The Florida guide has been pulled to the water since childhood
It was a bicycle, not a boat, that made it possible for award-winning conservationist and tournament-winning fishing guide Capt. Benny Blanco to feed his passion for angling at a very young age.
“When I was about 12 years old I got a bike, and that set me free,” said Blanco, who grew up in the Miami-Dade County community of Kendall, Fla. “I would get up early in the morning to ride my bike down to the canal and throw my cast net for five hours to fill a pail with mullet. Then I’d take it down to the bait shop and trade for Rapala lures, so I could go catch fish.”
Today Blanco, 44, is a full-time fishing guide working the waters of Florida Bay, Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys, not from a bicycle but from Hell’s Bay craft powered by Mercury Racing outboards. The oldest of five children, Blanco is descended from Cuban commercial fishermen.
“But I think that passion skipped a couple of generations,” said Blanco, who lives in Palmetto Bay, Fla. “My parents were the first generation of the family born in America, and my stepfather was interested in fishing but didn’t have a lot of time for it, and we didn’t have a boat. I started hanging out at local bait shops, and other elders in our community started helping me learn to fish. That’s when I was netting bait fish and mowing lawns to earn a little money for fishing gear. Kendall is full of canals and lakes and I could fish from shore.”
Blanco’s bicycle eventually carried him to Biscayne Bay.
“I’d ride 45 minutes to fish for half an hour,” said Blanco. “On the bay I could catch world-class game fish, permit and bonefish. What I loved about fishing was that I didn’t need a team, I didn’t need a lot of expensive equipment, or even any skill.
“Catching my fifth permit was not as exciting as the first, and I started taking other people fishing,” said Blanco. “I’d take my step dad, my buddies or girl friends, and I got great satisfaction from teaching them and seeing them catch a fish. I realized that being a guide was my calling.”
At age 14 Blanco acquired a jon boat, and started making trips with his stepfather to Flamingo to fish Florida Bay. By age 15 he was towing the boat there himself. A talented five-sport athlete, Blanco accepted a scholarship to play baseball at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, but an injury in his first season, and the winter weather in Atlanta, convinced him to head back to Miami. While working as a construction manager, Blanco earned a captain’s license in 1997, purchased a Hewes skiff, and started guiding in 1998.
“Being a fishing guide is not exactly what my parents and my family had in mind for me,” said Blanco. “They thought I was crazy, that guiding was no way to make a living. But between 1998 and 2000 I won tournaments against some of the big names in the sport, and went full time with guiding in 2000.”
Blanco realized there were not many guides working the flats in Florida Bay, and decided to focus on the area.
“I became a student of the bay. I poled every inch, 330 days in one year, learning the currents and the wind, every aspect of the fishery,” said Blanco.
In 2015 a major algae bloom killed of 50 percent of the Florida Bay sea grass, an event that inspired Blanco to become involved in local conservation efforts, including Captains for Clean Water and The Everglades Foundation. Blanco promotes protection of vulnerable, pristine waters across Florida through “Guiding Flow,” the show he hosts on the streaming channel Waypoint TV. Today Blanco guides 40 percent of his time on Florida Bay, 40 percent on Biscayne Bay, and the remainder in the Keys.
“I think the Hell’s Bay Professional is the best poling skiff in the world,” said Blanco. “With two clients aboard it draws just 5.5 inches of water and is so easy to control. The Mercury Racing 60R has only improved the boat. I replaced a 20-inch, 70-hp motor from another brand with the 15-inch 60R and immediately improved my hole shot, which is so important on the flats – you need to be able to jump up shallow and run shallow. Mercury Racing seems to have found an excellent combination of gear ratio and powerband. The ability to run up to 6300 RPM gives me many more propping options, and I just got the new Spitfire XP prop and am excited to try it.
“Speed is important in tournaments, and in that regard the 60R delivers, but I’ve really been surprised by the fuel economy I’m getting with this new motor,” said Blanco. “It’s much more efficient than the 70 I was running, which improves my range.”
One thing is clear about Benny Blanco – the man belongs on the water.
“I believe there’s something in my blood,” he says. “I wasn’t looking for it. The passion found me.”