How much does an average flats charter captain make?

tj5485tj5485 Posts: 139 Officer
I have always been curious on what an average captain makes. I know there are variances with each captain. But just curious on the average. I have gotten like 4 different answers when I google it

Replies

  • Anclote KeyAnclote Key Posts: 2,354 Officer
    Thinking of a career change? :wink

    That has to be one of the best jobs in the world...assuming you can pay the billz.
    The two best times to fish is when it’s rainin’ and when it ain’t. –Patrick F. McManus
  • KayakMacGyverKayakMacGyver Posts: 1,002 Officer
    It really depends on where you live. In South Florida, Captains are going to run quite a few more trips then they would up here in the Panhandle. The main reason being, our tourist season is pretty short. Figure, 100 trips a year for an offshore charter boat in the Panhandle is high-lining. 6 pack boat, assume around $1,000 a trip. Ok, so now you're at $100,000 gross.

    Now I'm not going to add it all up, but you can if you like. But here are some things to think about. All figures are VERY conservative.

    Captain's License. cost of school + renewals + yearly **** testing
    Federal Reef Fishing Permits (market Price)
    State Permits
    Fuel (80 gallons a trip; appx. $4.25 per gallon and going up all the time)
    Fuel to drive to your boat every morning
    Bait (minimum of $100 a trip)
    Insurance
    Rods and Reels. At a MINIMUM, once every year (Starting at $25 per reel, not including rod repairs) . Not to mention broken equipment. But, charter captains are hardcore fisherman too, and we all love new rods and reels.
    Terminal Tackle - Hooks, Leads, Lures, Etc.
    Oil changes, bottom jobs, ALL yearly maintenance
    Slip Rental
    Advertising and web page fees
    Taxes
    Something breaks on the boat.................................................................................................................................


    I'm sure I'm missing a lot of stuff, but when it's all said and done, a good captain will be lucky to clear $50,000 on a good year if something major doesn't happen to the boat. Figure, charter boats run so much, the motors are going to need a rebuild (or replaced) every 5-10 years. $25,000 is more realistic. And don't forget, you don't have health or dental.



    I'm sure the margins are much better on the inshore side. But, you aren't going to gross nearly as much unless you're running 2 a days. At least up here in the panhandle. I think on the inshore side, the guys in So Fla have a much better potential of making some decent coin, given they are established and know what they're doing.
    They Can't Us "You Should Have Been There Yesterday"...........Because We Were!
  • Red FishRed Fish Posts: 1,163 Officer
    Similar to the above statement, you might ask what a inshore charter captain nets. There are a lot of expenses that offset the gross income.
    Genesis 27:3 - Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me.
  • Panhandler80Panhandler80 Posts: 7,995 Moderator
    How long is a string?

    EDIT: TONS of money once all the equipment is paid off. That should last a few days, and then you pop a motor with a drunk client on board who later breaks his leg while dropping a rod overboard and then sues you.
    "Whatcha doin' in my waters?"
  • troutman57troutman57 Posts: 3,691 Captain
    The obvious answer is that being a charter captain is a passion not a career. While it's possible to make ends meet and live a comfy simple life. You are not going to get rich but you sure could have a rich life. Putting smiles on folks lives, being part of their memories and spending quality time with new folks each day is sweet for sure. There is always those slow days that the fish just dont cooperate and that is when you need to be on and you wonder if it's worth it. I ran a great lakes charter on Lk Ontario for a few years as a second job. I knew a few other captains up there and I know a few here. Non are rich but most wouldn't trade their job for anything.
    the math.
    400 a day
    200 days a year
    80K
    expenses including fuel and bait
    around -60 per trip -12k yr
    the boat ya gotta figure around -7k a year to repower or replace the boat every 4 years.
    Tackle maintenence and replacement is going -3k a yr.
    so you are at 48K
    then subtract all the state and federal annual fees plus insurance you end up more like 45K Health insurance is on you.
    If you are the right personality and type of person that your clients really enjoy being with then you can add 50-100 bucks tip to each trip. that is 10-20K
    If you are very efficient you might work 12 hours a day but usually more!
    You will work almost every holiday
    So with overtime being a greeter at Walmart is more money.
    This place Rocks if yer a crabber
  • CATTLE MANCATTLE MAN Posts: 129 Officer
    thats an easy formula to figure out,, just find a wife that makes 100k then she spends 70k to support you while you trying to lie to yourself by saying''this is a real job honey'' and the ever more and better lie ''this 60k skiff doesn't cost money it makes money,i'll pay for it fishing tournaments and guiding'' if you want to make a little money guiding then start with a lot of money to burn,,or you can start with nothing never have nothing ,,cause if you got nothing you got nothing to lose,,,or go get a real job like the rest of the world
  • Panhandler80Panhandler80 Posts: 7,995 Moderator
    Pretty sure the only way to make any real money at it is to be...

    1. Really good fisherman
    2. Really good fisherman with a good business acumen
    3. Really good fisherman with a good business acumen and a pleasant attitude
    4. Really good fisherman with a good business acumen, a pleasant attitude and humble

    These four things and then a couple tournament wins and williness to travel / work boat shows, host seminars, etc.... can land you a free boat (inshore or offshore). Well maybe not free, a manufacturer will deeply discount from wholesale and typically memo bill it for 12 months or more. So, the guide basically fishes for free all year and then owes the discounted balance. Sometimes they'll even make money on the sale... which REALLY makes his local dealer happy! ;-)
    "Whatcha doin' in my waters?"
  • bonephishbonephish Posts: 1,488 Officer
    I know some gentlemen who make a good living, love what they're doing and have been in the business for many years.
  • jumboshrimpjumboshrimp Posts: 820 Officer
    I know a few inshore guides. one of them constantly complains about how much money he makes, he hardly advertises, he has a crappy boat, he refuses to pay the fees to fish in the areas that most people want to fish, he's a drunk, he is often late to the ramp, he is hard to be around, he doesn't clean or maintain equipment... basically he is everything you can think about that would make a horrible fishing guide - I met him at a christmas party and fished with him a couple times but have since avoided going with him. Another guide I know never complains but busts his butt to get business and keep clients, fish tournaments and be involved in the fishing and boating community. I dont know the numbers of what they make, but I know which one of them drives a better truck, and I know which one of them is happier. I think with any business like this you are going to get out what you put in. Undoubtedly after you cover expenses it isn't a lot of money but if you cut out the crap you don't need in your life you'd be amazed how little money you need to get by.
  • ScoutboatScoutboat Posts: 2,108 Captain
    They make peanuts, but you get to play with good equipment and meet (for the most part) good people.
    Expenses are super high. Boat, equipment, insurance, fuel prices, lost time due to weather, Etc.
    I did it for 20 years, some of the best times in my life.
    I have great respect for those guys, they do it day after day for the love of fishing.
    Jim
  • Jim311Jim311 Posts: 4,918 Captain
    From all the replies in this thread it seems like one of those things that if you are even asking, you probably aren't going to be making enough money! I sure do dream about spending my "days at the office" out on the boat though....
  • troutman57troutman57 Posts: 3,691 Captain
    I'll stand by my original statement it is a passion rather than a job. It becomes a job when 5 guys load 6 cases of Bud Liught into the cooler and then expect you to entertain them:rotflmao
    I do however have lots of respect for the successful guides.
    This place Rocks if yer a crabber
  • Lobstercatcher229Lobstercatcher229 Posts: 4,844 Captain
    It kind of does sound like if you could find a job that paid minimum wage for all the hours that you put in that you might make more at that than the average charter captain does. I am glad that there are those who do it.
  • waldnerrwaldnerr Posts: 1,020 Officer
    I believe the original question involved flats guides, which is a lot different (in numerous ways) than running offshore charters. However, the basic answer to your question is still the same: not enough. Lack of retirement benefits and having to cover your own health insurance are also factors worth considering.
  • lemaymiamilemaymiami Posts: 3,189 Captain
    Read all of the replies to this thread and noted that I didn't see any guides reply.... also noted that Waldnerr's post comes closest to the reality of the situation. How much? not enough... And if anyone says that they're making a good living as a guide - just laugh, it would be appropriate. The part about no retirement and no health insurance (unless it's through your spouse's job) is right on the money.

    By the way, I knew all of the above when I came back to guiding some 16 years ago, I'm still going strong and wouldn't do anything else....
    Tight Lines
    Bob LeMay
    (954) 435-5666
  • Permit RatPermit Rat Posts: 2,283 Captain
    Not only is there no retirement, but chances are, your Soc. Security check will be about 30% less. I mean, who wants to pay more taxes than they have to? My accountant was a fisherman, so he knew all the ins and outs of the tax code, where it applied to fishing, guiding, etc. It was great while I was guiding. Back in those days, every April I designated a week's pay to take care of my tax bill. I could go fish in Costa Rica for a week in the slow season.....and then legally deduct that expense from my taxes. All my "recreational" boat use was tax deductable, because it invariably involved some fishing or snorkeling, somewhere in the mix. (I usually took one or two "custom" snorkeling trips at some point during the Summer)

    All those deductions, coupled with normal daily expenses and depreciation of equipment, meant that I (we guides) paid very little into the Social Security system and now I am set to receive a lot less than some of my friends who (haha) "worked" for a living all their lives. In fact, the 30% reduction that I stated above, would have been more, had I continued guiding and not left to work for 12 years at a normal job.

    Usually when someone posts a question such as the OP's, it is because that person is thinking about entering the business. Not saying this is the case here, but to go along with everything I have written, it should be obvious to anyone who IS thinking about guiding, that he should (among a host of other things) be sure that he has already established a credit rating and has at least one major credit card. Because if you don't have one, you might pay Hell getting one. As a guide you are in business for yourself and your tax return is the only way you have to prove your income....... and credit providers don't care about the gross.....just the net income....that on which you pay taxes.
    .......Rick
  • reeladjustmentreeladjustment Posts: 9 Greenhorn
    How much is getting to go work vs. having to go to work worth? Sometimes you can't put a dollar amount to the sanity of loving one's work. If it pays the expenses and a little left over for the future........
  • Capt. Gregg McKeeCapt. Gregg McKee Posts: 201 Officer
    I know a few inshore guides. one of them constantly complains about how much money he makes, he hardly advertises, he has a crappy boat, he refuses to pay the fees to fish in the areas that most people want to fish, he's a drunk, he is often late to the ramp, he is hard to be around, he doesn't clean or maintain equipment... basically he is everything you can think about that would make a horrible fishing guide - I met him at a christmas party and fished with him a couple times but have since avoided going with him. Another guide I know never complains but busts his butt to get business and keep clients, fish tournaments and be involved in the fishing and boating community. I dont know the numbers of what they make, but I know which one of them drives a better truck, and I know which one of them is happier. I think with any business like this you are going to get out what you put in. Undoubtedly after you cover expenses it isn't a lot of money but if you cut out the crap you don't need in your life you'd be amazed how little money you need to get by.

    That's worth reading twice, especially if you're thinking about guiding. I've been at it full time for more than 15 years now and can't think of anything I'd rather do. (Ok, I really wanted to be an astronaut when I was in school but they expect you to know a lot of math and science for that, and I suck at both.)

    What you make will also be determined by where you're guiding. Full time Keys guides can do very well but the cost of doing business there is beyond steep. It's also a difficult place to get established these days with lots of competition. I got started in Key West at a very good time, the mid-1990's, when there was just a fraction of the current number of guides and the internet was in its infancy. Still, those first few years were really lean. I basically owned a decent used boat, some nice tackle, and nothing else. I rented a tiny apartment and rode a bike to the marina every day since I sold my car and borrowed money from a friend to pay for everything. Partying was limited some Happy Hour drafts at the Half Shell and then home to tie flies. By the early 2000s I was doing fine and had established a good group of regular clients, something tremendously important in this business. I was never the most successful or well known guide down there but I eventually made a very comfortable living for a single guy with no kids on Key West.

    I left the Keys in 2005 when the cost of everything got out of control and moved to Vieques, PR where I was one of only two guides on the island. That was a big risk but the payoff was worth it. I had plenty of bonefish to myself and met lots of great anglers in a beautiful location. Having almost no competition can do wonders for your business but it's a hard thing to find.

    Relocating to SW FL in late 2009 gave me a few months to get reestablished just before the big cold snap/fish kill of January 2010, the BP oil spill, and the Great Recession in general. That was the worst year in my entire career and if it weren't for my wife's job things would have been really grim. However, 2012 has been excellent so far and with a very busy tarpon season winding down I've got no complaints once again.

    If the original poster, or anyone else reading this, is seriously thinking about guiding here's the best piece of advice I can possibly give: Don't even think about doing this unless you genuinely enjoy people. If you're a hot head and get easily p#ssed off at bad anglers or other guides, you'll fail miserably. No one will pay to get yelled at or hear you b#tch and your reputation will spread like a bad odor.

    This is a business where nice guys finish first. The best example I can possibly give of this is Jose Wejebe. He was one of the nicest and at the same time most humble guides I've ever met. That carried him to the height of fame and some serious income, far beyond any I'll ever see. After his death you still can't find one person who has anything negative to say about him. Follow in those footsteps and you can make it as a fishing guide.
  • lemaymiamilemaymiami Posts: 3,189 Captain
    Well said....
    Tight Lines
    Bob LeMay
    (954) 435-5666
  • CaptHeavyCaptHeavy Posts: 717 Officer
    I'm not a guide... Yet. But you don't get into this because you want to make a ton of money. You get into it because you love to fish and can deal without having dinners at fancy restaurants and buying bottles at clubs. I'll take my life on the water over steak dinners, any day. I love bologna anyway!

    Edit: Attitude REALLY is everything when it comes to getting repeat customers and higher tips. Just like any other service based industry. Although my attitude isn't kissing ***, it's more poking fun at people. I've noticed people like to be treated as if you've known them for forever rather than some waiter at a restaurant kissing your behind for a tip. Make fun of them, make fun of yourself.. have a good time! Obviously you have to feel out the customer first, some people are too reserved for this. But hey, when you deal with as many people as I do on a daily basis you get the feel for them rather quickly. Granted I work on a party boat (head boat), completely different from stalking the flats.
    Lady Mitchell, Haulover
    600211_10200798788204965_398630343_n.jpg
    www.CaptainHeavy.com
    Instagram: @captheavy
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