What it Takes to be a Fishing Guide

By: Capt. Joel Brandenburg

One of the top questions I get ask is “Don’t you ever get tired of fishing?” My answer is always the same “Nope, I wake up every morning mad as heck at the fish.” Like a dog chasing tail, I never get tired of the chase and love every minute of it. When I was an executive in the corporate world and unhappy being an inside cat wearing a suit, I would dream of being a full-time fishing guide. The Fortune 500 company I worked for, for almost 20 years gave me a large expense account to entertain important clients and my management team. While other executives around the country spent their entertainment budget on golf outings, dinners, parties, etc., I spent every penny of my entertainment budget on fishing trips. Hiring the best guides in Florida to take my people and me fishing.
To me fishing was not only the best way to get to know people since you are stuck on a boat with them for 8 or 10 hours, but it was also a chance for me to learn different skills and techniques for each and every guide. I would always ask the guides what it takes to be a full-time fishing guide. I’d normally get discouraging answers such as “the best way to make a small fortune guiding is to start out with a large fortune” or “get used to living in a trailer” or “you’d get tired quickly of doing it every day.” Grandpa Capt. John Scudder was a charter captain in Flamingo and the Florida Keys for over 40 years and ran the same boat for all those years called the Flamingo Belle. Yes, he lived in a trailer and had a simple life, yet I realized from a young age he seemed to be the happiest person in our family. From the time I was a kid, I dreamt of being a full-time guide like Grandpa John.
After being burned out in the corporate world and decreasing my pay and increasing my area of responsibility one day I decided to “play hooky” from work and go out fishing. After that day I never went back to the office and stayed out fishing and haven’t looked back since. Now I’ve been a full-time guide fishing professionally for over 20 years and have loved every minute of it. It hasn’t always been cherries and cream; I’ve had to overcome many obstacles to stay in business. I had to overcome red tide, toxic spills, oil spills, bad economy’s, record cold snaps, fish kills, hurricanes, sunk boats, engine failures, injuries to myself, sickness, Covid 19 world epidemic, fish closures/restrictions, family tragedy and many other obstacles. Like in any business you have to adapt and overcome your obstacles. When people ask me what it takes to be a full-time fishing guide, my answer is usually pretty long and complicated.
For the purpose of this article, I’ll shorten and simplify my answer: Being a successful full time charter captain is like a four-legged stool. If one of the legs breaks the stool falls down. Each leg on the stool is as important as the others. All legs must be strong to keep the stool from breaking.

Leg #1- You must deeply love to fish and be able to catch fish every day, no matter what obstacles face you.
Leg #2- You must have good equipment rod n reels, tackle, boat, engine, safety equipment, etc. Doesn’t have to be great, just good.
Leg #3- You must have a great outgoing patient personality and be able to entertain your clientele.
Leg #4 – You must be able to market. In today’s environment you can’t build a business by just shaking hands and holding babies. You must be savvy on the internet and market your business in many different ways. I subscribe to SWOT.

Being a full-time fishing guide is a very rewarding profession, but if you don’t have the four legged stool, choose another profession.