This year marks 20 years that I have held a license as a Registered Master Maine Guide. I am licensed in the hunting, fishing, recreation and sea kayaking specialized categories. A few years ago I had plans to get a tidewater fishing guide license in order to get them all, but it’s on the back burner for now.
In our era of celebrity outdoors-people and influencers, it often seems that everyone is a lifetime outdoor expert; raised by wolves, lives in a log cabin made with hand tools, etc. Most of it isn’t true, instead being a carefully crafted persona to garner likes and influence. That’s why I’m so proud to be a Maine Guide. Anyone can become an influencer, but luck and appearance have a lot to do with it. In contrast, they don’t give guide licenses away, these have to be earned.
How it works these days is you have to submit fingerprints and pass a background check, as well as have a current first aid and cpr card in order to sign up to take the test. You get a letter telling you when you’re scheduled to take the test in Augusta. The test consists of oral and written components. The oral exam has a section on map and compass, a section on a catastrophic scenario (a medical or lost person incident you’d need to manage) and a general knowledge section where they can ask you anything they like. After that there is a written test, covering laws, best practices and general knowledge. The successful candidate leaves with the license. The unsuccessful candidate has to come back and retest.
A Registered Maine Guide can upgrade their license to Master after ten years, with documented time working for five of those ten. There are other requirements, but these are the main ones.
My heros have mostly been Maine guides, professional outdoors people who work in the woods and on the waters of the pine tree state. I’ve met a lot of them, and am proud to know them, both the old guard and the younger people who are picking up the mantle and traditions. Whether they’re on the salt water downeast, on the rivers and in the mountains of western Maine, or up in the big woods north of Katahdin, they’re out doing the work and providing amazing experiences to people from all over. For most it isn’t an easy way to make a living, but they persist, keeping alive the dream of making a living with the woods as your office.
If the real-deal outdoors people from around the world were to ever gather together, there would be a special place at the table for Registered Maine Guides. The traditions they keep alive and pass on connect us to a time when most of humanity didn’t live in cities, when people understood how to read a track, a river, or the sky for what it had to tell. If you have the patch, remember all the others who have worn it and wear it with pride. I do.