Jeff is no longer taking any trips, refer to his links page for a guide he recommends.

How do you find a top-knotch, reputable fishing charter or guide in the Florida Keys or anywhere else? While there are many excellent charters, there's also the occasional shady character operating a boat, too. A fishing trip can be ruined by a poor fishing charter experience! Learn how to easily select the fishing charter that's just right for you, and avoid the bad ones, too. With a little advance planning and research, you'll locate the fishing charter in Florida that is just perfect - for you!

1. Decide which style of fishing you want to experience. Consider what kind of fish you're targeting - is it a freshwater or saltwater variety? Many charter captains specialize in particular styles of fishing, or particular areas in the Florida waters. You may want to choose your charter by one of the following specialties: flats and/or backcountry fishing; reef and wreck fishing; inshore and nearshore fishing; or deep sea fishing. Some fishing charters specialize even by species, such as largemouth bass, tarpon, bonefish, permit, billfish, etc.

2. Determine how much you're willing to pay for the charter. When booking a fishing charter in Florida, you pay for the use of the boat for your entire fishing party, and the services of the captain and crew. (Only party boats charge a flat fee per person). Smaller boats hold 2-4 anglers, while bigger boats can hold up to six persons. Prices start at around $200-$400 to hire the smaller flats fishing boats for tapron, bonefish or permit for a 4-hour fishing trip. For bigger boats, ones that are used for deep sea fishing, and longer fishing trips, you can expect to pay between $900-$1200 for an 8-hour fishing day.

3. Begin your fishing charter search. The internet is a great way to narrow your search; just type your fishing preference in your preferred search engine (example: "tFlorida bonefish fishing guide") and you'll find a few to choose from. Check with local marinas, bait shops, or even just go down to the docks and hang out awhile, to observe charters in action as they depart and arrive. If you're still in the planning stage of your fishing trip, ask your travel agent to recommend a hotel or resort that offers a fishing charter as part of their package. Many hotels and some fish camps offer fishing charters as part of their packages. Not using a travel agent?

4. Interview potential charter fishing captains or guides. It's crucial to know specific information before you commit your money to book a fishing charter. The interview process is where the shady characters are usually revealed. Why? It doesn't take long to spot the genuine captain who loves what they do for a living, compared to the ones that aren't absolutely committed to their paying customer - YOU! Below are a few tips and questions to ask potential fishing charter captains, and things to consider as you narrow your list of charter candidates down to that perfect charter.

Tips

Ask for a complete price breakdown of all costs, including gratuities.

What is the deposit amount to reserve a charter?

Is the captain licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard? Charter Captains must take a course and pass an examination to qualify for licensing by the Coast Guard. We cannot stress enough the importance of proper licensing! Don't be afraid to ask for proof - have it faxed or emailed to you, if possible. Do a quick inspection if you're at the boat, looking at licensing and safety features.

Ask for references - and follow up with what the captain provides. It doesn't hurt to check the captain's reputation out with the Better Business Bureau, either.

What kind of fishing does the charter captain specialize in? Make sure he (or she!) is willing to accommodate your preferred style of fishing.

What is the general itinerary for the day - departure time, length of time on the water, return time, etc.

If you're a novice angler - Is there a preferred level of experience for the party booking the charter? Does the captain give short fishing lessons for inexperienced or first-time Florida fishers prior to setting out for the day?

What type of boat will you fish from?

What is their cancellation policy due to inclement weather?

If you're only wanting to wet a line, or don't have much time or money to hire the private fishing charters, consider party boat fishing. Party boats accommodate bigger groups of anglers and charge a flat, per-person fee. While less expensive, one minor concern is that you're sharing space with strangers. Still, it's a cheap way to go fishing.

Warning

Will the captain and crew also fish? Sometimes this can cause difficulties if the fishing guides neglect the paying client - you! - to attend to their own fishing. I don't recommend booking a charter with a captain or guide whose attention is not fully devoted to you!

Is the charter private or social? Social charters means that other anglers potentially may be sharing your charter, depending on the size of the boat. Private charters may cost more to have the boat, fishing guide, and crew all to yourself. But, it is well worth the extra expense if you're bringing children, or someone in your party has special needs.

Will the charter captain or guide himself be running your charter? What happens in the event the captain is ill or cannot be on board for your scheduled fishing trip? The mate might not be a qualified substitute; find out what the contingency plan is for the captain's absence!

Some charter captains and guides are 'catch, photograph, and release' anglers. Some aren't. Some charter captains are very conservation-oriented, and will pressure their customers to release non-edible catches, no matter how big. If you're planning on keeping a trophy fish, make it a point to inquire before booking about the charter captain's personal views are on that point. Some Florida charter captains provide taxidermist service referrals, too. Ask before you hire!

Most of the text on this page from wikipedia.

Jeff Belsik is the hardest working and most determined Florida Keys flats permit fishing guide I've fished with and we generally book him for two to three weeks every March. So if you want to book him, forget about the last 2 weeks of March and lst week of April, 'cause I got him, baby, and my wife and I can't wait to see him again!!” Bruce & Lucille Garland