By Stuart Hoegh
I spent the past summer guiding for salmon in Alaska. I have always dreamt of being a fishing guide, and the opportunity is not one that I take for granted. I was often asked by clients as well as fishing buddies how I was able to get the job. Though I have spent extensive time fishing, it was other experiences that allowed me the opportunity. In this post I will lay out what I see as the key aspects that helped me land a guiding job in the last frontier.
Of the 8 guides at our lodge, seven knew someone who had either guided or had been at a guest at the lodge before. I was the only guide that did not come recommended. So, if you know someone who has guided in Alaska before and can get a recommendation, it is your best bet. However, it is not necessary. I emailed my cover letter and resume to about fifteen lodges expressing interest in guiding positions. I asked not only if they had openings for full time guide positions but assistant guide positions as well. Often times lodges will hire a few assistants that will be full-time guides during their second season. I heard back with offers from several of these lodges. A quick google search can provide you with a long list of Alaskan lodges. Write up a generic cover letter that allows you to copy and paste location names in and you will be set.
Building a Resume
The keys for many lodges are customer service, work ethic and boat driving. I had worked a summer for an outdoor rec department on an Air Force base. I spent every other weekend working at a marina. A large part of my responsibilities was teaching service men and women the basics of operating boats. The coast guard has requirements that guides have a certain number of days on the water. Other guides had done similar work or grown up fishing from boats. So get experience driving many kinds of boats.
Several of us had spent summers working construction. Additionally, I grew up working on a farm. Lodges like to see that guides have done manual labor in the past. Guiding is often long days of carrying packs, throwing anchors, and dragging boats. Thus, lodges want to know that who they hire will be able to complete these tasks while maintaining a high level of customer service. Basically, don’t overlook your experience with thankless jobs.
Experience fishing in a variety of places is also helpful. I grew up in Iowa, which has almost no fly fishing opportunities. At the end of my senior year my buddies and I decided to take a trip out to Montana to trout fish. We all bought fly rods and learned over the course of the following months. The next summer I fished in Idaho’s rivers and mountain lakes. Then, after my second year of college I had an internship in the mayor’s office in Columbia, South Carolina. The fishing wasn’t great, but it allowed me to add another location to the list. When lodges see experience with different styles of fishing: fly, spin, bait cast, bow fishing etc-, they will have confidence that you can pick up the new style of fishing. The fishing here is different from almost anywhere else, with the possible exception of the pacific northwest. Thus, many of us had not fished for salmon before, but were able to pick it up due to experience with other fishing styles.
The last thing that I will mention is that it is a good idea to read reviews of lodges. If you get offers from multiple places this can really help you out. You can ask the interviewer about how filled up the lodge will be as well. Some lodges do not fill up for the entire season and that can leave guides with nothing to do. I went with the lodge that had the manager that was most excited about Alaska. It was an awesome experience and I am grateful Wilderness Place Lodge provided me the opportunity.