I asked Trevor James what drove him to become a fishing guide. He responded: “I was sitting on a dock with my dad, and he looked at me and told me, ‘Son, you’ve got to get a job.’ That was it, pure and simple. I chose to do what would make me most happy.”
James owns Wet N’ Wild Outfitters in northern Illinois.
Although he operates on open water and loves guiding and teaching the sport of kayak fishing, ice fishing is what puts a smile on his face the most. James began guiding in 2009 and made the switch to guiding on a full-time basis in 2018. His business has grown tremendously and his reputation for producing fish through the ice is excellent.
“Why ice fishing?” I asked.
He answered: “Basically, it’s all about accessibility. With ice fishing, you have access to a lot of tremendous waterways that are not available to the average fisherman who does not own a boat. There are many great lakes and ponds that are not available to be fished unless a fisherman is able to drop his own boat into the water. Ice fishing allows anglers to get around that.”
James has a staff of very competent guides who assist him. Besides Nick Nielsen, James McAndrews and Cowboy Rich, who wouldn’t want to fish with guides named Rob “Slabby” McAndrews and Tyler “The Panny Popper?” I bet those guys really know how to find them.
Although I always preach that the sport of ice fishing can be entered into for a very small price, buying the equipment to outfit a large ice fishing operation can be a major cash outlay. I asked James what he needed to purchase to get into the world of ice fitting outfitting.
“I have dozens of Vexilars.
I’m not exaggerating, I literally mean dozens,” he said. “We use top-quality Cold Snap rods and they are mounted with Daiwa reels. We use Panoptix – Livescope units and other live image sonar. We have ample Clam ice shelters as well as some custom-built skid houses for our clients’ comfort.”
I asked James about the make-up of his clientele. He responded: “I’d say that about half of our clients have experience in ice fishing. I think they have a fairly thorough understanding of what ice fishing is about. The other half tends to be fairly clueless. Ice fishing is a totally new experience for them.”
Surprisingly, Wet N’ Wild has a large number of clients that come to northern Illinois from out of state. California and Louisiana are two spots that clients travel from, and of course, neither location ever has ice available for fishing.
“We send everyone an explanatory email when they book us to let them know what to expect,” James said. “We tell them to dress as if they were going to spend the day on the slopes skiing. Creepers or cleats may be the one thing that the average guy may have to go out and purchase for a safe day on the ice, but we always keep a couple of sets around for beginners who don’t have them.
“Just show up dressed in the proper clothing and we provide the rest of the package.”
Wet ‘N Wild Outfitters has trips that range over a number of different price points and experience levels. They start with a basic trip that will find a client holding a rod and jigging for panfish in an area from the Fox Chain O’ Lakes up through Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin. If a client wants something special, say, a trip for large northern pike, James will have the client moving to a waterway that he fishes less often, but promises to be productive for what the client is looking for. Surpassing that, James and Wet N’ Wild Outfitters offers multi-day trips to more far-flung destinations. The year 2024 will see James offering regular expeditions to some of the very best ice fishing that Vilas County in Wisconsin has to offer.
James has ice fished in some of the best spots in the country. He’s fished in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Utah, Montana, and Idaho. He has picked up tips and techniques from top ice fisherman in all of these areas and more, which he is dedicated to passing on to his clients.
Is he afraid that he might kill his own business by teaching all of his clients how to ice fish properly?
“I had a couple of clients who loved what we did and went out and bought everything they thought they would need to become great ice anglers on their own,” he replied. “They recently booked a trip with me, because although they had all the gear, they still needed more education on the how-to aspect. I was happy to show them and I’m sure they’ll be back for a refresher course from time-to-time.”
As is the case with fishing, approach is everything.
“Our objective is to offer a special experience in which someone can be comfortable in a great environment,” James said. “We love to keep things fresh and we love to have fun.”