A Captain’s Tale
Many people come to the Bradenton Area to get away from it all. No, we mean really get away from it all. Like miles and miles away on a deep-sea fishing charter. And who can blame them! These enticing Gulf waters are home to some of the best fishing in the world and even a unicorn or two. (More on that later.)For beginners and advanced anglers alike, fishing on a deep-sea charter is filled with adventure, a cooler full of fresh-caught fish (if you’re lucky) and memories that will last a lifetime. To help you get it right, we spoke with not one, but two area charter boat captains – Captain Phillip Watson of Just Kickin Back Charters and Captain Mike Morgan of Captain Mike Morgan Charters.To make sure your day goes swimmingly, our captains offer their insights about fishing charters – from choosing the right trip to knowing what to pack, here are the most important things you need to know, straight from the captains.
What fish are out there?
“In our area specifically, it’s all about grouper and snapper,” says Captain Phillip. “But there’s a ton of fish that we catch that people never heard of that are just as good.”
In addition to a slew of subgroups of Groupers and Snappers, he’s talking about cobia, Key West grunts, king mackerel, lane, porgy, vermillion, and the highly sought-after Amberjack. And then there are the unicorns… the elusive Sailfish. “They’re there but you don’t see a lot of them, maybe one or two a year,” says Captain Phillips. “So whenever we hook on that one’s pretty exciting.”
Last summer, Captain Morgan caught a seven-foot unicorn for the first time. Usually, he hooks the bigger stuff: either kingfish or Amberjack. “You want to get your arms bent over a couple of times, just put Amberjack on it,” he adds. And then there are the Goliath Groupers, massive monsters of the deep that can weigh up to 800 lbs.
“But the ones that we catch are more in the 300 to 350 range,” Captain Phillips notes. Just don’t expect to take one of these behemoths home. They’re protected. But Captain Phillips will let you jump in the water to get a good size comparison (and Selfie of the Year).
Which charter is right for me?
Most charter companies offer fishing charters from four to 12 hours. So deciding which trip is right for you depends on how far you want to go. Or what kind of fish you want to catch.
“The big difference is how far do you want to go,” Captain Phillips notes. “On a four-hour trip, we’re gonna catch completely different fish than an eight-hour trip. Eight hours we’re gonna go out a lot farther. The fish are gonna be a lot bigger.” His most popular is the six- or eight-hour trips.
For Captain Morgan, “my fishing usually happens within nine miles and out further,” he observes. A four-hour trip. These charters will put mostly on Snapper. To get to the Grouper, you need a six- or eight-hour charter.
To attract certain types of fish, sometimes a man-made solution is required. Like shipwrecks and other structures. “We have everything from shrimp boats to old barges to train cars,” Captain Phillips says. There are old boat molds too that give shape to fiberglass boats. “And they hold a lot of fish too,” he adds.
What about kids?
As a general rule, kids love adventure. So heading out into the middle of the ocean far from land is the stuff of dreams. “You can just see the excitement in their eyes,” Captain Morgan describes. “And I look down and go, ‘Okay, are you ready to catch some fish?’ and it’s like, ‘Oh, yes, yes!’”
But remember, that enthusiasm can evaporate quickly. According to Captain Phillips, this allows you test the reality of the situation. “Four hours lets you see what they can handle – not being on the beach, not seeing land.”
Captain Morgan concurs. “Four hours is your sweet spot for little kids because they get tired easier,” he says. “They just get more rambunctious. But as long as I can keep them on fish, they’re tickled pink.”
He continues, “My biggest joy is watching families with little kids go out and catching fish. It’s just the highlight of their day. And they’ll remember that as I remember fishing with my dad.”
What should you bring?
Most charters will take care of everything you need to fish: your fishing license, coolers of ice, etc. “You just show up at the dock and we take care of you from there,” Captain Morgan says. But some smaller personal items — like sunscreen, sunglasses (polarized are best), and drinks and snacks — you should bring with you.
For clothing, rubber-soled shoes will help keep you from slipping and wearing layers will give you extra flexibility for when the weather changes. Choose materials that dry out quickly and can keep you warm. For storage, bring a backpack, one smaller cooler for food and drinks, and one larger for fish (if you intend to keep it).
Do I get to keep everything I catch?
Outside of the unicorns, goliath grouper and other protected species, everything you catch is yours to keep.
According to Captain Phillips, “a keeper” is about 20-to-30 inches. “You could say the average is about 10 pounds,” he adds. Once caught, both captains will store your fish on ice, and, upon your return to land, filet and package it for you to take home. Just be sure to set aside some of your bounty for a true Florida experience: Dock-and-dine, which is when you take your catch right off the boat and into a restaurant to be cooked up exactly how you want it.
And the best part of dock-and-dine in Captain Morgan’s opinion? “There’s no mess when you get home.”
Have fun. But stay safe.
While their ages and backgrounds may differ, one major thing our captains have in common is helping our guests make memories miles from anywhere.
“Sometimes, it’s either the first fish they caught or the biggest fish they caught. It’s a different experience for everybody, and it’s really fun to be a part of those memories,” Captain Phillips says. “You don’t know what you’re going to catch up there,” Captain Morgan adds. “But it’s always exciting when you feel that bite on the line.”
Deep-sea fishing isn’t as tranquil as on-shore fishing. It’s a demanding physical activity that’ll keep you on your toes. You’re going to be out on the sea, leaving the shore far behind. When you manage to hook a catch at the end of your line, be prepared for the sharp tug that will happen when your fish starts swimming away. Hold on tight and enjoy the adventure.
About our captains
Both Florida natives, each captain knows the waters around and beyond the Bradenton Area like the backs of their hands.
Captain Phillip has been running his business for seven years. His love for fishing came from his mom, who took him fishing as a boy. As a young adult, he went to marine mechanic school to learn how to work on motors. Later he became a first mate on a boat. “From there I became a captain,” he says. “And then after running their service for a couple years, I started my own business.”
Not to be mistaken for that other Captain Morgan, our Captain Morgan discovered a lifelong love of fishing from his father. “I grew up right here in Bradenton. Born and raised here. Graduated here. Retired from Tropicana orange juice company after 30 years. Been fishing the waters all my life.” After retiring at age 57, he decided to start his charter business as a side gig and never looked back.