So You Wanna Go Fishin’ and Boatin’ In Florida May 05 2021, 0 Comments

Things To Ask Yourself And Ponder Before You Do

You’re excited! Maybe that long overdue getaway is becoming a reality and you’re pondering a myriad of fun things to do. Or, you’re a local, and friends or family members are coming to town and you want to do some good stuff with them. Certainly, one of the options under both of these scenarios is to head out on the water and do some fishing or partake in other activities. But before you do, and to ensure that a good time is going to be had, there are a number of factors you ought to consider before ever leaving shore. Without subjecting one to brain burn, here are key factors to bear in mind. One point of clarification. Our focus will be on boating and Inshore Fishing; not Offshore Activities. Refer to the differences in these two types of outings in a previous article in News & Updates, "Bringing Some Clarity to Inshore and Offshore Fishing".

Where Do You Want To Go Fishing And How Well Do You Know The Waters?

For the sake of simplicity and to keep everything on track, let’s assume that you are either going to be visiting Florida or live here and want to go out fishing. If you are unfamiliar with the waters in the area, then your best bet is to hire a Guide.

I do the same thing when fishing for the first time on certain freshwater lakes. In the latter case, since I’m likely going to be using my boat after the session with the guide, I can get a much better idea of where the fish might be and preferred baits to use. Equally important, I will better be able to navigate the waters after getting a little local knowledge. But back to Florida, let’s talk more about Guides.

Your best bet for finding a quality Guide can be achieved a few ways. The most obvious is if you know of any friends or associates who have fished the waters to which you’re venturing. Ask them for some names. Oftentimes, they know of specific preferred guide(s). Or, through others, they’ve heard of good ones via the grapevine. Checking out guides online is another great source, especially TripAdvisor. A third option might be to check with one of the local bait shops in the area. They will have knowledge about better guides in the area.

The time of year you would like to get out is also very important. Down here in SW Florida, the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, and those in March through May are prime time and considered to be the height of season. Top quality Guides will book out several months in advance of these time periods. If they are booked, ask them for recommendations of other Guides. Important! The closer you get to when you want to go out (especially during the popular Spring Break period — the middle of March through the middle of April) your likelihood of getting even one top quality guide is diminished unless there is a last minute cancellation. Think ahead and book ahead.

In addition to getting you on fish, a local Guide knows how to expertly get around on the water. Inshore, this will prove to be invaluable because of all the sand and oyster bars in our area in particular.

Now, before you make contact with a Guide, establish a simple game plan of what you would like to do and hopefully accomplish. Also, do an honest assessment of your skill level as an angler and those of your guests. Otherwise, you could end up being frustrated and disappointed with your outing.

- What do you want to do? Are you strictly interested in fishing? Or, are there other activities you may want to include like shelling or stopping for lunch. Also, I’m often asked to include dolphin and manatee watching as part of the outing. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

As it relates to shelling, and folks who are staying on Sanibel, I often tell them that it’s probably best right out their front doors. This being said, there is a delightful and remote island called Cayo Costa that is great for shelling and beach combing. However, it can be difficult to get there when the winds are up and the waves are high. Also, with an average time of 45 minutes each way to get there and back, a lot of fishing time will be burned doing this during a typical 1/2 day outing. If stopping for lunch is in the cards, then remember, your guide is compensated for how long you’re out with him/her regardless of what you’re doing. 

As far as dolphin and manatee watching is concerned, this can vary greatly. There are days when dolphin are literally jumping in the boat. Other days, they must go on sabbatical somewhere. Be understanding. It’s Mother Nature’s call dictating what they do. And  Manatees? These creatures are not around much in the fall and winter months because the waters are too cold. They don’t like it when temps dip below 75 degrees. Otherwise, the chances are decent to see a few by cruising up and down remote canals, tucked-in flats and creeks in the back country.

- How long should the trip be? This is a function of what you want to do and how much are you willing to spend. With our type of fishing, I often tell prospective guests that we can get a lot of angling in during a typical 1/2 day (4 hour) outing. If shelling and/or stopping for lunch is also in the cards, then a 3/4 day (6 hour) is preferable. And, if you are really gung-ho or chasing Tarpon, then consider a full day (8 hour) outing. (Note: Most Tarpon outings are for a minimum of 5-6 hours anyway.)

- What time of year is it and when do you want to go? Regardless of where one is on the calendar, I will always recommend a morning outing. I just think fish are hungrier and more active in the morning anywhere, in fresh or salt water.

- Tides will also have a bearing on when the fishing will be optimal. Typically, we have two tide cycles a day in southwest Florida. Moving water is usually best to trigger bites because that’s in essence what signals dinner bells for fish. Moving water, moving bait, active fish. It’s that simple. Listen to your guide. A good one will be adjusting to meet the tides, winds and other conditions.

- Do you want to go after trophy style fish or keep the fishing lines consistently tight? For example, going after Snook and/or Redfish is usually a different game than targeting fish like Mangrove Snapper, Sheepshead or Trout that can be plentiful and will keep the rods bending. Tied into this is if you want to keep some fish and have them cleaned for a meal. Right now, there are moratoriums on Snook, Redfish and Trout inshore. In short, until the end of May, 2021, they are catch and release only. And, when this moratorium is lifted, the “slots” or inch lengths of what you can keep are tight. This will obviously limit what you can keep. One comment about keeping fish for a meal. It is unfair and frankly, most believe unsportsmanlike to expect to keep an excessive amount of fish beyond a nice meal. Further, if you are trying to feed 15 relatives back at the condo by 3-4 of you fishing, that’s also going beyond reasonable. And, if everyone did this, there wouldn’t be any fish that could be kept. Enjoy your catch to eat and leave a few for the rest of the world and future generations.


Back To Your Guide

Once you’ve made contact with a guide, try and get a sense of what the compatibility will be between the two of you. Also, ask if you will be his only trip that day. If not, and he is doing “a double,” you can expect that there will be little flexibility in altering your trip time. This can be an issue when weather comes into play. With only one trip scheduled, departure times can be adjusted if, for example, a bank of thunderstorms is moving through and then out of the area. Also, you’ll need to understand that if you booked a half day trip, that’s pretty much what you’re going to get, give or take a few minutes. And that includes time to clean fish if you’re keeping some. Single day outings are more relaxed for Guides and guests. Seek those out when you can.

An attentive Guide will ask what YOU want to do, not what THEY want to do. They may provide you with options. Choose what fits best for you and your guests.

Your Experience Level And Those Of Your Guest(s)

The neat thing about fishing is it can be a lot of fun regardless of one’s experience level. It was mentioned earlier to do an honest assessment of yourself and your fish mates' skill levels. If the Guide you hire wants you pitching tight in the Mangroves because he wants you to pull out a Snook or Redfish, this can be stressful if you haven’t done much pinpoint casting before. And, if you’ve got Guides who are having a bad hair days, they may even give you a hard time for snagging lines in the trees. Worse, they may even grab your pole and cast for you (without asking) because they don’t think you hit the spot where the fish may be. Don’t get me wrong, many anglers welcome the assist in casting. My only point is they again should ask if you would like the help. In short if, there is something your guide is doing that you don’t like or causing you discomfort, then relay this on to him. Again, in a perfect world tell your guide what you want to do in advance of your trip so there are fewer surprises.

A Few Thoughts About Outings That Don’t Include Fishing

Up to this point, we have pretty much concentrated on fishing related info. But there are those folks who just enjoy touring the area, maybe see some dolphin at play, beach combing and perhaps take in nature in general. And there’s plenty of it. That’s why Sanibel proclaimed itself a marine and wildlife sanctuary almost 50 years ago. Mix-in the world-renowned Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge—well, there is a lot to see and enjoy. There are also those who want to do a little restaurant and bar hopping. There are some fun drop-in establishments in Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay to do just that.

Once again, a good guide worth his salt in the area will be able to dial you in to just about anything you’d like to do. Also, a top notch guide will have taken time to educate himself on all of the nuances of the area so he can share fun information with you. Here are just a few examples. In nature, we have Frigate birds usually in the area. These magnificent creatures have been seen soaring in the air hundreds of miles out in the sea seeking their next meal. What’s interesting about them is they never spend any time on land except to nest. Otherwise, they are in flight even while sleeping, where they snooze in the updrafts and downdrafts of air currents. Your guide should point them out if he sees any. With their 8 foot wing spans, they are fun to watch. Switching gears, maybe you want to stop at a funky islandy restaurant. Have your guide take you to North Captiva and for a brew, some black beans and rice and peel ’n eat shrimp at Mainstays’. Your crack guide will know when to get you there so you’re not burning time waiting endlessly for a table.

At the end of the day, whatever brings you to the waters surrounding Sanibel and Captiva, there is a plethora of activities that you can partake in with friends and family members. A Guide can effectively show you the way to enjoy them. At the end of the day, for me, it’s been music to my ears to hear comments like, “Our outing was the highlight of our trip and we can’t wait to get back.” Hopefully, and along with some damn fine professional Guides in the area, you’ll be saying the same.

See You On The Water!