Justin Rea Talks Guiding the Florida Keys

Justin Rea

Simms Guide Ambassador Justin Rea looks back on his life growing up in a fly fishing guide family and moving from West to East.


I know you made the tough transition from guiding western waters to guiding the Keys. Tell me about what drew you to fishing in the salt after your roots in cold freshwater.  
I pretty much got bored guiding freshwater. When I first came to the Keys in 2001 I quickly realized that I could spend a lifetime fishing here and still not know all of it. The ocean is a mysterious place and always keeps you on your toes.

What was the toughest part of the transition?  Where do I start. It takes a good three years of spending countless hours poling and running around learning all you can before you feel even a little comfortable guiding fisherman. This you have to do all on your own. No other guide wants to see a new guide come into the area, never mind help them out. Learning the area, tides, wind direction, water temps, sun angles, fish behavior all takes a very long time. It’s not like floating down the river from point A to point B. You have got to be in the right spot at the right time and still have to have the other elements work with you. If you don’t consistently give your customer opportunities to catch fish they won’t book you again.

Another tough part was being accepted into the guide community. Out west all guides were pretty friendly and for the most part willing to part with information over a few beers. Here not so much. Once I made the full commitment to stay here year round that changed.

How much of your days are exclusive fly trips versus ones with general tackle?  I fish 100% fly anglers from February to October. From November to January I do a mix of fly and spin light offshore fishing in the bay boat.

What is the most misunderstood part about being a saltwater fly fishing guide?  No matter how good a guide you are the weather kicks our butts.

What conservation groups do you associate yourself with and why?  I am a member of Bonefish Tarpon Trust. We all need to protect the resource. These guys have our backs.

If you had the chance to fish one place in the world, what’s the destination you would choose?  I am here. I love variety and the Keys has endless varieties of fish and different ways to catch them.

If you could suggest one thing for a client to do in order to prep for a trip to the Keys fishing with you, what would that be?  Everyone has heard this one but it is so true!  Practice casting. The best casters catch more fish.

A lot of attention has been brought to the world of sun protection. I know we think about it a lot here at Simms. Spending a lot of time in the sun, how do you mitigate the possible harmful effects of prolonged exposure?  I always try to cover up as much as possible. I used to wear cotton shirts out on the water until I realized I was getting a tan. Now these new solar flex ls shirts with SPF really help block the sun’s rays. Wearing pants, shoes, face masks, and gloves also keeps the sun off the skin. I try to see a dermatologist once a year.

What’s the one piece of Simms gear that is always on your boat?  I always have Simms rain gear, sun mask, gloves, and a fly wallet on the boat.

Talk to me about the mentors in the sport of fishing or guiding who have impacted your career?  My parents have been huge. My mother is a fly fishing guide in Bishop Ca. I ran a trip with her in 1993 and never looked back. There are definitely guys who I look up to in the industry. For my Idaho days it was Bob Lamb. Here in the Keys, Steve Huff, Dustin Huff, Diego Rouylle, Doug Kilpatrick are among the best.

What’s is the thing that keeps you excited about the future of fly fishing in the Keys?  Uncertainty!

Justin Rea and Sting Rea Charters can be seen online at www.flyfishingthekeys.com.