Lessons Learned From Guiding!


My first experience as a fishing guide was over 20 years ago, when I was 14 and got my first summer job at Ash Rapids Camp on Lake of the Woods.  I was on the grass cutting detail early in the summer but when another guide didn’t show up one Saturday morning in June, I got the call to get in the boat.  Since that day I have taken hundreds of people fishing and over the years I have learned a lot from the different folks that I have shared my boat with.   

Many of the guests on these guide trips are inexperienced anglers, while others have significant experience.  I try to learn something from everybody.  It may be the way they work their jig or topwater, the way they retrieve a crankbait, or the way they let their soft plastic soak on the bottom.  Many times I’ve been surprised at a unique retrieve that put fish in the boat.   


We used to (and still do) fish fluke-style soft plastics quite often for smallmouths.  We would typically fish them weightless and retrieve them with rod twitches that would cause the fluke to walk back and forth under the surface.  At one point I had a guest in the boat who would simply reel the fluke super slow without twitching the rod.  At first I thought he was doing it totally wrong but after he started catching smallmouths one after the other, my eyes were opened.  

Today, I seldom twitch my rod, instead just reel slowly and switch up the speed at which you reel. It’s a subtle retrieve that smallmouths prefer some days.  With whatever lure you are using, always try to be open-minded and experiment with different types of retrieves, varying the speed and cadence.   


One of the most over-looked tools for anglers is an underwater camera.  When Aqua-Vu cameras first came out back in the late 90’s, there was a lot of buzz in the fishing industry and they were a must have item for many anglers.  My buddy Chris Savage and I split the cost of one and we used it for years, for pre-fishing before tournaments, fun fishing and ice fishing.  


Eventually I stopped using it and I have no idea where that original model with a fourinch monitor ever ended up.  The early models were tough to use, they were black and white, and you had to look down a tube to be able to actually see the monitor.   

A few years ago, I got a new Aqua-Vu camera and was amazed at how much the technology has improved.  We now have colour models that are easy to see, even in broad daylight.  They tell us how deep of water the camera is in, the temperature at different depths and we can use them in much deeper water than in the past.   

Obviously, you can learn a lot about your favourite fishing spots with an underwater camera. You can identify fish you spot with your electronics but perhaps the best use of my Aqua-Vu is on guide trips when I have young kids in the boat.  If they are getting bored after a few hours of fishing, I’ll get them set up with a camera. They will be kept busy for hours watching the screen and they’ll find a few fish for you as well!  They are easy to use and fun to play with.   If you fish with kids, I totally recommend getting an Aqua-Vu to have in the boat.   

Using artificial baits to catch walleyes is a topic that has been well covered in recent issues of Hooked.  Crankbaits have always been productive baits for walleyes, particularly big fish. When it comes to simply catching numbers of walleyes and some good ones, it’s tough to beat a jig tipped with a soft plastic minnow.   The more I use plastic, the more confidence I get.  In fact, I seldom use meat at all anymore.  With the new regulations around minnows because of invasive species risks, plastic is a more convenient option on some waters as well.   


One of the things I enjoy the most while guiding is showing people who have never caught walleyes on soft plastics how well they really work.  On a recent trip I had two older fellas who told me that they had never seen a walleye get caught on one before.   Our first spot was a small cove with a little breeze blowing into it – perfect conditions – and I caught three walleyes on my first three casts!  They were sold and we didn’t even open the bag of minnows that I bought on the way to the boat ramp.   


Early in the season when walleyes are generally shallower than any other time of the year, plastics really shine but they work well throughout the open water season.  One thing people need to keep in mind is that you want to fish these jigs and baits a little more aggressively than you would with live bait.  I always tell people you don’t want walleyes to be able to inspect the bait, so keep it moving by swimming the jigs or hopping them along and you’ll create reaction strikes.

StreakZ _ RZ Jig

My best bait so far this year has been a Z-Man 3.75” StreakZ fished on a ¼ oz Northland RZ Jig.  I like to fish this bait on a 7’ – 7’2” medium action spinning rod, with 10 pound Power Pro and a 10 lb fluorocarbon leader.  When you fish around weeds, the plastic is much more efficient than live bait as well because you aren’t constantly ripping the meat off the hook.  The jig and plastic being ripped through the weeds triggers walleyes to strike on many days.     


 Have a great fishing season, be open minded with how you retrieve your favourite baits, try an underwater camera and at some point, use some soft plastics for walleyes.  The more you experiment, the more you learn and in the long run you become a better angler.   

  • Always point your rods toward the back of the boat when you’re not using them.  Rods pointed forward risk blowing up and out of the boat while running and they are more likely to be stepped on.   
  • Always hook up the lure to the lure hook or the first guide on the rod, loose hooks cause tangles.  
  • Never reel your lure into the tip of the rod. 
  • Always leave at least four to five feet of line out when landing fish.  
  • Don’t drag dirt or mud into the boat – give your feet a wash in the lake if they are dirty.  
  • Don’t step on the seat tops, it causes the seams to rip. 

About Author

Jeff Gustafson, known in the fishing world as "Gussy", grew up on the shores of Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario. He took out his first guide trip at age 14 on Lake of the Woods and has made his living in the fishing/outdoor industry ever since. A graduate of the University of Manitoba, Gussy has always been self-employed as a fishing guide, outdoor writer and photographer as well as fishing promoter. Today his fishes the Bassmaster Elite Pro bass circuit and as many local bass tournaments as he can find the time to enter. You can find him online through his website at www.gussyoutdoors.com.

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