Do Fishing Guides Clean Fish? What To Expect From Your Guide

A fishing charter can be a large investment, so knowing what is included in the price will make your experience much more enjoyable. As a Florida fishing guide, I am asked often if I will clean the catch for my clients. So, normally will fishing guides clean fish?

It is customary that the charter captain will clean your catch for you. This is one of the responsibilities of the captain or mate when you book a charter. It is always advised to discuss keeping fish with the captain prior to your trip to make sure everyone’s expectations are aligned. 

fishing guide clean fish

While most fishing guides clean fish as part of the deal, keep in mind that every guide is free to operate how they see fit. Additionally, there are some things you should be aware of. Knowing what to expect after the trip, how to be prepared, and how much you should keep are a few things we will discuss below to make your charter experience as enjoyable as possible. 

Should I discuss keeping fish with my captain? 

It is always advised to discuss your expectations with the captain prior to your trip. There are many different types of fishermen out there. Some like to target gamefish and do it for the sport, whereas others prefer to eat what they catch. 

Letting the captain know that you would like to keep fish, will help him set up a game plan with that in mind. Not all species are edible and some that are, are not great. Knowing that you prefer to eat, the captain will choose areas to target edible fish. 

big fish

With deep-sea fishing charters, it is almost a given that the client’s goal is to eat what they catch. However, with inshore fishing charters, this is more of a grey area.

Plenty of inshore species, especially in tropical regions, are targeted simply for sport and have very little table fare value. Anglers will target these fish for their incredible fight and difficulty.

Letting an inshore guide know that you want to catch fish can drastically change the day that he has planned for you.

Setting proper expectations

Lastly, you should discuss this with your guide so that you have proper expectations on what you can expect to catch. A common misconception is that hiring a guide means you will fill the cooler every time. This is simply not true. Although you pay us for our expertise from spending time on the water, there are days that fish just do not feed.

The second expectation that should be discussed is what constitutes a good day of fishing. Fisheries around the country offer different experiences. In certain areas, you may be able to fill a cooler in a day, whereas in others, catching a few fish may be a good day. You need to have realistic expectations about the amount of fish you will catch.

Does fileting fish cost money?

There have been quite a few times that I return to the dock with clients and prepare to filet their fish only to be met with hesitancy. A lot of clients are under the impression that if I clean their fish, it will cost them more money.

I cannot speak for all captains, but it is standard practice for the captain or a mate to clean the fish at no additional charge. You should never expect to pay more unless this has been discussed with you by the captain prior to the trip.

Should you tip fishing guides for cleaning fish?

Even though there is typically no additional charge when fishing guides clean fish, it is customary to tip the captain or mate for doing so. Having a lot of fish to clean is a sign that you had a great day, and therefore tips are appreciated.

This is especially true on offshore charters where there can be quite a bit of fileting to do. The mates work really hard and in addition to helping you catch fish all day, they then need to filet your catch before cleaning the boat. Let them know you appreciate them by giving them a tip.

A typical tip for a captain or crew is 20% of the charter price. In some cases, you may choose to give more or less, which is totally fine. Tips are not required and you should tip based on how you felt your experience went. Personally, there have been many days where the fish simply did not cooperate, and I refused a tip.

How can I be prepared to take my catch home?

The captain should be prepared with a knife and a bag to put your filets in. It will be your responsibility to make sure you are prepared to transport the filets. Here are a few things you should bring:

  • Cooler

Having a small cooler in your car will not only keep your fish fresh but will also keep your car from smelling. Make sure if you plan on keeping fish that you have a cooler. If you forget a cooler, you can typically buy a small styrofoam one from a gas station for just a few dollars. For the environmentally friendly, you can get away with a low-cost reusable cooler right off of Amazon.

  • Ice

This seems like a no brainer, but you would be surprised. Obviously, raw fish needs to be kept cold in order to avoid spoiling. Your hot car that has been sitting in the sun while you fished is a perfect environment to ruin fish. You may be able to survive if you have a short drive, but I always recommend having a bag of ice in your cooler. The captain may have ice to spare, but I would not rely on this.

  • Tupperware

Yes, the captain will put your fish in a bag for you. A bag will work just fine, but I prefer to bring Tupperware. It stores the fish so much better and is easier to store in the fridge until eaten. This is a personal preference, but I have found this to be helpful.

Filling the cooler. Should you do it?

Fish are a limited resource. With more and more people on the water, the amount of pressure on the fish is taking its toll. It is no question that if you review any fishery in the United States, the fishing is not as good as it used to be. It is our responsibility to help conserve this resource for the next generation to enjoy.

cutting board for fishing guide to clean fish

Don’t keep more than necessary

When deciding to keep fish, you should be mindful of keeping only what you can eat. Fishermen oftentimes are overtaken by the need to keep everything that they catch. This leads to excess and can result in waste or being forced to freeze fish that is oftentimes forgotten about. 

A good rule of thumb is to keep only what you or your family can eat fresh. A fresh fish dinner is absolutely incredible, but freezing will drastically decrease the quality of the meal.

Consider the species

The type of species you are catching should be considered as well when deciding what to keep. Some species are better to eat than others. If you have enough in the cooler to eat well, then you may decide to let that fish swim away even if it is edible.

Another deciding factor in keeping fish is the health of the species in the local area. For example, I prefer for my clients to release redfish due to declining numbers over the past few years.

letting redfish go

Can a charter be catch and release only?

As mentioned above, I prefer for my clients to release redfish in my local area. While I do not force them to, I do ask that they do so. Some captains implement a complete catch and release policy on their boat.

This is why having a discussion with your captain prior to the trip is so important.

In order for you to enjoy catching fish and for the captain to continue to make a living, there needs to be plenty of fish in the area. Many captains have decided that keeping the fish alive is worth more to them than if it is dead.

As more and more areas see increased pressure from anglers, I would expect to see a growing number of captains move to a catch-and-release policy. 

Remember that the joy of fishing is the experience and the pull at the end of the line. Just because a captain may choose to catch and release, does not mean you can’t have an amazing day on the water!


It is standard practice for fishing guides to clean fish that you catch during your time on the charter. Either the captain or the mate should provide this service at no additional cost. You should be prepared to take that catch home with you by having a cooler with ice on hand. This will help ensure that your filets remain fresh.

When deciding to keep fish, you should be mindful of the amount of fish you keep. Only harvest what you know you can eat. Never kill fish just because you caught it. As more and more people find a passion for the sport of fishing, fish populations will continue to be under pressure.

More and more guides are moving to a catch-and-release policy. You should discuss your expectations and whether or not you want to keep fish with your captain prior to your trip.