Watch the full video below, or read on for everything Johnny has to share on Lake Ida.
Jonathan: Thanks everybody for tuning in on Facebook, we are live with Captain Johnny Stabile of Lake Ida, Florida. Thanks a lot for being here Johnny, we’re excited to hear about your trips!
Johnny: Yes sir! I'm excited to be here.
Jonathan: So pumped for everybody to hear about Johnny’s trips, I'm really excited to share them with everyone. So Johnny could you introduce yourself, like where you fish and what kind of trips you offer?
Johnny: I'm Captain Johnny from South Florida fishing charters, I grew up in South Florida. I’ve been fishing Lake Ida for about 10 years and I've been professionally guiding on Lake Ida for the last two years - part time for a couple of years before that and full time for the last year and a half. I've been around boats my whole life - I got my first boat when I was 8 years old - just kinda hit the ground running.
Jonathan: So where did you grow up fishing? Who introduced you to fishing?
Johnny: So my Dad introduced me to fishing, we live on the water in Fort Lauderdale and it was really convenient. I had several birthday parties in the backyard where, you know, 30 kids fishing in the backyard. It was the only thing that we did cause I'm not really into video games. Like I said I had my 13' whaler when I was 8 years old - I used to terrorize the canal non-stop. Everyday after school I'd come home it was an old Evinrude 2-stroke, you know how smokey that engine is - it took me about 15 to 20 minutes to start it. I just rolled into canals and did a lot of fishing. I learned how to throw a cast on that boat and took that boat to the Everglades National Park for the first time when I was 11. That boat was the staple of the beginning of my fishing lifestyle and career.
Jonathan: That's totally awesome, so where did you go from there and how did you get into guiding?
Johnny: I'm about 30 years old and for the last 8 years I was in the yachting industry but not really the scene for me anymore. I don't want to work on a full time boat anymore - the last boat that I was on, I was really unhappy with the owner - it was very stressful. I fished a lot in-between charters while I was looking for another job. One of my best friends who is also a charter captain, he does offshore trips - they got blown out. It was blowing 25 offshore - the people still wanted to fish and he called me up. He said “Hey man! We're gonna cancel tomorrow, would you want to take these people bass fishing?” and I said “Yeah… absolutely! Let’s go!” So we took them fishing, they had a blast, caught a ton of fish. I fish with some guides before like Honson Lau down in Miami, Captain Ben Powers in South Carolina - they’re really great guys! I probably wouldn't be as open to guiding if I didn't fish with those two captains in particular. I had fished with a couple of guys that run like TV and they were just miserable. The two guys that I just said, Honson and Ben, they're both awesome guys - and after that I just said to myself that I need to do this all the time. That's what happened.
Jonathan: That's great! I mean those experiences with those other captains are so impactful for you. So what would you say - like what is the difference between a yacht business and charter fishing?
Johnny: It's kind of similar actually - I know that sounds weird because I'm running a hundred less feet of boat now. It's all about the experience and if the people are happy - I mean literally we could be sinking and taking on water and on fire all at the same time but if you can get yourself out of a situation like that where the people are still comfortable, they trust you and they’re happy. When we fish, we have an average catch of like 20 to 40 fish for a 4 hours trip depending on the level of anglers. I mean some of the guys that come out and only catch 15 to 20 fish in 4 hours are really happy. I don't know… I'm sorry but I grew up in saltwater fishing where if we got a couple of nice rides in a day - it was a good day. Now it was like 40 to 50 peacock bass in a day and it was mediocre. They are having the best time because I'm giving them that same level of service that I did in the yachting - it just makes people happy. My dad's best friend - he’s like an uncle to me - we used to go fishing all the time in Flamingo Everglades National Park and he'll be like “Hey man, we’re just going sightseeing” - catching fish is a bonus. There was a point where I'd be stressed if I didn't get the fish that I want - this is before I was guiding so I got to slow down. So i will just divert my attention to the crazy stuff you can see in Everglades but don't get me wrong cause there's a lot of crazy stuff in Lake Ida - from iguana’s, birds, and snakes. Like you're going out to sightseeing and catching fish is the bonus of the trip. I live by that now even though we still catch a lot of fish - I'll just tell them “if we can't catch anything, you're still going to have a nice boat ride, you're still going to see a bunch of cool stuff and you're still going to make memories.”
Jonathan: Can you give us a line-up of trips that you offer and what kind of fish you guys are targeting?
Johnny: We do 4, 6, and 8 hours trips - bass are found all throughout the US, Canada, and probably in lots of other parts in the world. But we have the butterfly peacock bass which was introduced to kind of keep down the other invasives - mayan cichlids and the smaller fish like oscars, they were put in to control all that. Now all the fish they put in were like 2 to 3 pounds, and now have grown up to be 5 and 6 pounds - they're giving a great fight, they fight harder than the saltwater fish of the same size and it's a lot of fun. So we do a largemouth bass, peacock bass, very elusive clown knifefish - originating from Indochina, they are the very popular aquarium fish to have. In 1992 we had a hurricane Andrew and a lot of people in South Florida lost power for a very long time, so people dumped their aquariums into Lake Ida - so the invasive species of a fish like clown knifefish were able to sustain life. It is the perfect environment for them because the water never drops below 65 degrees and the clown knifefish can live in pretty much any water condition because they come up and gulp air like tarpons do. We also got snakeheads, jaguar cichlids, oscars, mayan cichlids and we’ve seen koi. There's so many different exotic species and we recently start tagging with Gray Taxidermy - so if you're come out on my boat and you catch clown knife. We're going to put a tag in it and see where it moves throughout the 30 miles of canals and lake systems.
Jonathan: Wow that's awesome! That's really really cool. Can you talk more about how you are targeting these fish. Are you specifically going into your trip saying “Hey we're going to start out targeting clown knifefish” or you are just casting and seeing what it hits?
Johnny: Yeah… so all of the trips unless you ask for otherwise we fish with live threadfin shad - you know there are specific honey holes that I have for peacock bass. The clown knives are a mid-water column fish, you can get them as they kind a come up the slope of the lake to feed and then you get them on the upper or the downside of that. There's a bunch of ledges that we fish for the clown knives, there are a lot of smaller canals where there's some concentration of bait fish. The peacocks - they love structures and any kind of covered docks or any vegetation that’s been overgrown. We also have the sunshine bass which is one for kids - we just kind of flow out in the middle of the lake, put live baits out and put it all around the rod holder and wait for them to go off. It's absolutely chaotic when you have vigilant and inexperienced anglers, that's a lot of fun. We definitely target all the fish differently, the only time that we'll see all four species before the big species which is the largemouth, the sunshine, the peacock and the clown knife is when we're actually clown knife fishing - we’ll have the bycatch of the other three. It's super diverse in the lake and it's totally urban fishing, you’re in people’s backyards - going under bridges, we go under around 30 bridges in a full day trip. You're in the heart of the city catching exotic species found all around the world.
Jonathan: That’s fun! Scanning for these clown knives and also casting in spots where the peacock bass might be hiding behind a few docks or something. What would you say is your most popular trip? Would that be, the half-day or full-day?
Johnny: There's a lot of people that booked the half day trip - they want to get in and catch their fish and get out. My favorite trip is the 6 hours because it's not as long as the full day if you don't have the attention span for that - that would probably be my signature trip. It gives you an opportunity to sit and wait for some nice big clowns to come by and it gives you plenty of time to go into all the honey holes for the peacock bass - that would be my signature trip.
Jonathan: What would you say it is that makes your trips different?
Johnny: Well, not much different from what most of the guides that are doing here - aside from the boat and premium tackles. Just like I said earlier, there are no other places where you can catch such a high concentration of fish in such a densely populated area. There's so much pressure on all the fish in the lake that you’d still be able to go out and catch - I think that’s what makes it different. The saltwater is totally a different ball game whether you’re fishing Biscayne Bay or even the coastal areas of Fort Lauderdale. There's just not as much pressure because people aren’t really into inshore fishing, they’re offshore fishing. I call it a lake but you might think it's like some small little pond but it's humongous, like I said its a 30 mile long system. We're running to the outermost points of that system to get away from the majority of the people behind. The people there, we're actually sitting for an hour and have non-stop action.
Jonathan: So what's it like when you put somebody on their first fish?
Johnny: It's really rewarding actually. I recently finished with some older folks - this lady I think she was like 75 to 80 years old. She never caught a fish in her life and had never been fishing, she was kind of along for the ride and I made sure that she got the first fish of the day. I just flipped the bait under this dock that I know holds a bunch of them. I felt the hit, I let it free line, I handed her the rod and I said “Start reeling” and she was like...she had never done such a cool thing in her life then she came up and picked up the bass like it was a trophy. Same thing goes with little kids, I don't know why but taking kids fishing is extremely rewarding - seeing them catch their first fish. It kind of opens up a whole new world to them. Nowadays the social media, the video games, and all of the online interactive learning that they're doing - just to get them away from the screen and put them with something that is mechanical in their hands and something alive at the end of their line, you can totally see it - it just opens them up and at the end of the trips the kids are like “Can we stay for another 5 minutes?”. It's very rewarding seeing people catch their first fish - It's all the same reaction, eyes are lit up like they saw Santa Claus for the first time. It's the craziest thing!
Jonathan: Still kids at heart! Why do you do it day in and day out? What gets you up in the morning?
Johnny: I really love what I do, I'm a fisherman at heart. I’ve got rods all over the house. After spending as much time as I did in the yachting industry and seeing how stressful it was, to be able to go out and get paid to do what I love - it's not really work. I commercially fished a little bit in High School - that was work, that was 15 to 16 hour nights of hard labor work. I like taking people out, looking at them smiling, having a good time, making memories with their kids - it's a great lifestyle. I come home, there's no stress. Well… Honson Lau told me that “You will have good days with clients, you will have bad days with clients, you will have a good day being a guide, you will have a bad day being a guide” - I have yet to experience a really bad day as a guide. But even on some of the days that weren't as great as the other days our clients are still having a good time - when I see that, that’s what makes me keep going. I just love what I do.
Jonathan: Do you have a favorite memory that sticks out?
Johnny: Definitely! That 75 year old lady that caught her first fish. That was incredible to see but also there's been a couple of very similar ones. I took a Dad and a son who is probably six or seven years old - just old enough to hold a fishing pole and reel in fish by himself. The kid caught a 5 and a half pounder while his Dad's biggest fish was a three pounder - the Dad was getting frustrated because of that. Just to see how happy the kid was - they’d actually doubled up and took a picture. Everything happens so fast but then as I look at the photos - emailing them to him at the end of the day and to see how happy they both were, those memories are huge - it brings me back to fishing moments with my Dad. Just like I said, my Dad introduced me to fishing. We have spent a lot of time on the boat together, we've had a lot of great memories - even though we disagree about things.
Jonathan: So it’s like a "political” way to put it.
Johnny: Exactly! But not like a screaming match - as I grew up, we started to have different ways that we wanted to do things.
Jonathan: So that's when you got your own boat.
Johnny: Exactly! But people making those memories - that's definitely the most memorable part of what I do.
Jonathan: Definitely! No such thing as a bad day on the water - it's just good ones and great ones. So why do you think being a fishing guide is important?
Johnny: There's a lot of reasons. People definitely need to get out and experience nature, there's really not a lot of ways to go out and see so much of it in one shot. The other big thing is conservation so a lot of the guides, myself included, are very pro for conservation in the future fishing. I plan on having kids someday and I want them to go out and have similar experiences that I did when I was a kid.
Jonathan: Very cool, that's amazing. So if you had one more cast to throw in your life, what would it be and where would it be?
Johnny: That's a tough question!
Jonathan: Its my favorite one.
Johnny: I Can think of so many places where I would want to have my last cast but probably my favorite one...the best thing that I could think of that I would want to do is drifting across the flats in South Florida, preferably in Biscayne Bay or Flamingo or even drifting into the lake, sightseeing for peacocks. Personally I love fly-fishing, I just want to sit on the bow of the boat or just wait for something to swim in front of me or I could present a fly to it and let it take me for a ride, big permit, tarpon, bonefish, peacock bass - anywhere with a fly rod.
Jonathan: So we’ll now have a few rapid questions. What's your favorite body of water to fish?
Johnny: Lake Ida.
Jonathan: If you had to be doing something different, what would it be?
Johnny: I’d be a boat manufacturer.
Jonathan: What other hobbies outside of fishing do you enjoy?
Johnny: Scuba diving, spearfishing.
Jonathan: Cool, nice! Do you have a nickname and if so how did you get it?
Johnny: Johnny throttle, got it in high school - from my Dad and his friends because every time I drove the boat, I'm going way too fast. That doesn't really stick as much today with the price of fuel but yeah it's Johnny Throttle.
Jonathan: Do you have a favorite song or band right now?
Johnny: I do, I'm going to say Sublime.
Jonathan: So next is, what is your favorite movie?
Johnny: Forrest Gump
Jonathan: Yeah, that’s classic. How about your favorite food?
Johnny: Yes, I'm Italian. I was born and raised on Italian food but my favorite of all time is Mexican food.
Jonathan: Curve ball there! So what kind of Mexican? Cause here in Austin you can't just say Mexican.
Johnny: That's true! I don't know but Taco Tuesday here is very big.
Jonathan: Oh! Taco Tuesday!
Johnny: I love tacos and margaritas, I don’t know but I love that foil with plancha with onions on top of it that looks like a Mexican burger. I just love Mexican food! I also love Latin and Cuban food as well.
Jonathan: Can’t go wrong with margarita. That was actually my next question “Favorite drink” so I guess the answer is margarita. So next is, what is your favorite sports team?
Johnny: The Dolphins. Even though they have not been the greatest football team - they are still the home team.
Jonathan: So you're not jumping for the Bucs right now with Brady?
Johnny: Tom Brady? I know, I've got a lot of Patriots friends and they are so upset - they have mixed feelings. Bucs - They should be really good especially if he wears that deflating ring again.
Jonathan: Haha! Throwin some shade. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Johnny: Hold my breath underwater, definitely.
Jonathan: All of our guides superpowers seem to always pertain to fishing somehow. Like being able to breathe underwater or see through the water, that kind of stuff. So what was your last Halloween costume?
Jonathan: That's nice! That's hilarious. So next is, what do you want for Christmas?
Johnny: A brand-new 2300 HPS pathfinder with the Yamaha 250 shell on the back but if I had to scale down for something that Santa could actually afford, it would probably be cash and HPS.
Jonathan: Fair enough. Let's see... Can you name one of the Seven Dwarfs?
Jonathan: How many pull-ups can you do in a row?
Johnny: It's been awhile since I did a pull-up, I think the last time I tried - it was like 9.
Jonathan: That might be the highest so far for that question from our guides. We usually get two to three and a few zeros in there! Is LeBron James or Michael Jordan the best basketball player ever?
Johnny: No, it's definitely Dwyane Wade cuz we're in Wade County.
Jonathan: Fair enough! What's the biggest fish You've ever caught?
Johnny: Definitely going to be a swordfish, it was like 360 lbs back when I was in commercial buoy fishing high school - fought him for like 2 hours on buoy gear which is a long time for buoy gear. Other than that like big sharks, we’ve got some big sharks too.
Jonathan: Just to wrap things up do you want to give a shout out to the troops?
Johnny: Absolutely, I actually work with a nonprofit organization - so kind of going back to the question you asked me earlier about the most memorable experience as a guide - it's definitely working with Freedom Fighters Outdoors. It's a nonprofit organization that takes fully disabled veterans and puts them with some guys like myself. We take them fishing - It's just a really great organization. I honestly can't say enough things about them, I just recently started helping them out. I fully support the military...two of my best friends in high school...Casey Riley, if he sees this, I don’t think he’s deployed right now, he's in the MARSOC program in the Marines which is basically like the equivalent to a Navy SEAL but in the Marines. So Rob, one of my very good friends, my former roommate - I’m very close to this family, is a Law Enforcement Officer in the Army Reserves and will be deployed after this Coronavirus is over. My whole family was in law enforcement, my dad was Broward's Sheriff for 30 years so I have them fully supported. Especially the Freedom Fighters Outdoors, what they do is really amazing. The last thing that we did was actually a bass fishing tournament, it was out in the Everglades and we missed 2nd place by 2 oz. The veteran that we fished with got a 5 pound largemouth bass which is huge for the Everglades.
Jonathan: Well, that five pound bass anywhere is pretty solid.
Johnny: He was so excited - it's weird for those guys because when they first come together, they think that what they do is a scam - for them it’s like “You’re a veteran, you’re disabled, and you’re qualified for this?”. They were alone, overthinking, depressed - so we're like “Let’s go fish!” It's so weird, they'll get on the boat and they'll be super quiet to themselves like introverted and then all of the sudden they'll go get on a fish - like every single click of the drag it's just like releasing all that built-up stress, anxiety and depression. After they catch their first fish they’re like a totally different person.
Jonathan: That's amazing…sounds similar to Project Healing Waters which focuses more on the fly fishing side of it but Freedom Fighters Outdoors is amazing. Gonna have to see if we can help them out at Captain Experiences.
Johnny: Well off-record Captain Vinnie LaSorsa - Jimmy Buffett Had a couple of those Freemen Catamarans. Instead of selling their 37 since they have their new 42 - they keep the 37 and they charter it for charity. So all the proceeds will go to Freedom Fighters Outdoors and they also work with a bunch of organizations that help kids with cancer. Just like I said earlier I fully support the military and everything - they do most of the sacrifice so we can live the way that we do.
Jonathan: Thank you Johnny for everything that you've done with those programs, that's amazing. Thanks for what you do on a daily basis with just kind of regular folks that are looking to have a great time on the water. It's really important stuff - It's some kind of refreshing to hear from someone like you who is really down to earth - it's just a great personality to be out there with. Thank you for taking the time.
Johnny: Thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.
Jonathan: Yeah, that's about that wraps it up. Thanks a lot Johnny, your trips sound amazing - all the works that you do with Freedom Fighters Outdoors is also impactful. We wish you the best of luck - hopefully you can go out there and fish with some more people pretty soon. How's everything been down there with a coronavirus and the closures because I heard some different things honestly out of Florida. Some people say all the boat ramps are closed, some people say it seems totally normal.
Johnny: They're all closed down here, we're totally shut down. I went tarpon fishing, I ended up going by land - the boat ramp that was open on Sunday was closed last night. I tried looking for an open ramp but all of them are closed, they have this kind of barricade with the note that if you enter this - you're going to jail. Everything is completely shut down. At some point it's nice in a sense that I've been able to do some RD - just to go and fish around on my own time - on my own schedule - reconnect with what i have an able to do for the last several months by myself but at the same time losing a ton of money here. All the tour guides are just going completely broke and there will be a lot fewer charter captains down here. I know some guys that are selling their boats just to pay bills - it's really real down here. If only people can stay in their houses more like 3 or 4 weeks and let this coronavirus end. We might be able to get back a little faster but people are resisting doing that.
Jonathan: Hopefully people stay inside - stay out of the water and check out and book your trips on Captain Experiences when the things get normalized and everybody can get back out there again.
Johnny: I'm excited, hopefully we have a little bit of spring left when the peacocks are still kind of bedding a little bit. when the water is kind of warm - peacocks and clown knife get so fired up when the water warms up - this is the best time of the year to fish them.
Jonathan: Thanks again Johnny, I’m really excited for people to check out this interview. Hope you stay safe and everything through these crazy times.
Johnny: Thanks again for having me, I appreciate it - we’ll be in touch.
Jonathan: Sounds good, just take it easy. Goodbye.
Thank you for reading this interview with Captain Johnny on Captain Experiences. Here are some pictures from Captain Johnny's Lake Ida fishing trips.