Owner of Dax’s Fishing Guide Service, 44-year-old Dax Szegda resides in Chetek, Wisconsin and most often fishes the productive and storied waters in and around Polk and Vilas Counties – with clients, with family and friends, and sometimes by himself. For Szegda, fishing provides the means for a living as well as a welcomed form of personal relaxation and quality time with family.
“As far as my guiding goes, I have been a licensed fishing guide for 13 years now. I enjoy meeting new people and sharing experiences, especially when children are involved,” Dax says. “I guide for whatever my guests want to catch, but it’s normally bass, walleye and panfish in the summer, as well as during the ice-fishing season.”
Anglers who have an interest in becoming a fishing guide are often surprised to learn that the occupation isn’t just about fishing, and that great anglers don’t always make the best fishing guides. The vocation certainly requires angling knowledge and skill, but it also requires equal parts hospitality, communication skill, psychology, and customer service. “Being a good fishing guide starts with the understanding that everyone is different, and that you are responsible for making sure your customers have the best experience they could possibly have given the conditions of the day,” Dax says. “Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it’s cold. And sometimes the fish aren’t as active as we’d hope. My job is to give my anglers a positive experience no matter what, and that begins with understanding who’s in my boat. There’s definitely some psychology involved.”
To that end, Szegda is always on the lookout for opportunities to teach his anglers something new while guiding, whether it’s related to the electronics on his Nitro Z21, how to tie a particular knot, why he has 30-some different St. Croix rods rigged and ready to go, why they are fishing in a particular manner, or even the local wildlife. “The more things they ask about, the better experience they receive,” he says. “I’m being paid to share my knowledge, give them a quality experience, and help them grow as anglers.”
Dax says the education often flows both ways. “While guiding, I always try to ask questions myself, learn about their interests, talk about their hobbies, and where they are from,” Dax says. “Everyone is different and I like learning new things. It isn’t always related to fishing, but I learn something new from just about everyone I fish with, and I find that knowledge can often add value to my life, sooner or later, in one form or another.”
Dax says the equipment he employs while guiding results in a variety of teachable moments. “My St Croix rods play a big part in my guiding success – again, that’s defined by helping my clients to have an enjoyable and memorable day – because I know the rods they are using give them the best chances of success while they are fishing with me,” he says. “As soon as I put a rod in their hand – whether it’s a Triumph or a Legend – they comment on how good it feels, and how sensitive it is. That sensitivity helps me explain what’s happening with any presentation we’re using. They understand because they can actually feel what’s happening with their line and lure as I teach them about the presentation.”
Szegda has been fishing for 40 years and says he still enjoys it as much as ever. “I sometimes hear from other guides who made fishing their profession say that it ruined fishing for them in some way. That’s unfortunate, but is definitely not the case for me,” Dax says. “What attracted me to fishing was just spending time with my grandparents… bobber fishing, walleye fishing or just trolling for anything that would bite. I still love fishing today because I want my daughter, my wife, and my clients to have the same kind of memories, and I can help provide those memories. Nothing has changed for me since I became a fishing guide. My grandfather instilled in me good morals and values and I am just trying to pass those same values on to my daughter and others. Fishing is a good vehicle for that.”
Dax works 12-hour shifts at his “regular job”— usually just 15 days a month – so he enjoys the luxury of having plenty of time for scheduling guide trips, fishing with his family, and spending time on the water by himself.
“My perfect day on the water would be with my wife, Dusty, my daughter, Eve, and our labradoodle – swimming, fishing, just relaxing and enjoying a beautiful morning or evening in the Northwoods of Wisconsin,” Szegda says. “Of course, I don’t mind catching a six-pound smallmouth or two every once in a while; that’s pretty close to perfection, too!” In addition to fishing, Dax says he and his family love to travel, garden, and do a bunch of swimming, pretty much just enjoying the water and the outdoors as often as they can.
The same extends to Szegda’s personal time, too. “I do love fishing by myself,” Dax confides. “It’s peaceful and relaxing. I love listening to the loons and other birds, seeing wildlife, improving my knowledge and skills as an angler, and just feeling lucky to be on the water. It’s important for anyone to have alone time so you can collect your thoughts and recharge. Fishing solo provides that for me, even though I’m on the water so much already.”
Speaking on his favorite species to pursue, personally, Szegda says smallmouth bass are his jam. “I absolutely love smallmouth fishing and I travel all over Minnesota and Wisconsin to catch those beautiful fish. There’s just something about them, and we’re blessed in the Upper Midwest to have some of the best fishing for quality smallmouth anywhere in the world.”
In the end, fishing is the constant that spans the professional, personal, and family aspects Dax Szegda’s life. It’s a source of livelihood, family fun and fulfillment, while also contributing to his knowledge and personal growth. “A lot of anglers aren’t cut out to take other people fishing, but I love it and have no plans to stop doing it anytime soon.”