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Pro Tips for Booking a Fishing Charter

But how do you determine which guide to choose, and how much will it cost? Here are a few pointers on how to manage your own expectations

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The smiles and fishing memories shared during an offshore fishing charter can last a lifetime. Photography by Jeff Dennis
The smiles and fishing memories shared during an offshore fishing charter can last a lifetime. Photography by Jeff Dennis

When the window of opportunity opens up for a little fishing, consider going with a guide, especially when traveling out of town. A local guide can take you straight to the fishing grounds, giving you the best chance for success.

But how do you determine which guide to choose, and how much will it cost? Here are a few pointers on how to manage your own expectations, and help the guide provide those productive memories that you are looking to catch.

Inshore Fishing Charters

Say you have some business travel in a coastal city, and you have one extra day to fish on your own or with a friend from work. Search out an established tackle shop in that area, and plan to drop by to say hello or at least make a phone call.

Local tackle shops likely have long-term employees who have the experience and knowledge about what fish might be biting during your visit. They might have a favorite fishing guide to recommend. That captain might even be a part-time employee, but they won’t mind giving you a second or third option either. This is where communication plays a role. As soon as you speak to the guide, you want to be clear about what species you are targeting, or if you would be happy with any choices like redfish, trout or flounder.

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Most fishing guides will be glad to take you after the species you prefer, so if you encounter one that is less than ready to help in that regard, it’s time to call the next number on your list. However, if they can put you on something that fights good like a bonnethead shark instead of your chosen quarry, then you might want to heed their advice. A rod-bending fish fight always trumps a game fish quest that comes up empty.

Guided fishing trips that last a half day (four hours), can range from $250 to $400. Full day guided trips (eight hours) run around $600. The price is agreed upon before setting foot on the captain’s boat, and should cover all of the gas, bait, ice and fishing accessories for the day. Ask questions if there is any doubt. The boat should be clean and fully equipped for safety with life preservers. Customers can bring their own rod and reel, but it is customary that the guide will have all such equipment available.

Depending on the state you are in, the purchase of a fishing license may or may not be required when paying to fish with a guide. The captain’s license often covers anyone fishing onboard. It is customary to tip your guide $20 to $50 at the end of the trip to say thanks for the effort. A fishing guide deserving of a tip will hustle around the boat for you to bait hooks, net fish, take pictures and generally help make things run smoothly.

Anglers should remember to bring any food or drinks they prefer, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat. It is up to the captain to judge if any weather pattern justifies the cancellation of a trip. These fishing captains are on the water almost every day, and they can read the weather maps with authority. They know how to get a trip done safely, and know all the best fishing spots that are protected from the wind on any given day.

Inshore guides in your hometown can also provide great value, since they can be used as a resource to gain valuable knowledge regarding certain tactics. If speckled trout are the main draw in your area during winter, but you can’t seem to get one anywhere near your hook, then it might be time to book a charter.

This does not mean its okay to mark and return to their fishing spots – only that they will demonstrate which combination of tackle works well on trout, and then you can add that knowledge to your mental tackle box.

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Offshore Fishing Charters

Offshore charters are found in much less quantity than inshore charters. A tight economy, high fuel prices and bottom fishery closures have combined to squeeze offshore captains.

Sportfisher owners will only hire captains with years of fishing experience who have spent time as a mate on offshore boats. With this formula, the cream of the offshore crop has time to rise to the top, and most offshore charters are a safe bet.

While considering at a particular charter service, it should not be difficult to find reports from past fishing trips. Search the Internet for a fishing forum in that town to find out what others are saying.

Most trips involve a captain and a mate for your crew. A half-day, six-hour charter can run from $1,500 to $2,000. The half-day option limits the range of your excursion based solely on time.

A full-day charter for 10 hours might cost $2,500, but this will give anglers the best chance to reach and troll fishing grounds for billfish, and pelagic species like mahi and tuna. The price point usually requires more than one angler to help defer the cost, and it is routine for sportfishers to take six anglers on a trip. Often these groups come aboard with the desire to have one of the best times of their life, and if the fish are cooperating, that goal is within reach.

Anglers need to bring their own food and drinks, plus plenty of sunscreen. Long-sleeved shirts, a buff and hat help combat sun exposure. Your goal is to bring back some fish for the table, not to come back looking like a lobster! Deck shoes with non-marking white soles are often a requirement in the transom of the boat. The mate will clean all fish at the end of the day, and a tip for the mate after a long day is a customary way to say thank you.

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So You Want to be a Fishing Guide?

Catching fish every day sounds like a lot of fun. But does one need to be an uberfisherman to become a fishing guide? The answer is that anyone can be a fishing guide – after they pass stringent tests to earn a captain’s license for taking people on their boat.

It takes a love of fishing to inspire someone to be a fishing captain. Then it requires salesmanship, business savvy and an affable personality to complete the package.

There are fishing guides who can almost smell fish with a sixth sense, and they are fun to see in action. Some of these top guides can have sponsors for their charter boat, trailer and more. But most fishing guides are lucky if they can get a sponsor for some fishing rods or even for a particular brand of tackle. Some guides wouldn’t take anything from a sponsor anyway.

Charter captains are not scared to work some long hours, and when you factor in the constants of the wind and the sun, those hours can take their toll. A popular fishing guide might work nearly 200 days in a row during spring, summer and into fall, but the drop off in business during winter is near universal. If it’s a gray day with temperatures in the 40s, not many anglers are willing to pay to shiver in the name of fishing.

A fishing guide must catch the bait each day, and then assist the customer with whatever knowledge is necessary in order to get them catching fish. Sometimes they have a first-time angler on board, and other trips they have regular customers who are serious about fly fishing. Almost anything can happen from day to day, and once the angler comes aboard, the Captain is responsible for it all – the good and the bad.

When things like broken fishing rods, temperamental outboard engines, and stretches of slow fishing occur, it may not seem like guides are still living the dream.

While there are no guarantees of catching fish on any given trip, fishing guides can generally dredge up a fish even against the odds. That’s their job, and they are happy in their work, trying to outwit the finfish and make a customer happy by providing a great experience on the water.

Jeff Dennis is an outdoor writer and photographer who grew up on a creek in Charleston loving the saltwater, and he contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com

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  1. Going on a boating trip is something that I have always wanted to take my kids on. They really enjoy the water and I love to fish, so I thought it would be the best of both worlds. I did not know that you might have to buy a fishing license for the state you were fishing in because I thought any fishing license would carry over.


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Jeff Dennis is an outdoor writer and photographer who grew up on a creek in Charleston loving the saltwater, and he contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com

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