Tom Fisher

Captains Courageous,
by Frank Sargeant - September, 2001 Florida Sportsman

There was a time in Florida when nearly everyone you met either was a real estate agent, had a real estate license but wasn't using it, or was working on a real estate license. And I mean everyone. Real estate was where it was. I even found them in my bed-my own wife! Few made money, but everybody gave it a try.

These days it's captains. There's a captain under every mangrove limb. Everybody from bank presidents to plumbers either already has a captain's license and is about to quit their "real" job to guide, is guiding part time, or is working on a captain's license. Some days on Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor, there are more guides than clients. Some days there are more guides than fish.

There are several reasons for this explosion. One is that the men (and a few women) who have been at it a long time, the "real" captains, have let it slip that they have been making a pretty decent living for the last decade or so. This is mostly thanks to the rise of live sardine or pilchard fishing, which allows even the worst client who ever picked up a rod to catch fish.

Second is the "Boca Grande factor." The breakaway jigging tactic there has been the
dot.com of fishing, allowing some guides to gross a grand a day for almost 60 days straight. That kind of money definitely gets attention, even from plumbers.

And then there's the Internet itself. Now, it's not how many fish you really catch, but how many you can convince people visiting your Web site you catch. So those who are slick at marketing can book trips that get past the old-timers who are not electronically savvy, and who still rely on word-of-mouth for most of their trips.

Guides used to be the best of the best. The only ones who could make a living at it were those who developed a reputation over years. An endless repertoire of locations and tricks that produced in every season was essential. Now, they seem to get their licenses out of Crackerjack boxes. Some have barely fished a year. They're one-hole Charlies, made occasionally successful