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How to Book a Charter Captain

Ensure that you ask these five questions when considering a fishing charter.

How-To
How to Book a Charter Captain

Whether you’re booking an offshore boat for billfish and tuna, hiring an inshore guide to chase specks and reds, or looking for a walleye or salmon trip on the Great Lakes, you want to make sure you choose the right charter to deliver what you want. The process starts with a little research to find a charter captain in the area where you hope to fish. Then you should be prepared to ask the captain questions about the following five items:

  • Trip details
  • Boat details
  • Target species
  • Tactics and techniques
  • Release policies

1. What are the details of the trip?

This first question is obvious, but important. Until you ask about departure and return times, departure location, and where you’ll be going, you can’t plan for the day. Also ask about costs on top of the advertised day rate. For instance, if the charter runs with a mate who helps on the boat, a tip will probably be expected. There might also be a surcharge when fuel prices go up. Other important things to ask about include what you should and should not bring and weather cancellation policies.

2. What kind of boat will be used?

You probably know the size and type of the boat that’s up for charter, but dig a little deeper into the details to make sure you’ll be happy with it. Does the boat have a bathroom? Are berths available, if you’re leaving early and returning late? If it has a cabin, is it air-conditioned? These factors will contribute to your comfort during the trip and your satisfaction at the end of the day. One thing few people think to ask about is the boat’s cruising speed. It’s not a huge factor for most inshore and bay trips, but if you’re making a long run far offshore it can have a substantial impact on the hours you spend fishing versus cruising.

3. What are the target species?

How to Book a Charter Captain - Mercury MarineIf you have a personal goal to catch specific species of fish, be sure to inquire about the likely catch for the area and time of year you’ll be fishing. Timing can be a major factor in your success. For example, if you’ve always wanted to catch a big tarpon, there’s good tarpon fishing in Boca Grande, but it’s best in that area during spring and summer. If you’re planning a trip in December, you’ll be quite disappointed if you expect to target giant tarpon. Or, if you want to take home some fish to eat and show up for an inshore charter in Boca Grande during the height of the tarpon run, you’ll again be disappointed. Always ask ahead to find out what target species will be available.

4. What tactics and techniques will you use?

Some captains specialize in fishing with light tackle, and others like to troll with heavy gear. Some change up their tactics depending on the prevailing bite. If you don’t ask about the fishing ahead of time, you won’t know if the charter’s tactics match up with those you enjoy the most. More than one light-tackle aficionado has shown up at the dock to unexpectedly discover winch-like gear, and plenty of fly-fishermen have brought their favorite fly rod aboard, only to have the captain inform them that fly-fishing isn’t in the plans. Don’t make that kind of mistake.

5. What are the release policies?

There are charter captains out there who measure their success by the amount of the day’s catch that makes it into a cooler. Conversely, there are some who focus purely on catch-and-release fishing. Obviously, you’ll want to make sure you’re booking a trip that matches up with your expectations when it comes to harvesting fish. Though it’s become rare in modern times, there are also still a few charter captains out there who put every fish in the box with the expectation that they’ll sell the catch at the end of the day. Naturally, if you’re dealing with one of them, you’ll want a heads-up before booking the trip.

While these questions cover most of the major issues, you might have different priorities. If you’re more interested in learning how to fish than catching fish, don’t hesitate to ask if the captain and crew are willing to slow down the process and explain what they’re doing. If you have your own gear you’d like to use, ask ahead to make sure the captain and crew don’t have any objection.

The bottom line is this: In addition to the questions above, feel free to ask whatever questions pop into your head – the more the better. In the long run, knowing exactly what sort of trip you’re in for will go a long way toward helping to make sure you book the best charter possible.

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