There are several elements that go into creating the ideal charter fishing experience. The most important of these elements are not within the control of the charter service, captain, or the customers:
THE WEATHER: By weather, I am not just talking about rain, hail, sleet, snow, fog and other forms of precipitation. I’m talking about wind, and its effect on the water. Depending on the boat, the size of the waves will determine if and how far out you can go. This is actually one of the huge advantages of hiring a charter – an experienced captain will save the whole group a lot of grief by knowing when NOT to depart, or setting the proper expectations for the most probable outcome of the trip.
THE FISH: Another element that is not in the control of the participants is the condition and location of THE FISH. This is part of the charm and allure of fishing, but it can lead to disappointment, frustration and perceptions of incompetence. Again, an experienced captain can do much to set expectations based on weather, time of day, and permitted types of fish most likely to bite for the conditions, but ultimately you must realize it’s the fish that control this part of the equation, and have been known at times to be somewhat unreliable.
Now, on to variables we can control, and the more you know about them, the better decision you can make about your prospective captain and accommodations.
THE BOAT: This is more than a hull displacing enough water to keep you from swimming. The size, power and hull design of the boat combine to determine the limits of the trip. For example, a 32 ft Sport Fisher will carry 6 guests, will cruise at about 20 MPH, and often cannot proceed because the sea conditions seem to frequently exceed its capabilities by 1-2 feet. That means the happy party met at the dock for no good reason. Contrast this with a 27-ft Catamaran, which can also carry up to 6 guests, cruises at about 35 MPH, and slices comfortably and safely through much heavier seas than the standard “V” hull craft can handle. The huge bonus here is the speed – you spend much less time shuttling out to and back from the fishing spots, and much more time actually fishing. If you look at this whole proposition in terms of fishing time per charter dollar spent, you quickly realize that for twice the fishing time, the type of boat makes all the difference. One other advantage – on those days when it is just not possible to get offshore, the shallow draft of the catamaran gives you the opportunity to fish in the bay system. A word about safety – again the newer catamarans have all the advantages with unsinkable foam-filled hulls and twin outboard motor redundancy – much safer than the bigger inboard boats that try to convince people that size equals safety (which can sink in seconds), and much safer than the boats with inboard gasoline engines that have earned a bad safety reputation for blowing up.
THE CAPTAIN: Experience, intelligence, personality and certification are the keys to success. It’s difficult for you to assess a potential captain’s experience and intelligence, but you can get some clues. Have him talk to you about trips he has cancelled and why. Have him talk to you about the kinds of fishing locations he will be taking you to. Ask him how many years he has been doing this. With these simple questions, you can get a pretty good idea about experience and horse sense, and you will have talked with him enough to find out if his personality is the kind that will knit a group together for a good time. You will also ask about Coast Guard certification, which is required of any charter captain.
Now I’ll rate some of the other amenities:
AIR CONDITIONING: While we are all used to this convenience, in practical terms, it is pretty useless in the fishing charter context. First, you are on the water, and there will usually be a breeze. It’s a lot more tolerable than being on the land. Second, you can only air condition a closed space, and closed spaces generally make people sick in an ocean environment, no matter how cool they are. Also, most air conditioned areas of fishing boats don’t give you a view. You have to ask yourself why you wanted to go on this trip, and then decide if this is really important to you.
SHADE: This is important, even if you bring SPF 3000 sunscreen and wear a hat, you need a place to get out of direct sunlight.
TOILET (Head) – Unless this is a total frat party, this is usually a good idea.
Things you need to be aware of:
SIZE OF PARTY: Generally, more intimate groups have more fun than larger groups. Think about it: You stay more connected to a smaller crowd, and the captain has more of his personal time to share with fewer people.
CAPACITY: This is usually expressed in terms of “average sized people”. Weight is of primary importance for the comfort and safety of everyone, especially on the smaller boats. If the people in your party are exceptionally husky, you might want to drop the count by one. Consult with the captain if you have any concerns. NOTE: Often, you’ll see the boat rated by the manufacturer for 10 people, but the limit imposed by Coast Guard regulations on the same boat for charters may be 6.
WHAT’S INCLUDED? – Usually everything needed to fish is included – rods, reels, bait, ice chest (for fish), instruction (if you want/need it).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED? – food, drinks, fish cleaning (often offered as an extra option for “tips”).
REFUND POLICY: You need to know what this consists of, because of the uncontrollable variables listed above. If you are happy to keep the outing going when seas are too rough to go offshore, and you want to be able to convert to bay fishing, make sure that’s an option.
DEPOSIT: Most fishing charters will require a non-refundable deposit of some kind, because the company or captain has already committed resources to you that have to be taken off the market. This is a part of the deal. You need to get comfortable with it.
GRATUITIES: Your captain will provide you with the best time he knows how to deliver. If you think he did a good job, an appropriate tip is customary and is always appreciated.
I hope this outline of what goes into a successful fishing charter trip has been of some use and interest to you.