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Booking a Key West Fishing Charter

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Insights to booking a Key West fishing charter

Booking a memorable Key West fishing charter, or a fishing charter in any town (for that matter) where you do not live or  frequent, can be daunting. It is especially intimidating in Key West where there are roughly 165 fishing guides; independents and groups, all attempting to fish a full time schedule ( roughly 200 trips). Add in 55 or so part timers that arrive just in time to take advantage of the Key West tourist/fishing season and you have 200+ guides on a 4 x 5 mile island vying for your fishing business .

Deep sea, flats, back-country, family fun, light tackle, fly, wreck, reef and near-shore fishing  – its all here in Key West and there is a Key West fishing guide somewhere out there waiting for you. Some fishing guides have little or no experience and there are those guides that  have 30 years on the water. What’s the best? Who do you chose? And just how do you book a fishing charter.

So with all that said,  lets explore how an angler can effectively search the internet for a good/great fishing guide,  avoid some of the pitfalls, and book a great fishing experience here in Key West.

An angler search of the  internet will find all types of propaganda luring them to one fishing guide or another,  for one reason or another. Few are genuine, most are not. Lets take a look at these and decipher what they mean.

Years of experience –

Currently, without a doubt, the most common approach of attracting customers on the internet is the years of experience. I have known guides that are 22 years old with 15 years of experience. That’s not to say a 22 year old is not a great fishing guide, quite the contrary, however, stating ’15 years of experience’ leads the prospective angler customer to believe the guide has 15 years of professional guiding- this simply is not true.

Key West law deems,  a registered boat, of any type, used to ferry people on the water,  must have a captains license. The United States Coast guard requires the licensees must be 18 years of age  to even take the test. So when I see the number of years of experience I ask…exactly how old are you? OK, the fishing guide is old enough to have the stated years of experience. My next question – how long have you been fishing Key West. Again.. not to say 2 years of experience in Key West does not a good guide make, but.. from where has he gotten his experience? Where did he get that 15 years of experience. Many of our blue water, deep sea fishing guides are from other places, bringing with them what they learned from other waters. It is this knowledge that  makes for a great fishing guide. They are just full of crap. I know of many guides in town that tout 22 years of experience and they moved here from some other job or Colorado and the false mass marketing grabs the prospecting angler that does not do their research. It is the false mass marketing that  keep these guides in business. The part-time guides arrive and hound everyone in town for information to get started. They tell the locals they are just recreational guys and not ever going to professionally guide a fishing charter. They learn enough to go out and back safely. As the locals (real guides) get wise, the information flow ends. The next thing ya know the guy is a 20 year vet that can’t catch bait.

No Fish – No Pay

Oldest trick in the book. Think about it.. Even if it were legit. Why would you go with a guide that offers a “fishing” trip on that basis. If I were to hire one of these outfits I would pin him in a corner and say… I want tarpon (for example), if I do not get one to the boat, I don’t pay… If the guide puts this on his confirmation then I might consider it. BUT.. if he is that desperate for a trip to offer the “no tarpon no pay” chances are he is not fishing much.

As seen on ESPN, HBO, Or ?

Really? Most of these outfits that claim this have never been on any of these networks with a TV show for fishing. How is that relevant to your needing a great fishing guide anyway? As a fishing guide I personally have done many television shows and pieces on these networks but you will never see it in my marketing for me as a guide or for my company here at Paradise Fishing Charters. Its dated and pointless. Television shows are a great way to showcase the Florida Keys and Key West when they fish with us and get it on film. However, many shows take several days to tape just to get the role necessary to portray a great day of fishing, most of the time they are with anglers that have been fishing their whole life and have tons of talent. To me its a false sense of accomplishment and is not relevant to the guide and your day of fishing.

Lowest Rates In Key West OR $100.00 Off…

In many areas of shopping remember,  you get what you pay for. This holds VERY true in guided fishing charters. There are two reasons a fishing guide offers the lowest rates in Key West.

The guide has no business and is willing to run for less just to get a trip off the dock. Buyer beware….at today’s fuel prices these fishing guides cannot afford to run at the lower rates and take his anglers to the productive fishing grounds. Angler suffers from a lackluster trip  and anglers return home with a ‘bad taste’ of Key West fishing.The  higher priced guides are going where the fish are.
Trust fund babies. I have seen it many times where some kid shows up on scene and runs at 50% off the general rates of other fishing guides because he does not have a monthly care in the world. Mommy and daddy set the rules Son, buy you the boat, house and web site so a fishing dream can be chased. Either of two things occur – the kids wash out from the Key West experience after they realize that being a fishing guide is really hard work, or, they make it and through the “earn while you learn” program turn into decent fishing guides and realize the rates need to come up to stay alive after the boats start aging and mommy and daddy cut them off.
NOTE: If a fishing guide is publishing rates that are competitive but a little less than the rest.. This is not what I am talking about. That is just being competitive.

HERE IS A TIP: If a guide is unwilling to budge on his price that means he is staying busy and values his charters well enough to let you go find a cheaper one. Probably a good bet to pay a little extra and be very particular on how you tip according to his performance and weather or not they live up to the price. Most likely you will be very satisfied.

How do I ask For a Discount? As a fishing guide for 18 years professionally I have been approached many ways with this. The best ones are the anglers who ask… Are there any discounts available? This allows me to discount if I want (generally don’t unless military). Letting me keep the fish is not a reason for discount, we do not, nor are any of us allowed by law to sell fish caught on a charter this is a bad road to go down.

Fishing Guide Bashing Other Fishing Guides

This is so unproductive. It happens all the time. Our best marketing is when our competitors talk to prospecting clients about us. We get the trip 90% of the time. Don’t book with a company that talks crap about their competitors. It just means they even think they are less of a value.

Trip Adviser Reviews

Relatively new on Trip Advisor are the internet reviews. These reviews can be a positive or negative ways to chose a fishing guide. Here is a good guideline:


Check how many times a guide has been reviewed.  These reviews may indicate how long they have been in business. For example, Paradise Fishing Charters has over 200 reviews, more than any other charter service in Key West. That said, we also run more charters than anyone in Key West. We ask our clients to leave comments. but we don’t push it by offering perks. It is against Trip Advisors guidelines to offer perks for reviews.
Good reviews are great…read them, several of them. If they seem canned or repetitive this is a guides way of scamming the system and pumping up the rankings. Canned reviews will be the same length and lack detail. Customers who truly want to leave a review will comment on all nuances of their experience. Read them and you will see what I mean. Also, don’t be afraid to contact those travelers with your questions. If they do not reply, chances are the review is embellished or false. Bad reviews are just as important as they show not only what the angler had to say about their day but you will see the managers response. This information will offer you, a prospecting angler, a chance to see what type of guide he is, what the guide did to help remedy the situation and, of course,  how bad the guide screwed up. If a guide has 100 reviews and they are all 5 star… BUYER BE WARE! We all make mistakes, have bad days or customers that are just impossible to please.. That’s the real world of guiding. Rank is evaluated on percentages of good and bad reviews. Read 2 and 3.
Book with a referral service or direct with the guide?

This is a great question. There are four different ways to book your fishing guide.

Internet Booking Company

Conglomerate web sites that represent all types of fishing and guides. You call and they book you. Rates are generally the same as the independent guides published rates on his own web site.
Advantages – Most of these operations keep up on their guides and charters very well. Knowing who’s hot and who’s not, insuring quality control and customer satisfaction. A huge advantage of utilizing the booking company is some operations offer a guarantee of professionalism or money back. Fishing guides go through life just like the rest of us, divorce, addictions and other issues that will distract them from showing a great day on the water. Booking companies have a pulse on this daily and (if they are good) will steer you around these issues.
Disadvantages – There is good and bad in everything. The bad here is some of these companies charge booking fees, don’t follow up with bookings,  leaving you without a trip, don’t offer confirmations or allow you to get in touch with the fishing guide. Just do your diligence to make sure they are on the level.

Hotel Concierge

Every hotel, resort, guest house or bed and breakfast has one or at least a person that fulfills the concierge role. Rates here are the same as the fishing guide will charge you directly.

Advantage – they are at your hotel. They can make the call to their favorite guide and you get the advantage of their local  knowledge.
Disadvantage – With a few exceptions, they know nothing about fishing here. The guides they chose are the ones who will pay an excessive commission and a little extra under the table. (see Discount guides). Rarely the choice has anything to do with the quality of the fishing guide. See my list of good hotel concierges.

Street booth Sales “Hawker”

Duval street has about 50 of them. Rates are the same as the guide charges directly.

Advantages – There are none…….
Disadvantages – EPIC FAIL! Book here and not only get the bottom of the barrel of fishing guides but no guarantee he will even show up. These people work for the sale, not your experience with a fishing guide. Guides pay HUGE commissions to be booked here and is considered to be the slums of marketing.
NOTE.. With all things there are a few exceptions. but I would do everything in my power not to book with one of these outfits. There are too many other options.

Fishing Guide Direct
Advantages – Listen to the guide speak about his experiences, his knowledge of the local waters, his boats, his services. Direct contact on the phone from HIS perspective about his services. Great way to go on recent word of mouth.
Disadvantages – you are only hearing HIS perspective on himself. Some guides are not super organized, bookings are done on a bar napkin and some cannot take a deposit on credit card. Most do not send a booking confirmation that stands as a contract from you to them. You are not protected in most cases.
TIP: Call two fishing guides in your shopping. Ask them about each other. Go with the one the other guide bashed. If they both bash each other then keep looking. If they don’t you have found two good fishing guides.

Here are the things we do at Paradise Fishing Charters to set us apart from the other guides:

Signed confirmations that we stand behind with directions and information about who, what and where.
Money back guarantee for professionalism, equipment satisfaction and overall appearance.
Full time local staff with local knowledge of all facets of Key West  fishing. Employees and management who has a vested interest in your charter.
Exceptional customer service that goes the extra mile with restaurant reviews, coupons, activities, accommodation recommendations and local friendly hangouts.
Hopefully, you have a new insight on booking your charter.  If not just give us a call and we will help. We have found that if we focus on people having a great fishing experience instead of chasing the dollar, we win anyway.