What to look for in a Florida fishing charter
Hiring the right guide for your Florida fishing charters 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.
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, salons with heads, lounge areas and air conditioning.
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, and ask if you are permitted to bring your own gear to supplement theirs.
Shared “party boat” or “head boat” Florida fishing charters are more affordable, 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 captain or mates.
Captain & Crew:
For some anglers, fishing is a social event. For others, it’s a time for quiet reflection and focus. For many, it’s a serious, no-nonsense pursuit. 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. 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.
What not to bring:
Do not bring a GPS. The quickest way to sour your outing, as well as your relationship with your guide, is to track to their secret fishing holes. If you want to fish in these special places, play it straight. Having a GPS is very bad manners.
Safety & Licensing:
Most Florida fishing 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.
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: sanctuaries.noaa.gov/bluestar/operators.html.
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?
Can I keep my catch?
In most cases with Florida charters, the answer is yes. But you should ask your charter captain up front. In some areas of the country, the crew keeps the catch, or a portion of it, as payment for their services. This is not a common practice in Florida, although out-of-town visitors often defer for lack of facilities to cook their catch, while others choose catch and release. Many seafood restaurants, especially in the Florida Keys, will cook your catch for a modest plating fee that includes side dishes. To avoid surprises, ask about your Florida fishing charter’s policy in advance.
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Many thanks to Florida Keys fishing guide Kevin Rowley for his contributions to this story. Follow Kevin’s fishing adventures on Instagram @tightnupcharters. To book a charter with Kevin, go to his web site, Tight-N-Up Charters, or call 305.393.2618.
Florida Rambler co-founder Bob Rountree contributed to this report on Florida fishing charters.
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