You’ll love this 1901 article about Maine guides

Enjoying a notebook of historical stories at Attean Lake Lodge in Jackman, I came across this wonderful article about Maine guides. Wanting to share it with you, I asked Andrea Holden to copy it for me. I am sure you will find it as interesting and enjoyable as I did. The article, published in Outing magazine in 1901, was written by Herbert L. Jillson.

The Maine Guide and The Maine Camp

The Maine guide, in the mind of every sportsman who has “done” Maine properly, is closely associated with memories of pleasant and successful days with the rod on lake and stream, or long tramps through the woods with the rifle. It is his guide, not the sporting camp proprietor or the people he meets, that the sportsman, after return to civilization, remembers most of all.

This recollection is almost always tinged with tenderness, for “Charlie” is to the minds of a certain number of sportsmen, not only the best guide in the State, but the staunchest friend in the world; while, on the other hand, Charlie thinks no sportsmen come to Maine except Mr. So-and-So and a few others of his select coterie.

All others lack much or little of being up to Charlie’s ideal, and he loves to relate, with glowing eyes, in the presence of other guides, the achievements with rod and gun of the mighty Nimrods whom he guides. To the sportsman, on the other hand, all other guides than their own particular are just a bit “off.”

They talk too much or too little, paddle or walk to slow or too fast, or, possibly, the cooking is uncertain; but their Charlie hasn’t at fault. It is a pleasure to converse with him or be in his company, his paddling and gait are just right, and the coffee never fails to be good, the trout cooked to a turn, the bread light, or the flapjacks brown and tender.

Some sportsmen are, indeed, wont to carry their enthusiasm so far as to quarrel about their guides much as children do about their papas, and while Mr. Gun admires Mr. Rod, personally, he cannot for the life of him understand how he can go into the wood with “that blockhead Tommy.”

Both seem to forget that a guide is much like a wife; what suits one man has no attractions for another. It is the old, old story where people fail to comprehend what there is in the mysterious word – companionship.

The typical Maine guide is just as much a product of the soil as are the mighty forests, and his replica is not to be found elsewhere. They are, of course, all human and differ in temperament. One may be nervous and excitable, another reserved and deliberate; a third, patient and forbearing, and a fourth, quick tempered and unreasonable; but, as a class, good guides are to a man, strong, willing, friendly and ever on the lookout to see that their “sporter” has the best there is to be got.

They are good friends and, sometimes, bitter enemies, for their sense of justice is keen and they are ready to retaliate for a just and, sometimes, a fancied grievance. The majority are sober and honest, if one accepts the latter qualification by making allowances for the fairy tales which they are wont to spin for the entertainment of their city guests, and, often, they have told these over and over until they really believe them.

Profanity is not a rule among them, although a moderate amount adds zest to their conversation on fitting occasions. With scarcely an exception they know their place and keep it, seldom mistaking kindness for familiarity or imagining that they are the sportsman and the sportsman the guide. They do not expect to be put on a basis of familiarity. They realize that the men they guide come from a world of which they know little, yet they are seldom envious. They only ask to be treated like men, nothing more.

Guiding is a business with them, devoid of all the frills the uninitiated enthusiast might attach, and taken season in and season out, it is about as hard work as one would wish to undertake. To tramp long miles carrying a heavy pack or an eighty-pound canoe over a rough trail, to paddle from morning until night, to be ever at the call of someone who is in the woods for enjoyment, and then to end of the day getting supper, chopping wood for the night, building a lean-to and boughing down the beds is no easy or unimportant task.

If ever a class of men earned their money fairly and squarely it is the guides who are working for $2.50 and $3 a day. A good guide gives his employer the benefit of knowledge gained from years of experience in the woods – the art of woodcraft, the habits of fish and game. He does not hesitate, if need be, to risk his life for his employer, and the greatest personal discomfort is a pleasure to him if it only adds to the enjoyment of his party.

Who else would sit in a canoe and paddle for hours in a hard rain drenched to the skin? Who else would pack a canoe half a dozen miles without grumbling, simply for the sake of a few hours fishing? Who else would give up a blanket and sit by the fire that you might be warm, or go without food that you might not go hungry? No one but the guide is the answer to all who have been fortunate enough to be under the care of a good one while in the woods.

The guide does his best work for the man he likes. It adds pleasure to his occupation to have a man who is appreciative, kindly, and patient. The guide likes to be told that the cooking is good, that the day’s sport has been satisfactory, and he appreciates any demonstration of personal interest. Above all things he hates a “kicker,” and such a man has a hard time in the moods as soon as his failing becomes known.

He admires a man who is a good shot or expert with the rod, and will do anything to assist such a one to obtain what he desires, for he feels, and justly, that half the glory of his employer’s achievements falls upon him. After taking a man up close to a mammoth moose or big deer and seeing a whole magazine of cartridges fired without effect, or after paddling cautiously up to a fine trout pool and having the water pounded until the fish flee in terror, he gets discouraged, and it is not to be wondered at.

He has done his best in every way, and to have grumbling is not pleasant. The guide admires the straightforward man. He can tolerate anything if he believes one is sincere in it. If a man can neither shoot nor fish he likes to know it, if things are wrong he would feel better to receive a friendly suggestion than to be told something he knew was not true.

First of all the sportsman who wants to enjoy Maine and see the State properly should secure a good guide, for the best fishing is not found on the brooks and lakes close to sporting camps, and the finest hunting is miles distant, even at the wildest and most remote of them. This can be best done by securing information from some old time Maine sportsman who knows such men. A registered Maine guide is not necessarily all right, for there is little opportunity for the fish and game commissioners to investigate and mediocre men get certificates.

After securing his guide, the sportsman must treat that guide “white” and there will be no trouble. The guide does not expect you to help paddle the canoe unless you so desire, for the “help” would probably flavor more of a hindrance. If you care to “sack” part of the pack over the trail he will be grateful, but he does not expect it. He wants you to get all the pleasure you can and first, last, and always to be reasonable, not to expect more of him than flesh is capable of, to appreciate the good things he brings your way and to make the most of unavoidable discomforts.

If you have money and choose to give him $5 or $25 at the end of your stay, as a tip, or a nest egg for the “little ‘un,” it will further cement his regard for you, for money is scarce in Maine, and people live plainly. If you cannot afford to do this, friendly acts and kindly interest will do just as well. Do whatever the heart prompts and the purse permits, and your guide will ever by your staunchest friend and most ardent admirer.

Above all, make no promises of gifts when you “get home,” if you are not in earnest. Always keep faith with your guide if you seek his faithful service and respect.

PHOTO: A cabin at Attean Lake Lodge in Jackman.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.