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Capt. Tom Van Horn Benefits in Hiring a Professional Fishing Guide or Charter Captain
By Capt. Tom Van Horn
When considering the cost of a boat payment, insurance, boat maintenance, boat storage, fishing license, bait, fishing tackle, and the time required to obtain the local knowledge one needs to catch fish; the cost of a professional guide service is minor.  I have a number of clients who fish with me on a regular basis, and all they have to do is show up at the dock and fish.  They don’t even have to bait the hook or clean the fish.

Dos and Don'ts when choosing a Guide or Charter Service
Do your Homework:  The best way to insure a quality fishing experience is to spend some time researching a guides qualifications, background, experience, and knowledge, by checking them out on the internet.  Most fishing guides will have a website covering all aspects of the services provided as well as current fishing reports.  I've always heard, the best way to tell if an angler is a good fisherman, is to see how well they can stretch the truth, so if the report sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.   Remember, fishing is fishing, and catching is catching, both are fun.

Ask friends and other anglers for recommendations.  Most guides rely on repeat business, so they will go out of their way to provide a level of service worth recommending.

Currently, there are over 300 fishing guides and charter services working on the Indian River Lagoon Coast of Florida.  All professional guides are required to have a current US Coast Guard captain's license, occupational license, liability insurance covering passengers and crew, drug testing consortium membership, Federal fishing permits to operate within National Parks, and Federal permits for pelagic species off shore.

All legitimate saltwater guides should carry a Florida State fishing license covering all passengers on the vessel.  This license should also include special stamps: such as snook and lobster.  On fresh water charters, guides cannot purchase a boat license, so anglers are required to purchase their own.

A quality charter will provide top quality tackle and equipment in good working order, with the exception of personal items: such as polarized sun glassed, wide brim hat, camera, and sunscreen.  All fishing tackle, bait, and ice should be included.

When shopping for prices, most services will offer a selection of timeframes to facilitate the desires of the client, and most charters are conducted in: ½ day (four hours), ¾ day (six hours), and full day (eight hours).  In most areas, prices are standard from one service to the next, and some inexperienced guides will offer cut-rate prices, but remember you get what you pay for.   In east central Florida area, inshore prices for two anglers range from $300.00 for ½ day to $400.00 for a full day, and a third person is an additional $75.00.   Near-shore coastal and offshore rates are generally higher based on the number of anglers and the distance traveled.

Check to see if the guide is a Member of a professional guides association.   These affiliations hold their members to higher standards, and members are required to prove legitimacy annually, so check the web sites of organization like the Florida Guides or Indian River Guides associations to look for Captains in the area you would like to fish.
Do book your charter early:  Most top ranked guides book charters months in advance, and they require deposits to secure dates.   In most areas in Florida, you want to avoid the weekend crowd if you can.   Heavy weekend pressure can make catching tough.  Also, be sure to review the cancellation policy of the service you chose.  Many guides will withhold your deposit if you deviate from their policy.
Do feel free to call for information:  Most guide services provide toll free numbers so clients can call for information at no cost to them. Also, it’s best to call in the early evening, because most guides spend the day on the water with clients, and then they crash early after a day of hard fishing.
Do discuss your desires with your guide:  Some charter services specialize in a specific skill levels, so make sure you mention your skill level and experience, and if inexperienced anglers will be fishing. Also be sure to mention if small children or persons with special needs will be fishing.
Do ask your guide if lunch is provided:  Many services provide water and soft drinks, but they do not provide lunch.  Many will provide lunch if requested, and in some areas like the Keys, it is customary for the client to feed your guide.
Do let your guide know if you want to bring your own equipment:  Many guides will let you bring your own equipment, but discuss you desires with them before hand so there is room for your equipment on the boat.
Do listen to your guide:  Most guides want you to catch fish as much as they do, so if you are serious about catching, heed your guides instructions and directions.   Your guide knows how to read the water, and he knows what to look for, so pay close attention to his instruction.
Do remember to bring your camera:  Many charters are a once in a lifetime experience worth recording.
Do not bring adult beverages:  If you are planning to bring alcohol with you, be sure to discuss it with your guide.  Many insurance policies will refuse coverage if alcohol is consumed.
Do not wear black sole shoes:  Many guides work hard to maintain their boat, and black scuff marks are difficult to remove from the deck.
Do not forget to tip your guide:  It is traditional to tip your guide.   An eight-hour charter is equivalent to a ten-hour workday, when you consider preparing the boat, tackle, and equipment for the day, handling the charter, cleaning the catch, travel time, cleaning the boat, and preparing for the next day.  A 10% gratuity is standard, and if your guide goes above and beyond the call of duty, you should tip accordingly.
Do not hook your guide or bring bananas:  Bananas are bad luck, and those sharp little hooks hurt like heck, just kidding!
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