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Kriste Simonson has weighed in with a complaint about a fishing trip booked through to the Alaska’s Upper Kenai River with Zack Walters of Trophy Waters Fishing this past August. She writes:

“The guide from Trophy Waters never showed up. I sat at the boat landing along with a family of three from Virginia waiting for him. Three hours later, I get a call from someone saying that Zack Walters had taken a trip that paid better than my trip. This guide works out of Florida, I understand, when he is not in Alaska.”

To get a better understanding of what happened, I got in touch with Simonson and learned that she and the family from Virginia purchased their group trip (four people, one of them unrelated to the other three) through Groupon (, the Internet deal site that offers sharply discounted deals. Typically, Groupon and the merchant or service provider split the deal proceeds 50/50, which means the provider winds up making very little—or nothing—on the deal. From the provider’s point of view, a Groupon deal is basically an advertising buy: it gets the provider’s name in front of a very large number of potential customers in an efficient manner. Whether Groupon customers are good long-term prospects for providers is one of the many questions that clouds the future of this company and its pending initial public offering. If some of Groupon’s providers are waffling on their commitments, that is even more problematic. Indeed, that appears to be what happened in Alaska this summer. We reached Zack Walters at press time and asked him point-blank if he left Simonson and the family from Virginia in the lurch. “No I didn’t,” was his reply. “I asked my partner, Tyler Romig, to fish them. I had another trip that day. My partner says he simply forgot to pick them up. That’s what he told me, anyway.” Walters went on to say that he has now split with Romig. “We are not in business together anymore,” Walters said. I immediately called Romig, whose answering machine message indicated he was on the water and unable to reply. The message promised a call back at the end of the day. At press time, I had not heard from Romig. It’s anyone’s guess exactly what happened between Zack Walters and Tyler Romig, but Walters clearly had a responsibility to Simonson and the family from Virginia. Their planned day of fishing was ruined. End of story.

In a follow-up note, Simonson told me she contacted Groupon about the matter and got her money back. Clearly, that is not the main issue, however. The main issue was the loss of a day she set aside to go fishing. She remains unhappy about that, understandably so.

As for Zack Walters, he says he is worried about the negative publicity that has resulted from his dealings with Simonson. She not only contacted us, it seems, but she posted her complaint on an important forum in Alaska, which is read by the kinds of anglers Walters wants to reach. Still, he says he may work with Groupon again this coming year, as the deal generated 100,000 visitors to his Web site and helped him find 200 clients. That’s roughly 50 four-person trips, he says, noting that he could not begin to afford to pay for a traditional ad campaign that had as big an impact on his business.

So, should you, as a traveling angler, buy a fishing trip through Groupon? That is a very personal decision. Personally, I would not do so, as the value I place on the time I have available to go fishing is greater than the savings I could achieve by booking through Groupon. Running the risk of inferior fishing service just isn’t worth it to me. Over the years, one thing I have learned about successful fishing guides, outfitters, and agents is that they build their businesses through word of mouth. Professionals who need Groupon are almost certainly either new on the block or simply not good enough to get booked clients to recommend them or to return for subsequent trips. Either way, the professional services you buy through Groupon and similar Web sites have a good chance of being second rate, if not just plain bad. In a worst-case scenario, you could get dumped like Kriste Simonson.

Does anyone agree or disagree with this conclusion? Has anyone had a really good fishing experience with a trip purchased through a deal site? Or a bad one like Kriste Simonson? This Groupon phenomenon is growing. Please share what you know about it. Write don [email protected].

Postscript: Troubled by the idea of Zack Walters working with Groupon again after what happened to Kriste Simonson, I called the Groupon customer service line in Chicago (312-784-2366) and explained the entire incident. The representative assured me Groupon was developing internal systems to weed out providers who deliver bad experiences or, worse, don’t provide them at all. “You can rest assured, if this incident happened the way you said it did, that provider will be contacted,” she said. It will be interesting indeed to see if Zack Walters is allowed to work with Groupon next year.

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