How to Tip Fishing Guides and Other Industry Service Providers
by Melissa Norris
I have often been asked about tipping fishing guides and the other service providers who make up the sportfishing industry—Captains, deckhands, chefs, hospitality staff, etc. Many folks tip based on the level of service offered, and tipping is certainly a personal choice, but these are some of the things I consider when I go to reach in my wallet for some bills.
One concept is that tipping should be based on the level of difficulty or effort that is given to the task. I think about the long days and physical effort these folks put in to ensure my Alaska fishing trip measures up. The amount of work packed into just a three or four month season is a bit mind blowing. I feel that tipping fishing guides should fall on the side of generosity. They have a limited time to earn their living and they rely on tips for their income. Here are some general recommendations.
How to Tip at a Fishing Lodge
Some Alaska fishing lodges provide their suggested tip structure, but many of them leave it up to you to decide. I like to tip about 20% of the trip cost total split among the various staff. Most everyone at a fishing lodge is busting their butts. Some are certainly more engaging and charismatic than others and these are the folks we all gravitate towards to tip well. When I look around at what a full day looks like for each one of the lodge staff, regardless of their outgoingness, I always wish I brought more cash.
In my opinion, there are two ways to think about how to tip a fishing guide. The guides should be given about 10% of your trip cost or $100 per day—whichever is greater. If that is above what you can afford, then you can give what you can, but these men and women are up early to be boat side and ready to fish after you’ve wiped that drip of hollandaise off your chin and drained your last sip of coffee. Gear has to be anticipated, sometimes with fresh salmon eggs or hand tied flies on the ready. The boat is gassed up and the motor is warmed up on a chilly morning. The Stanley coffee carafe is filled and lunches grabbed for guests. This is after they have been up late the evening before to make sure the boat and gear are clean, tie any flies needed for tomorrow’s success and socialize with us at dinner. It is easily a 12- to 16 hour day for many of them. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes feel tired after a long day on the water out in the elements. Four or five days of fishing hard can wear you out. Well, they are doing that sometimes 90 to 100 days in a row. I think about that as I reach in my wallet.
If a guide is truly outstanding, has a great personality and is super attentive to the guests’ needs, this pay scale can be as high as you want to go. Your tip and your boat mates are the only they will receive for your time there unlike the kitchen and lodge crew who will generally receive gratuities from the entire guest roster.
Some of these folks are the superstars of the fishing lodge, and for good reason. The chef might have the longest day out of everyone. In small outfits they are the ones sometimes starting the generator, starting the coffee and then getting everyone’s breakfast and lunch together early for anglers anxious to get to the fishing grounds. Some bigger lodges have a team of these folks who plug away each morning to accomplish the goal. Some have cuisine that would rival any 5 star restaurant and others are just adequate. When the chef is a total rockstar feel free to up the ante, but as a rule I give about 5% of the cost of the trip. It may not seem like much but the chef is likely to be tipped that amount by each individual in camp, making for a hearty amount. I feel free to show extra appreciation for excellence.
Hospitality Staff/Ground Crew
Your camp hands, clean team, wait staff etc. are often one and the same in these remote fishing lodges. These folks are also going at it hard all day from early to late. They are the ones keeping the grounds clean, changing over the rooms for guests, serving your meals and running around filling various guest requests. They too receive at least 5% of the trip cost from me.
Tipping Guides on a Day Charter
On a river boat your guide is your complete service provider. When I think about tipping fishing guides for a day trip, I remember they have a similar day to the fishing guide described above, minus the social time after fishing. In short they are busting their hide too. It is important to note fishing guides should not be judged on the fishing if they are knowledgeable and employing a variety of methods and tricks to find fish. Fishing is about the experience, so if a guide is friendly and fun, attentive and willing to help in anyway, that’s what it takes to be a good fishing guide and the gratuity usually represents my appreciation for that.
On a day charter in the saltwater you have your captain and crew. Like the other scenarios, they are all working hard to ensure your safety and fishing success as well as your enjoyment. There are plenty of salty fishing guides and captains out there, but others are just a delight and they are the ones that shine above the rest. Some folks think if you are the business owner as well as the captain you don’t need to tip, but I do not agree. Those folks have their business overhead from marketing to boat payments to payroll taxes. A tip for them is just as appreciated since they are out there doing the hard work themselves.
For day trips the 10% concept doesn’t apply for a fishing guide or captain. I always plan to tip $50 to $100 per day on average to each the captain and crew. These folks have that short window to earn a living and a lot of hard work behind their daily job.
In sum, when you thinking about tipping fishing guides and other fishing lodge staff, I prefer to tip about 20% in total, but if I feel especially appreciative for the effort they made for me and my group, there is nothing wrong with going up from there. And if one happens to catch their trip at auction or on a buddy deal, they should tip as though they have purchased a full fare. Again, tipping is a personal choice and these are my personal preferences mixed with the general guidelines in the industry, so do what feels good to you. For me, I remember these folks make their living based on our generosity and it may seem like a glorified job, but I assure you, it is hard work.
Melissa Norris is Founder and Publisher of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines since 2001. She has had the privilege of visiting a vast amount of fishing lodges across The Greatland.