People from all over the country travel to sunny Florida searching for water-based adventure, and female fishing enthusiasts are flocking to Ladyfish Charters of Apollo Beach for exactly that purpose. Captained by local resident Lori Deaton, whose “great passion in life” is fishing, Ladyfish explores Tampa Bay’s mangrove-lined backcountry in search of snook, trout, redfish, cobia and tarpon.
“My charter service is in the perfect spot,” said Deaton, who is based out of Apollo Beach and located on Florida’s largest open-water estuary fed by four major rivers: the Alafia, Hillsborough, Little Manatee, and Manatee rivers. Add to this the perfect weather of Florida, and what you have is a recipe for year-round fishing success.
“I consider my charter service to be no pressure and pure fun,” said Deaton. “But behind the scenes, I work hard at knowing the location of the species we will be targeting and the best baits and techniques to capture them.”
Snook are probably the single most sought-after and most plentiful fish in the area, usually found along mangrove shorelines, bridges, docks and sandy beaches. Other favorites are redfish and sea trout. Found in large numbers in Tampa Bay, “their speed, strength and stamina make them a fun catch for kids, and a great target for non-stop action,” said Deaton.
Ladyfish Charters also guides fishing expeditions in Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island, known for its sugar-sand beaches, turquoise water and world-class fishing. The spring migration of tarpon to this area in Southwest Florida allows anglers to catch several fish in a single outing. “I’ll never forget that incredible moment when I hooked my first tarpon in Boca Grande Pass,” said Deaton. “My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would bust clear out of my chest!”
The intensity of the fight with the tarpon forced Deaton to rely on her many years of coaching to reel in the “silver king.”
She said, “Every time I see one of my clients fight for his or her first tarpon, I get as excited as the very first time I hooked mine.”
Deaton credits her Southern family upbringing for her great love of the water. One of six siblings, she spent countless hours out on the water, enjoying the family’s favorite pastime. “We didn’t care if we were fishing on a lake, off the jetties at the beach, or from one of our favorite piers. We’d fish every chance we could get.”
After moving to Tampa in the mid-’80s, Deaton’s passion for fishing took a turn toward business. “Some of my most memorable trips on the water were those that involved my family,” she said. “I wanted to impart that joy to others.”
She subsequently became a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain and began guiding local fishing expeditions, specializing in inshore shallow-water fishing using light tackle. With a strong commitment to both leadership and the importance of conservation, she became a member of the Florida Guides Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, the American Professional Captains Association and the National Association of Charterboat Operators.
Today, Deaton conducts fishing charters using her 22-foot center-console Pathfinder Bay Boat, equipped with two large livewells to hold an abundance of bait. “I really enjoy watching families together on the water, making memories,” said Deaton, whose latest addition to her family is a yellow Lab named Pirate, who rarely lets her leave the dock without him.
In 2009, Deaton co-founded “Hooked on Hope,” a nonprofit organization serving breast cancer patients of Tampa Bay. “As a professional fishing guide, I was constantly being invited to many of the area’s charity fishing tournaments,” said Deaton. “I was surprised that no one had started a charity fishing tournament to benefit breast cancer patients in our area. I knew I had to make that happen.”
Partnering with her sister, Mary Ostien, who has a background in oncology care, and Dr. Charles E. Cox of the University of South Florida’s Breast Health Program, Deaton developed a first-rate local inshore fishing tournament that became the primary source of funding for the organization. To date, “Hooked on Hope” has raised nearly $250,000 to benefit cancer patients in Tampa Bay, and will hold its 8th annual Inshore Fishing Tournament in St. Petersburg in October.