Fishing Tips and Techniques

This section of the Florida Guides Association website is devoted to increasing our readers knowledge base for fishing. Whether you target snook, redfish, trout, tarpon or any other species - freshwater or salt - you will be able to pick up some useful techniques from our Florida Guides Association member guides who contribute to the knowledge base.

Guides are just people. They are people with a passion for fishing, but still just people. Like any other group of people there are all kinds of personalities too. In my experience the ones that make the best guides are people oriented. They like to fish, of course, but they also like to see other anglers catch fish. They actually get a sense of satisfaction from helping others catch fish. If you receive energy and satisfaction from helping other anglers catch fish you are probably a good candidate to become a professional fishing guide.

Florida and other states are blessed with a lot of good fishing guides, but some are better than others. Fishing Guides have to know how to find fish and how to catch fish, but that is only half the battle. Good guides need to teach others how to find and catch fish. This brings me back to the point about people oriented behavior. This type of behavior goes beyond just smiling a lot and laughing at all your clients jokes. That’s important too, but you have to be willing to deal with their expectations -- expectations that may be far beyond reality on any given day. Good guides will try to identify those expectations before the trip even begins, and plan accordingly. If your client wants to catch his first redfish on fly and you find out he can’t cast beyond 25 feet, you need to be prepared to tactfully suggest a spinning outfit and then convince him that catching his first redfish on spinning tackle will be just as rewarding as his previous expectation. If you think you can do this, you are going to be a heck of a good fishing guide.

Your clients will expect productivity out of you - that's why they're paying you! Productivity, however, does not always have to be fish in the boat. Productivity can also relate to teaching a client how to read the water; how to tie a new knot; how to present different types of lures; or how to rig an outfit for different fishing applications. Many people who hire a guide are beginning anglers and have not acquired a high level of fishing skills. If you can add to their knowledge of fishing they are likely to enjoy the trip and feel good about it. It you catch a bunch of fish too they will want to come back and fish with you again. Just about any fishing guide will tell you that your ability to generate repeat business will be the key to your success.

Fishing GuideMost anglers understand that you don’t catch a trophy fish every time you go out, but when you are a fishing guide your clients have high expectations of catching fish. Client expectation is why there is no substitute for time on the water. You have to pay your dues and be out there day-in and day-out to increase the probability that you will be able to lead your clients to fish. Especially when you first get started at the guiding game you need to be prospect fishing the day before your fishing charter, with the intent of finding fish for the following day. That means lots of fishing with out being paid, but for most successful fishing guides it’s a small price to pay in the beginning. As you develop your fishing charter business more and more of the days will be for pay.

Guiding is a tough competitive business and you should not expect to get rich quick doing it. I had one guide friend tell me the way to get started a guiding business was with a truck full of money. Weather, illness (you or a client), equipment breakdowns and an occasional client that doesn’t show up, can all play havoc with your cash flow. You will have to balance your income with your costs and use good business sense in making decisions about your charter business. You may have to start with a used boat and tow vehicle until you get some repeat business established. You can dream of that new boat and new truck as your reward for doing it right from the beginning. That means not getting over your head in debt and expecting to pay for it all with earnings from a brand new charter business. It takes time to establish yourself and you need to approach the whole idea from a business perspective and not an emotional one. Emotionally it’s easy to think, “This is going to be great, I’ll be fishing every day.” This may be true, you may be fishing every day, but you likely will not be getting paid every day when you begin your business, so act accordingly.

So, after this brief introduction to being a charter fishing captain, do you still wanna’ be a fishing guide? If so, let’s look at some of the things you will need to consider as you plan your future in this exciting and rewarding profession.

When approached by Florida Sport Fishing Magazine to write a piece on how to become a guide I was at first a little hesitant, but further reflection made me think how valuable it would have been, to possess some of the information I accumulated on the way to becoming a guide, before I travelled down that path. The legal requirements are straight forward enough; you need a Coast Guard License, a vessel fishing license, in most cases a county business license, and although not required you really should have marine liability insurance. Depending on where you fish, you might also have to have special fishery permits.

The Coast Guard License

The captain’s license, as it is commonly referred to, should be the number one goal on your list of things to do to become a guide. You cannot be legal without it. Obtaining it is one of the more mentally taxing of all the things you will need to accomplish in your quest to become a charter fishing captain. You’re not a Captain until you receive the Merchant Mariner Document (MMD), so if you’re serious, dedicate yourself to the task and just do it!

First you must choose the level of license.

Most guides start out with the OUPV license - commonly called a six-pack or charter captain's license. This required license is good for operating vessels that carry no more than six passengers for hire. USCG requirements for the OUPV license include: age - at least 19 years old; and one year of documented time on the water, with 90 days in the last 3 years; U.S. citizenship is not required until you set for the Masters license. Once received the license is good for five years.

Although you can study on your own and visit a Coast Guard Regional Examination Center (REC) to take the test, many guides acquired their license by attending one of the many schools available for earning the six-pack or other licenses. Subjects include navigation rules (Rules of the Road), chart navigation, seamanship, weather, lifesaving and fire fighting. The great advantage of using a school is the fact that they also administer the test so you do not have to travel to a city with an REC.

A common schedule for school would be two weekends at eight hours a day and every night in between those weekends. After the nine days of class time you will have a couple of weeks to study on your own and prepare for the exam.

The other major requirement is the documentation of time on the water. For an OUPV license you will need to document 360 days experience in the operation of vessels including 90 days service on ocean or coastwise service. At least 90 days of your documented service must have been obtained in the past three years prior to submitting your application. If you own your own vessel you may attest to your time on the water as long as you can prove ownership of the vessel you used to obtain the service.

Your sea service documentation will be part of the complete application which will also require a physical exam; drug testing; proof of U.S. citizenship (such as birth certificate or passport); three written, notarized recommendations attesting to your suitability for a Coast Guard License; an original certificate indicating completion of a first aid/CPR course within the past 12 months; evidence of having a Social Security Number and finally your fingerprints will be recorded as part of your records. Another advantage of using a school is the fact that they will lead you through this lengthy application and help you get it right the first time.

Vessel Fishing License

The vessel fishing license (For Hire Vessel License) is the license that covers the anglers on your boat. It is issued by the state and available from your local tax collectors office. In order to obtain this license you must register your boat as a commercial vessel and present your registration at the time of purchase. The cost will depend on how many anglers you want to cover on your boat. The first level is 4 anglers and it costs $201.50. If you need to cover more anglers the cost will increase. You will also have to present your captains license and county business license if you’re required to have one. If you operate in a park or refuge, such as Everglades National Park or Mosquito Lagoon you will also have to present your special permit for chartering in the park. This is a saltwater requirement only, if you guide in freshwater your clients will have to purchase a fishing license.

County Business License

Many Florida counties require a business license to operate a charter business. This is the same license anyone doing business in the county would have to obtain. Check with your local county government for your specific requirements.

Special Permits

If you will be guiding in a park or refuge you will be required to purchase an annual Special Use Permit for the specific park you charter in. Check with the local officials for application information and cost.

Liability Insurance

Although not required by Florida law, you should obtain marine liability insurance for your business. If an accident should occur on one of your charter trips you could be sued and wiped out financially. It is just good business to obtain adequate insurance. Like any insurance policy make sure you know what is covered. A standard policy, for example, would not cover your client who got out of the boat to wade-fish or hunt scallops. You need a rider for those circumstances. Ask questions of your agent and be sure to get what you need for the types of charters you conduct.

Once You Are Licensed

Once you have obtained your Coast Guard License and other applicable documents you can offer your service for pay. To get the word out you will need to market your new business. A business card with contact information is a start, and most charter captains develop their own website to give details of their service to the fishing public. You can also participate in various fishing forums and post fishing reports on many internet sites for free. You can also involve yourself in your community by indicating your willingness to give seminars on fishing tips and techniques at local bait and tackle stores. There are also plenty of fishing radio shows that welcome callers with reports or information related to fishing.

You should also consider joining a professional organization such as the Florida Guides Association (, Costal Conservation Association or a local group if you have one in your area. These organizations are good ways to support the fishery resource we all need to ply our trade and they also provide a great networking opportunity with other professional charter captains and interested anglers.

The best thing fishing guides in Florida have going for them is the numerous tourist who visit Florida with intentions to go fishing. To be one of the guides these folks will want to fish with requires hard work and dedication on your part. Since skilled anglers don’t need your services as much as the inexperienced, you have to be prepared to work with novice anglers, family groups including kids, and often older clients. Think of yourself as a teacher and treat your clients with respect and you have a good chance of making it as a fishing guide.  If you are successful you will enjoy one of the best jobs on God’s great earth.

Side Bar

In addition to the Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, each captain is also required to obtain a TWIC card. This is the Transportation Worker Identification Credential. The TWIC is new requirement this year with various compliance dates according to United States Coast Guard areas.

Visit the website at for complete information on the TWIC. I have found many current guides who are not aware of this requirement, so if you are currently guiding and don’t have a TWIC you need to check it out right away. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security oversees the TWIC and they anticipate that over 1.2 million individuals will apply for a TWIC. This includes Coast Guard-credentialed merchant mariners (this is the charter captains), port facility employees, long shore workers, truck drivers, and others requiring unescorted access to secure areas of maritime facilities and vessels regulated by Marine Transportation Security Act.

Don’t let the language fool you. Even if you do not require access to secure areas, current regulations require you to obtain a TWIC if you hold a Coast Guard License. Compliance dates have continued to change since its inception. The Jacksonville area is the first in Florida where the TWIC requirements will be enforced starting in October of 2008. If you are a fishing guide and stopped by the USCG they will ask for your TWIC. Non-compliance is punishable by fine. Other areas will require compliance by early 2009. Individual captains need to keep on top of their own requirements by visiting the TWIC website.





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