There are plenty of fish in the sea and plenty of fishing guides, yet FishingBooker.com recently honored just three guides serving the Sarasota area.
The world's largest platform connecting the public with fishing guides, the site offers over 40,000 fishing trips in more than 2,000 destinations worldwide.
In October 2022, it began releasing its Angler's Choice Award quarterly, with more stringent criteria than it had used in the past. Since then, three repeat winners out of 576, or 8% of captains on the site, serve the Sarasota area.
“We couldn't be more excited to honor them for their hard work and dedication,” said Vukan Simic, CEO of FishingBooker, in a media release.
Vasiliy Obukhov, Neptune Charters Enterprise
Since he was a boy, Lakewood Ranch resident Capt. Vasily Obukhov felt a strong interest in the ocean, reading nearly all of Ernest Hemingway’s books and eventually finding his way into spearfishing and scuba diving.
“I really liked whatever he did in Cuba and Key West — it was my childhood dream,” Obukhov said.
After he came to Florida in 2006, that dream began to materialize. While Obukhov had practiced recreational fishing in his former home of Brooklyn, New York, his career had centered on a dental lab and an import and export firm he opened after becoming a U.S. citizen, following his move from Russia in 1996.
After coming to Florida, his knowledge of fishing grew when his friend, a biologist who lived in Islamorada in the Florida Keys, traveled with him out to sea, providing him with information such as which fish were dangerous and which could be kept.
“I really liked it, and a lot of my friends saw that I knew what I was doing, and they said, 'Vasiliy, you’ve got to go get a license and do it more commercially and make some money out of it.'”
As a result, he attended Sea School in St. Petersburg, Florida, earning his 50-ton master license and opening his charter business, Neptune Charters Enterprise INC, for which he books trips through social media and companies including FishingBooker.
Guests can catch a variety of fish on his trips, he said, which generally take place 9 miles offshore and as much as 100 miles depending on the fish guests are seeking.
Guests have caught bull sharks, large cobia, tuna, jewfish and goliath groupers, while “a couple” have even caught sailfish.
It’s also the people that make the job interesting for him, he said.
“Every day, I’m meeting different types of people,” he said.
On the water, even customers who aren’t the friendliest undergo a change, he said.
“I always talk to them, I always just tell them about myself, about my family — I treat them like a family.”
He offers instructions on how to catch different species of fish, and will also teach other people how to operate a boat.
Obukhov said one reason for his success on FishingBooker.com is that he is the only Russian charter captain in the area, which means many Russians book trips with him, especially those who don’t speak English.
He also attributes it to keeping his rates fair and setting realistic expectations.
“They tell me, 'We want to catch some marlin or sailfish,' and I always tell them the truth — we’re going to catch some grunts, and snapper, and grouper, if we get super lucky, maybe we’ll catch some mahi or tuna.”
Obukhov also offers pleasure trips to locations like Passage Key, Tampa Bay and sandbars.
Steven Herich, Beach Fishing Adventures
For Longboat Key resident Captain Steven Herich, a boat isn’t nearly as important as what you know, and a cart full of the right tools.
“Just to give the boat captains credit, I can't get all the fish that they get,” he said. “But I can sure get a heck of a lot of them that they get.”
While he comes from the west coast of California, where he spent his days as a surfer, he has been fishing off Florida's shores since 1990 when his friend, Army Rosenbaum, began mentoring him.
After purchasing a boat but becoming frustrated with the maintenance costs, and being asked by others for advice on beach fishing, he started Beach Fishing Adventures in 2011. For about 17 years, he worked as an insurance agent with Banker’s Life and Casualty in Sarasota.
“I just thrive on being outdoors and being in my element and sharing what Florida has to offer as far as an inshore fishery,” he said.
Herich said one of the most enjoyable parts of fishing onshore is being able to see and follow the fish, in what ends up being a primal hunting experience.
Some of his advice includes fishing during moving tides, using a hat with a brim and polarized sunglasses to be able to spot the fish, not fishing when winds are blowing toward the shore, and using a rake to catch mole crabs, also known as sand fleas, for bait.
Part of his mission is to help everyone learn.
“I'm not only a fishing guide, but I'm a fishing coach,” he said. “Just like you hire a coach for anything – a tennis coach, a football coach.”
Some fish that his clients catch include snook, redfish, pompano, black drum, sheepshead, Spanish mackerel, crevalle jack, flounder, cobia and, on occasion, sea trout and large barracuda.
Trips can range from two to six hours, with four hours being most popular, and can cater to all age groups. He said the lack of a boat means there are no maintenance costs that get passed on to customers.
Herich said he thinks the “No. 1" reason he received the award is that he is conscientious about returning customers’ calls and acknowledging their booking. He said he is always upfront about any potential issues such as red tide, and pays attention to the needed equipment. He thinks the service itself also plays a part.
“I think the reason I’ve won Angler’s Choice is that it’s real clear what I do — no boat, no seasickness, no worries or stress about going way out at sea and hitting rough seas,” he said.
Many clients have become lifelong shore fishers since joining him for a trip, he said.
“I feel kind of good about that. I'm getting people outdoors, off their devices, learning about nature, catching some fun fish, and having some good dinners as well.”
Captain Timothy Crowley from Windward Fishing Charters did not return requests for an interview.
Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.