Tourist season is in full swing right now and in addition to my regular anglers, I’ve also run nearly a dozen trips with people who recently bought property here in SW Florida. These have been some of my favorite charters since these folks are eager to absorb everything they can about the local waters before purchasing a boat to go along with their new house.
The waters from Tampa to Estero Bay are the very definition of a boater’s paradise, but at the same time they’re some of the Florida’s most difficult to master. Unlike the Keys, our shallow flats and oyster bars stay hidden for most of the year beneath a dark and tannic stained surface. Running hard aground in this part of Florida is as easy as taking the wrong side of a channel marker or misreading a tide chart. It’s an embarrassing mistake at best that can quickly become an expensive and potentially dangerous one at worst.
Fortunately for today’s boaters, highly accurate GPS systems are both affordable and easily mounted on anything that floats. The days of pouring over a wrinkled navigational chart are becoming a thing of the past. This is an amazing convenience that was unimaginable when I first started saltwater fishing three decades ago. Back then the only boats that had full color GPS systems were painted battleship gray and fired Tomahawk missiles. Fast forward to 2017 and a kayaker with an iPhone has more navigational power in the palm of his hand than NASA did during the Apollo missions. That same smart phone can also show you the tides, local weather, and instantly summon help if needed. This technology can work wonders for a new boater.
While getting from Point A to Point B has never been easier, knowing where to look for that school of big tailing redfish is still a hard earned piece of knowledge. A lot of anglers realize this and it’s why most newcomers are wise to hire a guide for at least a couple of trips. If you’re one of these folks, here are a few things that you should expect when you book a charter.
For starters, be upfront about why you’re booking the trip. The majority of guides I know will welcome a new resident but unfortunately some might view you as a potential spot stealer and choose to show you next to nothing on the water. When you’re talking to potential guides on the phone they should be enthusiastic and welcoming to you as a fellow angler, and not sound guarded or hesitant because you’re also a new neighbor.
You should be encouraged to bring your own gear if what you have is appropriate but don’t be offended if the guide asks you to use his once you’re on the boat. If your reel isn’t rigged with the right braided line the guide may not want you to risk losing an expensive lure because of that. Fortunately, getting properly geared up for these fish doesn’t have to cost a small fortune and most guides will be happy to give you a rundown of what you’ll need.
A lot of my recent customers are also beginner fly anglers hoping to score their first saltwater fish. If you’re one of these folks then you’re especially welcome on my boat since I’ve spent much of the last two decades introducing people to this sport. Just be prepared for a good dose of frustration and humility. Trust me on this one; the tarpon off Pine Island are a whole different world from the Pennsylvania trout streams where I got started. It’s a big step up but saltwater fly fishing is accessible to anyone willing to put in the effort.