Being from the heart of the city of Toronto Ontario, many would find it odd that I have spent many seasons as a commercial fisherman. A few people have asked me over the past few months let alone years, what it’s like and how to go about getting a job on a commercial fishing vessels in different Area’s of Canada when your not a local.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of experiencing the commercial fishing industry in many areas first hand. I have fished in Canada on The Bay Of Fundy (Advocate Harbour) in (2002), out of Mabou Harbour Cape Breton Nova Scotia last Spring (in 2015), and over seas in Aberdeen Scotland U.K. ( in 1997-1998) as well. Every time I have fished somewhere it has been a very different situation or circumstance.
BOATS I HAVE FISHED ON OVER THE YEARS.
boy gordon 02 – Copy – Copy Plaice /crab/ skate
Aberdeen harbour Scotland
Lobster season 2015
Mabou Harbour Cape Breton N.S.
Advocate Harbour N.S This was not this boat, but the old boat I was on is no longer there.
lobster boat i fished on when our boat was broke down
Mabou Harbour N.S. 2015
No job is alike, and every species is fished differently. I suggest if you are seriously considering giving this type of work a try, then you do your homework to find out exactly what type of species you’d like to fish for before just jumping into the deep end. Last Spring, although I have been on several types of boats and fished many species, I found myself fishing for 1 day on a snow crab boat and let me tell ya, I thought I was a hard core fisherman, but that 1 day on a crab boat just about killed me LOL.
This was the boat for 1 day for snow crab & I did 2 days lobster on this vessel as well while the boat I was on had some mechanical problems and was getting repaired.
Mabou Harbour 2015
Before I get into the next 10 questions you should ask yourself Why am I going to try working on a commercial fishing boat? If the answer is , because I have watched every episode of Deadliest Catch over the past 11 years and you want to go earn a tonne of cash in a short period of time, Then you may as well stop reading any further. The reality is, there are a tonne of guys every year that make their way up the Dutch Harbour and places like that where the big boats are looking for work, but unfortunately when they get up there they realize there is slim to no chance to ever land a job like that. there are just too many experienced fisherman living in those areas and have already secured a spot on one of the many vessels long before this was even a thought in your head. Truth is in order to land one of those positions you may have to volunteer your time as a deck hand for free and or work in the less desirable jobs for years before you get the chance to become a greenhorn on one of those boats. However if your answer was, for an adventure, and a life experience then by all means continue reading (LOL).
when looking for a species of fish that you think you would like to try ask yourself these following questions.
- What fish do I want to try? What time of year are they fished?
Obviously, your google search engine will help you with this.
2. What shape am I in, and can I handle the work load?
If you Youtube the type of fishing you are researching you can see what type of physical demands are required. However, remember you will have to repeat these tasks over & over again, all day long, and Youtube will generally not give you an idea of the hardest parts of the job.
- What area is the species caught in?
This information is easily found when researching the time of year from step 1.
- Your job search
You can find a job from home, or, from dockside. You can use your computer and go on Government job listing sites, craigslist, Kijiji, and any other sites you can think of that you can generally find work. Search by province and key words such as, fisherman, deck hand, corks-man,or second-man, and the type of fish you want to fish for. However, to be honest, many of the captains are old school. You may not find very much on line and still the best method is to be ready and willing to work dock side. Not being local you may need to work a little harder. Being dockside the week (or preferably 2) prior to the season, volunteering your time, loading traps, splicing ropes, and odd jobs, is a great way for captains to get comfortable enough to offer you a position or give you a reference to another captain in the fleet. do not over crowd a captain, if he looks uninterested in you then be prepared to hand him a business card with your information and picture on it so he can be reminded of who you were or pass it along to other captains that may be looking for deckhands.
Another great way, is to befriend the waitress at the local pub. She is often the local ‘fishermans therapist’, so if anyone knows the local fishermen, and who is hiring, its her (LOL). Leading up to the season many captains take lunch (in-between 11am and 3pm) at the pub as a break from this busy prep time. don’t be afraid to spend a bit and buy a round to break the ice with a few thirsty boat captains, it can go a long way, trust me LOL. Tip your waitress, she will remember you and every time you are in the pub you will get better service. for the entire duration of your working vacation.
- Can I get to the area cost effectively?
Consider, gas mileage, train or air fair, food, and accommodation. Also, if driving, can you cover car repairs?. Even though we all tend to do things with great intent you may not be able to work as intended. If you can not find work, or cannot handle the physical demands, or discover you get sea sick, you will need to have enough money to come home before you even make a pay cheque.
- Where will I stay when I get there?
If you are one of the lucky few to acquire a job prior to your departure, the captain may be a great resource for cost effective solutions. Otherwise, be prepared to be mobile because once you meet many friendly locals you may have an opportunity to find cheaper short term rental units that are not sourced online and a bit of a distance from the wharf. I have transported my own camper trailer as sites in local parks seem to be the best option. I have even parked my trailer at the wharf for a season at no cost to me. Even though my gas mileage heading there is higher. but I have even put my trailer right at the wharf that I was working out of so as to have $0.00 in accommodation fees. Be careful what time of year you leave with this option as a late thaw can limit availability to operational parks, (ie. power/heat) and leaving you a bit stranded LOL
yes I was a bit early last spring and we were 2 weeks delayed due to the ice. I had no power or running water during this time.
If you are taking a position where you are out to sea for days, weeks, or even months on end, do the math. It may be better to take a cheap motel for a day or two when on land then a monthly rental. If this is the option you choose you will only be traveling with a bag of clothes, pillow, and sleeping bag. You will have to budget for eating out when on shore.
- Do I have enough cash to support myself while I’m away and before I find work?
Like any job you will most likely have a 2-3 week waiting period before seeing your initial pay. It is also important to keep in mind, if you are taking a position in the spring, jobs may be delayed due to a long winter and can add an additional couple of weeks to this time frame.
- How long is the season?
While you can find this information during your initial research, keep in mind, you do not want to financially depend on how long employment would be for the season. While your job may start late due to lingering winters it can also abruptly end due to early ice up.
- How long do I want to give this a try for?
Do not over estimate your abilities. You are going to work in harsh conditions, long hours, minimal days off, and grueling physical work. Start with a season which last weeks not months, with the ideas of possibly staying longer. Many captains will work the boat with back to back seasons with different species. They will probably never mention this until the end of one season, and then only if you were a great deck hand that they want back. If you are a valuable employee your captain or another in the fleet will know and possibly offer you further work.
- …and most important, DO I GET SEA SICK?
The worst part about this is, it can happen at anytime, to anyone, and you have no choice but to, suck it up buttercup! No captain will spend thousands of dollars in fuel to bring you back to land. Taking Gravol works but only if taken prior to boarding. If you find out you get sea sick easily, your season is done. If it is happens randomly half way through the season, take medication for the next few working days before trying to go out without it. Sea sickness is the leading cause of most deckhands bowing out and walking out of the industry for good. I myself am lucky for the most part. I do not generally get seasick but I do remember back in Scotland a small period that I could not shake the sea sickness. It went on for 3 or 4 day’s straight and I can tell you I have never felt like I wanted to die like, I did then (LOL).
If everything comes together and all the above 10 tips come together without a hitch then you could be in for one of the best opportunities and or adventures of your life. If you think you are up for the adventure I can tell you its well worth it.
It has now been over 3 years and now into my 4th, since I made the decision to become a full time fishing guide in the Quinte region. Truth be told when I had made this decision I really had no idea what I was in for, and probably still don’t. each year has been a crazy learning curve. I am writing this blog because of the amount of people that have said to me that he/she, either would like to be, or maybe knows someone that they think would make an amazing fishing guide. So I’m going to put into perspective what being a guide is really like and what to expect.
Being a fishing guide can be one of the best jobs in the world its true, but it does not come easy and without blood, sweat, and tears, oh and unless you have a tonne of money in the bank, then be prepared to be financially strapped for years to come. If you love fishing, then do not become a guide. Over the past 4 years and over 400 days spent on the water, I think I can count on 1 hand how many times I have actually gone fishing, TRUE FISHING, meaning where I get to go out and enjoy the act of fishing for myself and not worry about other peoples comfort levels while on the water.
Guiding is one of the hardest industry’s I have ever been involved in, but it sure beats flipping burgers, or a busy city commute, or cutting lawns. If I had thought about it, I would have started guiding a lot earlier, maybe when I was in high school or shortly there after. The key is to begin laying the foundation at an early age by working hard to become the best fisherman you can be, by learning everything you can about fishing tactics, techniques, and by studying the biology and behavior of the species that you want to fish for. This is difficult to narrow down at an early age I know, In fact I’m not sure I really know if I have found the right species for me yet and I’m almost 40.
Now for the part I say to people that think they want to become a guide LOL. Most people that want to get into guiding, fail to realize that “guiding” does not mean “fishing”.I have a buddy who has a son, he takes his son fishing all the time, and because I am a guide, he always say’s to me when I ask him what he’s doing for the weekend? he reply’s that he will be “guiding” his son on the bay for the weekend. Im not sure if he says this to get under my skin, or if he does it because he is trying to relate to me with what I do for a living but either way it definitely gets to me when he calls himself a guide, and over the years now has even hurt our friendship a bit. In my mind you have to earn that title.
When you take a paying customer out on the water, you are expected to be an instructor, a cheerleader, a helping hand, a butler, a maid, a cook, have incredible customer service skills, and in some cases be a babysitter. The worst case scenario requires you to choose a lure, tie the correct knots, teach the clients how to use the equipment, show the client where the fish are, choose the correct speed, and steer the boat, and then stand there and watch while the client proceeds to do everything wrong after a fish bites, usually the client, after loosing the fish due to too much slack in the line looks at you and blames you for not teaching him the correct way. You then have to nod and bow your head as if it were your fault and try all over again.
Before all of this goes on, you are required by law to take separate courses that allow you to take paying clientele on your vessel plus hold the proper insurances all of which are extremely costly, and all before you have any clientele or income into the business to help recoup your costs.
Now that you have done all that and you are trying to find any way possible to advertise your business for free because you have just spent your life savings, your wife’s life savings, the down payment you had for a house, begged, borrowed, and stolen tens of thousands to get a suitable boat and equipment to accommodate strangers, oops I meant clients to go fishing you are all set right? NOPE WRONG.
This is the most difficult part of being a successful guide. Earning the respect of your peers. This is possibly the most important portion of becoming a successful guide. Just because you can put a few fish in your boat does not make you a good guide. If you do not have the respect of the other guides in the area that you fish in you will not last long.
Lets think about that. Especially if you are anything like me LOL. Ok lets say you get everything in place and you come to a marina and plunk your boat in the water and your ready to start taking on clients, where are your clients coming from? now you need to go and find fish, so you ask one of the other boats your tied right next to and say hey brother so where are the fish biting today? do you think his answer is going to be “? hey new guy, ya the fish were on fire at these co-ordinates xxxyyyzzz”. NO NOT A CHANCE. it will be more like this if he doesn’t just tell you F off, “hey new guy ya we caught lots about 15 miles just west of the red marker out by ZZZXXXYYY”. now excited you just got up to date information and thinking wow what a great guy. you will get up early in the morning have the gear all ready to go, your clients meet you, and you head out to what you think is going to be the best fishing grounds in the area. wondering why you are the only boat out on the water that day, you fish hard all day and nothing to show for it. you head home with your head held low with angry clients that you know will never come back. not to mention you would like to give them the trip for free but the cost of fuel to get to the spot and back and troll around all day almost broke the bank, so you have no choice but to charge the clients you just skunked.
back at the dock you talk to buddy that gave you the co-ordinates and again if he doesn’t just tell you to f-off he probably tells you “oh sorry man I heard first thing that the bite was hot somewhere else so he went there instead”. this kind of thing will probably go on for anywhere from 1 to 5 years before guys will start sharing info but you will have to earn their respect first.
While this 1 to 5 years of initiation from your peers is going on you have everyone and their dog that fishes and knows you, wanting to come out for a fishing day. when you mention the cost they look at you, laugh, and say “ok but how much for me?” LOL thinking you need to find places where the fish are you take people out for next to nothing barely covering costs and definitely not making any kind of a wage.
within the first year, “guiding” has now become more about taking a lot of friends out for a next to free day on the water and because you are a so called “guide” you no longer get to actually reel in any of the fish, you get to watch people learn your spots that you have worked like a dog to acquire and they get to reel in fish that you basically caught for them.
fishing that was once a passion will become a job like any other, where you have to wake up earlier than any job you’ve had in the past, around 4am, any, and every day of the week, and get home late, with what seems like very little reward. This will go on for a while, but if you can get past that time of becoming a guide to the part where you earn the respect of some of your peers, (remember you do not need the respect of ALL of them) then you will start to have fun with the job and it will eventually become the best job in the world.
remember that without the respect of your peers you truly fish alone. even though you are on your own on your boat, make all the daily decisions alone, are solely responsible for all the bills, do the clean up daily all alone, you can not do this job, WELL, alone. I can personally tell you that it is considerably easier to get onto active fish with many boats covering areas and sharing info than to have to find it on your own.
If I were to give anyone looking at becoming a Fishing guide some gentle advise it would be to, 1- remember to take advice from any guide willing to give it. 2- even if some of the information you get from someone turns out to be bogus, make sure you thank them and learn from the experience. 3- you will not like all the advice you get from people so remember to pick and choose advice that pertains to you and even if you did not like what someone has to say does not mean they are wrong. 4- this business is not for everyone and it is ok if its not for you. 5- make sure you have your own & informative good information to share with others, nothing earns respect faster than this, (a good hot lure, or spot) but be selective to who you give it to remember you have worked hard to gain this intel. 6- And lastly, remember your boat doesn’t run on thank you’s, it runs on fuel.
Now for the good part. I know I may have come across a bit sour in this blog up to now but it is the truth about becoming a guide in my eyes. Ok, moving on, so you have got through the initial initiation stage and you have found a small clientele base after a couple years spent grinding it out on the water and your still here. you have made a few alliances on the water, and you know a few good producing spots where you know you can put a few fish on the boat for clients. it is at this point you will start to enjoy your new profession. Even though you started this job thinking you could do it because you were an ok fisherman, now you realize that your potential is limitless with the right people behind you. watching people catch fish, becomes your passion, the smiles and excitement on especially the little childrens faces that you helped put their biggest fish they have ever seen or caught is what drives you to get up every day. You start to take in the beauty and nature that surrounds you day in and day out, that you remember was one of the reasons you wanted to be a guide in the first place. a sense of relaxation consumes you every day while on the water with clients instead of a kind of stress that no individual should ever have to feel, your dream that became a job is now becoming your dream job once again, and it all becomes worth it as you truly make the transition from a passionate fisherman to “GUIDE”. Just because someone has a registered business name and a boat with the proper paper work does not make someone a “guide” it takes time to earn that title, but once you do, then no-one can take it away from you.
So if you think being a “guide” is for you, I would welcome anyone to the challenge and good luck.
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The further into the season we get the harder it seems to be going for Captain Jody. As I wrote in the last blog our boat had been broken down, well things have not changed a week later. Now I’m not much of a mechanic but the problem with the boat I believe would normally be an easy fix, but with our boat, because of the age of it, it’s near impossible to find parts to replace broken ones. This problem proves no different, the captain had ordered a new tamper plate and when it arrived it was the wrong size. So the skipper drove to Charlottetown PEI and got the only machinist he could find to rotor the plate to size and drill the holes in the proper place so it would fit. After a 13 hour return trip we come to find the plate will not line up properly and the boat is still dead in the water.
On Friday morning I got a knock on the trailer door to Capt Andy’s helper asking if I would come out to help them for the day. since our boat was still down and not knowing where my captain was or weather the boat would be fixed that day I decided I would go and help Andy out for the day and try and make a bit of extra pocket cash.
The day with CPT Andy and crew was interesting, I was able to see how another fisherman operates and with the extra hand on board the day seemed to fly by, it really made a huge difference. When we had returned to the wharf Capt Jody’s boat had not moved and was still dead in the water.
On Saturday Jody had returned with the part machined and ready to install. The plan was to install the part and be on the water to run at least half our traps by 2pm ish, but the mechanic we expected to do the job did not show up to do the work. It wasn’t until late that afternoon when we were able to find a mechanic to come have a look. Once everyone had figured out what was going on, the mechanic left to re-drill the holes and returned only to find that the part, still would not fit into place once again and we were still dead in the water, so off I went to the cole mines harbour to see if I could catch up with my buddy Liam LoL.
Feeling that this problem with our boat would not be handled by anyone until Monday morning CAPTJody had decided to take out his Father’s (Capt Wayne’s) boat on Sunday morning to run his traps and giving us fresh bait in the traps and hope there were some lobsters to try and salvage some of his loss for the week.
What a good way for me to spend Father’s day a 16.5 hour day on the water to take my mind off of spending time with family. To our surprize the traps were full. It made for a hard day re-baiting the traps as there was not a lick of bait left in any of the traps but the lobsters were plentiful. We even got a blue lobster. It is pretty special to get a blue lobster as they are extremely rare, just to give you an idea my captain has been fishing lobster for approx 25years and he has only ever seen 1 before, about 10years ago. Apparently this one was quite a bit bigger than the last one weighing approx 5lbs or more. After a few quick pictures we decided to let the beast go to hopefully spawn some more of its kind in the future.
This was the 3rd boat (out of 10 boats) I have worked on in this harbour alone, since the start of the season. Well I came here for an experience and I’m beginning to think I’m getting what I asked for LOL.
just a random pic I decided to through into the mix LOL
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