Will Benson fishing

Benson has been a fishing guide in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary since he was 19 years old. Photo: Will Benson

Blue Star of the Ocean

Stories from the Blue: Captain Will Benson

Captain Will Benson has been a fishing guide in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary since he was 19 years old. The sanctuary is his home, and each day he works to protect it. A member of the sanctuary’s advisory council, Benson was instrumental to the creation of the Blue Star Fishing Guides program, which recognizes fishing charter operations that promote responsible and sustainable practices. This is his Story from the Blue.

Will Benson and his son
Photo: Nick Zachar/NOAA

There’s this great sequence in tarpon fishing. You stalk a fish, he’s quiet, you do this nice, gentle presentation. He comes over and you twist the fly, and he responds, and it keeps going until you convince the fish to eat the fly and you’ve tricked him, you’ve bested him. He gets mad and shakes his head and jumps in the air and peels out 200 feet of line and does a magical somersault five feet in the air. And right on cue, the fly ejects out of his mouth.

You fooled the fish, but then that fish’s strength beats you. The best part about tarpon fishing for me is witnessing the fish win.

I’ve been a fishing guide in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for 20 years, and hopefully I’ll be a guide for another 20. Fly fishing has offered a challenge for me my entire life: the challenge of learning the fishery, the challenge of fooling the fish, but most importantly the challenge of getting to know your friends and your customers. The best component of fly fishing is being out on the water and spending time with people out there, choosing to do something you all love. You get to develop these kinds of friendships and relationships with folks that I don’t think you can develop outside the realm of a sport or something else difficult that you’re pursuing together.

My house is literally in the middle of a national marine sanctuary, and I’ve always felt a sense of pride about that fact. The sanctuary helps guarantee that the ecosystem’s value for our community remains steadfast into the future.

As a parent, I have to be optimistic, and at my core I think I am optimistic for the future. But I’m also being a realist when I say there are significant issues in the Keys and we need the help.

I worked with the sanctuary to create the Blue Star Fishing Guides program. It’s essentially a volunteer continuing education ambassadorship program for fishing guides. We decided to craft a program that capitalized on the passion and love that fishing guides have for the area and channel it toward a sustainable future. Just for a moment think about it: some hundred fishing guides who are all individual spirits in their own right, not wanting to be told what to do, coming together voluntarily and partnering with a government agency to create a sustainable future. That’s a big deal, and I feel really proud to have helped that along.

Everybody in Florida is ready to call it quits at work and jump out on the boat when the weather is good. Our lives, our economy, our culture, everything about us is tied to the ocean. In the Keys fishing, diving, living here you are absolutely connected to the ocean at every moment. It’s a culture of ours here to care about the environment.