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Calling All Adventurers! Your Fishing Experience Starts with TBC Guides

Jun 20, 2023 12:10PM ● By Wren Wahrenberger Photography By Lars Blackmore

Mike Blatt, the only Hanover-based fishing guide who is licensed with New Hampshire Fish and Game, recalls a time when he gave a guest some basic fishing advice: “While you are reeling in a fish, make sure the head doesn’t get out of the water,” he said. “If the head gets out, the fish will jump out of the water, and you will lose it.” Soon the guest hooked a northern pike, but he wanted to get a look at it before he netted it. As soon as he pulled the head out of the water, the fish jumped up and over the guest’s head, the fish’s tail hitting the guest’s hat. The guest said, “You know, Mike, when you tell me these stories, I think you are just telling fish stories. But this stuff actually happens to you!”

Mike uses his expertise to make sure that his guests of TBC Guides, the Upper Valley’s premier kayak, ice fishing, and fly-fishing guide service, will have a great time, but foremost in his mind is safety. With his New Hampshire license, he brings extensive knowledge of fishing species, regulations, and lures, as well as map and compass skills needed for rescue. He has training in how to control the scene in the event of emergencies. “They want to make sure that, as a representative of the state of New Hampshire, you give visitors the same care as a game warden,” he says.

Always Be Prepared

Mike has worked in outdoor education since he was a ski instructor as a teenager. He later became certified in swift water rescue and advanced whitewater kayaking instruction. He tears up as he remembers several dear friends who have passed away on the water, in particular one mentor who taught him to kayak. “These are the kinds of things in the back of my mind when I take people out,” he says. “My advice is always to paddle with someone more advanced than you, who you feel could save you if you were in a sticky situation.”

Although Mike has left the dangerous sport of whitewater kayaking behind, he prepares for every experience out on the calmer waters of Vermont and New Hampshire lakes and rivers as if a rescue may need to be executed. The “trip talk” for his guests begins on dry land and starts with Mike outfitting guests for the weather. He brings along extra warm clothing if they don’t come prepared. “You can catch the most amazing fish,” he says. “But if you aren’t comfortable and you aren’t warm, you’re not having any fun.”

Next comes the water safety talk, basic kayak instruction, and the fitting of personal floatation devices. With intention, his fleet of kayaks from Jackson Kayaks is all so wide that they are “very hard to flip.” Still,  on dry land, he teaches his guests additional safety procedures, such as where to put the hooks when they aren’t in the water so that you don’t hook a person.

Choose Your Fishing Adventure

TBC Guides takes out guests of all levels of experience. He says his “absolute favorites are people with no experience because they don’t have any bad habits yet.” He will teach them “how to cast, how to reel a fishing reel, how to set a hook, and how to net a fish.” Mike’s goal is to teach his guests how to fish without him. “If they can’t do it on their own after four hours, then I’ve done something wrong as an instructor,” he says. Even so, they often come back for repeat tours to learn more advanced skills. “Fish patterns change like the seasons,” Mike says, so when he doesn’t have a trip scheduled, he is often out checking new locations to find out where the fish are, and what they are biting on.

Right now, Mike limits the number of kayaks in each group to four. “Otherwise, it’s like herding cats,” he laughs. TBC Guides has a new guide this year with a fishing pontoon boat to take out larger groups and families. In the future, Mike plans to add a power boat to his fleet for fishing tours.

TBC guides provide full- and half-day trips. “Half-day trips are great for kids who can sometimes only take this much,” he says. “Full-day trips are for guests who want to see some scenery and wildlife, like red-tailed hawks, eagles, and river otters.” Mike packs a lunch for his all-day guests. “Being from New Orleans,
I love to cook,” he says.

TBC Guides offer three-day overnight fishing trips on the Connecticut River during the summers. Groups kayak to one of the islands and stay overnight. He organizes the meals but brings “only the accouterments” to accompany the northern pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, or trout his guests reel in.

Fishing for the Whole Family

Mike enjoys a fish that isn’t easy to catch. “There is nothing like catching a river walleye; the Connecticut has some little monsters. When they are hooked, you feel like you are pulling in a rock,” he says. “They are sensitive to light, so they go down deep.” Mike says sometimes women will come along on trips with their significant others to catch the scenery with binoculars. But he says that if they decide to fish, they often catch the bigger fish. He says TBC Guides is now adding a women’s kayak clinic. “Women are inherently better anglers,” he says. “They have more finesse, more patience, and are technique oriented, instead of trying to power through.”

TBC Guides also runs school vacation three-day and five-day fishing and ice fishing camps for kids. “There is nothing more instantly gratifying to a child than catching a fish,” he says. The kids learn about safety, fish species, and fishing regulations. A priority for him is teaching kids how to safely handle a fish (some have teeth!) and how to remove the lure so that the fish will survive once it is let go. If the children’s parents aren’t planning to cook and eat the fish, the kids can’t keep it as a trophy. He takes a picture, weighs and measures it, and then “it’s going back.”

“A fishing trip with a guide can be fairly expensive,” Mike says, but as a parent, he strives to keep the cost of kids’ camps affordable—and each child can bring along an adult for free. “My daughter is my favorite person to fish with. She will hook three fish before I get a line in the water,” Mike says, referring to his seven-year-old with a proud laugh.

Journey to the Upper Valley

Mike himself always loved fishing and started fishing when he was four years old in New Orleans. He fished off the coast of North and South Carolina for red fish and caught tuna in the Mexican Pacific when he was living in San Diego working for a small wine importer. He ended up in the wine industry after getting a degree in Communication from the University of Utah.

“My Dad had a wine cellar when I was growing up, and I was always interested in wine,” he says, explaining the career pivot. Mike met his wife Sarah in the wine industry. Sarah, a West Point graduate and retired US Army intelligence officer, “wanted more in life than selling wine,” so the couple, who married at an Italian vineyard, moved to the Upper Valley so that she could pursue her MBA at Tuck School of Business.

After settling in Hanover, the family went on regular fishing trips along the Connecticut, and Mike, who was working at a tech start-up company, started to amass more and more expensive fishing gear. Sarah’s reaction was “Honey this is great. I’m glad you’ve found your love of fishing again, but why don’t you use all of this gear to start a business taking people fishing?” And Mike’s new business was born. When considering a name for the business, he thought about what the family called their garage where he keeps all of his gear: the Blatt Cave, or TBC for short.

Mike didn’t want to be that person coming from another part of the country “who takes business away from local fishing guides.” Few guides specialize in kayak fishing, so he centered his adventures around the more “patient angler.” His service attracts eco-tourists who like the idea of keeping their footprint small.

Mike admits to learning from his guests. One short-term resident of the Upper Valley wanted to try being an outdoorsman for the first time in his life. Mike was skeptical when the guest brought portable speakers on the kayak, thinking the music would scare away the fish. Ironically, when the guest started blasting Beyoncé, he soon caught the two biggest rainbow trout of the day.

Often the tourists that Mike takes out on the water are inspired by the beauty of our waterways and end up wanting to buy a home in the area. He is surprised by “Upper Valley residents who haven’t gone 20 minutes out to experience their surrounding wilderness.” He wants to introduce people to their own backyard. “The thing that I’m doing is so much more than fishing,” he says. 

TBC Guides

Hanover, NH

(828) 246-5616

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