Get To Know Fishing Guide John Sappington

Fishing guide John Sappington has been fishing full time for over 20 years and has participated in a host of tournaments, including winning US$260,000 in 2002 in the FLW Classic. Working as a full time fishing guide for the past eight years, John helps clients achieve their fishing goals in the pristine waters of Table Rock Lake and Lake Taneycomo in Branson, Missouri, and guarantees a catch no matter the conditions.
How did you get into being a fishing guide?

I wasn’t very good at being on time at work anywhere, I was always fishing instead of working.

I just started fishing in some small tournaments and had a lot of success. Then it kind of snowballed and I got to where I was making more money on the weekends fishing than I was making all week so I just thought if I do this full time, I’d really have the opportunity to have a go at it.

Eight years ago, I was actually pre-fishing for a tournament down in Louisiana. I was going down the Intracoastal Waterway and there was a ferry on one side. That ferry engaged a cable which snapped up out of the water and hit me in the top of the head and flipped me over my seat, broke my back and my neck and all but killed me. After that happened, it pretty much changed my priorities to where I wasn’t too interested in driving all over the country.

How did you make the transition to becoming a fishing guide?  

I had a lot of success on the tour and it was kind of inevitable that I became a guide because I really like the outdoors and fishing and I had the accolades to back up a business as far as fishing goes.

What does a typical day look like for you?

We’ll start out at about seven o’clock in the morning and I typically do half day trips: we’ll fish from about seven to 11 am, catch a lot of fish, start again about 11.30 and then run to about 3.30pm. The fishing is really just as good in the afternoon as it is in the morning – a lot of people are hung up with having to fish first thing in the morning, but it’s not really necessary.

I think the worst trip I’ve had this year has been probably 25 fish, so 50 fish is a really common number.

Have you got a certain style of guiding, or do you just run with it on the day?

I have different styles but it depends on how many people I have in the boat – if I have one person in the boat, it really opens up to several different styles of fishing but if I have four to six people then you’re limited with how you can fish, you can’t have a whole lot of people fly fishing. On the day of the tour, you can see what a person’s skill level is and adjust your trip and fishing style based upon that.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part is really watching people enjoy the outdoors and there’s a lot more to it than just catching a lot of fish. It’s beautiful down here. We see eagles and blue herons and you’ll see mink and otters and foxes too. I take a lot of single parent families where there’s not a father involved and the child has never had the opportunity to go fishing; the mother will call me and say “Hey, my son wants to go fishing but I don’t know what to do.” And just being able to experience that with first timers, that’s pretty gratifying.

What’s a secret or tip to catching a fish?

Where a lot of people go wrong is that they fish with lures that are flashy or bright. The real key to catching a lot of fish is figuring out what the fish actually eat and knowing what their diet is.

What’s the key to a good day of fishing?

I think the key is, when I get new clients in the boat, I ask them, “What are your goals? Are your goals to catch more fish than you’ve ever caught before, or are your goals to try to catch a big fish or to learn about the different types of fish and nature in this area?” I read each person, each group as I go, I think I’m really good at that. Some trips have been tougher than the others, you may have really high water or windy or stormy conditions but outside of that, I’ve never had a bad trip where a client has been unsatisfied.

Your profile guarantees clients will catch a fish, regardless of the conditions – what are the craziest weather conditions you’ve ever guided in?

We’ve had some really high water floods down here and that’s probably the toughest condition that you can have for catching fish. I think the worst trip I’ve had since I started, we only caught about six fish – I’ve never had a trip where we’ve caught less than six fish and that’s under all different conditions.

Every job has its ups and downs. Are there any aspects of your job that you don’t like or aren’t that keen on?

Probably the toughest part is that I tie all my own flies in the evenings for the next day, which is sometimes hard after a long day. I’m just really blessed to do what I love to do, it’s really beautiful down here in Branson. The lakes are pristine with crystal clear water. It’s pretty hard to find anything wrong with what I do.

As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?

If you rent a boat or bring your own boat and take off up the river, you’re going to beach your boat and tear up your prop. The river’s really hard to navigate, you have to know how to run it. The water level will come up and down throughout the day and it’s taken me years to learn how to adjust to the different levels. A good guide understands how to do that and is going to know how to make those changes when conditions change; when the water rises or lowers, or when you have rains and muddy water.

In your view, what makes a good tour guide?

I think the main thing is just understanding the clients’ goals and being able to either meet those goals or to explain to them why their goals need to be adjusted. A client may want to catch a 20-inch brown trout: in the spring time, it’s going to be tough to catch a 20-inch brown trout because of where they live at that time. Understanding how the fish move and being able to explain that to your clients or using that to target the fish is what it takes to be a good guide.

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