The Value of Local Knowledge

We’re all very fortunate to live in Florida. With well over 1,000 miles of coastline, hundreds of different species and so many exciting venues, there is always somewhere to fish and something to catch.


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Bahamian guides have eyes like a hawk and will spot bonefish from a distance. Photo: Tosh Brown

Sadly, many anglers fall into a routine of fishing solely out of their homeport. Rarely, if ever do they wet a line outside of their comfort zone. Who wants to travel for hours with boat in tow only to find themselves in unfamiliar waters with no feasible game plan? Sure grouper are grouper, but the proper approach to effectively target and catch grouper around the Big Bend is different than the tactics applied across the southeast. The same theory applies for redfish, tarpon, snook, permit and many other species as each region is amazingly unique with its own bottom topography, prevalent forage, distinct tidal cycles and more.

When visiting a new area for the first time, hiring a local backcountry guide or offshore captain for the day is a great way to get a local’s perspective on the lay of the land.

Still, there are many avid fishermen who are ready and willing to travel in order to cash in on a hot bite if they only had a little local insight. While nearly every popular target has at one time or another been caught out of nearly every port, certain areas attract massive migrations and provide ideal feeding scenarios for particular game fish. Sailfish Alley off Palm Beach…flag ‘tails down in the Keys…monster cobia cruising the Panhandle’s emerald green waters…tailing reds in the Mosquito Lagoon…these are just a few of the many famed fisheries we hear and read so much about, but it’s important to note they aren’t the only waters holding promising opportunities. Florida’s magnificent diversity beckons adventurous anglers and if you venture off the beaten path you’ll be amazed at what you discover.

Regardless of your skill level, the trick to breaking into unfamiliar areas and cashing in on foreign fisheries relies solely on one thing—local knowledge. I don’t care how well versed you think you are, Florida is simply too big with too many waterways for any one angler to know everything about every venue. It is simply impossible to familiarize yourself with every nook and cranny, every wreck, reef and drop off, and every unmarked channel or hazardous bar around the entire state without spending a considerable amount of time on every waterway. Truth is, a Florida angler could literally fish a different spot every day for the rest of his or her life and still not master the lay of the land or hit every honey hole.

The bottom line is that local knowledge doesn’t come easy, yet it is the most valuable asset in any angler’s arsenal. This bold statement holds water equally for anglers plying the backcountry, for fishermen exploring near coastal waters and for blue water gurus looking for big game glory. Acquiring local knowledge can only come with time, but there is a way to shorten the learning curve.

Up and down both coasts of the paradise we call home, a large number of professional captains earn their living guiding resident and visiting anglers to epic catches and exciting adventures. Each of these backcountry guides and offshore charter boat skippers is a specialist in his own right with a certain set of skills that have been mastered through long days on the water, hard work, and plenty of trial and error. Their future livelihood depends solely on their ability to generate repeat business, and the only way to do that is to ensure clients walk away smiling from a positive experience. The main ingredient of which is a respectable catch. Or is it?

Regardless if you’re looking to come home with a few fresh fish dinners or newly acquired knowledge of an unfamiliar area, local guides have much to offer. Perhaps most important is that they know their regional waters like the back of their hands, just like you know yours. This asset may not be so important if you intend to exit a distant, wide-open inlet and head over the horizon in search of your favorite pelagic predator, but a crucial attribute when tempting fate on a shallow estuary. Lets use Flamingo down in the Everglades as an example.

While there are narrow channels snaking their way across the flats deep into the backcountry, these constricted passageways are poorly marked and it is extremely easy for an unfamiliar boater to end up high and dry. At the very least, you’ll damage fragile seagrass beds by leaving behind destructive prop scars.

The Nature Coast is another perfect example, where submerged oyster bars thriving along the coastline are notorious for damaging props and destroying lower units. Without a clear picture of what’s beneath the surface, a visiting hot shot unfamiliar with the precise location of these treacherous minefields could easily get in serious trouble.

Seasoned captains could also be considered tour guides, as most are happy to share information about the region including local attractions, the best eateries, and tourist traps that should be avoided. Many of these guys are second or third generation fishermen who grew up in that particular area, so they know it extremely well. On the water they know what is hot and what is not. They know what works and what doesn’t, and they always have a few tricks up their sleeve. From the moment they step foot on the boat they know what to look for and where, not only with the target species in mind but with obtaining the freshest bait and with solid back up plans in case the intended quarry remains elusive.

When visiting a new area for the first time, hiring a local backcountry guide or offshore captain for the day is a great way to get a local’s perspective of the lay of the land. It may cost a few bucks up front, but ask yourself if there’s really a price for a lifetime of local knowledge. While you can always ride along with the captain on his boat, which sometimes is the best option, you can also invite the captain aboard your vessel. The captain’s daily rate should be easier to swallow since you are absorbing all of the associated expenses. Also, by fishing with you on your vessel the guide can make recommendations and provide valuable feedback about tackle and accessories that will help make future outings safe and successful. You’ll definitely get your moneys worth if you establish a clear line of communication from the start. Make it known that your goal is to learn as much about the area and the local fisheries as possible so on subsequent visits you can explore the area on your own. Put your pride aside and make it crystal clear that you intend to ask plenty of questions and that you are looking for detailed answers. Make sure the hiring gun understands you are not a threat to his business and that upon your satisfaction you will certainly recommend him to friends and family. Go as far as proving a sincere testimonial and mention that he can use you as a referral to help obtain future business.

Finally, your investment and experience with a professional will be futile if you don’t plan accordingly. Make sure to show up on time with the appropriate tackle and don’t be afraid to take notes during the trip. If you’re navigating sketchy waters, track your course for reference purposes and save any waypoints or routes that may help you in the future. Granted, there is only so much you can get out of someone and digest in an eight hour period, but at the end of the day you should have an entirely new appreciation and understanding of a recently unfamiliar area. Go live a little, you won’t be sorry.

Secrets Revealed

While the Internet is home to a wealth of knowledge, the printed page isn’t history just quite yet. Ron Presley’s Fishing Secrets from Florida’s East Coast provides both resident and visiting fishermen crucial insight from the state’s top captains. Aside from how-to advice exposing secrets to success detailing area fisheries, this informative book also provides insights into hiring a captain. Furthermore, it teaches anglers how to have safe and successful excursions while protecting the resources for future generations. Highlighting the unique opportunities available along the Sunshine State’s East Coast, the tips and techniques apply for anglers along both coasts, making this a must read for every Florida angler.