Choosing a Fishing Lodge

By Beacon Staff

So, you’ve finally decided to take that fishing trip of a lifetime – to Alaska, Canada, Patagonia, the Caribbean or another exotic location. Now, be sure you choose the right lodge.

The cost is always key, of course, but hardly the only concern. Regardless of your passion – bonefish, tarpon, muskie, salmon, monster rainbows or pike, whatever – you don’t want your long-awaited (and deserved, right?) vacation to turn into a stressful and costly disappointment.

If you’re a do-it-yourself type of guy who doesn’t stay at a resort or hire a fishing guide, this column isn’t for you. But if you decide to stay at a lodge and have a guided adventure, finding the right outfitter and avoiding problems along the way can be challenging. I’m hardly an expert, but I’ve stayed at a dozen or more lodges through the years. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few tips that might be helpful.

(Before I launch into the list, though, here’s my disclaimer. I’m approaching this subject from an angler’s point of view. My priority is good fishing for big fish, not bringing home a cooler of fillets, not luxurious accommodations, not fine dining. I’m perfectly okay with basic food and accommodations as long as the fishing is good, and the following suggestions reflect my priorities.)

Ask about the fishing regulations. I try to find lodges that require catch-and-release fishing, preferably by law, but at least by lodge policy. Fishing is almost always better in catch-and-release lakes or rivers or those with strict slot limits. You’ll catch bigger fish, too, and that’s why you’re laying down a few thousand dollars for the trip, correct? If you go to a lodge where there are few or weak regulations limiting take and size, you might end up catching nothing but small fish. That’s what happens when you take the big fish out of a population.

Ask about commercial fishing. Fishing lodges usually have a “recreational license” to fish on certain waters. Ask if there is also commercial fishing allowed on the same waters fished by the lodge. In many Alaskan rivers and Canadian lakes, for example, natives are allowed to commercially fish with little or no restrictions or limits. This obviously affects sport fishing opportunities.

Ask about “light housekeeping” options. Some lodges give lower prices if you bring your own food, beverages, sleeping bag and towels instead of requiring daily service to make beds and change towels. This option usually costs much less and saves you money for more fishing trips. But if you’re flying on a floatplane, you have to pack lightly and efficiently to not exceed weight limits.

Ask about portage or boat options. Floatplane costs are skyrocketing, and many fly-in fishing lodges also have options for getting in by boat, often with a portage or two. This takes longer, but again, it can save you several hundred dollars toward your next fishing trip.

Ask if guides fish. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m paying for a guide, he (and it’s almost always a he), should not fish. Instead, he should help his clients catch fish, period. Regrettably, this is not always the case. I’ve had guides “poach” the good water in front of my cast and guides waste my time getting their line tangled with mine or snagged on shore. To me, this is unacceptable.

Ask about fishing hours. Some lodges have strict fishing hours, but to me this seems counter to a wilderness adventure where you definitely don’t want to be “on the clock.” I prefer to be flexible depending on the fishing and weather conditions, and sometimes stretch out the 8-to-5 routine.

Ask about fishing pressure. Just because a lodge is on a remote lake or river doesn’t mean it has minimal fishing pressure. Sometimes, two or three other lodges work the same water, or a local native community might heavily fish there. This extra pressure can diminish wilderness experience and reduce your catch.

When searching the lodge’s website and listening to the owner talk, try to find the words, “fishing camp.” That means you’re going to a lodge where the emphasis is fishing, not fancy dinners, clean sheets every morning, or having a truffle on your pillow at night.

Ask about cabin occupancy. I prefer a cabin just big enough for myself and my fishing partners, not a dormitory-type cabin sleeping 10 or more people. This isn’t always possible, and it isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but having my own cabin avoids any possible conflicts with people you haven’t met.

Make sure you understand cancellation policies. Running a fishing lodge is a tough business, and cash flow is a challenge. Most lodges ask for all or part of the fee upfront, and I have no problem with this policy. However, I always ask about the cancellation policy. In some cases, lodges won’t return your deposit or even the full payment if the trip is canceled, even if it isn’t your choice. For example, factors beyond your control such as bad weather, late ice, or forest fires can force a lodge owner to cancel your trip, and if this happens, you deserve a refund. Some lodges offer a reasonable compromise by allowing you to re-book at a later date at no extra cost. In any case, make sure you know the policy, so there’s no surprise.

Most fishing lodges offer great service and most managers are very friendly and cooperative, but there are sometimes a few things they’d just as soon not discuss. It’s up to you to do your homework.

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