Booking your first charter? Here are the questions you absolutely must ask.
OK, so you're all ready to book a charter fishing trip. You're looking to hook a fish that will really make your friends at home say "it was HOW big?!"
No more inland or lake fishing for you. You want to hunt the big boys of the gulf or the deep blue. This isn't an everyday trip for you, so you want to make sure you get the right charter.
If you don't have the luxury of going down to the dock and meeting the captains and touring the boats, these questions are all the more important.
What kinds of groups do you usually take out?
This is very important. During my first time down by the docks in North Carolina, I was amazed to see how much variety there was between the charters.
Some boats specialized in fishing experiences for younger kids. Others targeted businesses looking for a bonding experience outside the boardroom. There are even fishing charters that cater to bachelor parties with beer coolers and disco lights all around.
You don't want to wind up on a party boat more concerned with smooth waters than big fish. By that same token, if you're taking small children with you, a charter that specializes is likely to have more equipment their size.
Not all charters are created equally, so ask around to find the right fit for your needs.
If you aren't sure where to start, make a phone call to the local travel center. Usually, the travel center hears a little bit of everything from all over. So they can point you in the right direction or steer you away from a bad situation.
What creature comforts do you offer on board?
This is another clue on who the charter is geared to and whether or not they charter full-time. We often like to picture ourselves out there skimming across the waves with the sun shining and the fish jumping.
If you're on the deck feeling the breeze, who cares about the creature comforts?
Well, when one of your group members gets a little sick or you have a seven-year-old that suddenly needs a nap, those comforts become very precious.
A charter that's invested in a more comfortable ride also shows that they care about you having a great trip the whole time. The weather won't always cooperate, and often if you're deep sea fishing, there will be a bit of a hike to get to the place you'll be fishing.
The creature comforts may not matter too much when you're in the fighting chair, but in the downtime, you'll be glad they were there.
What is the most common problem you encounter?
This is kind of the charter-equivalent of the old "what's your greatest weakness" interview question.
Asking a charter about their most common problem gives them a chance to tell you how to best prepare for the trip. Is it weather? People getting seasick? Maybe people don't book the correct amount of time for what they want to do.
Usually, if you ask them about their common problems, they'll also tell you about how they handle these typical issues. This can give you a feel for their experience level and how you can expect to be treated on your trip.
If you're worried about getting seasick, remember the bigger the boat, the less you'll feel the waves!
Will my group be the only passengers on board?
This could be a positive or a negative for you, depending on what you're looking for in a charter.
There are "party boats" that can have upwards of 300 passengers on board, all fishing for small fish over the side. But even in an eight-person charter looking for game fish, you'll often have the opportunity to fill the seats with other groups. This splits the cost if you don't mind having a couple of other people sharing your trip.
If you're looking for a private charter for just you and some friends, you may want to make sure that's clear when you book!
Where do you typically fish?
Many charters get a bad rap for taking advantage of tourists. They take groups of people out to the same places day after day. With no regard for the weather, conditions, or how overfished that area has become. No fish biting means less work for the charter, and they can always chalk it up to bad luck.
Of course, that also means bad reviews and generally unhappy customers. So, these charters don't usually stand up to those with a long history and good reviews.
The best charters don't have a typical route. They go where the seasoned captains think the fish will be. They base this on a ton of factors, like the season, weather and local events.
If they mention a variety of places you can get to based on the amount of time you have booked, that's a good sign that they don't just have one spot.
You know you have a good charter when the first mate is excited. The best charters have a crew that loves what they do and really works for you.
Since the mates usually get most of their income from tips, they're the hustlers on board that'll try and help you catch fish. They'll help you with live bait, strategies, etc. If they're happy, you'll be happy.
If you're still on the fence about a charter, try checking out their Facebook page. Look at how often they post photos of their customers with fish. How happy do the people look in the photos?
I'm a big fan of asking for references, too, so don't be shy!