By Captain Buddy LaPointe | Florida Keys Fishing Guide
Part of the Fishing the Florida Keys Series
You will learn:
- What qualities to look for in a good backcountry guide.
- Where to locate a backcountry guide.
- Which questions to ask a guide before booking a charter.
- What you should bring on a backcountry charter.
The Florida Keys backcountry guide: what an intriguing blend of knowledge, determination, and enthusiasm. For these individuals, a day at the office involves loading customers into specially designed skiffs, and transporting those customers into the pristine backcountry waters of Florida Bay and Everglades National Park for a day of fishing.
But like everything else in life, not all guides are the same. Finding the right one may mean the difference between your backcountry trip being the highlight of your Florida Keys vacation, and never wanting to come to the Keys again!
A knowledgeable guide will be “dialed in” to the conditions around him. It’s not enough to know which tide to fish for a given species…good guides will know which hour of the tide to fish, as well as the effects of water temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, moon phase, barometric changes, and a host of other variables. Your guide should not only be highly proficient at finding fish, but must also be able to impart his knowledge of how to catch them (in the form of clear instructions) to you.
However, there’s a lot more to the charter fishing experience than just the fishing. The best Florida Keys fishing guides will combine the offices of outdoorsman, teacher, entertainer, and diplomat in sufficient proportion to not only catch you some fish, but to make you want to come back and fish with them in the future.
The following tips should help you to find the right guide for you.
1. Do your homework! With the popularity of the internet, there is no reason why a person with access to an on-line computer can’t locate a fishing guide through a keyword search. Entering keyword combinations such as “Florida Keys + backcountry fishing” or “Florida Keys + fishing guides” into your favorite search engine will give you a host of web addresses belonging to guides with their own websites. Chances are that’s exactly what you did if you’re reading this online.
2. But let’s say you haven’t done your homework, and are in the Keys looking for a guide. ln some locations, a fleet of backcountry skiffs may be visible from the road; this would be an obvious starting point to inquire about a charter. However, keep in mind that many parts of the Keys won’t have charter docks with highway exposure…most guides keep their boat on a trailer rather than at a dock. In this case, local tackle shops are a good place to inquire about guide services.
The local Chamber of Commerce can be an excellent source of information regarding charter fishing…and everything else that’s available in the area. If a guides’ association exists in the area, they will usually have a brochure (available through the local Chamber) listing the local captains. Many local motels and restaurants allow captains to display their business cards and brochures. And when all else fails, the yellow pages can be a helpful resource for finding a guide.
3. Once you have located a fishing guide, your iob as consciencious consumer has just begun. Whether you found this guide on your own, or used the services of a booking agency, it’s imperative that you communicate with your guide directly. It’s important that he knows what you’re looking for in a charter (action fishing for a youngster…one or two big fish for photos…a stress free trip through the scenic backcountry with fishing playing only a minor role, etc.) Your guide needs to know these things in advance, and you need to find out if your guide is willing and/or able to run the kind of trip you’re looking for.
lt’s also important that you give your guide some idea of your angling ability (don’t fib). There are some types of fishing here in the Keys that just aren’t suited for newcomers, and would only create frustration for both angler and guide alike. And by the way, feel free to ask about his level of experience too. Although this is rarely asked, it certainly would not be inappropriate to inquire about seeing his Coast Guard issued captains license or proof of insurance (again, there’s no crime in being a consciencious consumer).
Try to develop a rapport with your guide before you go fishing…doing this before you even book the trip with him is better. Look at it this way: if you don’t feel comfortable talking with him on the phone or at the dock, chances are things are not going to get any better out on the water in an 18 foot skiff. Make sure he has the patience to work with an inexperienced angler…or youngsters, if that’s the case. You have a right to expect a guide who is fishing to please you, rather than a case where he is expecting you to make him look good in front of his peers.
4. Unless it’s a spur of the moment booking that will run immediatly, expect to give a deposit to secure the trip (varying from $50 up to half the charter price).
5. Although many guides will take three anglers, do yourself a favor and keep it to two…an 18 footer can get mighty small with four passengers (guide included).
6. What to bring: Remember, you’re not spending the day on an air-conditioned cabin cruiser. You are going to be exposed to the elements, so it’s best to be prepared. Be sure to bring a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and a pair of polarized sunglasses (to enable you to see the fish you’re casting to). Be sure to get a pair of glasses that have a brown or amber tint for maximum contrast when looking into the water. If you are planning on sightfishing up on the flats, don’t wear exceptionally bright or dark clothing…you’ll look like an aid to navigation up there on the casting platform, and be very visible to the fish! Light blue, teal, light gray, and khaki are good choices, as they will not only help to keep you cool in the sun, but will blend well against the background of the sky. And finally, bring bug repellent if you are going deep into the backcountry.
Most skiffs are already equipped with a cooler with ice; all the angler needs is his own food and drink. Bring more water than you think you’ll need; when you get really thirsty in the late afternoon, soda and beer aren’t going to cut it.
Because brief showers are quite common in the Keys most of the year, ask the captain if he carries extra rain slickers on board for his guests. If not, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick up some inexpensive rain gear for yourself, just in case.
For maximum protection from the sun, as well as staying relatively cool on a hot day, most veteran anglers agree that the light, long sleeve, full collar shirts specially designed for fishing in tropical climates are far superior to the “Huck Finn” look of shorts and a tee shirt. Columbia, Tarponwear, and 10X are just a few of the companies that make such clothing.
And at the other end of the South Florida weather spectrum are those winter”cool” fronts. During a January “norther,” you may find yourself getting chilly in anything less than jeans and a sweatshirt. Always listen to the weather forecast the night before the trip to know what you’ll need in terms of clothing.
And finally, as far as fishing tackle is concerned, the guide will have everything you need. If you have your own gear that you would like to bring, let the guide know in advance so he can leave a rod or two of his behind (to make room in the rod racks). Guides get understandably aggravated when they put an angler on a nice bunch of fish, and then lose them because of tackle failure. So be sure your gear is in top shape, namely:
The spools are filled to capacity with fresh line.
- The spools are filled to capacity with fresh line
- The drags are smooth
- The guides on the rods are all in top shape (no nicks or cracks that will ” eat” line when a nice fish makes a long run.
7. Be flexible if the weather forces you to alter the original gameplan for the day. Most guides are very good at fishing the conditions…that is, choosing a method of fishing best suited for the weather conditions, seasonal availability of fish, and an angler’s skill level. When in doubt, heed the advice of your guide.
8. As far as cancellation policies are concerned, every guide is different: have him explain his policy to you before you book your trip.
9. You can avoid boat traffic and fishing pressure by booking your trip during a weekday rather than a weekend (especially holiday weekends).
10. Along the same lines as the previous suggestion, consider coming to the Keys to fish during the offseason (Sept, Oct, and November). The only thing that’s “off” about the offseason is the amount of people visiting the Keys. The fishing is excellent, and quite frankly, if you can show me a guide who doesn’t absolutely love to fish the uncrowded flats or backcountry at this time of year…then I’ll show you someone in need of a career change!