This week the guys from FishingBooker caught up with Captain Derick Burgos from Phatfish Kayak Charters, one of the guides running regular kayak fishing trips out of Tampa Bay. They talked guiding, Tarpon, and the future of fishing in the area.
So Captain Derick, tell us, how did you get into kayak fishing in the first place?
Captain Derick: I’ve been fishing all my life. I grew up in Miami and didn’t have much money as a kid so I used to just fish on foot or on land. When I was about fifteen I found an old kayak at a garage sale and just fell in love with the sport. But I didn’t start taking it really seriously until my late twenties when I started looking at getting into tournament fishing.
Have you competed in a lot of tournaments lately?
Captain Derick: No, I’ve given the tournament scene a break because of my business. I love to teach so I’d rather be out there guiding than competing if that makes sense.
When you’re guiding how many kayaks or people do you take out at one time?
Captain Derick: Well, I like to keep it personal. I don’t want to take out more than five or six customers at a time, but usually the average trip is two to four people. There’s also a pre-screening before each trip with a questionnaire to gauge what each person’s limitations or capabilities are, and as well, if they have any health related issues. So we get out there, we go over safety, we go over the kayaks.
I give them a quick paddle lesson on how to hold and operate the paddle and we get everyone in the kayaks and fitted and then we are off. Since I’m guiding I usually stay in the back so I can see everybody and if it looks like everyone is good then we continue but if it appears that someone is struggling then we will focus on that before we movie on.
It’s all about the clientele, you want them to enjoy themselves so they’ll come back or buy a kayak themselves to get into the sport. So while although I lead the trip I try to let their attitude and personality guide me into adjusting to the experience they are looking for.
How do you keep track of all the equipment while you’re paddling?
Captain Derick: It’s not too difficult. I usually carry everything and I don’t give anybody anything until we start fishing. And everyone gets one rod so you really don’t need a lot of equipment or stuff that can get in their way so I want them to be as free and comfortable as possible. If someone doesn’t have much experience I will take my time with them and show them how to hold the rod and cast. Sometimes we will even use live bait so they’re not having to use artificial stuff right off the back. I just really like to take the time to teach them everything because most guides don’t do that they just go from spot to spot as quick as possible. So I try to make it a very personal experience for each customer.
Is it common for you to use live bait, what are you typically using?
Captain Derick: I use primarily artificials. I try to teach people that artificial bait and kayaks go hand in hand but I’ll also bring bait and the species dependent for the bait. Also, it depends on the client. If I have children maybe I’ll bring some shrimp. So bait is very common but I try to show people that when you’re kayak fishing you can use artificials and be very successful.
What are the most common species you’re fishing for?
Captain Derick: Well, everything in the bay pretty much. The main ones are Tarpon, specifically juvenile Tarpon because that’s what’s in the backcountry and people seem to love them around there. Snook, Redfish, Trout, Cobia, Sheepshead, Snapper, Mackerel – I could keep going but the average customer want’s to go for Tarpon, Snook, Redfish or Trout with all the other species being secondary unless they want to fish near the bridges in which case it’s common to catch a wide variety of fish.
A lot of people are fishing the bridges at night where the bridge lights come through the water, is that something you offer?
Captain Derick: Oh yeah, that’s been common for many years. I personally like to do it around the full moon tides. I do try to get some clients out to the bridges but I have to do a pretty extensive interview for that trip because it takes a particular kind of person to want to go out on a kayak and fish for Tarpon in the dark because once the sun goes down the fishing changes.
Sounds like you have a different trip for every type of customer…
Captain Derick: Oh yea, I take kids out. I have clients that are in their seventies. I have clients that are in wheelchairs because I’m an ACA certified coach. I’m also an adaptive paddling coach so I can work with people that have physical disabilities as well. I can pretty much accommodate anybody except for the blind, who I am actually working with right now with an organization to help teach people with blindness that they can also get out there and paddle as well.
The interesting thing for me is it seems like you can get into some areas to fish on a kayak that you couldn’t get into on a bigger boat…
Captain Derick: Yes, especially in the wintertime. I love the backcountry, getting way back into these small rivers and creeks and finding these open ponds that boats can’t get to. Being able to have access to launch into the water almost anywhere is great as opposed to a boat where you need to go to a boat ramp to launch.
What’s the kayak fishing community like in Tampa?
Captain Derick: There’s a big kayak fishing community but it’s difficult to be a guide. There are some people but the problem with a lot of guides is they don’t have insurance or a business license. Right now there’s only two or three of us but the business is good. Things have really picked up in the last two years. I was an electrical engineer a fews years ago and I left all of that just to be happy.
Do you ever fly fish from a kayak?
Captain Derick: Oh yeah, I tie my own flies. When we go out we fish primarily for the Tarpon and Redfish. I take probably twenty percent of my clients our for kayak fly fishing. We’ll go out on kayaks and get out of the boat in some knee deep water and just fly fish from there.
Do you have any advice for somebody who is looking to get into kayak fishing for the first time?
Captain Derick: If they’re coming to the Tampa area and want to hire a guide I would say they need to do their homework and research the guides to make sure they are an actual legitimate, certified guide. You can give them a call and interview them a bit because if they get a bad guide than it could turn them away from the sport so you want to make sure you get with someone legit like myself, or some of the other guides around here.
What makes a great fishing guide?
Captain Derick: Personality and experience. If you have zero personality it’s not gonna happen. I’ve met guides that don’t speak a single word and if you don’t have a big enough personality to get people talking and having fun then you’re in the wrong business. So my customer service is good, I like to make people laugh and I love working with kids as well since I have kids too.