Charter Fishing: Choose The Right Captain For You - The Fisherman

Charter Fishing: Choose The Right Captain For You

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Do a little research before choosing a charter captain, otherwise you may find that you’re not a match for the style of fishing on that boat.

There are many variables to consider when choosing a captain for your next charter trip.

One of the most common questions I hear asked by anglers looking to book a charter is some version of, “Who is the best captain?” These questions pop weekly (sometimes daily) on social media and in fishing forums, especially during a hot local bite. A flood of answers seems to appear instantly, which only serves to render the anxious angler even more confused. Certainly we all want a successful trip, and charters aren’t cheap which limits many of us to one or two trips per year. Since the social media route only gives answers without any context, it’s really not the best way to go about it. So, how exactly does one go about choosing the best charter?

First, you should ask yourself what you are looking to get out of your fishing trip. I know, ‘to catch fish’ is the obvious answer that will top every list; but dive a little deeper into that. How do you want to catch these fish? What species do you want to target? What kind of boat do you want to fish from? And what kind of captain do you want to fish with? If you focus on more than just catching fish and think more about some of the other parts of the experience, it will make it much easier to choose the right charter.

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Make sure the captain and the style of fishing are also a match for the other members of your crew. Newport Sportfishing Charters Photo

Angling Styles

But sure, let’s start with the fun part: catching fish. On your ideal charter do you simply want to reel in as many fish as possible, and to relax and hang out in between hookups? If you’re okay with having the mate inform you that it’s ‘your turn’ and handing you a rod that’s already tight to a fish, then a boat that specializes in trolling might be a good option for you. Keep in mind that most captains that specialize in trolling use heavy gear like wire line, umbrellas and parachute jigs. These rigs don’t require the angler to do anything more than grab a bent rod and battle the fish. Heavy gear means that the boat will usually continue to troll while you’re fighting your fish. In between catches, you and your family or friends can sit back and enjoy a boat road, and perhaps enjoy a beverage while you’re at it.

Boats that troll tube and worm offer, what amounts to, a lighter version of the above. The rods remain in the holders until the strike, but the rods are lighter, the line is usually mono and the captains are usually able to slow down and reel in the other rods so you can fight the fish. Some anglers care more than others about reeling their fish in while the boat does or doesn’t continue to troll—it’s just another preference to consider when choosing your captain.

On the other hand, some anglers prefer to be fully-involved in the catching process. If that sounds like more fun to you, then choosing a charter that specializes in live eel fishing might be more your speed. You pick the eel, in many cases you hook the eel, you drop it down, you feel the strike and you set the hook. If trolling and/or slinging live bait doesn’t excite you, but seeing a big fish blow up on a surface plug really gets your heart racing, then search for a captain that specializes in light tackle topwater fishing. You might not have the same likelihood of catching a 50-pounder on that trip, but you will be in complete control of your fishing and you’ll get to experience those topwater explosions. If you go this route, just keep in mind that you will be making a ton of casts and you’ll be responsible for working the lures too. If you’re not a skilled caster, this style of trip might be frustrating.

In these ‘you hold the rod’ examples, you play an integral part in the success of the trip—for better or worse. For many anglers that challenge is a huge part of what they’re paying for. Be honest with yourself, if you’re not a great caster or don’t trust yourself to set a circle hook, stick with a trolling charter. Striped bass fishing is a perfect example of how there are many ways to catch them and most charter boats specialize in one or two. So make sure you do your research so that your experience will match up with your expectations.

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Finding the right captain can blossom into a longtime friendship as is the case with Capt. Mike Roy of Reel Cast Charters and angler Jim Luce.

Real Life Lessons

Several years ago an excellent Rhode Island charter captain and I split a charter while vacationing on the Gulf Coast of Florida. We went out with a very reputable charter captain who came highly recommended by multiple anglers that we knew. All went well… at first. We headed out into the mangroves after snook and redfish and pulled up to a very specific, predetermined spot after which he immediately began tossing live pilchards into the hole by the dozens and within minutes the water came alive with feeding fish. Our technique was to hook live pilchards on barbless circle hooks and toss them into the feeding frenzy, with our drag screwed all the way down. The fish weren’t allowed to run at all, this was done in an effort to reduce damage and stress on the fish, we’d crank them in as quickly as possible and turn them loose just as fast.

After I’d had my fill of catching these fish, I grabbed a little twitch bait I’d been itching to try. The trip took a turn when the captain saw me rigging the twitch bait, he informed me that this was strictly a barbless circle hook, live bait charter and that artificial lures were not welcome on the boat. He was the captain, so I didn’t argue, but I realized – right then and there – that I had not chosen the best captain for me.

We continued to catch fish after fish on live baits with locked down drag, but I would have traded nearly all of those “pet fish” for the chance to see what I could do with that twitch bait or even a shrimp dropped back into an undercut where I might have been able to coax out a snook or redfish.  When I pressed him a bit further, he indicated that, had I informed him that I wanted to use artificial lures, we could have gone searching for fish but he would not have taken me to any of his regular spots to fish.  His model for success didn’t match my vision of a fun charter on vacation in Florida: lesson learned. I don’t fault him, it’s his business, we caught fish and he knows what he needs to do to keep it running I just made a poor choice.

Comfort vs. Speed

Don’t underestimate how much the boat can make or break your enjoyment. For example, a captain may have a reputation for having the fastest boat, getting you to the offshore grounds in record time, but not everyone loves having to be strapped down while hammering offshore at 40-plus mph! Run-and-gun center consoles with double or triple outboards are not everyone’s cup of tea, some prefer a longer, more relaxing ride that allows for conversation or maybe a quick snack on the way. Another important thing is to dress like you expect to get a little wet. While some boats have a roomy cabin for staying dry, sooner or later weather is going to make things less-than-ideal, so if you’re prepared to get wet, it won’t be a big deal when you do.

It’s also important to consider your crew and what their comfort preferences might be. For example, when I take my 84-year old dad out for a trip, I lean toward larger, cabin-style, diesel-powered boats. It may take a bit longer to get to the fishing grounds, but dad arrives comfortable and able to fish, that’s a win. It’s the opposite when I take my sons, a fast boat is just as exciting for them as catching the fish, so the faster the better. Just be honest with yourself about your own preferences and those of your crew and don’t leave the boat style to chance.

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Some captains have a knack for finding certain species of fish due to extensive time fishing a certain area. Photo courtesy of Matt Broderick.

Oh Captain, My Captain

Finally, we come to the captain himself (or herself). Good captains come in all personalities; some are ‘all business’ and some are jokers, some don’t talk much and others talk the entire time. Is he maniacal about how he keeps the boat? Would you be okay with that or would you prefer a captain that was more easygoing? I know I don’t want to be yelled at for getting bluefish blood in the boat while trying to get a picture. But I know some very good captains that will blow a gasket if you have a bluefish or fluke on the deck bleeding and spitting up bait while you try to get a Boga on them for a photo. I do understand the “keep my boat clean” mentality as these guys are running trip after trip especially when running two-a-days during peak season, so I try to minimize any mess but that being said if it’s a special fish (to me) and I want a picture of it before it ends up in the cooler and I don’t want to have to worry about getting chewed out because some regurgitated bunker landed on the deck! Do your research, read reviews, ask around or even ask the captain himself.

Even the most laid back captains don’t want to have to do extra work, so if you bring your own gear, keep it to a minimum and make sure it’s up to the task. Poorly-matched gear not only lowers your chances of success, but it can actually be dangerous for you and the people around you if your gear can’t handle what you’re hooked up to! If you’re not sure whether or not your gear is up to the challenge, give the captain a break and use his gear.

Captains, especially by the end of the season, can sometimes be a bit grumpy. So try to get off to a good start by arriving early and make sure to listen to and follow his advice when the fishing begins. And, if after a while, you begin to realize that you haven’t chosen as good of a match as you thought, make every effort to enjoy the day as much as possible. Just as I wasn’t thrilled about fishing live pilchards on barbless circle hooks in Florida, I made the decision to just enjoy catching fish.

Do as much research as you can online, which is easier now than ever, since most charters maintain pages on various social media outlets. From that you can usually gauge what species they fish for, how they do it, what kind of boat or boats they run and, sometimes, you can even get a good profile of the captain’s personality. You can also derive many details from reading fishing reports from different charters right here in this magazine. From there, it’s up to you to ask around and find out what you can about others experiences on that charter. If you do that, you’ll be setting yourself up for an enjoyable day of fishing with a captain that does things that way you want to do them. It’s your money, spend it as wisely as you can.

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