The A-Dock of Bahia Mar Marina is the long time home of Fort Lauderdale’s sport fishing fleet. Here, two dozen or more sport fishing boats entice tourists with mounted sharks, dolphin, sailfish, and more, whetting want to be anglers appetites for the bounties that the Atlantic Ocean has to offer.
Unfortunately, rumors about unscrupulous fishing charter operations abound. Even as a professional fishing concierge, the task of trying to select the best of these boats is daunting, because if you look at them as most visitors do, just by walking down the docks, it’s hard to notice anything that sets them apart. The oft manipulated Yelp and Google reviews aren’t much help, nor are the hotel concierges who are usually on the take. You’ll notice that some of the boats have a few more rust stains than others, but although this is somewhat of a reflection for how much pride a captain takes in maintaining his boat, what’s really important is the crew.
After walking the docks and shooting the sh#t with captains and mates on different boats, I reached the southern end of A Dock and struck up a casual conversation with Captain Mike Johnson on the sport fishing vessel Local Knowledge. Twenty seconds into my conversation with Mike, I realized something was a little odd. Besides the fact that he was a friendly guy and could compose grammatically correct sentences (that’s something new for A dock), Mike was singing a song very, very different than the other Captains on the dock.
“I heard the mahi are running today,” I told him.
He laughed. “Oh yeah, who told you that?”
“A few of the guys down there told me,” I told him pointing north past the Jungle Queen reservations office. (Side note: although the Jungle Queen is the biggest tourist trap Fort Lauderdale has to offer, I highly recommend it!)
“Listen, man,” Mike responded, looking at me straight in the eye. “I would love to take you out fishing today, but that’s total bullsh#t about the Mahi. You are probably not going to catch one today. We can try, but they’ve been running far offshore and even on a full day charter, we probably couldn’t find them. If you want to catch Mahi, give me your number and I’ll text you when I know they’re back.”
A few weeks later, I got a text from Mike. It said, “Mahi are back! Call me! It’s Capt. Mike.”
I went out on a trip with him and we had a great time. We caught a few Mahi, although not quite as many as I had hoped, but we also spent time kite fishing and landed a beautiful sailfish. All in all, for a four hour trip, I was happy with the catch. Unless you’re on a tight budget or limited for time, I think a six hour or eight hour trip is much preferable to a four.
Mike was extremely personable and you can tell he just likes talking to people. His mate Brandon was equally fun. Both of them were extremely knowledgeable and easy to get along with.
We had lines in the water just a few minutes outside the channel and we spent our entire time trolling. This is a notable thing about Local Knowledge and Mike’s attitude in general. He will move his boat around as much as he needs to in order to get you on the fish. This is a departure from several other fishing charters I’ve been on in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere where it becomes pretty apparent that the Captain is trying to conserve fuel. On my day on Local Knowledge, we drove by other fishing boats a few times, clearly due to the fact that they were idling around a specific spot, while we tried different spots and speeds.
Mike’s boat, a 43’ Hatteras, I believe built in the 80s, is spacious and well equipped for fishing. It’s not luxurious, after all not many charter boats are, but it is clean and comfortable. The boat is in above average shape, and recently, Mike has undertaken some improvements that really make the boat stand out at the dock, including replacing windows and doors that were in need of some TLC.
All the equipment on Local Knowledge is high quality and in good shape. And more importantly, Brandon and Mike know how to use it all to their maximum advantage.
It was after the trip that I revealed to Mike that I was starting a business for reviewing and directing people to the best fishing charters.
“I’m in,” Mike responded, without asking any more questions. Again, his positive attitude shining through.
Mike ended up being the first boat in the VIP Fishing Charters fleet. After scores or possibly hundreds of trips I have sent to Mike, I have received only one bad review. When I called him to tell him, he was extremely apologetic and embarrassed and offered to do anything to make it right. I know things don’t always go right, but it is owners that react like this when things go wrong that win my business for life. And in Mike’s case, he has now won not only my business personally, but my endorsement for my customers as well
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