BORN WILD: Captain Charlie Martin

BORN WILD: Captain Charlie Martin

In our new Over Under series, Born Wild, we're celebrating the individuals who've opted to carve their own path against the ever changing landscape of life. The doers who live for the hunt, be it by land or water, the camaraderie with friends new and old, and the stories formed that will surely be passed down by generations to come. To kick things off we're grateful to share words with our good friend and Jacksonville native, Captain Charlie Martin. Sit back, pop a cold one, and enjoy.

Name: Captain Charlie Martin

Location: Jacksonville, FL // Iliamna, AK

Occupation: Owner/Guide: Feather and Fin Guide Co // Head Guide: Rainbow River Lodge


Instagram: @captcharliemartin


Charlie, thanks a ton for making time for this. To catch everyone up to speed here… you were in school studying Theology… walk us through the switch to becoming a fishing guide splitting time between Florida and Alaska.

Man, a crazy story. One where my wife deserves the credit for lighting the spark that has led to this crazy adventure of a life I am so grateful to live with her. There’s many facets to this story but here’s the long story short. My first “year” of college was over at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, (USFSP). It’s a fantastic college, but I wasn’t a good steward of all the freedom I found myself with. Safe to say, I skipped a lot of classes to go fish in the surrounding waterways. It was not uncommon for us to spend all night dropping big baits off Pass-a-Grille Beach trying to catch big sharks, which we did, only to pack up about 6:30 AM, head to Waffle House for a quick breakfast, then sneak into our 8 AM Gen Ed class covered in sand and fish blood. Those were some good times. 

After a tough academic year there and a handful of conversations with my parents (which I am incredibly thankful for in hindsight), priorities were shifted and I enrolled at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, where I would spend the next five and a half years studying theology. It’s there at PBA that I met some seriously amazing individuals, many of my best friends, and best of all, my wife Amy. We shared a theology class at one point, began a friendship and here we are married, with a dog, in our own house in Jax. 

I wasn’t 100% certain what I wanted to do with my life post college though. I had entertained the idea of being a pastor, even did an internship as a youth leader and really loved the heck out of it. But, the thought of working and being in a church five to six days a week caused me to question that route. Confinement to a building and a daily schedule was hard for my adventurous and curious heart to stomach. I constantly wondered, “what else is there?” 

I caught my first fish, a bluegill, when I was probably 4 or 5. There’s a great pic of my dad and I standing on a dock, holding a bamboo cane pole with a bucket of crickets at our feet with this little bluegill in my hand. I pretty much terrorized every bluegill hole and bass pond I could walk or ride my bike to after that. When I could later legally drive a car, I found my love for saltwater fishing and started catching redfish pretty consistently out of the St. John’s River. Right before I graduated high school my grandfather passed along all of his fly fishing gear to me. Game over. I was back to the drawing board terrorizing every bass pond and lake I could find chucking foam headed poppers with these feathers sticking out the back and soon realized fish loved flies too. At 19, my second year of college, my parents helped me buy a Gheenoe LT25 with a Tohatsu 20 and it was really game over. I was in West Palm Beach, in the middle of snook country and dock lights, and only 90 miles north of this magical world called the Everglades. Chucking flies at saltwater fish became an obsession. But, fly fishing solo is kinda tough and I found myself with a push pole in my hand more so than a fly rod. I learned that to consistently catch fish with a fly rod, or even to just sight fish in general, you really need two people. One pushing and directing the boat and one casting from the front of it. So it became a habit for me to try and always fish with someone else. Looking back, I just found myself gravitating towards the back of the boat and found that I loved utilizing a push pole. (I did a lot of circles at first but hey, we got there in the end…) South Florida’s waterways helped me find my voice and posture as the angler or “guide” on the back of the boat and begin forging my ability to communicate and give directions to the angler on the front. Everything from the distance of the fish, its position relative to the boat, how to play the wind and cast to our advantage, everything. 

Now I have to give credit where credit is due, I’ve never had a strict “mentor” nor teacher, I’m proudly self taught, but there’s a guy named Mike from Stuart, FL who’s a close family friend I need to take a second to acknowledge. When I moved over to West Palm and started school there, Mike took me under his wing so to speak and began showing me sides of Florida I’d never seen. He was my first introduction to a skiff ride at sunrise out of Chokoloskee and poled me down a shoreline where I quickly learned what it feels like to get thumped and smoked by an upper 30” snook on artificial. He was the guy that showed me old Florida from an airboat and what it looks like to shine a spotlight over the surface of the water deep in the heart of Florida after the sun went down. I’m grateful for the seeds of curiosity he planted. What he fostered in me, awe and wonder, I grew to love sharing with others. 

Over the years, as my talent and knowledge grew, so did my boat. A Gheenoe became a Salt Marsh and a Salt Marsh became a 2002’ Hell’s Bay Waterman. That was the game changer- bigger gas tank, could go further and handle bigger waters. I’d spend two to three days a week launching that Waterman out of Chokoloskee or Flamingo down south, and would spend most afternoons after classes dropping that boat in the water in West Palm and throwing a secret colored Heddon Super Spook Jr at our local snook in the ICW. I grew to really love sharing that boat with people and found that I was decent at putting people on fish, regardless of their skill level. I had fallen in love with Florida’s waterways, discovering its hidden secrets and honestly just wanted to show people things and places that they might otherwise never see. A hundred pound tarpon slurping a fly deep in the heart of the Glades? C’mon. A 40” snook on a full moon in August smoking a top water in two feet of water. Get outta here. 

There was never an explicit conversation between my wife and I where we decided I was going to pursue guiding as a career. We probed at the idea in a series of conversations right up until I graduated college. Amy saw my love for fishing, but more so she began recognizing my love for guiding people to amazing places and amazing fish. Whether that was someone’s first redfish, their biggest tarpon or their first fish on fly. She knew it filled my cup and encouraged me every step of the way to chase after that dream until it otherwise didn’t work out or I decided it wasn’t for me. Still to this day, I’m grateful for her unwavering support. 

So Alaska… I’m nearing the end of my college career in the spring of 2022. I’m working as a maintenance guy three days a week at a church just outside of West Palm Beach, trying to finish some grueling graduate classes and write my final paper, and am trailering the skiff north every weekend to guide Saturday and Sunday in Jax. There’s a lot happening. 

My wife and I are looking at the weeks ahead knowing some things are about to change when Amy essentially asks, “what do you want to do with your life?” 

My answer was simple and immediate, “I think I wanna see where this guiding thing goes.” 

No hesitation from my wife, “Okay. Just in Jacksonville?” 

Now that was an unexpected comment.

In my head, “Just in Jacksonville?” The implications of this are big.You mean you’re okay with me dreaming about guiding somewhere else too?

She follows up, “What about Alaska?”

Looking back, I think this question stemmed from her excitement about a fly fishing video I had shown her earlier in the week. A little film by a company called Flylords called “A Dream We Call Alaska” highlighting giant rainbow trout, float planes and brown bears at two lodges, Iliamna River Lodge and Rainbow River Lodge. At the time, it was my absolute pipe dream. If you haven’t seen it, look it up. 

Before I can even fabricate some sort of response, my wife being the go-getter that she is, has her phone out and is typing “Fly fishing jobs Alaska.” 

This is getting real. 

A few seconds go by and she with full seriousness goes, “here’s one. Fly fishing job. Iliamna, Alaska. Rainbow River Lodge.” 

The same lodge we saw in the video.

I just remember thinking, “there’s no way my wife is actually gonna be okay with this.” 

Sure enough. I scrolled through the job requirements and the first requirement was “must be okay working for a faith based organization.” A good start. 

I totally skipped the job application process being that I had none of the qualifications needed. No trout guiding experience. No time in Alaska. Never run a jet boat. My resume was not awesome. Instead, I sent them an email, told them who I was, where I was in life, “my wife and I are pursuing the next step after I graduate seminary here in a few months”, so on and on. 

Ten days go by and I quite frankly kind of forgot about it. I figured whoever was in charge of hiring laughed at my email and marked it as spam. Well, I’m sitting on the couch one night, it’s late, 11 PM or so, when my phone rings. The screen lights up and the number reads from “Iliamna, Alaska” to which I think “what kinda spam call is this?” I go to hit decline when Amy, thankfully, smacks my arm and says “BABE it’s Alaska.” 

Sure enough, I pick up the phone and booming and friendly voice of Bill Betts, the guy in the video “A Dream We Call Alaska” goes, “Is this Charlie?” 

The rest is history. Despite having none of the experience needed, two incredibly kind gentlemen, Chad and Bill, who I now consider it a true honor to work underneath and alongside, extended me a job offer and graciously allowed my wife and I to come join their comapny in Bristol Bay. Our lives, for all the better, haven’t been the same since. Now, from June 1st to October 5th-ish I spend just about every day guiding our clients to massive rainbows and silver salmon on the fly, with some pike, grayling and lakers thrown in throughout Bristol Bay, Alaska. I then return back to Jax in the middle of October where I switch out waders for shorts and climb atop my Maverick’s poling platform guiding my clients to redfish in Northeast Florida. It is an extraordinary life, one that I get to share with my wife every step of the way, even in Alaska.


In your opinion, what takes a guide from “good” to “great”?

You are only as good as your angler on the bow. A great guide looks at his clients, assesses strengths and weaknesses and plays to them. It is our job as guides to make our guests feel like heroes, not to expose their shortcomings. Say they can’t cast very far. It becomes my job to put them in places where a short cast works and the wind is to their back. They’ve never held a rod before? Casting lesson. Explain the basics. Got a little nervous and messed up an opportunity to sight fish a red in the back of a creek? Don’t jump their case. Positive reinforcement and coaching is way more effective than popping a bad attitude and voicing your frustration at them. There’s a time and place to be intense, and I can get there, and some people need intense Charlie on the back to spur them on, but the majority of clientele don’t thrive off intensity and it ends up being a deterrent rather than a reinforcer. There’s absolutely no reason for a guide to yell and scream, in my opinion, it’s his insecurity and ego coming to the surface. A “great” guide’s ego should not be rooted in how many fish or the size of the fish caught, but rather, “did I serve my clients with excellence and were their expectations met”? It’s about them, not us. I wanna put fish in the boat more than they do, it’s literally in my job description, fishing guide, but it’s their day not mine.


If you weren’t guiding, what’s your other dream job look like?

Owning and running a lodge. I love two things. My wife and serving people. My wife is a seriously gifted individual, I married up in case anyone was wondering… out kicked my coverage big time. She’s really talented at creating and starting businesses, which even at her age, late twenties, she’s already done a handful of times, with great success. I’d love to, one day, lock arms with my wife professionally and run a lodge. Leaning on her to do what she does best and shape the business side, and then merging that with my gift of guiding people on the water and serving them back on land within the offerings of a lodge. Hospitality comes naturally for the two of us, and to extend that into something greater beyond the walls of our house would be a real privilege for me. 

Now for the sake of conversation, if I’m really dreaming, I’d love to bartend somewhere eclectic. Maybe Spain, or South America. Though I’m an introvert, I love hearing people’s stories. And both Spain and Central/South America have had my heart for years. 


What kind of crossover do you find between fishing and hunting?

A lot. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to take an animal with a rifle. I do not mean any offense by that, for I for one have taken many a deer in Georgia and South Carolina with a .308. Which is why I can say it doesn’t take a lot of skill. Sit still in a big black box, try not to make any noise, wait for the sun to go down over a plot of corn or the intersection of a road and something is going to appear. Click the safety off, take a deep breath, let out half then slowly squeeze the trigger. I did that when I was 9 years old and my grandfather did that until he was 90-something years old. And I for one am very grateful for every opportunity I’ve ever had to harvest an animal that way. The same goes for fishing, walk to pretty much any body of water, drop a chunk of cut bait down deep, pop a cold one and wait…. More times than not, something’s gonna play. 

But…. If you decide you want to stalk an animal, like an elk out west during archery season, or try and shoot a bird out of the sky, be it a covey of quail, or ducks coming in at Mach 1 speeds, now we’re dipping into a category of hunts that are relying on skill, planning and intentional decisions. You can’t just pick up a bow and be accurate at 30, 40 and 60 yards. It takes time to refine your abilities and be successful just once, yet alone time and time again. 

Same goes for stalking any fish with a fly rod. You can’t just pick up a fly rod and “be good.” If you don’t understand the mechanics and science behind a fly rod and invest the time in your front yard or local park casting, your chances of successfully and accurately presenting a fly when the time comes to a wild animal with unpredictable behaviors is slim to none, and slim is out of town. 

Sight fishing and stalking animals with a bow are very much alike. They require investments from their users. Oftentimes that investment requires more time on the front end than during the actual hunt or fishing trip. It is why those hunts and trips, when ending in success, are so much sweeter than the alternative of long range, precision firearms and weight and bait on the bottom. It is also why when those hunting and fishing trips end in “failure” and/or disappointment, they challenge us to reflect on what went wrong and then rally and try again and again… and again. 


Go-to boat jams. Who should we be listening to?

I‘ll be honest, I’m not a big music guy on the boat. I’m there to soak up what’s around me and a lot of the time I’m using my ears just as much as my eyes to locate fish, so music can get in the way. But, when I do, and there are times I do… longer boat rides, sandbar, etc., it’s something laid back and easy. There’s a band out of Texas named Khruangbin, they’re my go to. Very talented band. After them it’s gonna be Ryan Bingham, Colter Wall, Fleetwood Mac, and John T Martin. 


If you’re sticking one person on the bow for a day of fishing, who will it be?

My dad. Without question. He’s been my hero since day one and every chance I’m able to I love sharing the skiff with him. The man’s a stud. I hope I’m in as good of shape as him when I’m 50. He’s funny though, he shows up covered head to toe in sun clothing and sunscreen with a hand towel tucked in his back pocket so he can wipe fish slime off. The man comes ready to catch. 

However, if my life depends on catching a fish or if I’m fishing a tournament I’m sticking Collin Morrill on the bow. That guy and I have shared hundreds of days together and without fail, every time we fish something memorable and extraordinary happens. On our most recent trip, our maiden voyage on his new Simple Skiff (which is a killer skiff by the way) the dude precisely and delicately lays out a 75 foot cast in front of a 31” red with half his body out of the water.  

Call me crazy, I don’t care, but we’re very much connected telepathically regardless of our position and job on the skiff. We can have not spoken a word for 15 mins and all of sudden we’ll both lock in on the same thing at the same time. It could be a red tailing 150 yards away or a fish that popped up out of nowhere between some grass clumps. We skip the normal pleasantries of “fish at 12 o’clock 60 feet” and we most certainly have done away with “do you see him?” It’s more like, “which direction is he facing?” Or say a fish barely tips 30 feet away on a grass line, we’ll both lock in at the same time and the guy on the bow simply acknowledges with a “yup, yup, yup…” and the start of his cast while the guy poling achknowledges by pushing the boat into a favorable position. There’s a lot said without talking, which I am grateful for every time we fish.


I believe you called our Coors Light “crappy beer”... so, what’s your non-crappy beer of choice?

This one made me chuckle. “Crappy beer” sounds harsh. “Water” is more like it. If I wanna hydrate I’ll drink Coors Light. My go-to beer is a Corona with a lime dropped in the top. Out in Alaska, Reiner has been a fun beer to discover. 


Tough one here… Florida or Alaska?

I’ve thought about this one over the years. Initially I didn’t know how to answer this when people asked me, almost couldn’t. Both have my heart. One’s home and the other is home away from home. But, the more time I spend in Alaska the more I’m captivated by its rugged and magnificent landscape. It’ll kick your butt and humble even the most proficient guide. There’s also a work-ethic one has to possess to survive yet alone thrive out there. I’ve seen and witnessed even some of the most seasoned and hardened men lose their collective wits out there. It continually challenges me, daily, for four months straight. I’m always learning. I have a saying I’ll tell people that “Alaska beats the fake outta people.” It sure as heck beats the fake out of me. It’ll expose my weaknesses and bring my faults to the surface in a heartbeat. I appreciate that a lot because it keeps me honest and challenges my profiencey and skills as a guide. Being a guide in Alaska is learning to adjust and adapt with the ever changing seasons, conditions and skill sets that people bring you. A lot of my job is just keeping people safe in otherwise dangerous situations. 

Fishing wise, saltwater has my heart. I love watching redfish swim around with their backs out of the water. Who doesn’t? That happened last night, my clients and I were fishing the outgoing in a pretty fishy bit of water I’ve recently discovered and came across twenty backing redfish over the course of one shoreline. How special to intersect with those fish, actively feeding and crushing bait, in their natural habitat as the sun is going down over the treeline? But it’s also pretty spectacular swinging a streamer through a run on a river in Alaska and feeling a massive thump on the other end only to watch an upper twenty inch trout come skyrocketing out of the water, thrashing and head shaking, trying to get this streamer out of his face. Upon which he hits the water, points his head down stream and hits the after burners, making that drag sing at Mach 1. 


You’ve got an awesome Golden Retriever, Copper. What’s something we can all learn from our dog?

What a great question. Copper is awesome. We got her as a puppy from a great breeder upon returning home from Alaska in October and I quickly learned that she is a joyful dog. She’s just happy. We get up in the morning? She’s wagging her tail and happy. Oh were walking to the kitchen now? She’s wagging and happy. Someone’s at the door? Extra happy, might even pee a little bit. Dare I say “b-o-a-t ride”? She’ll lose her mind. Fish comes in the boat? Massive wiggle butt (we’ve nicknamed her Wigglebutt) immediately followed by keen interest in the fish who she then admonishes with kisses all over. 

The thing I’ve learned, truly learned, is unconditional joy from my pup. Her joy makes me joyful. It doesn’t matter if she’s been in her kennel for a couple of hours while we’ve been out or if I accidentally step on her tail in the kitchen ‘cause she was laying under my feet, she’s still happy and smiling! All she needs is a good belly rub or an ear rub and she’s ready to rock and roll. It’s like her sole goal in life is just to make Amy and I smile. I think people need to remember and recognize that some people just need some joy in their day. Maybe their circumstances are so crappy that they’ve forgotten what joy looks and feels like. For those of us who are in joyous periods of life, far be it from me and us to be selfish with that. Spread joy. Sounds a little hippy, (which I am not) but it doesn’t take a whole lot to smile and be kind to someone. If a dog can do it, so can we. 

Quick story about Copper. February of this year I started casting a fly rod in the front yard pretty much every evening after I put the skiff back in the garage. I’d grab my rod with a hookless piece of fluff on the end and spend 20 to 30 mins just working on cast mechanics. One night, about a week in to this, Amy let Copper out to use the bathroom in the front yard. My dog comes flying out of the front door and beelines straight for me. Eyes locked on to whatever it was I had in my hand. I can only imagine her thinking “a stick with line and a moving target on the end…” For the next hour Copper chased that fly full speed up and down the yard. Eventually she learned that the moving target always came back in the same direction so she’d sit on the fly line about halfway out and wait for the piece of fluff to come to her. When it got about 15 feet away I’d strip it like I would if I were fishing to a red. Little strip. Little strip. Pause. Little strip. Little strip. Pause. At this point the fluff is 5 feet away and Copper, eyes locked onto this thing, crouched in the “about to kill” position poised like a tiger. Tail up. Ears and face narrowed in. I’d let it get about 3 feet away and rip that son of a gun real fast by her head. My dog turned into a spaztastic Tasmanian devil chasing that thing all the way back to me. Every 10 or 15 casts I’ll let her grab a hold of it and take off, peeling drag. She always trots right back to me, head held high, fly half sticking out of her mouth, just so proud to show me her “catch.” She’s a great dog and I’ll throw the fly with her any day now. 


Alright, how can our great folks book you for a day on the water that they won’t forget?

Appreciate you guys asking. Best thing to do is shoot me a text or give me a call. 904-477-8169. It just streamlines the process and helps me customize the trip and charter to the guests preference. My website is pretty descriptive and offers great insight into what to expect on a trip with me. That said, I’m a fly fishing guy and guide by heart, I love chasing fish with a fly rod, but I’m all for throwing light tackle or live bait if that’s what my guests wanna do. I’m in the business of putting people on fish and will happily do that with either a fly rod or spinning rod. From adults to kids. Only stipulation is that all fish caught are released. I am a catch-and-release guide. 

I leave for Alaska here shortly and am gone till the first week of October. I’ve started booking for the fall already and have a few flood tide dates left for then. The fall is an exceptional time of year to sight fish redfish in some amazing landscapes here in Jax. The winter-time sight fishing is also something fierce. This past year, really November through February, was hands down some of the best red fishing I’ve ever witnessed. I expect this upcoming year to be no different. Clean water. Happy fish. Schools of fish. Backs out of the water. Man, just epic. Hard to believe that’s here in Jacksonville but sure enough, it’s something special.

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