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"5 Key Questions to Ask Before Booking Your Next Fishing Charter"

If you’re looking to book a fishing charter for an upcoming family trip, planning a fishing excursion, or trying to learn your local waters with an experienced captain, this article extensively covers all the information you’ll need. With the internet and social media, fishing destinations and charters can easily be deceiving as to what the day in and day out reality of their charter operation truly is…

 

Do you really think a Charter boat on YouTube or Instagram posts the days they get skunked to help book trips…?

 

Author wiring a small blue marlin for a lucky charter guest!

When it comes to spending your hard-earned cash on a charter, you want it to be a good one, and rightfully so! After booking several charters myself and working for several years on a charter boat as a mate, I’m going to cover some extremely useful guidelines to ensure that your next trip is one you soon won’t forget.

 


Photo: Author wiring a small blue marlin for a lucky charter guest!



Who is the Charter for?


First and foremost, you must determine the WHY you are booking a fishing trip. This varies for everyone, and you must keep this in mind from the charter operation’s perspective as well. For example:

  • are you trying to catch a specific fish on your bucket list?

  • Is this a family vacation activity for everyone?

  • Is it a bachelor trip?

  • Are you trying to learn more about fishing an area you just moved to?

There are a ton of reasons that people book fishing charters and communicating this to the captain and crew why you are looking to spend a day on the water with is the only way to meet have your expectations met.  


Are your Expectations Managed?

 

Which brings about the first topic…managing expectations!


Photo: My Dad's bucket list is to catch a billfish so while visiting me in Honolulu, I booked a charter in Kona on the Big Island with a friend Capt. Shawn Rotella (Night Runner Sport Fishing, https://www.fishingkonastyle.com/) for his 60th Birthday. We trolled the right lures all day and the Marlin failed to cooperate, we still had an epic day off the Kona coast!

 

There are very few charter boats in the world that consistently catch trophy fish day in and day out and even those top tier captains come across slow days where they struggle to find a bite. The only thing promised is a boat ride and a day on the water and that is exactly what SHOULD keep you coming back trip after trip. A perspective of appreciating a new place, experiencing a new ocean or lake you’ve never fished on, and learning new tackle techniques is why you should book a charter. This attitude is what makes a well-rounded fisherman as well as a customer the captain and crew will love having onboard for the day (and for future trips!).


Did you do your Research?

 

Now, with expectations managed….give yourself the BEST chance possible at getting on that fish of a lifetime!



Photo: As a first mate on the Ruckus out of Honolulu(https://fivestarsportfishinghawaii.com/) I worked under Capt. Rubin to help our charter customers catch their dream fish. Each trip we maximized our efforts, stayed out longer (if we could) and were prepared with the right gear ahead of time to give out guests the best chance at catching fish. Make sure you find a great boat and Captain to book with!

 

Times have changed, and while people still walk the docks looking for charter trips and what the daily catch was, the best boats are often booked out well in advance. Make sure you use personal referrals, the internet, social media, as well as sites like Fishing Booker (https://fishingbooker.com/) to find the top charters well ahead of your trip.


Photo: Fishing Booker (https://fishingbooker.com/) allows you to quickly search areas for top charters, search reviews, and contact the owner/captain of the boat.


In the world of reviews, there is plenty of information available online and I always recommend talking directly to the charter operation prior to booking. One of those reasons is understanding their local seasons…I once had a charter explain how they were visiting Hawaii in the winter and read the fishing was best in the summer so they came back to fish then. What they didn’t know, was that winter had a fantastic marlin bite and had they simply called would have known to book the trip!


Click Link: Traveling through an area for work or vacation? Keep fishing booker open as an option to see if there's an open charter waiting for you.


Any decent charter owner or captain will take a phone call and tell you about their program and local fishing seasons as well as how they can best meet your accommodations (If they aren’t giving a great vibe over the phone…probably not best to give them your business). Be sure to contact a few boats, chat with a few captains/owners, and find the group that best fits your situation and budget. If you have the convenience of time, use it wisely to find and book a top boat well ahead of your arrival!


Can you spend a full day on the water?

 

Speaking of time…I always recommend fishing the longest trip you can afford. The standard offerings are quarter days (4 hours), half days (6 hours), and full days (8 hours +) and typically increase in price to account for time on the water. IF you want the best chance of catching, go with the 8 hour trip (or longer if offered). That doesn’t mean fish are not caught on shorter trips but unless there is great fishing right out of the harbor, destinations like Kona, Hawaii, it doesn’t allow the captain adequate time to find the fish. (Still always book the longest trip you can in Kona!). A full day trip ensures, in most parts of the world, a full tide change and a handful of bite windows to catch that fish of a lifetime. (Note that some charters will only book 8 hour + days for this reason). With that said, going is better than not going, and if only a few hours on the water fits your schedule and budget, make the most of it!

 

When to show up and What to Bring!


At this point, you’ve found a charter (referral, social media, fishing booker, etc.) talked to the captain, and booked the most time you could for your stay in the area. Perfect, now here’s how to be ready for a day on the water. The perfect time to show up for a charter is 10 minutes prior to when they tell you to as this allows the captain and crew to focus on getting the boat ready for the day. Showing up any earlier might give you a stand-offish vibe from the captain or mate but they are just focused on checking off their pre-trip lists to ensure a smooth fishing trip for your charter. Be sure to pack the following:


  • Small cooler for the day with drinks and food

  • Sunscreen (the non-spray type!)

  • Sunglasses

  • Foul weather gear (incase it’s a rough day)

When it comes to fishing, be sure to listen to the captain and mate as each boat operates differently and you are now part of their crew. Even as an experienced fisherman, try not to make assumptions as each fishery is different and to trust your captain to find the fish. Most importantly, have fun and try to get everyone in your group involved if the bite allows.


My girlfriend Carly learning big game fighting chair techniques from the Bite Me crew in Kona, Hawaii.

Photo: On a great charter, the mate will cover all aspects of angling and how to effectively fight fish and be a part of the crew. My girlfriend Carly learning big game fighting chair techniques from the Bite Me crew in Kona, Hawaii.


When you get back to the dock, the standard practice is for the mates to get right to cleaning the boat and the captain to cut any fish if you’d like to take some home for dinner. IF you want to bring fish home, make sure to mention this ahead of the charter as some boats have strict policies (typically from the owner) for fish to stay with the boat. This varies from area to area depending on if there is a local commercial market to sell the catch, but it is best to ask these questions before hand, so everyone is on the same page.


A handful of tips from the mates allowed my brother and I to put a nice catch together, a skilled fisherman always has something to learn!

Photo: A day bottom fishing for Tautog/Blackfish out of Atlantic City, New Jersey. A handful of tips from the mates allowed my brother and I to put a nice catch together, a skilled fisherman always has something to learn!


Regardless of fish, a 20% tip is standard in the industry for a day on the water. A lot of captains and crews rely on tips especially with the increased costs of operating a fishing boat, so if they were polite, engaging, worked hard on their feet to change baits, and trying their best to get you on the fish, please tip them accordingly!

 

Overall, I hope this was a helpful article for you planning your upcoming charter trip. Please keep in mind this is a general guide and will vary from fishery to fishery but will still be useful. For example, a charter flats trip in the Florida Keys will be very different than a Northeast tuna trip to the canyons or bluefin fishing out of Massachusetts! The best thing you can do is to talk to the owner or captain, and find a charter that best meets your accommodations, Happy Fishing!

 

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