Finding Fish in Florida
They say Florida is the fishing capital of the world–and for good reason. Do you want shoreline fishing? Rivers? The flats? Deep water? Lobsters? The possiblities are endless. You see the passion for fishing all around you–most Florida homes have fish pictures or artwork in their decor, you see the Guy Harvey T-shirts everywhere you turn, and you even find your doctors have computer screenshots of their biggest catches in their office.
One way to experience Florida’s fishing culture is throught a fishing charter. Florida Culture had the chance to try out one of Florida’s wildly popular charter fishing trips this summer. We returned hot, sweaty, and with our hands full of some good eating.
Wayne Genthner, aka Captain Wayne, led our half-day trip for his Wolfmouth Charters business, which fishes off of Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Lido Key, and Siesta Key. You might have a certain image that comes to mind with a fishing captain, but be prepared to throw that image away with Captain Wayne. Originally from upstate New York, Captain Wayne has done post-graduate studies and has owned a variety of businesses. His businesses have led to international travel but one of his passions–fishing–led him to start the charter business. He has fished in local waters for about 30 years. His business and technical background seem to come through when he explains to you how to hold your rod and how to reel in your catch. His explanations are almost like an engineer–super detailed in nature. Helpful, but a far cry from the idyllic image of kids tying a hook and a piece of string to a stick to catch fish in the creek. Of course, those kids probably weren’t catching big grouper or shark.
After meeting Captain Wayne’s assistant, Abu Jabu, a beautiful border collie/Hungarian wolf, we headed out about a half mile into the Gulf. Captain Wayne uses his boating navigation equipment to help find areas where the fish are congregating due to reefs and other below-water “architecture.” Not long after casting our baitfish, we were getting nibbles and catches. The catches included grouper (a mainstay at many Florida seafood restaurants), snapper, and a few other common area fish. Reeling in fish that are in the 10-lb. range takes more work than you might think. You really have to pull on your line and then reel. Captain Wayne guided us on how to do it, but hit the gym the day before your charter to get your arms prepped.
A few times, our line even broke, and Captain Wayne surmised by the kind of bite on the line (?!) that it could have been a shark. (On a side note, Captain Wayne debunked what Florida Culture had heard that when you step your foot anywhere in the Tampa Bay water, you’re within 50 feet of a shark. Likely not true, he said, but he did caution that it’s a good idea to avoid swimming in the Gulf from dusk to dawn, when sharks come out to feed.)
We were able to keep some of our catches if they met regulation size as determined by Florida fishing laws. Others were too small, and we had to throw them back in.
Captain Wayne later took us a mile offshore, where we made some similar catches but the waters were more choppy. The captain had to teach us how to stand to help us keep balance. Trust us–if you get seasick, bring your Dramamine.
After awhile, we gratefully ventured back toward calmer waters, not far from what’s called Beer Can Island–aptly named for the weekend boaters who gather there to party and, well, drink beer. In addition to our earlier catches, we were also on the prowl for flounder and sheepshead. Abu Jabu was a peaceful fishing companion, rarely emerging from his shady area (smart dog).
When our four-hour fishing venture returned to shore at the South Coquina Boat Ramp, Captain Wayne cleaned the dozen or so catches we had made so we could take them home for fresh fish eating.
6 Tips for a Great Fishing Trip
If you plan a fishing charter with Captain Wayne or another captain, here are a few tips:
1. Bring water and snacks. Captains usually ask you to bring your own, and it can get hot out there.
2. Catch the restroom before you leave shore as you may have only limited access.
3. Be prepared to take pictures but hold on to your camera or phone, as they could easily slide off the boat or get wet. You’ll want to store them safely when you’re reeling in your big catches.
4. Wear sneakers and a hat. Flipflops and heels won’t do well when you’re sloshing around the boat trying to steady yourself.
5. Bring a wet bag (in other words, a bag of items you don’t mind getting wet) and a dry bag (a bag of items you’d prefer to keep dry).
6. Check out your captain’s website before you take your trip. The website for Wolfmouth Charters includes photos, video, and more suggestions to prep for your fishing trip.