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HOW TO CHOOSE A FISHING CHARTER: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE
FISHING CHARTERS ARE THE STUFF MEMORIES ARE MADE OF. USE THESE PRO TIPS TO BOOK THE RIGHT CHARTER AND ENJOY YOUR DREAM DAY ON THE WATER
By Albert Grain / FishingBooker.com
GETTING AWAY FROM
everyday life and doing something special as a group – there’s really nothing like it. This could be a regular event or a one-off thing.
Either way, you'll want to find the best charter that suits you: from deciding on the type of trip, to finding a captain, picking the boat, and securing that photo album experience. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
What is a fishing charter?
To put it simply, a fishing charter is a trip run by an experienced captain or guide, often with additional crew members, on a private vessel.
The main point of these charters is to introduce guests to fishing, or to take them out to a specific fishery to target certain species.
Charters can be tailored to suit novices or more experienced anglers. No matter your skill level, the aim of your trip is to hopefully learn how to cast a line, catch some fish, and enjoy your time out on the water.
The price of your charter will differ depending on where you want to go (see below for more about this) and how much time you spend aboard the vessel.
Step 1: Choose a Fishing Experience
Before you start browsing boats and contacting captains, it’s important to know what type of charter you’re looking for.
Every charter service is unique, and most specialize in a certain style of fishing. Consider the following aspects of your trip and you can narrow down your search massively.
Shared or Private
Your first choice seems pretty straightforward: Do you want the whole boat to yourself, or are you happy to share it with other anglers?
Actually, there’s a little more to it than that.
charters are great for people who know their way around a rod. Reel in dinner on the cheap and make new friends along the way!
The downside is that the crew has to move around helping everyone on the boat, so beginners can feel a little lost. You also don’t get much of a say in how or where you fish.
EVERY CHARTER SERVICE IS UNIQUE, AND MOST SPECIALIZE IN A CERTAIN STYLE OF FISHING
charters give you a completely tailored experience. Fish at your own pace and target the species that you want. If you don’t know much about fishing, the captain will teach you the basics and help you bring the fish aboard.
On top of all that, you get your own personal guide who can tell you about the area. They cost more than shared trips, but you get what you pay for.
FOUR TYPES OF TRIPS
So what’s the difference between the four different types of trips: inshore, nearshore, offshore, and deep-sea fishing?
Since your day will be
different based on where you fish – especially in the ocean – knowing the nuances of each type will improve your chances of booking the fishing charter that best meets your needs.
stay in sheltered waters near land, usually only a few miles from shore. The fish are smaller and the sea is calmer. It’s not just about sea fishing, either. Many inshore fishing trips take place in shallow bays, mangroves, or brackish rivers.
On an inshore trip, you’ll generally be able to start fishing very quickly, within minutes of departing the dock. Because of this, half-day trips are a common choice. These short trips offer plenty of fun, and are a great option for first-timers or young kids.
HALF-DAY INSHORE TRIPS ARE A GREAT OPTION FOR FIRST-TIMERS OR YOUNG KIDS
That’s not to say that pros will get bored, as many of the world’s top game fish live inshore, too.
As you move away from the coast, the fish start to get bigger – and tastier.
Trips that take place around local reefs and wrecks and involve some traveling are known as
. The exact distance you’ll be traveling from shore differs depending on where you’re fishing, but your attention will be focused on targeting delicious, easy-to-catch bottom fish.
You’ll move away from shallow, protected waters into open waters, usually between two to nine miles from shore, so the sea can be a little wavy. Beginners and older kids should be fine, though.
It’s common to try out techniques such as bottom fishing around the reefs and wrecks on these trips, although this can differ depending on where you fish – and who you’re fishing with!
Then there are the bluewaters.
take you so far out that you completely lose sight of land.
This is serious sportfishing and usually lasts the whole day. The fish are big and mean. The water can be rough. Offshore fishing is perfect for confident anglers who are looking for a challenge.
OFFSHORE FISHING IS WHERE YOU GO AFTER HUGE PELAGIC PREDATORS; full-day trips are common
Offshore fishing usually takes place in waters at least nine miles from shore, reaching depths from 50 feet to a couple of hundred feet. This is where you’ll be able to go after huge
predators; the kind of fish that give you a real workout. (Note: The word
simply describes a fish that inhabits water
the bottom or the shore of coasts, open oceans or lakes.)
Offshore fishing charters usually involve a lot more travel time than inshore or nearshore charters, which means full day trips are common, if not necessary.
deep sea fishing
, also often known as
Many offshore fishing trips can include deep sea fishing, but the main difference between the two is the depths of the waters you’ll be casting a line in.
Deep sea fishing charters usually take you to waters at least 100 feet deep, with 300+ feet being very common. You’ll also usually be fishing on a much bigger boat, with heavier tackle.
DEEP SEA CHARTERS ARE NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED
As you’ll be fishing in extremely deep waters, sometimes around underwater canyons, it’s common for these types of charters to last for at least a full day. Depending on where you decide to fish, overnight trips are often the best way to make sure you get the most out of your deep sea fishing trip.
These charters aren’t for the faint-hearted – but they’re a great option if you want to potentially hook some beasts.
Food or Sport
This section ties into everything we’ve covered so far.
Take a step back and ask yourself what you really want from your trip. If you’re booking a private charter, you can adjust your day to suit your priorities, but you should still be clear on what’s more important.
Is it that one trophy fish?
A full cooler?
Or are you just in it for some fun with the family?
Happy members of a large family group hold red snapper they caught on a fishing charter
For example, if you’re set on landing a monster, your best chance is on a private charter with a deep sea specialist.
Want to make sure the little ones have fun? Pick a short inshore trip with a kid-friendly captain.
If all you’re after is something to throw in the fryer, shared reef fishing trips offer serious bang for your buck.
Step 2: Choose a Charter Service
You know what you want, so now's the time to find it!
In the online age, you no longer need to stroll the boardwalk and collect flyers. You can find out a lot about a charter on its website, social media, or
What follows are the main things you should be looking for.
More than anything, it’s the captain that makes the trip. That’s why it makes sense to “get to know” them before you book.
Find out how long they’ve been in business. If they’re new, how long have they been fishing in the area? Are they local? An experienced guide can be the difference between a good day out and the trip of a lifetime.
A good way to learn more about a captain is through his fishing reports. These are found in a public journal about what the captain has been catching, and the kinds of charters he has been running. The reports also can tell you how often a captain is out on the water, or what species and habitats he focuses on most.
HE CONTENT OF A CAPTAIN'S REVIEW REVEALS MUCH MORE THAN JUST HIS STAR RATING
Lastly, look at a captain's reviews. We don’t need to tell you how important reviews are when shopping online. The actual content of a review can reveal much more than just the captain’s star rating.
Read some recent reviews and see what makes the captain special. Flexibility and good communication before and during the trip will affect your experience just as much as the number of fish you catch.
This is the first thing that most people think about when they’re choosing a charter, and it’s definitely worth some thought.
Do you want comfort or speed? A floating home or a lean, mean fishing machine? There are a dozen types of charter boats, each with their own pros and cons. Most trips are run on
A large sportfishing boat awaits a group of friends who have booked it (and its captain) for a few hours of fishing fun.
Center consoles are fast and cheap to run. You’re quite exposed, with little if any shade. The upside is that you can move around freely as you fight fish. They often have a basic toilet inside the console.
On the other hand, sportfishing boats have proper toilets below deck. Above, there’s plenty of space in and out of the sun. They’re also more stable, making them great for
. The catch? They’re slower, more expensive, and can’t fish in shallow water.
SPORTFISHING BOATS ARE SLOWER, MORE EXPENSIVE, AND CAN'T FISH IN SHALLOW WATER
One thing that all boats have in common is a maximum capacity. This is normally four or six passengers, depending on the license and not the size. A boat may legally hold four, but be much better suited to two. Around 22 feet is a comfortable minimum for a family of four. Sportfishing boats should have space for six passengers.
Permits and Licenses
Always choose a charter that has all the right paperwork. That way, you know you’re in safe hands, with somebody who’s properly trained. It also means that you won’t run into trouble if the Coast Guard shows up.
This is a sample merchant mariner credential, also known as a captain's license. It's one of the things you should always ask about when you choose a fishing charter. Your captain should have one; if not, move on.
Every country has its own rules, though, and it can even vary by state.
In the United States, there are different licenses for fishing in state and federal waters. This is particularly important in the
Gulf of Mexico
, where federal licenses are hard to obtain. The Coast Guard is cracking down on people fishing without them, so you should make sure your charter is federally licensed if you’re going offshore.
We’re going to come out and say it: Don’t book the cheapest charter you find. It’s probably cheap for a reason.
Maybe the boat’s old or the equipment’s worn. Perhaps the captain doesn’t have insurance (which isn’t mandatory in many places).
Most commonly, there are a bunch of additional charges. Because of this, you should find out what’s included before you book.
Ask about the fuel and the bait (is live bait more expensive?). Also check if the crew will clean your catch and what refreshments are provided. You can usually find this information online. Bear in mind that the price never includes gratuities.
Speaking of prices, FishingBooker offers a Best Price Guarantee, so you never pay more than the captain’s regular rates.
Step 3: Talk to the Captain
The Internet has made things a lot easier in all walks of life, and charters are no different. Even so, it often pays to ask the captain a few questions before you commit to a trip.
This is an example of a captain's profile on FishingBooker.com. Note the button you can click to contact the captain before you choose a fishing charter with him.
You might even end up building a custom package that suits you better than their “off the peg” options.
Many charters have discounted rates for military personnel, vets, first responders and medical staff
Here are a few things worth asking:
What fish are biting?
Most fish migrate. Water conditions change week by week. Even if the fish are there, they may be closed for harvest. There’s a lot of info online, but it’s still best to ask if you’re after a certain species.
What should I bring?
Do you need bug spray? Does the boat have child-size life vests? Similarly, what
you bring? (Spray sunscreen, marking shoes, and bananas are common ones). Don’t forget cash for the tip!
What happens to the fish?
In many countries, the crew keeps some or all of the catch. On shared trips, you either keep all your fish, or it’s pooled and shared. Want to release the fish? Let the captain know ahead of time.
Do you offer discounts?
Not a captain’s favorite question, but sometimes worth asking. Many charters have discounted rates for military personnel and veterans. First responders and medical staff can save money, too.
Can I start a little later?
Captains can be flexible about when the trip starts, especially in low season. If you’re on a tight schedule or don’t like early mornings, mention it to your guide. They might be able to start later.
Do you have insurance?
As we mentioned before, insurance isn’t mandatory in a lot of places, even within the U.S. Check if they have it and what it covers. It will give you peace of mind and help you learn about the captain.
Step 4: Book THE TRIP
You’ve chosen the trip, narrowed down your options, and talked things through with the captain. Time to choose a fishing charter and book it!
We can’t tell you how booking directly works because it’s different for every outfitter. However, we can tell you how it works on
It’s pretty straightforward.
These are examples of various trip packages offered on a FishingBooker listing. The trip and price are common concerns for people who don't know how to choose a fishing charter.
How Do I Book?
The simplest way to lock in your trip is through the website's
feature. Just hit that lightning bolt and fill in your details. No waiting to hear back. No worrying about your dates being free. You’re set.
Like a captain but can’t find the trip you’re after? Drop him a message. He can suggest a custom package that suits you better.
When you book, you will be asked to pay a deposit to secure the trip. You usually pay the remaining balance to the captain when you meet him, either in cash or by credit card if that payment form is accepted. Some captains also let you pay the full balance online when you book; this can be useful if you don’t like carrying that much cash on you.
What About Cancellations?
Life’s unpredictable and sometimes things come up that mean you have to cancel. It’s a shame, but it’s not necessarily a problem.
Depending on the charter, you can cancel anywhere up to 24 hours before the trip and get your money back. Every captain has his own cancellation policy set and clearly visible/public before you book.
Sometimes, it’s the captain that has to cancel. This could be because of the weather or a problem with their boat. If that happens, we’ll reach out to find another date or charter that works for you or give you a full refund.
Safety is the captain’s Number One concern. Trust him if he cancels due to weather – even if it’s sunny on the beach.
Choosing a charter can be a daunting task, whether it's
located near you
or somewhere many states away.
This is your big day out and you want it to be perfect. Hopefully, we’ve given you the know-how to narrow your focus and decide what you want from your water adventure with the right package and the right captain. Now kick back, and enjoy an amazing fishing trip. Tight lines!
k k k k k k
NOTE: This article was originally published on the website of
, which has given
magazine permission to republish it here for our readers. All images are courtesy of FishingBooker.
FishingBooker is the world’s largest
for finding and booking
of all kinds in 108 countries, and over 2,090+ cities. Its world-class customer support (available seven days a week) ensures hassle-free, quick and fun booknig of more than
trips in some of the world's top fishing destinations. Today, over 30 percent of all professional fishing guides around the globe can be booked through FishingBooker.
About the Author
was Fishbooker's resident fish fact nerd until he swam off into the cold seas of Britain. Last we heard, he was hosting impossible pub quizzes on the various types of Mackerel.
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