Why Guides and Anglers Need To Be In Good Shape And How To Achieve It

Starting the day with 2 of the 3 "F"s.  Family, Fitness and Fishing. 

Starting the day with 2 of the 3 "F"s.  Family, Fitness and Fishing. 

The 3 "F"s

My life revolves around the 3 "F"s.  Family as first priority, Fishing and Fitness.  When I am on my best schedule and not traveling or shooting, I wake up at 5:02 am, just like I have for the last 20 years, and workout.  If our fishing schedule or travel precludes that from happening, I either wake up even earlier (3:30 or 4 AM) or plan to get the workout in before my head hits the pillow.

Fitness in life is a non-negotiable for me.  The reason is simple; a lot of people count on me for many things.  My children and wife depend on me to be my very best, every day with no exceptions.  If I am fat, weak, and sick, I am not as capable of a human being as I could be and I am not useful to them, my friends, my employees, my sponsors or my fishing family here.  Fitness comes first so that I can continue to provide, and excel.

The need for fitness in fishing is supremely important and obvious to me.  Others may not feel this way, and that is completely fine.  I maintain my fitness because it helps me to be better and remain uninjured.  Along the way, I began to enjoy it more and more and now it is as much a part of my life as fishing. 

My style of fishing is more athletic than most.  Before we had Bay Boats, I spent my entire day using a pushpole to move the boat, almost always into the wind (at least it seemed that way), for 8-10 hours a day.  It is a lot like climbing a rope, but you do it all day long. 

Fitness is obviously important in an activity like this.  I found out quickly that if I was stronger, I could pole longer. When I was in excellent cardiovascular condition, I could concentrate better and I could maintain a positive attitude for my customers throughout the day.  When my deadlift improved and my entire posterior chain became stronger, I could more easily lift the trailer off the ball without fear of hurting myself.  Other things like throwing the cast net or pulling the anchor also became easier.

Being physically fit also helps with your durability allowing you to go day after day without a day off.  Fishing guides have to make hay while the sun shines and taking a day off in the middle of tarpon season is just loosing money.  There will be plenty of time to take a weather day in the winter.  The guides that are physically fit can go more days at higher intensity than those who are not, therefore they can make more money and catch more fish. 

The need for fitness is not just for guides.  Anglers who book a tarpon week in the Florida Keys are often worn out after day 3.  Fit anglers are alert, attentive and on point the whole time.  They get their money's worth and catch more fish.

My Road to Fitness

My serious road to fitness began 18 years ago after a little layoff.  I was a fishing guide making my sole income from taking customers fishing.  At the same time, I had a growing family with a baby on the way,  a mortgage, boat payment, licenses, insurance, and lots of other expenses.  I had to take every single trip that came my way (including double and triple half days, or a full day followed by a half day sometimes) and taking a day off because I was physically exhausted was unacceptable. 

It became very clear to me that I was in control of this situation.  If I wanted to be able to make a living as a guide, I would have to be able to go without a day off for very long stretches at a time.  As an athlete in high school, I knew how to stay in shape, get stronger and maintain my fitness but in the process of learning to become a professional guide, I had let much of that knowledge go to waste. My entire life was fishing and I did not remember to take care of myself.  For business and family preservation, I looked at my personal fitness, diet and habits and made some serious changes. 


Guides often live a life of early mornings and high calorie meals.   Mornings often start with Cafe con Leche and Bacon Egg and Cheese sandwiches for breakfast, whatever your client brings for lunch and a big dinner, often with clients at a nice restaurant.  Your clients are on vacation so the lunch is usually accompanied with a splurge item like cookies, candy bars, chips or other snacks that they probably don't eat on a regular basis.  Dinner is usually at a very nice restaurant with rich food and accompanied by dessert which is completely fine every now and then but poison if eaten regularly or every day.  Many times, the customers want to go out for a few drinks afterward.  Of course, when you drive some alcohol in on top of that diet, things can go even worse.  Some guides start drinking at the filet table and continue through dinner.  Combine all of this with way too much sun and a chronically dehydrated physical body and you have the recipe for complete meltdown.


Guides routinely operate on too little sleep as well.  Sleep is one of the most important factors in overall health and wellness and is way too often neglected by guides who are entertaining customers at night and beating the sun in the morning to go catch fish.

So that is a typical day for a large percentage of professional fishing guides, but certainly not all of them.  Some guides can do just fine on that schedule for years and years with no issue whatsoever, but for others, it is a recipe for a very short guide career.  Guys get tired, their attitude goes south and they start loosing customers.  Eventually they can no longer sustain the lifestyle and either move on or simply downgrade their living standards.

It doesn't have to be this way and I was very lucky that I saw this early in my career.  It became clear to me that I had to determine what my priorities were and how bad I really wanted to do what I was doing.  For me, that was easy.  There was nothing else.  I wasn't guiding during a "gap year" or being a bartender on the side and getting a few trips here or there.  From day 1, I wanted to be a professional fishing guide and I was committed.  When I say I was committed, I am talking about a "burn the boats" commitment and when I took part in the lifestyle that I have described above for a few years, it became clear that I would need to make some very serious changes in order to have the kind of success and longevity that I was seeking.  Remember, I had some serious motivation as I had my first baby on the way and I was determined to be in great shape so that I could both provide for him and be a good example for him.

So what did I change?

First thing that changed was alcohol.  I stopped drinking alcohol the night before any trips.  I felt so much better during the day of guiding that I just stopped drinking alcohol all together in 1996 and have never missed it.  I don't drink at all.  Feeling better meant that my clients caught more fish...more fish was what I was after.

Finding the Buff, a Multifunctional Headwear seen above, was life changing for me.  I credit this simple product for increasing the longevity of my own career and many, many other fishing guides.

Finding the Buff, a Multifunctional Headwear seen above, was life changing for me.  I credit this simple product for increasing the longevity of my own career and many, many other fishing guides.

The second thing I changed was the way I dressed when on the boat.  I started wearing pants and a long sleeved shirt instead of shorts and t shirt.  The difference was felt immediately.  Instead of being wiped out after 4-5 days of fishing, I was fresh and could go 2 weeks straight with no problem.  This motivated me to find other ways to get out of the sun and after trying 30 variations of big floppy hats, I found the Buff (Read a full post on the Buff vs Sunscreen here) and never took it off.  Sun gloves came next and soon I was completely covered.  I could now go at full intensity for many more days in a row. More days in a row meant many more fish...exactly what i was after.

I paid more attention to hydration and made sure that I drank some plain water.  Later, after feeling the difference that some water made, I brought a gallon of water and made sure I finished it before getting off the boat at the end of every day.  I completely quit drinking any soda or sugary energy drinks, including Gatorade, and drank regular water.  Hydration meant better performance on the pushpole and that correlated directly to...you guessed it, more fish.

At this point, these small changes began adding up to BIG results. When some water helped, I tried drinking more...that helped even more.  When covering up a little helped, covering up more helped even more. 

These incremental changes inspired me to realize that while I was now able to go 2-3 weeks without a day off easily, I still had an issue.  I was in my early 20's, my shoulders and grip were strong...real strong, but I was getting fat, really fat.  I looked around and noticed that there was a common "guide body" that I didn't really want to have.  The guide body has big strong shoulders, strong arms, a big belly and pretty strong legs.  Strong, for sure.  Active, certainly, but fit?  Not really.

A change to the waistline was needed so I started out by trying to get 30 minutes of exercise in a day.  This was mostly running.  It was painful and horrible at first.  I would come in from guiding, super hot and tired and put on the running shoes and go for 30 minutes.  At first, it just sucked, but with time, I actually began to enjoy it.  My running got better and better and I enjoyed it more and more.  Eventually I trained for a marathon and ended up running 3:13:00.

As I got more comfortable with running, I started to pay much closer attention to my diet and when I did I started to lose a little weight.  I found The Zone diet and followed it strictly for about 10 years.  This was replaced with a Paleo diet and today I use a mostly Paleo Diet with Zone portions. I also love the books that Mike Dolce has written and follow a plan custom made for me by Mike personally.  I try not to eat any processed foods and try to eat real, high quality food.  18 years ago, my weight loss and increased cardiovascular conditioning had me feeling better all around so I continued to look for other ways I could improve.  Every time I did something that made me feel better, I performed better.  My attitude was better, I had energy to keep my boat in perfect condition, I was early to the dock, I poled longer and faster and I caught more fish.  This meant that I started to get more clients and I was able to book more days in a row with the confidence that I would not need a day off.  I was bringing home more money and the phone was ringing.  This was all happening because I was placing high priority on the way I felt and my physical conditioning. 

As my family continued to grow, the financial demands grew and I needed to work even more.  The incremental changes I had made allowed me to book every trip that came in.  One year I set my own personal record of 175 days in a row without a day off.  There is absolutely no way that I could have sustained that pace earlier in my career.  It was only through diet and fitness that it was possible.  I do not recommend it to anyone but it was something that I had to do at the time to provide for my family.  As my family began to grow, I began to seek out more balance in my life and started to take 1 day off a week for family.  This was an excellent decision and despite not making my charter rate on all of those days, my family was happier and I was more balanced.

Marathon training takes time...lots of it, and with 2 babies at home and fishing for a full day followed by a half day, I didn't have much time.  Seeking the balance in my life and more time for my kids, I backed away from the competitive marathons. I still needed to stay in shape, but I needed to do it much more quickly.  Gyms were not an option for many reasons.  First, it takes time just to go to the gym and that was something I didn't have much of.  Second, I don't like conventional gyms, they are weird. 

My pursuit of supreme fitness has led me from Marathons to CrossFit and then to SealFit.  Today, I train far more than the average guy or what is required to simply stay in decent shape and some of what I do, like training for SealFit Kokoro or Goruck Selection takes a ton of time. I have a little bit more time now to do things like that because my children have grown older but that was not always the case.  When my time was at its absolute premium, about the time that my daughter was born and Saltwater Experience was beginning its 3rd year, I found lots of ways to stay in reasonably good condition in a very short amount of time with very little or no equipment. I collected these workouts and used them while on the road, during shoots, and even on Motherships.   I will continue to post travel workouts and quick workouts in future posts here under the Health category.  For now, here is one of my favorites:

Deck of Cards

Equipment Needed: 1 Deck of Playing Cards

Time: Roughly 20 minutes

A standard deck of playing cards has 4 suits.  We are simply going to assign an exercise to each suit.  You will do the number of reps of the card you turn over.  Face cards = 10 reps, Aces = 11 reps or 1 rep if you want to scale back a bit and all other cards are face value.  Make it tougher by assigning other tasks to the 3 or 4 Jokers found in the deck.

Here is one of my favorites:

Spades = Burpees

Clubs= Pushups

Diamonds = Air Squats

Hearts = Situps

Joker 1 = 400 m run

Joker 2 = 20 lunges

Joker 3 = 400 m run

This one is super easy to do, just shuffle the deck, flip a card and do whatever it tell you to do.  You make the commitment at the start that you will finish the deck and then you don't have to think about what you are going to do.  The deck of cards workout is different every time and if you want an entirely different workout, simply change the exercises.  It is infinitely variable.  I always have a deck of cards nearby.

Anyone can do it

Making a change and taking your health and fitness in your own hands can be a daunting task.  I have done it and I have helped 100's of people turn their physical lives around through exercise and diet.  So many times, people simply lose motivation because they don't have a workout partner of friend to accompany them on the journey. 

I am committed to my fitness and health and I will make you a promise.  If you are serious about taking control of your fitness, I will help you.  If you are lost and don't know where to turn, simply ask a question.  I literally get as many or maybe even more questions on diet and exercise as I do fishing questions.  If you are an advanced athlete who loves fishing...shoot me an email because it sounds like we would get along pretty well.

I am not an expert.  An expert is someone who knows all there is to know about a subject.  I am on a journey and I am learning new things all the time.  By the way, I also don't consider myself and expert on fishing either.  It is my opinion that if you were to allow yourself to believe that you knew everything that there was to know about any subject that you simply close your mind off to learning new things.  That is the LAST thing I want to do for fishing or fitness.  There is so much to learn and I am constantly seeking new knowledge.

So, I am not a fitness expert, but I am a professional fisherman who was once fat and out of shape and figured out a way to turn it around without sacrificing my family or my guide business in the process.  In fact, turning it around and taking my health into my own hands was the beginning to achieving true success in fishing and family.

Let me know if I can help you in any way.  Stay tuned to the Health section of this blog for lots more workouts that you can do anywhere, anytime with zero equipment.


All the best,

Tom Rowland


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