Spring – or more particularly the open water season - is fast approaching so it’s time to dig out your tackle box, blow the dust off and get started on the much anticipated spring sorting and tackle buying rituals.
It’s also the time of year to start thinking about where you plan on fishing in the coming months. Will you be returning to your favorite lake or river – or is this going to be the year to try something new and maybe even book a trip to that “exotic” fishing locale you having been dreaming about visiting for years?
Unless you recently won big in Vegas or your lottery numbers came up, for most of us booking a trip to a lodge is something of an investment, and like all investments you should always do your research and figure out as best you can if it’s right for you before handing over your hard earned money.
Needless to say a trip of this kind is all about having a good time, so here are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to go about finding a lodge that will hopefully help you realize a good return on that investment.
In my opinion setting reasonable expectations is the key to having a good trip.
Everyone has different ideas about what it’s going to take to make their experience a truly enjoyable one. For some it’s all about the fishing, and for others the facilities, equipment, food and service are equally if not more important.
Therefore when choosing a lodge look for one that will likely meet your personal expectations, but try not to set them unreasonably high, because Murphy will no doubt be lurking in the background just waiting for the opportunity to pounce.
That said be very wary of outfitters who try to oversell their lodges, and make extravagant claims about the their facilities and the fishing. If you think it is too good to be true - it probably is.
I wish someone had given me a dollar each time I heard one of my fellow lodge guest’s bitch and complain about everything from the way the napkins were folded to the thread count of the bed sheets, because it would have easily paid for my trip. I really don’t know why they left home in the first place. There’s not a chance they had anything even approaching a good time, because nothing was ever good enough, and regardless of how hard the lodge staff may have tried; it would never meet their unreasonably high expectations.
The quality of the fishing is a perfect example. While you have a right to expect that the fishing will generally measure up to what has been advertised, remember it’s called fishing and not catching for a reason. I don’t care where you go, catching loads of fish is never automatic all of the time, so if fishzilla doesn’t jump into your boat, even before you put your lure in the water, don’t be surprised, and don’t get mad at the outfitter unless you were lead to believe that such miracles were likely to occur.
You should also keep in mind that you will be fishing unfamiliar water, and while there are places with enough fish to partially overcome your lack of local knowledge, when the fishing gets tough – and it will – don’t blame the fish.
I’m not suggesting that you don’t hold the outfitter accountable in the event they don’t deliver as promised, but it’s very important that both parties have a clear understanding of what the deliverables are before you book.
Do Your Research!
There is no better way to get the low down on a lodge than to speak to people who have actually been there, particularly those who have made more than one trip. Why talk to folks who go back year after year? If you discount the possibility that they’re either too lazy to look for another place or have no standards to begin with, they will be able to tell you what keeps drawing them back time and time again. One visit does not always paint a true picture of what a lodge has to offer, so by talking to people who have had a variety of experiences, it will give you a better idea of what you can realistically expect.
So how does one go about finding these people? Simple - ask the outfitter for a list of references. Any outfitter worth his or her salt will be happy to supply you with a list of references, and if they are hesitant to do so, then I would suggest you give that lodge a wide berth. Quality outfitters have nothing to hide, and in fact many will invite you to contact past guests without you specifically asking them for their list.
Assuming that you are the suspicious type, and don’t want to use the outfitters list of references, another but I would suggest less effective alternative would be to post something on your Facebook page – assuming you have one - and if your network of friends includes loads of fishermen, you may get a reply or two– but don’t hold your breath while waiting. You can also Google the names of lodges you are considering and see what comes up. There could be some random posts or articles that may provide some useful information.
Questions, Questions and More Questions
DO NOT rely solely on an outfitters website or their other promotional materials to gather your information. Either call the outfitter directly, or if they are going to be attending a trade show in your area, drop by for a chat. A great way to size up the outfitter is while they are answering your questions face to face – and speaking of questions here are a few to get you started.
- How long have you owned the lodge?
- Do you spend the entire season at the lodge? Some outfitters hire mangers to run things throughout the season but trust me, there is no substitute for having the owner on hand, particularly if a problem arises.
- What is your overall percentage of repeat guests? This can be your segue into asking for a list of references.
- Is a deposit required and if so, how much? Most deposits are non-refundable, but if for circumstances beyond your control you have to cancel your trip, some outfitters may credit your deposit towards a subsequent trip either later that season or during the following year – in any event you should ask what their policy is in this regard.
- What is the full cost of your package including taxes?
- What does your package include? Get a detailed list, in writing of what is included and what is not. If your package is described as being all-inclusive, are there in any extras such as bait or guided side trips that you may want to consider, and what do they cost?
- If booking a 7-day package can you expect 7 full days of fishing? If the outfitter provides transportation to and from the lodge from a specific embarkation point, is the traveling time included in the 7 days.
- Are guides available? Is one recommended, and if so can, or should you book one in advance and what is the daily or weekly rate?
- If meals are included is there a sample menu that you can review? Will they accommodate special dietary requests?
- If the lodge offers a housekeeping option, ask for a detailed list of what they provide in the way of pots, pans, cooking utensils and table wear, so if need be you can supplement their stock.
- What types of boats and motors are being used? Are landing nets included? Is there a limit on the amount fuel you can use in a day? Should you bring a boat seat, cushion or lifejacket? Can you bring your own boat and are there any mooring fees? If renting a boat what are the daily/weekly rates and is fuel included?
- What type of fishing conditions are you likely encounter when at the lodge? Will the fish be deep or shallow? What type of lures and tackle is recommended?
- In the event you will be flying in to the lodge, are there weight restrictions on the amount of baggage you are allowed, and if so, what are they and what does the air service charge to fly in additional baggage?
- Will you be provided with a checklist and itinerary before your trip? If so, ask what it’s likely to include. For example, if you have to overnight away from home before heading into the lodge because of the distance to be traveled, does the checklist provide local hotel/motel and restaurant information? Will the outfitter make hotel/motel reservations for you, and do lodge guests receive a discounted rate. If you have to fly to your embarkation point don’t forget to ask the outfitter if they have negotiated special rates for their guests with any of the airlines.
- If you forget something like your toothbrush, martini shaker or raincoat are these items available for sale/loan at the lodge?
- What are the accommodations like? Are all necessary bedding and other items such as towels provided?
- Can you bring your own beverages – either non-alcoholic or otherwise - and are there any limits on how much you can take in? Are beverages available at the lodge? If so, what are the prices and selection generally like?
- Are guests expected to tip? Assuming that gratuities are discretionary and based on receiving exceptional service, what is the usual and customary for guides, housekeeping and wait staff. While it would be unusual for a lodge to automatically add a gratuity to your bill at the end of your stay, it’s not uncommon in the restaurant trade, so it doesn’t hurt to ask what the lodge policy is.
- When arriving at the lodge will there be an orientation of any kind? Are maps and/or a tour of the water system provided? Does the lodge have GPS coordinates for various locations on the water system? If these are available, program them into your GPS before you arrive and it will not only help you find your way to and from the lodge, but will take you directly to various “hot spots” throughout the system.
- What can I realistically expect in terms of weather? Needless to say there are absolutely no guarantees when it comes to the weather, and if anyone gives you one – beware. If nothing else it will give you a general idea of what type of clothing to bring along.
Before talking to an outfitter consider making a list of your questions, and if there is not enough time to go through them all, or if you think of others after your initial conversation, send them off in a fax or email. A quality outfitter who really wants your business will either take the time to answer you in writing, or pick up the phone and speak to you directly.
So don’t forget, when doing your research assume nothing, and if you are not completely sure – ASK.
Why All the Fuss and Bother?
While doing the research and asking thousands of questions may seem like a great deal of fuss and bother, I can assure you that it’s really worth the effort. Few people I know have the time or resources to fish where, when and for as long as they want. The average person with a family, if they are lucky, can devote up to two weeks a year solely to fishing and for most it’s likely somewhat less than that.
With so little time to spend doing what really turns your crank it would seem to make sense to do whatever you can to ensure you have the best trip possible and, if your anything like me, I find that doing my research, choosing a lodge and then spending time planning the trip with my fellow travelers is all part of the fun.
Special thanks to Eric Lund, owner/operator of Esnagami Wilderness Lodge for his insight and assistance in putting this article together.