The Guide Life
Dreaming of getting paid to hunt or fish? Here’s the reality
By David Hart
As a lifelong Hunting guide, Charles Snapp has spent time in a duck blind with thousands of people. Virtually all of them were good folks. Except for the two big-city lawyers. Snapp, the two attorneys and a father and son were hunting flooded timber in northeast Arkansas, and the ducks were coming in to the decoys. Unfortunately, at least for the lawyers, the birds were all showing up on the side of the blind closest to the other hunters. The two lawyers grew more irate each time the father and son dropped a bird.
“I told these two guys just to be patient and we’d switch in a little bit, but they didn’t like that, even though there were lots of ducks flying that morning,” recalls Snapp. “Every time some ducks would come near us, they’d just fire off their guns to spook the ducks. I finally took them back to the lodge and gave them a refund on the spot and told them to hit the road.”
That was nearly 20 years ago and Snapp has had only two other similarly frustrating experiences.
“With the very rare exception, the thing I like most about my job is the people I get to spend time in a duck blind with,” says Snapp, who guides duck hunters in northeastern Arkansas. “It doesn’t matter if they are doctors, plumbers, politicians or teachers. They are all duck hunters when they walk through my front door and we share a common bond.”
Guiding hunters and anglers can be a great way to make a living and meet some great people, but it’s a demanding job with long hours, low pay and the eternal uncertainty that comes with working in the elements. James Niggemeyer, a fishing guide on Texas’ famed Lake Fork, is awake an hour or more before he meets his clients near dawn at the boat dock, and he spends several more hours preparing for the next day after he’s come off the water. He fishes in rain, wind, cold and sometimes all three, trying to put his clients on the biggest fish of their lives.
“During the peak seasons, I’m just going and going because I have to work while the work is available,” says Niggemeyer, who also works as a professional bass angler when he’s not guiding. “At the end of eight or 10 hours on the water, I come home and clean up the boat, maybe work on tackle and then return phone calls from potential new clients. I often go straight to bed after that because I’m up at 4 a.m. the next morning to do it all over again. I hardly get any time for my family when I’m real busy.”
Despite the long, grueling hours, Niggemeyer wouldn’t trade his job for anything. For him, the best part of the work is seeing the smiles on his clients’ faces when they catch the biggest bass of their lives. He helped an 8-year-old boy land a bass that weighed nearly eight pounds, and he’s watched wives outfish their husbands on numerous occasions. Of course, he loves spending his days on the water with a fishing rod in his own hands as well, but, like Snapp, he enjoys being with others who share a love of fishing.
Guiding fishermen isn’t always fun, however, and Niggemeyer has to deal with the occasional demanding client who doesn’t understand that no one can force a fish to bite when it doesn’t want to. Although he makes his living with a fishing rod in his hand, even he sometimes can’t figure out the right lure for the day.
“Most of my clients understand that it’s called ‘fishing’ for a reason, but I do get clients who aren’t happy if they don’t catch an eight or 10 pounder,” he says.
Like Niggemeyer, Snapp’s job doesn’t end when his clients reach their limit and head back to the lodge. While the hunters are sipping beer and eating dinner, he’s mending decoys, repairing blinds, returning phone calls and scouting for ducks for the next day’s hunt. Even in the off-season, Snapp is busy working to make sure his clients have a first-class hunt when they arrive. He spends week upon week rebuilding blinds prior to opening day, and he’s constantly working with landowners to firm up places to hunt.
“I only make money when I’m guiding clients. The bills come in 12 months a year, but my income doesn’t,” he says. “But I couldn’t imaging doing anything else, even though it’s not as glamorous as many people think it is.”