How did you become a fishing guide? This is a question I often get asked.

My response is “It happened by accident.” Let me explain.

It wasn’t my dream

It was never my life long dream to be a fishing guide. In reality I never had any intentions of becoming a fishing guide and never envied the guides I knew or saw out working on the water. I was totally content working at my small Handyman business I had. Business was booming and being self employed I had no issue calling in sick to be able to sneak away and go fishing for a day just about anytime I wanted to. Back in those days I think I actually had a fishing rod in my hands more than I did a hammer.

A life changing event

Then came 2007. Sam Root a fellow fisherman I knew back then called me one day. He asked me if I would like to go to Sea School with him to get my captains license. All I could think was “What do I need a captains license for?” After a little prodding Sam convinced me it was an accomplishment that could possibly open a door or two in the future. I was still hesitant and thought maybe it might just come in handy someday to have my credentials. I signed up for the school and off to class I went.
It took me almost a year after taking the class to finalize the details and obtain my United States Coast Guard credentials as an operator of an un inspected passenger vessel. Also known as a 6 pack license. I wasn’t in any hurry to get the credential as I had absolutely no intentions of becoming a fishing guide. Little did I know this would be a life changing event.

My first Charter
In January of 2008 I had received my credentials. It was only a couple of days that I had them in my possession when my phone rang. On the other end of the line was Capt. Jim Lemke one of the local guides that I looked up to and had become friends with. Capt. Jim asked “Did you get your captains license yet?” I said “Yes.” He then said “You have a charter tomorrow.” I was like whoa! I don’t know anything about this charter business. Capt. Jim in his blunt manner said something to the effect of “Have you’re ass at the dock in the morning!”

And so it began. I would love to be able to say that my first charter turned out great but reality is the fuel pump went out on my engine just as I approached the dock to pick up the customers. Talk about embarrassing!

I had to make a decision

It was a while after that before I ever did another charter. It was quite the learning experience. I took abuse from the other fishing guides for being the new guy on the block so to speak. But there were a few who gave me great advice and helped to guide me along the way.The first couple years was slow going only running a charter here and there. Then came 2010. The economy was still in a shambles and my small Handyman business was struggling. I was running two business’s now and I had to make a decision as to what I was going to do. I had to devote my full attention to one or the other if I was going to make it. Was I going to be a Handyman or a Fishing guide?  The money wasn’t flowing anymore. In early 2010 I decided if I was going to be broke I was going to do it on the waters of Tampa Bay.

The Struggle is Real

In 2010 I jumped in with both feet and went Full Time into the fishing guide industry. The old cliche “The Struggle is Real” became a reality. I had a lot to learn and I had to learn it quick if I was going to survive in this ever growing industry. The competition for that next customer was more fierce than any business I had ever been in. Catching fish was the easy part. Catching the customer and retaining them was the biggest challenge I had to face. One small mistake and the wrath of the guide community would come down on you. I learned this quickly and my skin got thicker over night because I refused to let other guides get me down. I did it my way. My attitude was and always will be that until another person is paying my bills they can have no say in how I run my business. I had to survive! There were times that my bank account was so low that I didn’t know if I would have enough money for fuel to run my next charter. It was a real struggle but I was determined to make it. There was no turning back!

Looking Back

As I look back after being in the Fishing Guide Business for just shy of 12 years by a few months I have to say the struggle was worth it. I’m not rich in money by any means. I am rich in memories of all the struggles and good friends I have made along the way and of all the fishing charters I have done teaching people about Tampa Bay and providing them with life long memories of whether it was the first time they caught a fish or the big one they had been looking for. It has also made me appreciate even more what a great resource we have here in Tampa Bay. Its one I want to protect and preserve not only for myself but for future generations to enjoy.

An accident or fate?

Was it an accident or was it fate? If it hadn’t been for that call from Sam Root or Capt. Jim Lemke it most likely never would of happened.
It may of been fate but I prefer to say “It Happened by accident.”

Capt.Steve Betz