Charter Factor: Not Just for Noobs - The Fisherman

Charter Factor: Not Just for Noobs

2019 2charter Factor Not Just For Noobs Catch

Laid up for the winter?  That’s another good reason why a “for-hire” trip makes so much sense!

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the years is that the state of New Jersey has some of the most skillful and dedicated anglers in the world. And not just a few here or there; there are literally thousands of locked-in anglers residing here. They study and learn fast how to enjoy and excel in each of the fisheries that the Garden State has to offer.

Given that charter captains cut their teeth as private anglers first, it should make sense then when I maintain that our region has some of the finest, most seasoned charter boat operations on the planet.  New Jersey and Delaware guides, for example, are so wired in that it’s only logical that anglers of every ability and experience level should consider utilizing the resource from time to time.

Choosing Your Trip

2019 2charter Factor Not Just For Noobs ASSISTEach captain runs their business in the manner they choose, which can vary in many ways, so it’s important for customers to familiarize themselves with the operation’s policies.  There are a number of ways to find reputable charter boat options – resources such as The Fisherman Magazine, local tackle shops, word of mouth, and even by online searches – but business websites are often the next step in obtaining information on what to expect on a given trip.  The length of a chosen trip, rates, items to bring and other recommendations are often stated here. They also provide a primer for any questions that can be answered by text, email or phone.

Anglers should expect the rates to vary based on a trip.  Fluke, tog and striper will obviously be less than the cost of tuna, tilefish or marlin trips based on gear and fuel usage. Whether inshore or offshore, the captains work hard on a daily basis and it can be a grinding way to make a living at times. Every angler is jealous of the occupation when it’s sunny, warm and the fish are eating the bottom out of the boat, but what about when the morning is cold and dark, the bite is fickle, the seas are windswept, and equipment malfunctions?  The day job might seem a little better then, huh?

If a charter rate seems a little high for a private trip, most captains will gladly recommend their favorite party boat, which allows you to pay “per head” as opposed to chartering a whole boat.  In addition to the wide variety of for-hire options, there are all kinds of clients as well! Some anglers, particularly those on vacation looking to book on short notice, will call and ask what the best bet is for fast, rod-bending action and the trip can be set up rather easily. Many captains love these folks because they aren’t too picky and there’s usually a bottom fish ready to oblige if pelagics aren’t available.

Other clients, with specific desires, are best to have an understanding of fish migrations so they can seek optimal windows for success.  As a reader of The Fisherman Magazine, the odds are that you fall into this group—those who know exactly what they want to catch. Captains love these clients as well, but for a different reason.  They seek the same trophy fish that likely was part of the charter captain becoming a professional.

Even if You Have a Boat

Those who run their own boat can benefit by participating in guided trips. The “never stop learning” mantra applies even to expert anglers and little tips and tricks can be absorbed from going with another captain. Take for instance trolling speed; whether it’s tuna and wahoo in the deep or stripers along the beach, trolling velocity is a huge component of success. How about chunking? Professional canyon skippers have their own methodology when it comes to the attractants they send out to sea; from the defrost system used to the incremental timing for deployment, captains are very particular about their ways.  So why not learn by observing and asking questions? There’s just so much to pick up on, and of course, it’s also nice to sit back and not have all the responsibilities required from supervising the outing. It can feel out-of-place; albeit, really nice to be a passenger once in a while.

2019 2charter Factor Not Just For Noobs BOATS

For those who are just entering the sport altogether—perhaps longtime surfcasters finally looking to get into the boating game—going on charters shortens the learning curve not just on fishing, but also boat operation.  Have you ever noticed that a charter captain will put the boat in reverse before telling the crew to send out lines on a drift trip?  That’s so the lines go straight down rather than scope out when coasting to a stop. Although this seems trivial to most, it’s a solid example for a novice fisherman in his new boat.

The tactical education and all the nuances that are involved with coaxing strikes from gamefish can be learned at a high rate of speed for observant anglers. And since seeing is believing, patrons can watch the captain’s chosen equipment perform on the targeted species. Rods, reels, terminal tackle and much more are on display. There’s no better way to learn than to watch a seasoned professional in his or her “gravy.”

Even in the event the fishing is slow, the knowledge picked up by talking to the captain and mate is of high value. Much can be learned even on days of the skunk. Someone once asked me, “Where can I go to fishing school?” To which I replied, “Just go with a variety of charter boats and mention that you want to learn what you can during the outing.”

Charter Considerations

Each captain uses social media in their own way.  Some business owners/captains post photos and reports daily while others post randomly, and another group posts each fish as they hit the deck. Some captains hardly post at all. Reasons vary widely that’s for sure.  If a captain wants to let potential clients know he is on the fish consistently and get his followers to catch a fishing fever, they might post more often. Other captains know that posting monster catches regularly can lead to crowds. Captains that have cultivated a top-notch reputation with a full year’s worth of bookings might feel less need to post reports.  What’s all this mean?  Be careful what you read into by following social media alone, that’s all.

2019 2charter Factor Not Just For Noobs AUTHOR

It’s important for the charter master to know who they are including on their guided trip. It’s a dangerous game for you as the lead to invite a person along for a canyon trip, knowing that they occasionally get sick in the back bay. Captains will not turn around if a member of the trip is getting motion sickness so that person will have to fight through the dreaded feeling. Just remember that if your party requests to go back to the dock, they will forfeit the fare.

Likewise, those putting their charters together should be totally transparent with their friends about the expectations of the trip so there are no surprises. For example, if I’m running a charter, I ask each member of the trip for the balance plus 20 percent tip in advance while advising them that they can tip more if they so desire. If the captain has a release policy, particular procedures, or certain idiosyncrasies, I try to make sure those I invite are aware so they can turn the invite down if they don’t like what they hear. Best to be up front.

Booking trips out of state of course is exciting because they open doors to different fisheries and entirely new tactics. Just looking at the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina south, an outstanding red drum fishery exists along with grouper and a pile of other pelagics thriving in different seasons. Get to Florida and it’s like an entire, new world of species options. To the north, big nearshore bluefin and cod reign supreme and charter captains are ready to give you a shot.

Just keep in mind that while many species popular in New Jersey and Delaware are available in other states, some of the fishing is on a completely different level. The Nantucket doormat fluke bite is a bucket list trip even though we target them all the time here. Montauk striped bass remain a perennial favorite, as does togging in Rhode Island or south along the Maryland coast.

Some charter captains take bookings on as short a notice as the day before, while others’ schedules might fill most of their books during the winter show season.  All businesses are run differently so it’s important to make yourself aware so you can set up a charter in 2019.

The author runs a 21-foot Contender called Sweet Melissa II on which he charters out of the Brigantine, Atlantic City area.  Learn more at and check out his mojo striper fishing seminar on Sunday, March 3 at 1 p.m. at the Atlantic City Boat Show.


In this era, it’s customary on six-pack charters or smaller guided trips to tip 15 to 20 percent for the mate. My parties sometimes tip more if the effort, outcome or vibes are really outstanding. Tricky question:  if no mate on board, is a tip still expected for just the captain?  I have fished with some of the best six-pack charter captains along the Atlantic Coast, and will tell you honestly that a captain doing the duty of both the skipper and the mate still expects a tip. If my crew and I were to not tip, we’d probably receive a funny look, or if it were a highly sought-after trip, we might not receive a booking the following year.

Is this necessarily right? Like one of those round table arguments on the ESPN talk shows, the merits and opinions on tipping a solo captain can be debated, but rest assured, those captains do, in fact, expect a 15 to 20 percent tip. If you want to justify it, think about it like this.  Most of us tip a restaurant waiter 20 percent even if they forget the ketchup, don’t refill the water and are slow bring the check.  When in doubt, best to take care of the charter captains if they put in a solid effort to help you catch fish.




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