Fishing With a Florida Native

By Eric Snider

A second-generation fishing guide delivers more than the average fishing trip.

Don’t call Mike Bailey a charter boat captain. If you do, he’s apt to correct you — gently.

“I’m a native guide,” he says, sitting behind the wheel of his 25-foot center console boat on a gorgeous morning — sunny, as usual.

What’s the difference? “For starters, I was born and raised here,” he replies. “My father was a guide in these waters, so I’m second generation. A guide is more than a boat driver, and the experience we offer is more than parking and hauling up fish.”

This native guide goes by “Captain Mike”. His operation, Ms. B. Haven Fishing & Eco Charters, strives to offer customers more than the average fishing trip.

It just so happened that on one crisply cool day, he was heading out with a young couple from Michigan who wanted to catch some fish, take the best ones to a restaurant, have it prepped and cooked — then eat their catch. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

But Captain Mike had other treats in store. On the way to net some baitfish, he put the boat in idle. “I’ve got a friend I want you to meet,” he said. Mike let out a loud whistle and from the trees glided an American bald eagle that soared over the boat. “Hey, Edgar,” the Captain hollered. This is a native guide who names his feathered pals in the wild.

This is a native guide who names his feathered pals in the wild.

Baitfish secured, he embarked for one of his favorite fishing reefs. A snow-white egret perched on the bow and hung around for several minutes, on the lookout for a meal. A short while later, Captain Mike glided over to a playful group of dolphins, which seemed happy to gather around the stern. He picked up speed and the sleek creatures fell in behind the boat, riding the wake. After a few seconds, one gracefully rose and dipped. Shortly after, one jumped and splashed, then one jumped and rolled, landing on its back. This kept up for quite some time. An impromptu dolphin show in the Gulf waters off Naples is never less than magical.

The Michigan couple — Jordan and Stephanie Roberts — snagged their keeper fish.

On the way back in, Captain Mike had one more idea. He took a detour to Keewaydin Island, just south of Naples and north of Marco Island. Time for a bit of shell hunting. The water glowed a brilliant blue-green. Jordan and Stephanie removed their boat shoes, dropped in up to their calves and rummaged around for some treasure. Stephanie found a keeper shell to go along with their keeper fish.

This collection of wonderful moments all happened on a half-day fishing charter — or, better put, a native-guided eco-excursion.