Gratuity Guidelines for Fishing Guides & Staff

Two men with fly rods walking through a river.

Tipping an excellent fishing guide or other staff is a must—they go out of their way to make sure your needs are met, and make your day the best it can be. But you should also understand these workers earn low wages in most cases, and your tips are how they pay their bills. After all, you hired them for their expertise, skill, equipment, and knowledge of local history—your guide rowed his heart out, tied dozens of flies onto your leader, gave you great advice on how to get your offering into the right spot in the current seam, whipped up a spectacular shore lunch, and even managed to get a great photo of you and that huge trout just before it wiggled out of your hands and released itself back into the river. So as you prepare to part ways, it’s time to pull out your wallet and reward his effort, just as you would any kind of service industry worker who performs tasks efficiently and with a smile. Read on to learn the rules.

How Much Should You Tip Your Fishing Guide?

In many cases, you can follow the same standard you would in many other tipping situations. Reward your guide about 20 percent for good service, more if you’re really happy and can afford it. If you’re not thrilled with the service, drop it down to about 10 percent. If you’re bad at math and/or don’t want to mess with it, you can tip about $50 to $100 per day depending on how attentive the guide was, how hard they worked, and whether they were friendly and tried to meet your needs.

Sometimes a simple percentage doesn’t make sense. If you book a $5,000 multi-day, all-inclusive package at a destination resort, how do you determine what kind of a tip to leave for your guide? Occasionally, you’ll find some tipping guidelines listed on the website right along with the other prices. Unless otherwise stated, a suggested tip is just that. But such a recommendation is simply meant to help you decide what is considered fair. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip a little more for great service, or a little less if the service didn’t meet your expectations.

Tipping expectations are different for other types of fishing adventures. An offshore trip might include several anglers, and the boat might have a mate or two in addition to the captain. Clearly, you can’t tip $100 each. Consider tipping the captain $50 and each mate $25. Some suggest tipping the mates more than the captain, because on some boats, tips are all they’re working for. It is something to consider, but the captain is also the one with the boat loan, insurance, responsibility, and liability. In Central or South America, a $50 tip per day may be appropriate for your guide, whereas in an affluent country, $100 per day may be more appropriate. Consider the cost of living where you’ll be fishing. A dollar goes a lot farther in some places, so take that into account.

The thought of not leaving any tip can seem like a motivator to teach a lesson, but in reality, it’s likely your name will get passed around among other guides and you might find the dates you want next year all mysteriously filled up. Guides do share information about their clients with other guides. Tip well, and you’ll earn a reputation and create competition among guides who want to work for you. That means you’ll end up with the better guides. If you really want to send a message about poor service, you’re better off tipping 10 percent and then speaking privately with the outfitter or head guide about your dissatisfaction than you are tipping nothing at all.

Remember, no matter how much you paid for your day on the water, there are many factors the guide can’t control. Bad weather, changes in water flow rates, temperature, rain—all these can conspire to ruin a good day of fishing. Your guide’s job is to work hard for you, and if he or she busted tail all day and you still didn’t manage to catch the number of fish you expected, that’s not really their fault any more than it’s your server’s fault at a restaurant if the food doesn’t taste good or is not cooked to your liking.

Cash Is King When It Comes To Tipping Your Guide

Whatever you decide to tip, try to do it in cash. In a few cases you may be able to put a tip on a credit card back at the shop. That’s entirely appropriate at a destination lodge, or where you’re tipping for all services. But standing at the boat landing, your guide probably won’t have a credit card reader handy. Technology is changing that with cell phone card readers, but don’t count on your guide carrying one. In most cases, using a credit card or writing a check won’t be appreciated, and there is a chance you’ll have to pay a surcharge to do so. In many locations, a check may mean your guide has to take a long trip into town and may even have to pay a fee to cash it—if you do write a check, add a little more to it to make up for the inconvenience.

Also, if you’re the one organizing a trip with a buddy or group, make sure they know the expectations for tipping. In a group setting, anglers can split tips, but help out your fishing partner with advanced knowledge to keep them from being embarrassed at the end of the fishing day. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared to assume the tip in case someone forgets. Just make sure he knows dinner and drinks will be on him that evening.

Don’t Forget The Fishing Lodge Staff When Leaving A Tip

Many lodges also include tip guidelines for lodge staff, whose tips are likely to be pooled and split among everyone. If you’d prefer to tip individually, don’t forget the housekeeper, the person who cleans your fish, drivers, and others whose work makes your stay possible. If the lodge asks that all tips being given in a package be distributed among all of the staff, consider 7 to 12 percent. At 12 percent, a tip for that $5,000 trip is $600, but that’s spread over many days.

Anglers Remain Confused About Tipping

The problem is that many anglers don’t know what is expected and what etiquette calls for when it comes to rewarding their guide for great service. It’s not that they don’t want to tip, but they simply don’t know if they’re supposed to or how much. It’s easy to understand why. The methods of rewarding a guide for a job well done vary for different types of guided fishing trips.

For example, when you book with an independent guide, you know the owner is the one doing all the work. He or she is also the one making the boat and insurance payments and filling it with gas, providing high-end gear and tackle, and shopping for the groceries for lunch. If you pick the right guide and play your cards just right, you might also become a better angler by listening to what the guide says about reading water, casting, mending line, and other skills. A tip in this case shows the guide you appreciated the service and recognize his or her many years of experience. It also shows you want them to be in business next year so you can book with them again.

Sometimes your guide will be an employee of a lodge. Maybe you requested the guide based on past experience or reputation, or maybe they were randomly assigned based on who was available the day you wanted to fish. Either way, these fishing pros are paid a base wage that probably doesn’t pay the bills. Not unlike the server in a restaurant, a guide expects a tip as part of his or her income.

Tipping Your Fishing Guide Is Like Tipping Your Server

Everybody knows dining in a nice restaurant requires tipping the server at the end of the meal—some people will even press a twenty into the hand of a hostess who goes out of her way to secure a better table in a nice restaurant. When traveling, Americans are also accustomed to tipping the skycap at the airport for assistance getting their luggage to the check-in counter, or the concierge for help in making dinner reservations. In fact, tipping is expected in many circles. But some anglers consider tipping the guide at the end of a day of fishing as an afterthought. The guides very much rely on tips as part of their earnings, and they count on receiving something.

Here’s a simple exercise to help you understand a good tipping practice before your guided trip. When you go to a restaurant for dinner, you know the tipping expectations vary from around 10 percent at the low end to about 20 percent toward the upper end. You might not think anything of putting a $20 tip on a $100 bill, even though the time spent taking care of you during the meal is measured in minutes and your server’s time is split among several tables. Put that same person in a drift boat for eight solid hours under the hot sun and suddenly 20 percent seems like a lot of money even though you have your guide’s undivided attention for the entire day. Now go back to the notion that they’re far more invested in the outing than a server is in waiting tables, and that their job requires wearing many ‘hats’ during the course of the day. Now the 20 percent tip comes into better perspective.

Think of this next time you’re faced with tipping a fly-fishing guide or lodge staff on a trip. It’s not just good form—it is essential for the people who worked hard to make your day memorable, and might just earn you a few fishing benefits the next time you book.

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