"Must be nice to have a job where you get to fish every day" is a line fishing guides probably hear from time to time.
But as any fishing guide will attest, there's a lot more to the job than wetting a line. Many fishing guides say they rarely get a chance to fish.
Just ask Matt Breuer, owner of Northcountry Guide Service and Promotions in Bemidji.
"Everybody thinks it's like this glamorous, wonderful job where you get to fish all the time," Breuer said. The reality, he says, is the anglers who checked out of one of his rental fish houses last Sunday afternoon have fished more than he has all winter.
"All they did is rent a fish house for the weekend," Breuer said. "I don't get to get out fishing. My family gets a little bit deprived of fishing because on my days off, I really don't want to go fishing."
We talked to Breuer, 38, and four other fishing guides, all UND graduates, to get their thoughts on the job and what goes into being successful. Mark Bry, 38, of Grand Forks, runs Bry's Guide Service on Devils Lake. Brothers Scott Edman, 44, and Allen Edman, 42, of Warroad, Minn., guide on Lake of the Woods. And Toby Kvalevog, 43, of Brainerd, Minn., is a partner in Leisure Outdoor Adventures, a guide service operating on Leech Lake and several other lakes in north-central Minnesota.
A physical education teacher in Brainerd, Minn., Kvalevog perhaps is best known as a UND goalie from 1993 to 1997.
As a fishing guide and partner in Leisure Outdoor Adventures, Kvalevog spends most days in the summer on Leech Lake, staying in Walker, Minn., and only making it home on rare days off.
It's a job that takes passion, he says-and perhaps a bit of obsession.
The Bemidji native, who is entering his 19th season as a guide, says he became more active in tournament fishing after hockey and made the transition to guiding as a teacher in Brainerd, where several other teachers also guided in the summer.
Kvalevog says family support is crucial to being a guide in what he jokingly refers to as "a happily married, single-parent family."
"Without that support, there's no way it happens," he said. "A lot of the guys who have fished professionally are either single or divorced. That's just a reality."
Gaining and working with sponsors to offset boat and equipment costs also is a reality, Kvalevog says. From gear to gas to liability insurance, overhead costs are considerable, he says.
Like many guides, Kvalevog says he rarely fishes when in the boat with clients.
"People don't want to see me catch fish," he said.
Days are long, often beginning before daylight and not ending until the last fish is cleaned that night and the boat and gear is prepped and ready for the next day.
Day after day after day. ...
Like most Minnesota fishing guides, guiding is a second job for Kvalevog.
"If you're truly going to be a fishing guide year-round, you're not going to have a life," he said. "You're going to have to work most of the year, and it's tough to do that."
A sleep technologist at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, Breuer says his guiding and promotional business is a balancing act with his hospital job, a wife and two kids and their farm.
Breuer also guides bear hunters and is one of only a couple of wild edibles guides in the state.
"I've always joked I live my life in semi-controlled chaos, and that's where I feel most comfortable," Breuer said.
As owner of Northcountry Guide Service and Promotions, Breuer oversees as many as six people who either guide or work on various outdoor promotions. Besides finding time to guide year-round, Breuer also rents three ice fishing houses on Lake Bemidji.
Northcountry Guide Service will mark "either 16 or 17 years" in May, Breuer says, adding he definitely could go full-time if he wanted to give up his medical career. Such a career move wouldn't be easy, though, he says.
Succeeding as a guide means securing good sponsors to offset expenses and working for them at sports shows, boat shows or promoting the companies through magazine articles and social media.
Whenever Breuer or one of his guides has a bad day, whether it's tough fishing, an equipment breakdown or any number of other things that can go wrong, they'll often send each other a "#soyouwanttobeafishingguide" message, he jokes.
"If you just wanted to be a fishing guide, you're not going to make much money," he said. "You might be able to break even or pay your bills, but you're not going to get rich by any means."
Bry, who teaches seventh grade geography and eighth grade social studies at South Middle School in Grand Forks, started guiding in 2003 on Devils Lake as a way to go fishing in the summer.
Today, Bry owns Fish Rehab Lodge east of Devils Lake on U.S. Highway 2 and oversees a guide service that has four to five guides who work nearly full-time both summer and winter.
He started small and worked his way up, gaining clients and sponsors to offset the business side of things.
"Not that I'm a big deal now, but I never would have anticipated this," Bry said. "It's a great lake, and people want to experience it.
"A lot of (our clients) have been coming for 15 years."
Unlike many guides, Bry says he usually has a line in the water on guide trips unless the fishing is so fast he doesn't have time for anything but netting fish and baiting hooks.
"The experience is definitely for the client, but I always tell my clients boat control is everything, especially on a lake like Devils Lake where you're fishing a real precise weedline or edge of a hump," he said. "I fish a lot better, my boat fishes a lot better, when I have a line down."
Guiding means long days in all kinds of weather conditions, not to mention managing expectations that sometimes aren't realistic, but fishing still is fun, Bry says.
"There's a lot of organizing, there's this, there's that, but when that bite's on, that's pretty cool," he said. "That ride in when you've got your limit of fish or a client gets the biggest fish of their lives, that smile on their face is probably what keeps a guy going."
Scott and Allen Edman
Continuing the theme of teachers who guide, brothers Scott and Allen Edman of Warroad, Minn., guide all summer and in the winter as time permits as owners of Edmans Angling Adventures on Lake of the Woods' Northwest Angle.
The brothers-Scott teaches industrial technology, and Allen teaches sixth grade-literally grew up on the lake, where their parents for several years owned Angle Outpost Resort on the Northwest Angle mainland.
Guiding went with the territory, and the brothers were 12 or 13 years old when they started taking resort guests out fishing. They both have more than 30 years of guiding experience on the big lake.
"We just kind of fell into it, and it was always kind of an expectation that we would pick it up," Scott Edman said.
Because Lake of the Woods is a federal navigable waterway, guides must be U.S. Coast Guard licensed. The brothers also have work permits to guide in Ontario.
Based on what they've seen, most young guides who try to make guiding a full-time career only last about five years before families or other life changes take priority, Allen Edman said. Having a teaching job with health insurance and other benefits takes the pressure off guiding, he said.
"It looks good right away on paper that you're making some money, but you've got your boat payment and there's no benefits," Allen said of guiding full-time. "So, for people looking for that, it's good to be a young single man. You need to have a plan in your professional life of what you're going to do. In most cases, guiding won't make it."
Fishing and guiding, they say, are completely different.
"Yes, you get to go fishing every day, but you're expected to produce and can't necessarily explore and do what you want to do all day," Scott Edman said. "If fishing's tough, you have to go to your best spots and really dig for your fish and get the job done, whereas if you're just fishing on your own, you can say it's not a great day, I'll go home and mow the lawn.
"It's a job and a lot more fun than some other jobs, but some days on the lake are a lot more fun than others."