By Terry Tomalin
So you want to catch fish. But you don’t know where to start?
You have two options:
Buy some instructional books, DVDs, perhaps even attend a few seminars, and then spend the next year or so doing a lot of fishing but not much catching.
Or. you could hire a fishing guide in Florida. Some people may balk at the price, but engaging the services of a competent, professional will greatly improve your chances of catching fish.
Before we start, a couple of questions: Are you planning your vacation around a fishing trip, i.e., do you want to catch a tarpon and you don't care where you go? Or do you already have a location in mind and just want to fish while you're there?
If you're targeting a specific species such as bonefish or permit, for instance, that narrows your search considerably. Head to the Florida Keys, the best place in the state to fish for both those species. But if you have a conference in Tampa, and want to wet a line on your down day, then let the season determine what you fish for. If the kingfish are running, fish for kingfish.
Florida is the fishing capital of the world for good reason. With more than 7,700 lakes, 10,550 miles of rivers, 2,276 miles of shoreline and more world records than any other state (or country for that matter), fishing opportunities are rich and varied in the Sunshine State.
While it is possible to catch both freshwater species and saltwater species in the same day, most anglers choose one or the other under most circumstances.
Bass guides, the pros who work the rivers and lakes in the interior of the state, usually limit their trips to one or two paying customers.
Saltwater guides come in two varieties: inshore and offshore.
The inshore guides typically fish the grass flats in shallow running skiffs that can accommodate two or three customers. These “flats” guides typically target trout, redfish and snook, Florida’s top inshore species.
Offshore guides, on the other hand, travel to deep water in much larger boats that carry up to a half-dozen passengers. These charters are more expensive because a bigger boat burns more fuel.
Most fishing guides/charter boat captains have a U.S. Coast Guard-issued license that allows them to transport up to six passengers. This certification is often referred to as a “six pack” license. In addition, most, but not all charter boat captains also get a fishing license issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which covers their passengers as well.
When choosing a guide, feel free to ask if they have the appropriate licenses, how long they have been guiding and if they are a full-time or part-time charter boat captain. In recent years, many part-time guides have flooded the market, many of whom may be just as competent as their full-time counterparts. But the fact remains, a captain who fishes every day will be better informed than one who fishes only on weekends.
And, if you want to make sure you hire a guide certified in sustainable fishing practices, check out Find a Florida Friendly Fishing Guide
Most fishing guides in Florida will do whatever it takes to catch fish. Some, however, are purists and fish only with artificial lures. Make your intentions clear before you hire a guide. If you want to fish with a fly rod, choose a captain who specializes in fly fishing. Generally speaking, a captain who uses live bait will catch more fish than a captain who does not.
Most captains also provide rods and reels as well as tackle. No need to bring you own gear, unless of course you have a lucky outfit you can't do without.
Most guides allow their customers to take home fish. Some, however, are strictly catch and release. Be sure to make your intentions known before you leave the dock. Many offshore captains do not let their clients “catch their limit.” The regulations may allow you to keep five grouper, but the captain may say that you can only take home one.
If you do want to take home a fish, ask the captain to fillet it on the dock. Most captains have plastic bags, but you should bring some along from home just in case.
And don’t forget the cooler. Fish spoils quickly in Florida’s tropical climate. Prices will vary, but count on paying at least $200 for a half-day inshore or freshwater charter; more if you plan to book the captain for the whole day. The price of offshore charters will vary depending on the distance required to catch fish.
Most charter boat operations have websites that allow you to book online. Some of the more well-known fishing holes for tarpon, such as Boca Grande, require reservations a year in advance.
It is possible to negotiate a lower price for a few hours’ time. If you find the fishing experience a good one, the captain and mate will appreciate a tip. Use the same standards you would for a fine dinner – 15 to 20 percent.
To find the best fishing guides in Florida, go to florida-guides.com.