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Tips for hiring a fishing charter in Florida Keys

What to look for in a charter captain

Hiring the right fishing guide could be the beginning of a long relationship. While most guides are knowledgable, safe and will return you with ample fresh fish for dinner, not every match is for you. A perfect fishing trip means finding a personality that matches your style.

Ecological practices:

Blue Star certifications from the National Marine Sanctuary signify operators dedicated to education and habitat conservation. It’s just catching on, so the list is still short, but important:

Boat Size & Amenities:

Backcountry vessels often have no head (restroom) or shade, but go to calmer waters. Reef fishing involves larger boats that may have shade, and usually a head. Deep-sea fishing is almost always on a live-aboard, with salons and air conditioning.

fishing charter tips florida keys kevin rowley
Lower Keys fishing guide Kevin Rowley (right) with client Doug Ramsey wrestling with a tarpon near the Bahia Honda Bridge.


Backcountry is light tackle and fly-fishing. On reefs and wrecks, some guides use light tackle while others prefer heavier gear. Deep-sea most often involves trolling and heavy tackle. Confirm with your guide that he or she uses the type of tackle and style you enjoy. 

Group Size:

Shared or “party” charters are nice for affordability, especially for those just getting their feet wet in the sport. The downside to the lower price is the potential for a crowded boat, which means less fishing space and less one-on-one attention from the guides. 

Captain & Crew:

For some, fishing is a social event. For others, it’s a time for quiet reflection and focus. Finding a captain who fits your personality and ethics will make your charter more pleasurable. If a choice must be made, choose personality and experience over a flashier boat.

What to bring:

Confirm if the charter provides tackle, ice, bait, and water. Also bring food, sunscreen, a hat, towel, polarized sunglasses, seasickness medication, a long-sleeved sun cover-up, a bandana or buff to protect your neck, and a camera or GoPro.

hiring a fishing charter islamorada genesis joint effort Tips for hiring a fishing charter in Florida Keys
Joint effort aboard the Genesis to tackle a monster off Islamorada. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

Safety & Licensing:

Most charters follow safety and legal requirements, but don’t be shy to ask. If they are playing by the rules, they will be happy to provide proof. Laws are many, but the biggest are a licensed captain with a current first-aid card, insurance, life jackets, and a fishing license that covers guides and their clientele (that’s you). Most do.

Children, Lovers, Pals:

Consider the needs of each member in the group. For kids, a guide adept at teaching can instill a life-long love of the ocean. For significant others and friends, ask them about seasickness, and if they are unsure, then consider a half-day charter. It’s no fun for anyone if one person is sick. 


For captain and crew, the customary tip is 15 to 20 percent of the charter cost, more for those who are particularly informative and engaging. Some mates are only paid with tips, and many captains do not own the boats, so tips are a vital source of income.



Ask in advance about cancellation policies, whether the cause is weather, a change of plans or an emergency. Most guides are flexible with enough notice, but weather is mostly likely going to be a last-minute event.

“I’m always honest with my clients,” Keys fishing guide Kevin Rowley told us. “If it’s going to be rough, I give them the option to cancel or take one of my smaller boats out to the (sheltered) backcountry. If they don’t want to change it, I’ll take them regardless the wind! If they want to cancel, no hard feelings and full refund on any deposit.”

Do you need a fishing license?

Most charters have a commercial license that covers their guests, but you should ask. If they don’t have a boat license, or if you plan on going it alone fishing from a bridge, from shore or from a kayak or canoe, you should read this article: Do you need a fishing license in Florida?

Editor’s Note: If you have a question about fishing charters, ask us in “Comments” below and we’ll add them to our FAQs.


Read other Florida Rambler articles by contributors Karuna Eberl and Steve Alberts. Karuna Eberl also writes about ideas and nature in her blog, Nature Rising.

Many thanks to Keys fishing guide Kevin Rowley for his contributions to this story. You can follow Kevin’s fishing adventures on Instagram @tightnupcharters. To book a charter with Kevin, call 305.393.2618.

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A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.

This page may include affiliate links from which we may earn a modest commission if a purchase is made. More often, we include free courtesy links to small businesses, such as kayak outfitters, from whom we receive no compensation.

This article is the property of and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.

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Daniel Fang

Friday 25th of February 2022

Thank you for these wonderful tips!

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