champion.
- Partner with a Local Tour Company or Hotel – A great way to get clients is to partner with a local tour company or high end hotel. We have numerous options available all over Hawai’i and in other places like California, Florida and New England. Most guides offer referral fees to these outlets in exchange for clients.
- Have a Variety of Offerings – If you are only offering half day or full day Kayak Fishing packages, you are missing out on a lot of potential opportunities. Offering classes in all levels of Kayak Fishing can be a great way to bring in income as well as find your next clients to join you on a full day fishing excursion.
- Social Media – Facebook and Instagram are all the rage these days. You can find a significant number of clients through these social media platforms, but beware, they can be a time and money drain. Unless you really know what you are doing on social media, use this option as one of your last resorts.
- Reviews – We mentioned reviews briefly for clients to be able to read on your website. We cannot stress reviews strong enough. They are one of the lifebloods to your guide business. Having good customer service and generally showing your clients an awesome time will leave them raving. By getting reviews on Yelp and having them on your website, you let potential clients know how awesome you without you having to tell them.
- Create a Local Club – By creating a local group of Kayak Fishing fans in your area, you position yourself as the leader in your community. When people in the area ask who the best kayak fishing guide is, everyone will be pointing to you.
- Logo and Branding – Having a Logo and putting it on all your material will create brand awareness for your service. The more people see it the more they will remember you. Put stickers of your logo on your vehicles and kayaks. Wear shirts and hats with your logo. Have all print and web based material include your logo. Have it everywhere.
- Take Pictures – Lots of them. Your clients will be your best advertisers. Capturing their experience on film so they can share it with everyone they know will go a long way. Do not underestimate this.
Do You Need a License or Certification?
Like any business, you will need to file the proper paperwork. Everyone will need to file a business license to operate a business in their town and you should have some sort of liability insurance.
Some states do require you to have a state fishing guide license. Be sure to check with your local laws on the matter.
There has been some confusion about needing a Coast Guard License. Because kayaks are independently operated and you are not actively operating another person’s vessel, you do not need a Coast Guard License. Once again, be sure to check with your local laws, things may change.
As or certifications, they can’t hurt but are not necessary. If you’ve already established a name for yourself then the only certifications you might want to consider would be First Aid certifications.
As a beginning guide, getting a certification from the American Canoe Association would certainly help. People like to see that their guides are knowledgable and certifications are a quick way to prove that knowledge. You should also be sure to get those First Aid certifications.
What Gear Do You Need
To be a successful guide, you need gear and lots of it. Sure, you’ll need a kayak for everyone, but you’ll also need to have everything else in reserve. Extra poles, reels, lures, etc. Something is sure to break or go missing.
- Rigged Kayaks (as many as you have clients plus one for yourself, setup with anchor trolley, rod holders, mounts, crates etc).
- Fishing Poles (4 poles per person is a good base)
- Anchors for each kayak+ one extra
- Life Jackets (have a couple in each size)
- Extra Bait, Lures, Lines, Weights and Swivels
- Safety Equipment such as whistles, walkie talkies, air horn, lights, sunscreen for each kayak
- Other gear such as pliers, knives, etc
- Extra Bottles of water and snacks (because someone will forget to bring their own)
- Multiple Kayak Trailer to transport your boats
- Coolers and ice
- Camera Gear
- Fish Finders
All that gear listed above is going to cost you a pretty penny. You can offset that cost by picking up sponsorships. Most kayak dealers and fishing equipment manufacturers provide Guide or Pro Staff deals giving discounted gear to people like you.
To line up one of these sponsorship deals, simply call or email a representative from the company and ask if they offer any. Have a resume ready and do your best to explain why you would be a good brand ambassador for their company. Having some video footage of you out on the water could certainly help in this situation.
As Sponsored representative, they will expect something back from you in return. Promoting their product from time to time on your website or youtube channel would go a long way. You can also offer to be a representative at a trade show or other fishing event in your hometown. This can be a great place to find clients as well.
How to Structure Your Day
The day out on the water should be a memorable experience for your client. Making sure your gear is ready and logistics planned for before your client arrives will make for a better time overall. Here’s how my buddy organizes his day when taking a client out for a trip.
- Send a reminder call the night before to make sure everyone is aware of the time and place they’re meeting. Communicate any changes that might take place. Make sure they know what they are expected to bring.
- Morning of the excursion, load trailer with boats and gear onto the vehicle. Utilize a checklist to make sure you bring exactly what you need. Add to it over time.
- Arrive to site 1 hour prior to expected arrival of your client. Have all kayaks ready for launch before clients arrive. Observe the conditions and scout out the best route for the day before your clients arrive.
- Welcome your clients, take care of business and have them change their clothes if necessary at this time. Make sure they pack their personal gear such as lunch, water and sunscreen.
- Offering a mini course on kayak fishing and going over the equipment onboard each kayak is essential. Check in with everybody’s fishing and kayaking skill level and go over any information that they may need at this time.
- Make sure the clients are able to launch successfuly, with you launching last. Guide everyone to the spot you will be fishing, hopefully no more than a half hour away.
- For the next hour and a half, you should be fishing nonstop. As a guide you may not be fishing much at this point as you will most likely be giving pointers to everyone.
- Assess how everyone is doing, you can have a snack break and go over with everyone how they’re doing. This can help the whole group learn from each other if you have more than one client with you. If everything looks to be going well, encourage everyone to have a snack and drink at this time, but continue on.
- For the second leg of the excursion, you may find yourself with more time to fish. Landing a fish in front of a client is a wonderful learning experience. Just watching my friends’ land fish has taught me so much on how to be a more successful kayak fisherman.
- Give yourself enough time to get back to the launch zone and reconvene after a day out on the water. Expect at least a half hour for your clients to collect gear, change and share a few stories before everyone heads home.
- After the clients leave, collect the gear, making note of any damaged or missing equipment. Load everything back home where you will clean your equipment, replace missing or damaged equipment and prepare for another day.
You can add a few hours to your time on the water, but this average day is based on 4hrs on the water, with 2-3hrs on either end setting up, breaking down, cleaning and repairing equipment. The extra time spent behind the scenes is very important to consider when planning out your day.
Is Being a Guide even worth it?
Doing this type of work, you get to be paid kayak fishing out on the water. You also have to be out on the water dividing the time between your fishing and handling your client’s needs. Something will get lost in that transaction.
You now have to turn your passion into a business, where you have to manage money, getting clients, dealing with clients and all the other headaches that go into. You also get to turn your passion into a business, earning you money doing something you love instead of going to a day job that you hate.
As much as you might rather be fishing on your own instead of taking clients out on the water, there’s something to experiencing the joy of someone’s first catch or helping a father teach his son how to be a better fisherman. These are experiences to remember.
Ultimately it’s all up to you. Do you love it so much that all you want to do is Kayak Fish or is it just something you do as a hobby. Be true to yourself before you decide to take on one of the most exciting careers out there. It may take a little hustle on you’re part, but I’m confident that with the right business acumen, fishing skills and people skills, anyone can have a thriving guide business in no time.