Costa Behind the Guides: Nick LaBadie

Meet Nick LaBadie, a captain based down in the Key West, Florida. Nick specializes in guiding fly fishing to flats species. The Flylords team was lucky enough to spend a day on the water with Nick. To say the least, we were truly impressed by his professionalism and all-around “fishiness” on the flats. He is a guide who puts his client first and embraces the conservation of the flats and fish that live there. We are excited to add Nick to our ongoing blog series “Behind the Guides” presented by Costa Sunglasses.

Flylords: Who is Captain Nick LaBadie?

Nick: My name is Nick LaBadie and I am a fishing guide here in Key West. I grew up in a small beach town on the west coast of Florida and moved to the Keys when I was 22 years old. It didn’t take much for me to become obsessed with this fishery. I spent every waking second trying to get a grasp on how the fish worked down here and it still keeps me up at night. 

My goal is to sight fish. Tailing fish, rolling tarpon, cruisers, wakers, laid up fish, we’ll take ‘em however we can get ‘em. Sometimes we have to get our hands dirty and blind cast but we do our best to hunt whenever possible.

I like to spend most of my time targeting the big three (tarpon, permit & bonefish). But we do not discriminate and have a great time targeting other species like barracuda, jacks, sharks, snapper & more. Options depend on the seasons & conditions. 

Flylords: What does your guiding season look like? Do you guide year-round for the same species?

Nick: Down here in Key West we are very fortunate to have a year round fishery. Again I try and target the big three whenever possible, but if the conditions won’t allow we will throw at other species. As the seasons change so does the way we like to fish.

The cooler months are great for our “rod benders” like jacks, barracudas, sharks, and whatever else might come our way. Big barracudas on the flats are the wintertime heroes. As it warms up we start getting our tarpon, bonefish, and permit on the flats and will fish for those all year until the first couple cold fronts roll through in late fall. 

Photo: Nick LaBadie

Flylords:  How old were you when you realized you wanted to be a full-time guide?

Nick: I didn’t even think that being a fishing guide was an option until I was about 20 years old. I got a deckhand job in Boca Grande during tarpon season and that really got me dreaming about becoming a fishing guide. 

Flylords: How long have you been living in the Keys?

Nick: I’ve been living in Key West & the Lower Keys for about 9 years. 

Flylords: What has it been like being a younger/newer guide in an ever so competitive guiding scene in the Florida Keys?

Nick: It has definitely been interesting as a younger/newer guide here in the Florida Keys. I just do my best to keep to myself and not get in anyone’s way. There are a lot of guides that have been fishing down here long before me and it is important that they get the respect they deserve. This fishery is so sensitive as it is and it really doesn’t need any added pressure. I get why the older guides don’t get too excited about new fishermen stomping around their office…

If I didn’t know how a spot or area worked I stayed the hell away until I figured it out. I made sure to pole into and out of spots from a long way out and just show as much care and respect as I could out there. I was fortunate to be brought up around some older guides that taught me the proper etiquette on the water. Without that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

Flylords: How many guide days did you put on the water last year?

Nick: With COVID, it definitely was an interesting year. The Florida Keys were closed to all tourism for the months of April and May which really impacted everyone’s tarpon season dates. I still managed to run about 200 guided days last year. 

That being said I am on the water over 300 days a year. I love what I do and enjoy getting out there as much as I can.

Flylords: What is the most memorable fish story you can remember on your guide skiff? 

Nick: I’ve had a lot of memorable experiences on the skiff but one that sticks out would have to be the first time I had a chance to take Nathanial Linville fishing. He was the first person I guided to a permit on fly (we actually caught 2 that day) and it was surreal to watch him fish. It was an honor to have someone like him on the front of my skiff and it felt like my hard work was starting to pay off a little.

Nathanial with the first permit of the day.
Nathanial with the first permit of the day.

Flylords: If you had to choose one species of fish to catch for the rest of your life what would it be and why?

Nick: Now that is a tough one. I’ve thought about it a lot and if I had to pick one fish to target for the rest of my life it would probably be a permit. I’m really into the challenge and the hunt. I worry that I might get bored targeting fish that give it up too easily. As much as I do like catching fish, I like hunting them more.

Flylords: Choose one, a permit on the fly or a 180-pound tarpon on the fly? 

Nick: The only reason I am picking a 180lb tarpon on fly is that I personally have not caught one that big. Generally speaking, I’m not really into fighting big fish but I would suck it up for that one.

Photo: Nick LaBadie

Flylords: Favorite pair of Costas for a day on the water?

Nick: Right now I am really into the 580G Fantail frames paired with Copper Silver lenses. The frames fit well and the glass provides the right amount of glare reduction and contrast to find fish in every condition. 

Flylords: Who is your biggest role model down in the Keys?

Nick: I can’t say I have one specific role model in mind but more of an all-encompassing idea of who I respect and look up to out here. And that is the ones that do it right. The guides that find their own spots, fish their own way, and are always respectful on the water. The skiff I see on the horizon as I’m running home still poling into the 20mph wind. The angler willing to stand on the bow all day waiting on his couple of shots. The boaters that go out of their way to pick up a trash bag in the water. And the unsung heroes that sneak out in the dark and their trailer is still at the ramp when I get in. My hat’s off to the ones that fish hard and respect the fishery. 

Flylords: Do you do any tournament fly fishing in the Keys? What is that like?

Nick: Yes I have taken part in a handful of tournaments since I started guiding a couple of years ago. It is an incredible experience to even be able to fish alongside some of the guides and anglers in these fly tournaments. 

Fishing/guiding in these can be a lot of fun but they are definitely stressful. I really take them seriously and give them everything I have. For those couple of days, you are putting yourself up against some of the best people in the world at what they do. And of course, you want to do well. 

Flylords: Piece of gear you won’t leave the house without when your guiding? 

Nick: Wow, that is a tough one. There really is a lot of equipment that I feel is essential to a guided day on the water. Hat, sunglasses, sun buff, & sunscreen are the first to come to mind.

Flylords: What is one tip for an angler who is booked with you?

Nick: Practice or refresh your casting before you come down. Showing up without practicing your cast would be like stepping up to the plate in the World Series without any batting practice. Back cast, forward cast, direction change, all of it. And don’t be afraid to ask questions! I really love helping people become better anglers. 

Flylords: How can someone book a trip with you?

Nick: The best way would be via email or through my contact form on the website. I do my best to get back to everyone when I get off the water each day.

Thank you Nick for the time, be sure to check him out on Instagram at @captnicklabadie.

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