SAFC Pro Staff - Dan February 4th, 2016
Nothing rounds out a tropical vacation quite like spending a bit of time fishing, and when you’re at the ocean the best way to get on fish is by booking a fishing charter. Fishing charters are a great way to spend a few hours, or a day or two, on the water without having to worry about things like mooring your own boat, fuel costs or even finding the fish. There’s certainly no shortage of options when it comes to choosing the right charter for you. Just walk down to the local dock – odds are you’ll bump into a dozen captains in the first five minutes. With that kind of selection, picking the charter that’s right for you can be tricky. Lucky for you, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 things to consider when booking a fishing charter.
Pick a charter that’s close to where you’re staying. There’s no sense in having to travel halfway across the city when there’s boats at the marina just down the road from you. Even if you get a better rate at the charter across town, you should consider that these boats leave pretty darn early in the morning. Getting across town before the sun comes up is tough no matter where you are and no one wants to get up any earlier than they have to when they’re on vacation, even if there’s fish to be had.
Do you want to do an inshore trip? Offshore? Reef? Night fishing? The kind of fishing that you’re looking to do plays a pretty big role in the decision making process when it comes to choosing a fishing charter. Be sure to ask what kind of fishing opportunities the charter offers and also mention the kind of fishing you want to do. You don’t want to get stuck on a tuna charter, when all you wanted to do is fish bonefish in the flats.
Are you on your own? Do you have a large group of people traveling with you? Are you on a day pass from family activities and hoping to get into some fish? The number of people in your party plays a huge role in picking a charter and determines things like whether you’re getting a private charter for a large group or joining a shared charter on your own. Boats rated for smaller groups, up to six people (called six packs) are a pretty standard size for private and smaller shared charters, but party boats can hold up to 60 passengers. Shared charters—like offered through www.shareafishingcharter.com – are great if you just want to get on the water and you don’t mind sharing a boat with people you don’t know. These can be very affordable, but there’s the chance that when the reel starts screaming, you won’t be the one to reel it in. Private charters are ideal for larger groups or if money isn’t an issue.
How long do you want to spend on the water? A half day charter will get you four hours of fishing, a full day is 8 and an overnight charter means you’re sleeping on the boat—or fishing all night, I guess, but that’s up to you. The longer you spend on the water, the greater your chances are of getting into fish. You’re not guaranteed more fish on an all-day charter—I’ve had days where I’ve caught more fish in 45 minutes of being on the water than the previous two 12 hour days combined—but you increase your chances of not only getting into more fish, but also getting into bigger ones.
If you have a specific fish in mind, be sure to mention that when you’re picking a charter. Certain fish only come around at certain times of the year (there’s are some great bite charts here). You’re not going to want to waste your time trying to catch tuna when tuna are halfway around the world at the time you’re looking to fish. Another thing to consider is how many fish you’re hoping to catch. Are you looking to catch enough for a meal or two or are you maybe hoping to stock the freezer at home, so you have a tasty reminder of your trip in the freezer when you’re feeling hungry? Letting the captain know your intention can help them plan the outing that suits you best.
A little due diligence here will go a long way. Spend a little bit of time researching the charter and captain online. Read reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor to get other people’s thoughts and opinions on how the captain operates, what the boat is like, what the crew is like, and whether or not it was a good experience. Someone could very well come across like a great deal on their website, but end up being a total lunatic on the water, have substandard equipment or even a boat that technically floats, even though it looks like it shouldn’t. Just like most things, the time you spend researching and reading reviews could mean the difference between living out your dreams of deep sea fishing or being stuck in a waking nightmare.
The kind of boat you’re on determines the kind of trip you take. You can’t go on an overnight trip in a center console boat any more than you can easily fish the flats in a large sportfisher. Being as specific as possible to the kind of fishing you want to do will help make sure you’re in the right boat for the trip you’re planning. Some charter boats have restrictions as to how far they can be from shore, so your deep sea dreams might not be possible if all the charter has are canoes.
You might not care if there’s a bathroom on the boat or not, but others may. Knowing what you amenities you want to have—bathroom, kitchen, fridge—helps narrow down your options. Other things to keep in mind are making sure the boat has proper safety equipment and whether or not the boat has a fighting chair. You might not think you want one, but when your back start screaming louder than your reel and you’re 20 minutes into a fish, you might start singing a different tune.
Whether or not you keep a fish is up to you, but you want to be sure your captain knows what’s in season and what isn’t, what any size restrictions may be, whether or not you can keep a certain fish or what the boundaries of any protected waters may be. There’s nothing worse than being on a boat with someone who doesn’t respect the ocean and has practices that are considered harmful, if not downright illegal.
Probably the biggest factor when it comes to booking a fishing charter. The sky’s the limit when it comes to how much you can spend on a day of fishing, so before you book, make sure you’re getting the best deal you can. You know your budget better than anyone and there’s always the temptation to go with the cheapest option you can, but there’s a fine line between getting your money’s worth and getting what you pay for. If a deal seems too good to be true, do a bit of research and make sure you’re going with a reputable company and not just some guy with a boat at the dock.
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