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People searching for a good fishing holiday are a bit like their finned foes: Their movements tend to revolve around sun and shade, they prefer comfortable temperatures, they seek plenty of food — and they're easily lured by something shiny scooting by. But anglers in pursuit of bigger (or different) prey should know that "fishing charters" are hardly one-size-fits-all.

Some outings last a day, with just a captain or guide aboard a 25- or 35-foot center-console sport. Others involve more travel logistics, but deliver five-star niceties, such as custom-built 90-foot sportfishing models equipped with tournament-level tackle for targeting specific species; with smaller game boats, runabouts, or tenders to deploy from the mothership, luxurious living quarters, and crew serving gourmet meals, snacks, and beverages. Packages also include horseback riding, birdwatching, hiking, spa treatments, kayaking, zip lining, and cultural tours for the nonanglers in the bunch.

Many of these charters involve stays ashore, and lodges in stunning locales. Excluding transportation to and from destinations, daily costs range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on accommodations and services, plus tips of 10% to 20% of charter cost to captain and crew.

A group mooches for ­salmon off Sitka, Alaska, during a fishing expedition

A group mooches for ­salmon off Sitka, Alaska, during a fishing expedition. (Photo: M/V Equinox)

Many recreational anglers focus on chasing billfish — marlin, swordfish, sailfish, spearfish. Others prefer species such as Atlantic bluefin or yellowfin tuna, striped bass, and salmon. Still others prefer deep-water-loving cod or shallow-water varieties such as bonefish and permit. On a charter, a typical daily fishing schedule is three to eight hours. Sportfishing charter boats equip the vessels with the latest in gear, whether conventional or fly; bait and lures; weights and nets; food and beverage. What you don't release or eat during the charter, you can sometimes have processed, packed, and shipped home.

Consider Working With An Agent

How to choose? Digital sharing platforms, last-minute deals, and valuable word-of-mouth advice from fishing pals abound. Yet it also helps to check in with industry experts whose longstanding experience in the sphere — from relationships with boats and crews to service providers — gives them a comprehensive view of what's on offer. It doesn't cost you anything extra to work with agents; fees are included in the charter price.

Over the years, the recreational fishing subsector of adventure travel has grown and become better organized, along with the number of clients served and the size and sophistication of the boats. The large vessel fleet includes custom models like Bayliss, Merritt, and Spencer, along with venerable semi-custom production lines like Viking and Hatteras.

Herb Rossell is a charter agent who joined the industry in 1987, billfishing for marlin, swordfish, and sailfish off the coast of Venezuela. He kept going around the globe and has never looked back.

"I love to fish and I fish everything, everywhere," he says. "You have to have a passion for it to share the knowledge."

As an agent specializing in matching high-end clients with many global destinations, Rossell frequently heads out from his Southfishing, Inc., Florida base to inspect the boats "and make sure they have proper tackle and safety equipment, that we're dealing with a knowledgeable captain and crew, and a seaworthy vessel," he says. "Through my years of travel experience I've learned how to vet boats and set clients up right."

Like Rossell, Colin Page, owner of Black Book Charters, arranges client trips to top sportfishing locales, while also managing and maintaining a fleet of up to 20 high-end sportfishing models for private owners who make them available to select clients. Page, who's been in recreational fishing for decades and has handled the charter end of the business for five years, will also help owners book a charter on a boat similar to their own in different locations.

"We're the only company offering this caliber of fishing charters," Page says. "We work with people who've owned fishing boats in the past. The charter concept is new."

When international charter broker Sue Gearan, who's successfully catered to boating vacation clients for decades at Global Yacht Concierge, her Newport, Rhode Island-based company, answers a call for recreational fishing and boating on vacation, Rossell and Page are her go-to sources, among others. "These agents provide the highest level of service," she says. "I trust their expertise."

The Reveal: 12 Top Spots

Whether you've set your sights to head around the corner or across the hemisphere, make reservations six months to a year in advance, especially if your time is limited to a specific period like winter holidays and spring break. For Alaska and the Galápagos, plan eight months to a year or longer. We've rated some amazing fishing adventures to top-rated domestic and international destinations we think our BoatUS Members will be excited about — each an adventure you'll never forget.

1. Guatemala

Species: Billfish, yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi
Season: October–May
Stay: At a resort, or your own accommodations

Billfish jumping out of the water with a pink lure in his mouth visible and a fishing line tied to it

Photo: Chris Sheeder Photography

Sailfish are the billfish draw on the Pacific coast off Guatemala, one of the calmest and most sought-after sportfish destinations in the world. According to Rossell, in season the average game boat raises 14 sailfish a day. Consistent numbers of blue marlin and yellowfin tuna have also been caught, thanks to the expertise of local captains who have an easy command of English. Rossell's longtime professional relationships include the crew at Guatemala Fishing Charters/Gringo Sportfishing and Intensity Sport Fishing. Cost: $600/person for groups of five over four nights.

Pacific Fins Resort & Marina wins the approval of award-winning angler and conservationist Peter Miller for the top condition of its fleet, four-night accommodations, and captains and crews who hail "from generations of local fishermen who know these waters like the backs of their hands." Cost: $700–$1,700/person.

2. U.S. East Coast, From Rhode Island To North Carolina

Species: Billfish, bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, Atlantic bigeye tuna, wahoo
Season: June–September
Stay: You or agent arrange accommodations

Hatteras Lighthouse behind dune wall and sea grass

Photo: Getty Images/Greg Christman

From coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island to Maryland and Virginia, the summer months provide some of the biggest catches. In New England, Page and Black Book Charters guide clients on short runs less than 20 miles out to the fishing grounds for giant bluefin tuna weighing from 300 to 1,000 pounds.

Farther down the coast, Ocean City, Maryland, is nicknamed the "White Marlin Capital of the World" for good reason: The popular beach resort municipality is also home to the 48-year-old White Marlin Open, which has awarded $86 million in sportfishing prize money since its founding. Blue marlin and tuna are other frequently caught species, according to Rossell, whose summer bookings in this destination are among his busiest.

Then there's North Carolina. White and blue marlin bite off Hatteras and the Outer Banks, an area that's the scene of one of the largest sportfishing charter and boatbuilding communities in the country. World-class yellowfin tuna fishing begins in late spring, and early in the fall anglers turn to wahoo.

North Carolina is also a popular family vacation destination; a good place to start a search for daylong sportfishing charter outings is the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. Cost: ranges from $475–$2,500/4–6 people.

Something Special: The Lighthouse Adventure In Chesapeake Bay

Two small boats anchored at a floating lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay

Tom Weaver has won over clients with his light tackle and fly-fishing operation, Fish With Weaver. Among his bespoke adventure offerings is a two-day angler stay and excursion from Baltimore Light at the mouth of the Magothy River in Maryland. In private ownership since 2006, the rustic lighthouse, complete with house staff, accommodates as many as six guests with the basics — beds, electricity, quick showers, and meals.

Clients are assisted by guides aboard a pair of 25-foot center-consoles, landing their catch via light tackle spinning or fly fishing during two three-hour sessions. The prizes, whether rockfish, bluefish, speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, or Cobia, can be grilled for dinner at the Boatyard Bar and Grill in Annapolis. Cost: $6,000, including fishing licenses.

3. West Palm Beach & Key West, Florida

Species: Billfish, mahi-mahi, kingfish, tuna
Season: Year-round; peak December–April
Stay: You or agent arrange accommodations

School of tuna swimming in coral reef

Photo: Getty Images/kgrif

West Palm Beach and Key West, Florida, are the booking backyards of Rossell and Page. Page says these year-round destinations "really shine in the winter. There's a plethora of hotel and airport choices," he notes, adding, "sailfish, mahi-mahi, and other pelagics are caught less than 2 miles from the beach."

A resurgence in swordfish numbers has resulted in successful outings day and night, according to Rossell. Cost: Half-day charters start at $1,200 for six people.

4. Costa Rica

Species: Billfish, roosterfish, yellowfin tuna
Season: January–May
Stay: At a resort, or your own accommodations

For more than 30 years, this politically stable and eco-friendly Central American country has been an attractive destination for novice and expert anglers. Aside from spectacular fishing, Costa Rica hosts some of the best marinas and accommodations along its Pacific Ocean coast. Top-rated hotels, golf courses, and the beauty of the natural environment contribute to its stellar reputation. Choose among these recommended marinas with day and overnight sportfishing trips, as well as accommodations with luxury amenities and a range of activities: Marina Pez Vela, Club Pelagic, Maverick Sportfish. Cost: Vela, inquire; Pelagic, from $5,000/person for groups of six; Maverick, inquire.

5. Dominican Republic

Species: Billfish, wahoo, tuna, mahi-mahi, red snapper
Season: Year-round; peak May–October
Stay: At a resort or your own accommodations

Several men wearing gray long sleeve t-shirts, a ball cap and sunglasses standing on the deck of a boat with fishing rods affixed to the railing

Photo: Chris Rabil

The use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in the Dominican Republic and other countries over the years has resulted in significant, consistent increases in marlin catches and the destination's popularity with visiting recreational fishermen. FADs, whether natural or manmade, attract baitfish that attract predators. If the DR is on your bucket list, options range from Marina Cap Cana to Page's Black Book Charters, which operates a 68-foot Bayliss on day charters at an all-inclusive rate. Cost: Bayliss, $6,000/day for six people.

6. Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Species: Sailfish
Season: January–April
Stay: You or agent arrange accommodations

Sailfish eats fish from a bait ball

Photo: Getty Images/Naluphot

Beautiful Isla Mujeres, just 8 miles off the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, is another top sailfishing destination. Anglers can expect to catch and release between 20 to 30 a day, while underwater snorkeling sites, diving, beach-going, shopping, spa treatments, and kayaking keep the rest of the group happy. Rossell's top picks for anglers includes Keen M International (cost: from $700/4 people, 6 hours); for accommodations, the exclusive Zoetry Villa Rolandi resort, and family-friendly boutique hotels Casa de los Suenos and Casa Coco by Coco B Isla. Cost: inquire.

7. Panama

Species: Billfish, yellowfin tuna, rooster fish, snapper, grouper
Season: December–September
Stay: You arrange resort accommodations

Off the Pacific coast of Panama, around the islands in the Gulf of Chiriquí, lies one of the world's most abundant fishing holes, where dozens of pelagic and inshore species thrive in nutrient-rich waters. The catches are large and consistent, and the seas are usually so calm that center-console game boats from 33 to 37 feet are safe and commonly used. Recommended resorts include Tucan Lodge Panama. Cost: from $3,600/person, groups of four.

Also on the Pacific coast, close to the Colombian border and carved into the edge of the lush Darién rainforest jungle, is the famous Tropic Star Lodge, which, since opening in the 1960s, has hosted world-record-holding anglers. The draw is an incredible bounty of marlin and sailfish as well as inshore species whose habitat is beyond nearby Pinas Bay, an area known as the Zane Grey Reef. The array of species makes this destination ideal for heavy, light, and fly tackle anglers. Other vacationers can choose from spa treatments and jungle exploration. Cost: rates start around $4,000/person.

8. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Puerto Rico

Species: Blue marlin, tarpon
Season: June–November
Stay: At a resort, or your own accommodations

Saltwater fishing rods affixed to boat

Photo: Getty Images/Alfredo Maiquez

The North Drop, about 20 miles in that direction off St. Thomas and falling to 28,000 feet into the Puerto Rico Trench, is the scene of world-class blue marlin fishing in a Caribbean setting. It's great for U.S. anglers without a passport who seek a tropical destination. The pelagics really bite around the full moon, so timing is everything. Rossell recommends day charters with Marlin Prince. Cost: $1,000–$2,000.

Puerto Rico is another top-notch destination with easy access and without passport requirements. Government-deployed FADS off San Juan have resulted in a consistent and longer blue marlin season. Here's another island destination with plentiful accommodations and flights from U.S. East Coast cities. Recently, the tarpon fishing in the lagoons around San Juan and Carolina have anglers raving on the release numbers for both adult and juvenile tarpon. Highly rated is Caribbean Fishing Adventures, which offers a four-hour backcountry fishing charter starting at $525 for six people.

9. Bahamas

Species: Billfish, mahi-mahi, yellowfin tuna, wahoo
Season: March–May
Stay: At a resort, or your own accommodations

Yellow and blue fish swims alone in the deep blue water with fishing line in its mouth

Photo: Chris Sheeder

For Page, springtime sportfishing in the Bahamas is "fantastic," and blue marlin is "always the goal." He collaborates with resorts and bespoke flight operators (Makers Air) to arrange trips for clients to the islands of the archipelago that anglers prize most, and recommends Abaco Beach Resort and Harbour Island, Eleuthera, for accommodations. Cost: from $3,500 for six people, plus fuel.

10. Southeast Alaska

Species: Chinook salmon, coho salmon, Pacific halibut, rockfish, lingcod, sablefish
Season: April–October
Stay: Aboard or ashore

Man wearing a blue shirt and ball cap stands next to a woman weaing a blue jacket and both holding a large fish near the water's edge

Photo: M/V Equinox

The charter yacht fleet in Southeast Alaska, a vast region that locals call the "panhandle," is a well-established component of the state's renowned recreational sportfishing industry, offering groups (two to 24 individuals) anywhere from multiday salt and freshwater angling aboard fully equipped fiberglass or aluminum trawlers, and expedition-style motor vessels, often in a mothership and day-boat combination. Other angling opportunities come at well-appointed lodge and camp retreats, either as add-ons to yacht charters or stand-alone experiences.

Chinook and coho salmon, two of the five Pacific salmon species, are the main target while ocean fishing. Techniques include conventional methods such as trolling, as well as mooching, where the boat anchors or drifts slowly while a lead sinker and bait, typically herring, is dropped as low as 300 feet down and repeatedly pulled up in a vertical motion to attract the fish. Once salmon enter the river to lay their eggs, or spawn, anglers head to shore with their fly-fishing gear. Steelhead trout is also a sought-after species for serious fly fishermen.

Highly targeted groundfish include halibut, lingcod, rockfish, and sablefish, usually with baited jigs or circle hooks while anchored or drifting slowly. Not interested in fin fish? Throw out a trap and corral Dungeness crab. Whatever style or technique used, all are easy to learn; novice charter clients are welcome.

Groups of up to six adults can choose from the intimate 53-foot trawler Equinox for a five-day adventure out of Sitka with Captain Brooks Areson and mate Cameo Dawn. The owner-operators specialize in salt- and freshwater fishing techniques, as well as kayaking, hiking, whale watching, beachcombing, and SUPs for the nonangler. Cost: $4,250/day.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Boat Company, a nonprofit educational organization offering luxury eco-cruises aboard the M/V Liseron and M/V Mist Cove, restored minesweepers accommodating up to 24 passengers for seven nights either from Sitka or Juneau. Winner of the Orvis-endorsed international Destination of the Year Award, Boat Company guests can troll for king salmon or halibut from 19-foot skiffs, or fly fish from the shore assisted by guides. Also offered are glacier watching, hiking, kayaking. Cost: $8,000–$10,000/person.

Catering to fishing clients who want to enjoy land amenities, watersports, and sightseeing is Expedition Broker out of Haines. Options range from fishing charters aboard to those from rustic, remote lodges accessible only via float plane.

11. Belize

Species: Tarpon, bonefish, permit, snook, wahoo, barracuda, tuna, mahi-mahi
Season: Year-round; trade winds blow hard February–March
Stay: Aboard and/or ashore

Aerial view of the Belize coastline

Photo: Angler Vacations

With the second largest coral reef on the planet — designated a UNESCO World Heritage site — as well as lagoons, mangroves, flats, and atolls, Belize is the tropical idyll you don't have to fly halfway around the world to reach. The fishing, whether with light tackle in the shallows or conventional gear out in the depths, is exciting, and the nonangler array of activities, from cave tubing and zip lining to jungle spa treatments, Mayan ruin tours, and horseback riding, keep everyone in the group on an adventure.

Belize Sailing Vacations, a family-run company in operation since 2001, offers a fleet of crewed sailing catamarans for parties from two to eight on all-inclusive fishing expedition charters of seven nights. Captain and crew take you to remote locales to nab a catch from the cat, or go out on a smaller day boat for an extra charge. Custom itineraries are welcome. Resort options include a two-night stay at Coral Caye, an island owned by film director Francis Ford Coppola, which includes two cottages, a main house, and personalized service for up to 10 guests. Cost: $2,500+/person; ashore option from $3,300/person.

12. Galápagos

Species: Billfish, striped marlin, black ­marlin, blue marlin, yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi, Amberjacks, groupers, wahoo
Season: Year-round
Stay: Aboard

A blue marlin swims downward in the blue water with a fish hook in its mouth

Photo: Aryel Dvorquez

The extraordinary flora and fauna of this pristine Pacific Ocean archipelago influenced biologist Charles Darwin's groundbreaking theories on evolution in 1835. To preserve this UNESCO World Heritage site, today a limited number of people can visit at one time. Collaborating with the Galápagos National Park system on sustainable fishing programs are Stephanie Saman and Aryel Dvorquez, operators of Galápagos Luxury Charters. The company, active for 11 years, organizes and runs seven-night charters around fishing, diving, hiking, and wellness themes.

Stays aboard outfitted motor yachts (115 to 140 feet) are available for up to 16 guests; a companion 33-foot game boat equipped with all tackle takes guests out daily. The company offers combined day fishing activities with villa stays. Cost: $42,000–$180,000 depending on number of people, for seven nights aboard; $45,000–$89,000 on land; park permits included.

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Elaine Lembo

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

Elaine Lembo has spent more than 35 years as a writer and editor in the publishing and marine industry fields.