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5 Tips For Choosing The Right Fishing Charter

Booking a fishing charter is often the best way for a traveling angler to get in on a hot bite. But choosing the right one is critical.

Lenny Rudow with family and their catch

Lenny and his family pose for a photo after a fun and successful day of charter fishing.

It's the stuff angling dreams are made of: Your vacation has been great — and it's about to get even better, thanks to a charter fishing trip, which you hope helps you check some exotic species off your bucket list. But this dream can quickly turn into a nightmare if you've chosen the wrong charter. In fact, if you end up on a boat that's wrong for you and your needs, you could end up regretting the entire fiasco. Here are five common scenarios — along with tips — that will help you have a day of awesome angling instead of a charter catastrophe.

1. Communication Breakdown

What type of fishing do you want? If you don't let a charter boat captain know ahead of time, you may end up stuck with a style you don't enjoy. For example, it's common for certain boats in certain places to do nothing but troll with heavy tackle during certain seasons. If you're a die-hard light-tackle angler who gets bored by trolling, you're likely to do little more than yawn all day long. Same goes for whether you want to keep and kill the catch or take a quick picture and then release the fish. On some boats, the fish get gaffed before you can even raise an objection; on some others, catch-and-release is considered a must.

Pro tip: In advance of booking a trip, talk to the captain to let him or her know what styles of fishing you enjoy and what you plan on doing with the catch. Different captains will be more or less willing to accommodate your preferences, but be aware that some will put the goal of filling the fishbox ahead of their client's personal satisfaction. So if you feel strongly about the ways you fish, be sure to raise these topics ahead of time.

2. Personality Conflict

Some people are easier to get along with than others, and we all know that some people's personalities simply don't mesh well with our own. Getting stuck on a boat all day with someone you can't stand isn't likely to be a fulfilling experience. And while a captain's character counts, don't forget about the mate, too. Often, you'll spend more time interacting with the mate than with the captain — so their disposition is just as or even more important to consider.

Fishing with the first mate

The mate is going to be your coach, your guide, and your best friend for the trip, so be sure your personalities mesh.

Pro tip: To make sure you end up happy with your choice, swing by the marina one afternoon prior to your trip and meet the captain and mate in person. They'll usually be there for at least an hour or so after a trip to clean the boat and rig the lines and should be more than happy to spend a few minutes shooting the breeze. After that, you can form an opinion as to how well you'll all get along.

3. Overkill

Some inexperienced anglers, or people who are used to fishing only in very different types of waterways, may discover that uncontrollable variables, like seasickness or physical demands, can make for a day of misery. And on some charter boats, especially those with make-up parties (different couples or groups put together on one charter to share the cost), the option of turning around and heading for home early will be off the table.

Pro tip: If you're trying a completely new kind of fishing or venturing into territory you don't have experience with, consider booking a half-day trip. Virtually all boats offer them, and that way if physical issues become problematic, at least it won't last for hours on end.

4. Limp Lines

The reason you book a charter in the first place is to catch fish, so if the lines stay slack all day long and you never feel so much as a tug, it'll be more than a little bit disappointing. And while it's true that the captain and crew can't control the fish — even the best of 'em get skunked from time to time — some are simply better at catching fish than others.

Spanish mackerel catch

The vast majority of Spanish mackerel are taken by trolling, but this angler wanted to catch one fly fishing — and found a flexible charter (Four Seasons Guide Service) that was willing to alter tactics to accommodate.

Pro tip: While we note that it's impossible to ever guarantee action on any fishing boat, you can ensure the best chances of success by doing your homework. Ask a captain for references or walk the docks and talk to other anglers in the marina to get an idea of how good a boat is or isn't at finding and catching the fish. And in this day and age, most people simply peruse online for ratings and comments. But remember to take everything you find online with a grain of salt: There are always a few people who are impossible to satisfy, and others may have personal reasons for singing unearned praises. Rather than basing any decisions on specific reviews, look for prevailing attitudes.

5. Shopping For A Bargain

Choosing a fishing charter by price is a huge mistake and can put you on a sub-par boat with sub-par gear and a sub-par captain. Sure, charter boats can be expensive. But in any given area you'll find that most boats charge within a prevailing range of rates. Some boats charge more, some less. Yes, there's a reason why those cheap boats go for so little — if they could justify charging the prevailing rates, they certainly would.

Charter catch

Some captains are simply better than others at finding and catching fish. In this regard, references and reputations matter.

Pro tip: To stay out of pricing pitfalls, it's important to first identify the prevailing range. This varies from state to state, county to county, and even port to port, but with a little internet browsing, the prevailing range should be easy to find. Some boats have good reasons for charging less, like the size or age of the boat, which won't necessarily be disqualifying factors to you, personally. When all else appears to be equal and a charter is offering rates that seem rock-bottom, buyer beware.

The Bottom Line

Use this advice, do some homework, and you'll greatly improve your odds of finding the ideal charter for you and a great day of fishing. As you plan your next trip, take these five tips into account, and you'll be checking those boxes off your species bucket list before you know it!

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Lenny Rudow

New Boats, Fishing & Electronics Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Top tech writer and accomplished sports fisherman, BoatUS Magazine Contributing Editor Lenny Rudow has written seven practical boating books, won 30 awards from Boating Writers International — many for his marine electronics articles – and two for excellence from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He judges the NMMA Innovation Awards, and is Angler in Chief at FishTalk, his own Chesapeake-based publication. A great teacher and inspirational writer, Lenny hosts many of BoatUS Magazine’s very-popular how-to videos, which can be found on the BoatUS YouTube channel, or at