Florida is an outdoor activity state and one of the most abundant outdoor activities is fishing. Pick up any Florida travel guide and you will see a long list of choices for fishing charters and if you google Florida fishing charters you may end up with a list of a gazillion.
How do you weed through the choices especially since chartering a fishing tour or any kind of boat tour for that matter, you are putting your life and the lives of your family members in the captain’s hands.
To find out just what questions you should be asking and what type of information you should know before you book, I met with Captain Dannny Guarino who is a representative of the Florida Guides Association and a semi-retired charter boat fishing captain himself with over 20 years of experience as a licensed captain.
Captain Danny told me that the first and probably most important question to ask is if the captain is licensed and insured and that you should request to be provided a copy of both the license and insurance certificate. A legitimate captain should provide you with a copy of a US Coast Guard Charter Boat Operators license and a copy of A For Hire Commercial Guide Insurance Policy.
You want to be absolutely sure that the insurance is a For Hire Commercial Guide policy because if there were an accident on the vessel and the captain does not have a for hire commercial policy you risk the insurance company not covering any claim you may have. Captain Danny wanted me to stress the point that if a captain does not have a commercial policy for paying passengers then the insurance company can deem the policy null and void if there were an accident.
The US Coast Guard issues licenses for charter boat captains that are good for 5 years so you need to be sure to check the expiration date on the copy of the license provided to you to insure that it is up to date and not expired.
It is also important to know that most legitimate fishing captains will also carry a blanket Florida Fishing license to cover the customers on his vessel. If a charter captain asks you to obtain your own Florida Fishing license that could very well be a red flag and you may want to look elsewhere.
If you are uncomfortable asking for this information or unsure of the information that you have been provided with, there is a simple solution and that is you can always check out a captain with the Florida Guides Association. www.florida-guides.com Many of the fishing guides and some of the sight-seeing tour guides are members of the Florida Guides Association and to maintain membership they must keep their license and insurance up to date. Checking with the association is a sure fire way of knowing that a captain has the proper credentials and is part of a consortium that randomly drug tests.
While speaking to Captain Danny he also advised me on some other key elements to point out to you in order to help you make the best choice possible when choosing a fishing charter. Captain Danny recommends that you ask the captain how much experience he has and how often he takes out a fishing charter. His reasons for this question are that sometimes you can get a captain that is only part time and where he might have all the credentials necessary and has a great safety record the captain may not be up to date on the fish patterns of the area. If a captain tells you he only books charters on weekends or a couple times a month then chances are that the captain may be lacking recent knowledge of up to date fishing patterns. A professional fishing charter captain keeps track of the feeding patterns and understands what changes them. He knows the tides, what bait to use, uses lunar tables and above all the captain keeps up to date with local and state fishing regulations. A professional and knowledgeable captain communicates and networks with his peers to keep up on, to quote Captain Danny, “what happened yesterday” meaning in short, the fluctuations in fish feeding patterns. A legitimate captain is also environmentally conscious and will want to protect the fish population by only allowing you to keep what is in season and legal. And a word from Captain Danny “be good to your environment and only keep what you can eat in one sitting”.
According to Captain Danny it is important to know what kind of fishing you want to do before you book as there are many different types of fishing experiences. For example, there is off shore bottom fishing which is going out into open/unprotected waters to catch grouper and snapper. There is off shore sports fishing where you are going for sailfish, mahi or king mackerel and there is inshore or nearshore sport fishing where snook, trout, redfish or tarpon would be the fish you are aiming to catch. Figuring this out before you book will certainly help you to better fulfill your fishing expectations.
Pricing will vary for fishing charters but Captain Danny gave me examples of an average for the Tampa Bay area (note that other areas may be different) ½ day for 2 people will range between $450 – $500 on an inshore charter and offshore can fluctuate depending on number of people but a good starting ball park figure he gave me would be around $1,200 for half day. Your trip should include all necessary fishing and safety equipment with bottled water sometimes provided. Some captains will provide lunch at an extra charge.
Another point Captain Danny wanted me to touch upon is that most captains catch their own bait and that the time that the captain is bait fishing should never be included in your paid time. If you have paid for 4 hours and a captain takes you bait fishing first and it takes him 45 minutes to catch bait then you should be out on the water for 4 hours and 45 minutes. So before you book ask the captain if he catches his bait before your trip or during and if it is during will he extend your time on the water to make up for the time it took to catch bait.
Be careful for the overzealous fishing captains that take the enjoyment out of fishing by getting upset if you miss the catch. Captain Danny says that this actually does happen and it can certainly ruin a fishing trip. You are certainly not paying someone to yell at you if your fish gets away!!
There are hundreds of advertised fishing charters out there that are not qualified and choosing one of those fly by night charters could be dangerous for you and your family. Asking a captain if he guarantees fish should never be a deciding factor in your choice of charters. It is fishing and in fishing there is no guarantees that you will catch a fish however, you should have fun and be safe while trying. Captain Danny says “a good fishing trip should be measured not by the number of fish you caught but by the number of times fishing brought a smile to your face”.
If you have any questions for Captain Danny or are interested in more information on booking a fishing charter in the west central Florida area you can email Captain Danny Guarino at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 813-956-2010