For many Midwestern anglers, fishing either comes to an end in the winter, it switches to ice fishing, or it becomes a road trip. There are plenty of places snowbelt citizens “flock” to (thus the nickname — snowbirds) where above freezing, usually balmy, temperatures are the norm — even in the winter months. Arizona, south Texas and Florida come to mind. Of these three (and many other locations), Florida offers the largest variety of fishing experiences.
There are plenty of freshwater lakes and streams in Florida where both familiar and unusual species of fish can be found. Most freshwater Floridians and snowbirds target largemouth bass, crappies and other panfish.
I can catch those fish around here, so when I head to Florida, my plans take me to coastal destinations where I hope to sink my hooks into saltwater fish. There are certainly opportunities for shorebound fishers to wet their lines in most coastal areas.
Fish can be caught from beaches, piers, jetties and other areas — for people who take the time to discover these areas and have their own gear. I’ve done that. But on my recent trip to Florida, when I had a fishing rod in my hand, I had a boat under my feet.
That meant I also had an experienced captain on board to safely take me to the areas where the fish were apt to be found, show me the best way to get the fish to bite and loan me the equipment I needed to reel them in. All I needed was a pocketful of cash.
It’s the money thing which concerns plenty of us. That’s why my fishing partner and I participated in three different types of fishing at three distinctly different price points. The least expensive option we chose was going on what are popularly called head boats.
Head boats are vessels capable of taking a dozen anglers, perhaps two or three dozen, at a time, depending on the boat’s size. People pay by the “head,” thus name. Fishing on head boats is normally for what could be called “panfish” with the boat either drifting or anchored over spots where lots of smaller-sized fish congregate. Fishing is usually with some sort of bait and the rigs are simple. Bait a hook, drop it in the water and let a sinker take it to the bottom. Then wait for a tug, signalling a fish is biting. The boat we went on cost each of us fifty dollars.
Our next day was spent on a decidedly smaller-sized boat. It was an outboard powered “skiff” operated by a licensed guide. These small boat operations are classed as either inshore or nearshore fishing. Depending on where in Florida and what is biting, fish from panfish-sized to truly huge trophy fish may be targeted and caught.
On this latest trip we fished out of Key Biscayne, just south of Miami and targeted 100 pound tarpon, much smaller bonefish and caught a hodgepodge of smaller sized, but fun to catch specimens. As a general rule, saltwater fish are two or three times stronger than freshwater fish so a five-pounder is more like catching a 10 or 15 pounder here in the Midwest.
It was the smallest boat, but the largest price. A trip on a nearshore or inshore boat with a guide will cost about $100 per hour — most guides start with a four hour minimum.
Our final day in the area was intermediate in price, but could have been much more. Captains with large, cabin cruiser or center console type boats will take groups of anglers out to fish for saltwater gamefish — sailfish, king mackerel, wahoo and/or tuna with prices topping a thousand bucks per day — depending on the size of boat, length of trip and destination.
I don’t have that sort of money so my fishing friend and I signed on for what is called a “shared charter.” Again, depending on the boat and other factors, the overall price is similar, but the difference is the price is split between additional people going on the trip. All of these boats are large enough to hold six passengers (sometimes more) so the cost is spread equally among all the customers. Instead of my friend and I paying the full fare, we split the cost with the others, each person paid fraction of the price and took turns when the fish bit.
Each day was different, each day was productive and each day provided a unique and exciting adventure far from home with no thoughts of winter’s favorite four letter words — cold and snow.