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  • 05/01/2016 11:40 AM | Anonymous

    From the Crow's Nest
    by Capt. Charlie Phillips

    The crow's nest is the highest point on a vessel and used as a lookout point. As the president of Florida Guides Association (FGA) I plan to be on the lookout for hazards as well as opportunities that affect our organization. This column will be used to communicate my observations to you. Please feel free to share our newsletter with any of your friends that may also believe in our mission to protect Florida's fishery resource to the benefit of recreational angling.

    Puttin’ Stuff Out Front 

    A dozen different people have presented a subject to me in the past month. Because of its provocative nature I thought it warranted a spot on in this month’s Crow’s Nest commentary. The purpose of this editorial is to open up topics that are sensitive, or controversial and try to meet them head on versus doing damage control later. 

    How many of my guide readers have heard someone say, “Well you just want tighter regulations on (insert various fish species here) so that you have more for your customers to catch each day?” How many of my recreational angler readers have said or thought just that comment? Its ok, you’re among friends here, and putting stuff like this right out in the sunshine for all to see and converse about is exactly what this article is written for.  

    I enjoy having these types of conversations with the people I meet, on the boat, at a show or just when Laura and I are out and about. Fishing and fishing related things are going to be the subject at some point, and I always like to ask how the particular person feels the state of their fishery is currently in and what they may see as the biggest issue that will be faced in the future. The responses are as varied as the winds, and many times can be guessed by knowing what fish the angler targets first and foremost.

     The things that an angler who targets primarily Bonefish and Tarpon finds important many times maybe different then someone looking to catch flounder, snapper and grouper. It’s all in perspective, and it’s all very understandable in motive, if we think on it for a minute. But one thing that’s not hard to see is how our recreational partners can easily mistake the intentions of charter boat operators who support increased regulations, as solely for their personal business and in increasing the bottom dollar when we don’t do the other half of that equation and educate, inform and involve them in the process. 

    As guides, we have the blessing of being on the water much more than the average angler, our office is the most beautiful backdrop Mother Nature can provide. Our desk is the deck of our boats and our tools are the rods and reels we use to connect us to the fish we are targeting with our customers. We are the envy of a great many people. We are living their dream as we run our businesses each day trying to put our clients on the best fishing opportunities our fishery and we can possibly offer. 

    Our recreational partners are often limited in their ability to get out on the water. Maybe due to work schedules, weather or other factors. For many people 1 or 2 days a week is all they have open and they look to make the most of it when they can. A fact of life for many, is they don’t have the opportunity to be as involved in the decision making processes that affect their fisheries, either in fish regulations, FWC meetings or other events. To take days off multiple times per year during the work week, to attend workshops, meetings and events regarding fisheries regulations is not an option. They also tend to see less of a fishery then a professional guide or captain, meaning they may not be as quick to see a change, or issue that may be obvious to someone on the water 5 or 6 days each week. 

    A recreational angler who fishes one day per month may have a hard time seeing how a reduction in his redfish limit from 2 to 1 per day is fair, I mean after all, he takes 24 per year at a max and sometimes it’s a hard topic to sell. The fact is that while he may only fish once per month, his retired, non-guide neighbor may fish 5 days per week, taking 10 fish per week and over 500 fish per year and is legal to do so, and his neighbor may do the same, and his the same and his the same.  It’s a volume thing, and it’s sometimes hard to see and might not have even been considered. 

    This is why it’s very important, that we, the professional guides and leaders of our industry, must take the time to talk to, listen to and involve our recreational partners at every chance possible. Even when we may disagree, and sometimes we are going to, we must be good ambassadors of the industry and make attempts to educate, inform and involve when the conversation comes up on the boat, on the dock or off the water about why a change is needed, how it impacts us all and the cost of doing nothing. 

    It’s a fact, FGA Guides are governed by the same exact rules when we leave the dock each day in state waters as our recreational neighbors and partners. While many charter boat groups and associations are endorsing catch shares and sector separation type programs, the FGA has been very vocal in opposing programs that separate the charter boats from our recreational partners. This will only further the thought that conservation is not the reason behind a group pushing increased regulation. And you know what, for many groups pushing various programs, it’s exactly right. 

    Right now, there are commercial boats in states along the gulf coast that are taking anglers aboard as crew for a day of snapper fishing and at the end of the day they may buy a portion of the catch from a fish house as an end around game. All the time, you the recreational angler are looking at a 9 day red snapper season. This is wrong, and we at the Florida Guides Association are on your side with this. One set rules for all players is what I personally believe (this is my personal opinion, not the FGAs) and I also believe that I should not be able to harvest a fish for profit that my recreational neighbor can’t take his grandson after during an afternoon trip. (Again my personal opinion) The fish and the resources belong to the people of Florida first and foremost. 

    We must all be good stewards, and we are all going to have to make concessions as we move into the future. A fact of life for us all is Florida’s population is growing, almost 20 million people in 2014 and more now I’m sure. Over 3 million licensed anglers in a 2013 data share I was able to find online, show that we must have the foresight to think much further down the road then tomorrow or next week.  We must consider the impact a year, 5 years and decades from now. We are the variable Mother Nature did not contend for; able to harvest fish at a much greater clip then she can put them back in rotation. 

    So Florida Guide Association guides, I challenge you to take the time, have the patience to have the hard conversation about why a rule or regulation change may be needed, and to explain to any who will listen as to why it’s important for our fishery now, and for the future. 

    And recreational partners, I urge you to have an open mind as you listen and talk with our guide members. Remember that the FGA Guide you are speaking with is a true ambassador of the sport we all love and is here and involved as a direct testament to their devotion in ensuring our fisheries remain sustainable for generations to come. 

    The Florida Guides Association has been the leader of the industry for guides and recreational anglers since 1991 and this is something we will ensure continues long into the future. Rest assured, that as we face the challenges of the future, when the Florida Guides Association considers a statement or position, our guide members, as well as our customers, you the recreational angler and partner, are very much a part of each and all decisions. 

  • 04/01/2016 11:34 AM | Anonymous

    From the Crow's Nest
    by Capt. Charlie Phillips

    The crow's nest is the highest point on a vessel and used as a lookout point. As the president of Florida Guides Association (FGA) I plan to be on the lookout for hazards as well as opportunities that affect our organization. This column will be used to communicate my observations to you. Please feel free to share our newsletter with any of your friends that may also believe in our mission to protect Florida's fishery resource to the benefit of recreational angling.

    I first want to say, THANK YOU!!!!!

    I have been honored to hold the helm of the FGA ship over the past year, and am honored to again carry the title of President of the Florida Guides Association for the next 12 months. I thank you for your vote of confidence, for your trust and support. We have come a long ways in a short amount of time, but we still have a lot of room to grow and improve.

    This is your association, it’s something I never forget, and never overlook. The FGA is your collective voice and for many of you (myself included), that’s why we are here.  As an individual guide, I have a voice of one person, my membership with the Florida Guides Association, multiplies that voice by every other member involved. That’s a very powerful tool in today’s complicated and political world we often find ourselves in. As we continue to grow the FGA in membership size, it increases our voice many times over. The FGA is made up professional working captains and guides and your reputations carry weight in and of themselves, put it all together in an association such as the FGA, and you have a very powerful presence for the future of our profession.

    In 2016 we doubled our membership rolls, we went from around 85 guide members to 200. That’s a powerful accomplishment. It’s motivating to me, as it tells me that we are on the right track, we are doing the things that you, the guide members see as beneficial to your business and to our industry. As we move into the coming year, one of the the big challenge we face is keeping that momentum of growth going. Membership growth provides the opportunity for many different parts of this puzzle. Of course the increased voice and presence in the industry is one key point, but it also provides more opportunity for the FGA to bring on new and better corporate members that can offer our members discounts or programs on the items they are already using. This is the key to the circle, attracting new guide members equals attracting more business partners, which brings more guides and it goes on and on and on.

    And all that said, while I personally believe in recruiting new members to the FGA and letting more out there know who we are and what we do. It’s the current membership that has been here for the long haul and there is a responsibility to make sure that you, the current guide membership is satisfied with the direction the FGA ship is heading and sees the value of continued membership. If you have an issue, if you have a suggestion I invite and encourage you to contact myself or any of the officers or board member’s to let us know. That’s our job, and that’s what we are here for. We may not have the answer you need, but we will sure have a conversation about it.

    We have a few items on the burner this year that I hope will be of interest and benefit to you. The first is the revamping of our Associate Membership program to better serve our recreational anglers that wish to be a part of the FGA. The details are still in the works, but our hope is that by increasing our roles we can add some funding to better serve our members by promoting to the public why it’s important to use a Florida Guides Association Guide for their next trip as we set up the booth at more shows in Florida as well as some outside the Sunshine State.

    Another thing we have added recently is a new website where you can go to purchase all your FGA Gear instead of having to wait for the next show or try to track me down when you need a new shirt. Check it out at FGAGEAR.com for all the info.

    As we move thru the next 12 months, I want to challenge each guide members to bring one new guide member to the FGA. If we can accomplish that task, imagine where we can be next year. This is our association, and we need your help to continue the upward trend we have seen over the past 12 months.

    Again, I sincerely thank you for your trust as I do my best to man the helm of the FGA ship for the next 12 months. Should I be able to assist with anything, please let me know. Stay safe out there.

    Capt. Charlie Phillips

  • 03/01/2016 11:26 AM | Anonymous

    From the Crow's Nest
    by Capt. Charlie Phillips

    The crow's nest is the highest point on a vessel and used as a lookout point. As the president of Florida Guides Association (FGA) I plan to be on the lookout for hazards as well as opportunities that affect our organization. This column will be used to communicate my observations to you. Please feel free to share our newsletter with any of your friends that may also believe in our mission to protect Florida's fishery resource to the benefit of recreational angling.

    Water Release Issues

    Each month as I ponder a topic to write on, I try to look at big issues that are facing our membership or the charter boat industry. This month was a no brainer, as I am sure everyone is well aware of the water release issues that are currently ongoing down in the SW and SE portions of our state. These releases are a real challenge for our captains as well as the ecosystems, but they are not new, nor are they going away anytime soon. I know this is a very complicated topic, that is drawing a considerable amount of passion, but what I want to touch on is the other components of this issue that I have not heard much about, but are worth considering.

    My life immediately after high school until my dive into the charter business revolved around explosives, from clearing mines to bringing down bridges with an occasional beaver dam removal in-between, blasting was my life, and from that world, I developed some habits I still hold today. One of the greater ones that help me daily is the ability and personal requirement I have ingrained in me, to see the entire issue, challenge or job in its entirety, or in the big picture so to speak. In the explosive world, this trait is critical to retaining the connection of all ones digits to ones appendages, and while a little different in my current role, I still find it very important in manning the helm of the FGA.

    The FGA is a statewide professional association made up of both Saltwater and Freshwater fishing guides. With that in mind, has anyone considered the impact to the FGA guide members around Lake Okeechobee area when the waters are called toxic, polluted and worse? Have you thought of how that image is impacting our peers of the industry and the FGA who are trying to run charters each day to catch bass, specks and catfish? While of course we all want clean and healthy water for our fisheries to thrive in, isn’t the hit to tourism also a part of the issue with the water releases, and are some of the statements being made not having the same effect on the inland communities?

    These guys and gals are just like us, professional captains, doing the exact same job we are. Now they are put in the position of defending to potential customer’s comments by other guides, maybe of the same association, that their waters are polluted. But wouldn’t most of us agree that Lake Okeechobee is today a world class destination to catch a trophy largemouth bass, hunt for waterfowl, gig frogs or even try your hand at harvesting an alligator? I know if I had the opportunity to jump on a boat leaving Clewiston this morning to do some speck fishing, or out of Lakeport to go catch a bass, there would be no hesitation. The hard working guides of Lake Okeechobee are not being given a fair shake in this argument, nor a voice and for me, that’s very troubling.

    Have you taken a moment and considered that when we use the big catch phrases for Facebook pages, and news articles on the evils of the Ag industry we are demonizing an entire group of good people who are hardworking folks, just trying to earn an honest living. Sometimes these same people make up a portion of our customer base as charter captains. Now I know as you read that, you are saying we don’t mean that man driving a tractor plowing right now, or the folks working in the sugar mill making sure their shift is done and their family is fed. No we mean the executives and big shots in these places making the decisions that are so much the issue. Well I would ask, has anyone expressed that to that guy in the tractor, or in the mill? If it’s been done, I haven’t seen it.

     That man or woman working in a field is not our enemy and we should be very careful of making this a coastal versus inland battle, not only as we try to find an answer to this issue, but also as small business owners and professional charter captains who need these people on our boat decks to pay our bills. Imagine the impact if the Ag industry of Florida grew tired of the constant abuse and boycotted as a whole all charter boats of the state, or the FGA. I am sure the boats in Georgia, or Louisiana would love to have their business. Think that would have an impact on your business? I know it sure would to mine.

     If there’s a problem with the way management of a company or organization is operating, then call those specific people or groups out, don’t lump in the folks who have no control on any of those decisions and are just trying to pay their mortgage the same as you and I are. And don’t forget the Ag industry around Lake O is fuel suppliers, truck and equipment dealers, service industry folks, Ag supply houses as well as the sugar companies themselves. That’s a big group of people to point the finger at with general statements and titles, and you don’t have to dig very far to find out that the inland communities, and residents that have nothing to do with these decisions are not happy with the unfair demonizing that’s is currently going on.

    I also would ask our FGA members to consider as well that while this issue is ongoing, and no one cares more then you, who live and die as a result of water quality and the guest you have aboard that pay your bills, you also still have to make sure your bills are paid, and you run the trips you can if you are going to stay in business.  I think most of you agree that this issue will not go away overnight, the water must be released to protect the good folks who call the areas south Lake O home and as it stands today, there is not a good alternative. The pollutants in the water are not only on the Ag industry, but on every one of us that has a septic tank not working properly, over fertilizes our lawns to make them green and pretty or buys a home in areas that have to be drained to ensure flooding doesn’t occur. There are a lot of fingers to point in this argument and I am afraid this conversation will be ongoing for all of this year and well into the future. But with that said, as a charter captain and must make a living short term so that you are around long term to see real changes and improvements to the water issue.

    Is it not in your best interest to make sure to highlight that you’re still catching fish, your still running trips and you’re still open for business. For some of you that have other sources of income as well as what you can make on the boat, it takes a bit of the burden off, but for folks like me that need my charter income to survive, I can assure you that no matter the issue I face, I will adapt as best I can to continue my way of life, while at the same time working to fix the problems that are causing the hardship. My only other option is closing my business, so to me, there is no other alternative. You may have to change tactics or change areas short term, and I know that’s rough but in the big picture you are trying to survive in your livelihood. It is my opinion that fishing as much as you can, posting pictures of happy guest does not take away from the issue we are facing. To me it’s just self-preservation and doing what must be done as a small business owner to weather a storm, while doing what you can to find a solution.

    I take my job of manning the helm of the FGA very seriously. And I want to remind everyone reading this, we are a statewide association so we have a considerable amount of variables to consider as we encounter contentious issues. On each concern that arises, we must consider how current members are affected locally, regionally, statewide, how this may affect our members in the future and how our decisions and actions could influence those repercussions and affects. We will always act as professionals as we represent you, the members of the Florida Guides Association, as that’s what you have entrusted us to do with your membership here. But sometimes that will come as action with restraint, and action not as visible as activist and conservation only groups. We take very seriously the role of correcting issues like this; the big difference between the FGA and many recreational angler groups is we have to come at this from a business angle as well as a conservation angle. Both equally important and each depend on the other. But if a recreational angler group offends a portion of the population with an action, well, they all just yell at each other, but if the Florida Guides Association does the same, it’s much easier to target you, the professional charter captain and make you suffer for that decision right or wrong.

    I can tell you in closing that we are working on this issue, I hear your voice on this, I see your frustration and we have a plan to come up with some real answers that you will see in the next few months as we sit down with our elected officials and agency heads to find solutions. But it’s not going to be overnight, and you’re probably not going to see a FGA picket line on this issue. That doesn’t mean we are not making sure you are represented, on the contrary, it’s the FGA seeing the entire picture of the issue and representing professionals as professionals... Thanks for all your support.

    Capt. Charlie Phillips

  • 02/01/2016 11:20 AM | Anonymous

    From the Crow's Nest
    by Capt. Charlie Phillips

    The crow's nest is the highest point on a vessel and used as a lookout point. As the president of Florida Guides Association (FGA) I plan to be on the lookout for hazards as well as opportunities that affect our organization. This column will be used to communicate my observations to you. Please feel free to share our newsletter with any of your friends that may also believe in our mission to protect Florida's fishery resource to the benefit of recreational angling.

    Food for Thought

    This month I want to ask you all an important question, what does it take for you to have a great day on the water? Is it a day full of laughs and good times, does a fish box full of keepers, mean it was a good day, or maybe you have a new picture on the camera with a trophy fish. I would guess that if you asked 10 different people what the definition of a great day on the water is, you would get close to 10 different answers. Each one is right, and over time I have noticed this answer will change for most folks.

    When I first started fishing as a young boy, years ago in farm ponds in the piedmont of NC, a good day meant a five gallon bucket slap full of bream, crappie and if I was lucky maybe a big old bass. I loved pulling back into to our house to show off that big catch to my family and maybe snapping a picture or two. To me, at that time success meant having the largest quantity I could possibly have. As I got a little older and started hunting a bit, I was required by the Tarheel State to take a hunters safety class, and it was there that I read this bit of information that has stuck with me over 25 years. There are five stages of a hunter (or fisherman I now realize) and they are as follows. 

    • The shooter stage- the priority is getting off a shot, and many times this want to shoot will cause the hunter to take a shot that shouldn’t have been attempted. This is usually overcome thru mentoring and range time.
    • The limiting out stage- the hunter (or fisherman) judge’s success at this point by filling an entire bag limit or having the highest quantity of game/fish harvested possible. This stage is usually overcome by time with more experienced sportsman.
    • The trophy stage- the fisherman (or hunter) bases the entire experience on quality, not quantity. The goal is a fish or animal of trophy category and lesser quality fish and game is ignored
    • The method stage- the fisherman (or hunter) places the emphasis on the process of the game they are chasing. They may still want to limit out, but the entire emphasis is based around the process leading up to it.

    The sportsman stage- Success is measured by the total experience, the appreciation of the outdoors, the love of the fish/game being pursued, the passion of the hunt and the blessing of companionship with fellow sportsman.

    I have never forgotten this simple set of stages, and if you think about it for a minute, and are personally honest, I would bet you may know what stage you are in at the moment, and times you have gone thru various stages, sometimes even in the same day or trip. This is natural and again there is nothing wrong with that fact.

     As I look thru the stages, I think of the brand new boater for stage one, learning the water, learning to fish, they make some errors and learn on the fly. As they gain more experience and get a little more salt in their blood, they usually enter stage two. Any of Y'all have a buddy that must come back with the maximum amount of snapper or grouper in the box? I know I do. Some folks will never leave this stage, they will for eternity judge the day based on the amount of fillets in the cooler, and we as charter captains know this better than most.

     I always try to educate my guest on the importance of taking what you need for dinner, but leaving a few in the water for next time. Most folks get that, some may not and that’s ok too. It’s my opinion that we can use the moment to teach, but it’s also important not to vilify those that are within the laws and bag limits, and may not agree with our way of thinking or us with theirs. Again as charter captains, we deal with this quite often, it’s very tough sometimes to explain to a client from Indiana, who fishes one day a year, how he possibly is making a dent in the sheepshead fishery when he and his 3 buddies on the boat all want to take their 15 fish limit for 60 fish in the box. I mean he’s only fishing one day, right. But he forgets that I am on the water for hundreds of days per year, and I am one boat out of thousands. But again, all you can do is educate, and in the case of my boats, establish some bag limit rules a little more conservative than the actual regulations to make sure the customer is happy as well as leaving a few for tomorrow.

     All of us that are on the water have a love for catching a trophy, and what’s not to love with that? A big snook, a thirty-pound permit, or your first Blue Marlin, these are the fish we dream about as anglers. But how many of you still get a smile on your face when a ladyfish goes hopping all over the place on a slow day, I know I do, and I love seeing my customers (kids are the best) who think it’s the most fun thing they have ever done. I do have folks that just look at these “trash fish” with disgust, as they only want that big redfish and nothing else. That’s their perception of things for whatever reason, nothing wrong with it, just different than mine is, and that’s all. The trophy stage is something I would think we all go thru and maybe stay in more days than not, it’s still appreciating the other, not so trophy fish that I find important.

    On the method stage, I instantly think of our beloved hardcore fly fishing buddies. I throw a fly from time to time, but I will probably always prefer my old spinning reel, though to some in the fly world this is blasphemy. They are very focused on the process, very focused on the procedure. Nothing at all wrong with this, lots of artificial guys are the same exact way. I have a good friend who comes with me from time to time on backcountry trips, and he always brings the fly rod, not long ago, we were in an area and were using some ladyfish for cut bat targeting redfish, I told him he couldn’t tell his buddies at the fly shop what we were doing or they would revoke his membership card, and I’ll be darned if he didn’t catch grief when his peers learned he dared use a piece of cut ladyfish. I got a good laugh out of that, at his expense of course. I have a lot of respect for the passion, thought and process my fly-fishing friends put into their work. They are artist, and the ones that come to mind for me will be in this stage I would think for the rest of their lives. The method is their passion.

    The final stage, the sportsman stage is where I like to think I am now. I am happy on the deck of my boat, I love being on the water each day, seeing the Everglades each morning. Watching the spoonbills on the bar as I head out to meet the sunrise, hearing the turtles, manatees and dolphins exhale on a quiet day in the backcountry. Seeing a tarpon roll on a morning where the water is like glass in a back bay. These are the things that I cherish. I absolutely love taking a new angler into our fishery for a day on the water. There is nothing better to me than seeing a 60 year old man, almost giddy with excitement about his 100th time fishing the 10,000 Islands, reminding me in a lot of ways of the 12 year old boy I had on the previous day who was experiencing his first time in the Glades and has the thrill of the day before him. These are the things that I hold most dear, and can never get enough of. Of course I am running a charter boat, and we have expectations we must meet, but I never lose sight of the fact that for me, I think the fishing is only 50% of the service I am offering. I really try to instill the passion I have for the beauty surrounding us to the folks I bring aboard each day.

    I hope you all take a look at these stages, think about maybe where you are, where you would like to be, and help educate a fellow sportsman on enjoying the experience to the fullest. We are so very blessed to live in the Fishing Capital of the World, and for my FGA Guide member family, we are living the dream of so many thru the nation each and every day. That’s something I never take for granted.  Y'all take care this month, and come see us at the annual meeting in Tampa on March 6th. And, as always thanks for your support of the Florida Guides Association. 

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