Charter Fishing for the First Time: The Complete Guide
Jan 11, 2021 | 13 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 13 minutes

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably decided to try charter fishing for the first time. Good for you! As any angler will tell you, this will prove to be one of the better decisions of your life. Still, fishing for the first time has its challenges, and there will be a ton of new things to learn and pay attention to. With that in mind, we’ve come up with this easily digestible guide on what to expect on your first fishing trip. Read on!

a smiling angler fishing for the first time is holding a fish

As we go through what you might expect from your first day of fishing, we’ll cover some of the things you’ll want to prepare for in advance, what you should be aware of on the boat itself, as well as a few things you’ll want to pay attention to after the trip is over. Covering all these steps may sound like a lot at first, but once they add up, you’ll be left with one truly memorable experience.

For all you FishingBooker customers out there, we will have a few bonus tips on what you can do to make your first angling adventure hassle-free and enjoyable.

Before the Trip

The most important things you can do to make your first fishing trip a success should happen before you ever set foot on the boat. From communicating with your guide, to knowing what to pack, doing your homework early is critical. 


It’s vital that you establish a connection with your guide as soon as you book your outing. Even if you booked well in advance, confirming the details is always a good idea and it will let you “get a feel” for the person that will take you fishing. As the trip gets closer, make sure you get in touch with your guide to agree on these key points:

What You Want Out of Your Trip

Even if you’ve never been on a fishing charter before, you still might have an idea or two about what you want to try. This could be a fishing technique you want to learn, a fish species you want to catch, or even a specific fishing spot you want to visit. If you or any of your fellow anglers have any special requirements, now is the time to mention them.

a smiling man talking over the phone with a boat and a dock in the background

Addressing these things with your guide ahead of the trip is extremely important for a couple of reasons:

  • Your guide will be able to prepare accordingly, so you can receive exactly the type of service you want. 
  • If something you asked for isn’t feasible (for example, a fish species is out of season), your guide will let you know, and you can agree to fish for something else. This will also help you set realistic expectations, and avoid any potential disappointment.

Policies and What’s Included

If you haven’t inquired about your guide’s “onboard policies” ahead of booking, this is a good time to do it. You might find it completely normal to light a cigar on board, but your captain might not. Same goes for alcohol and food. Most guides allow you to bring snacks and drinks, but it never hurts to ask.

fruit and coffee on a boat
Longer fishing trips usually include snacks and drinks, but not always.

If you’d like to receive any extra services, don’t leave discussing these until the very last minute. Some guides will be happy to pick you up and drop you off for free. Others won’t, or will do this for a price. Use the same logic for fish cleaning and filleting, live bait, gear, and licenses.

Lastly, check if fuel is included in the trip price. Fuel cost can add up, especially if you’re fishing offshore. Most captains include fuel in the price, but if you want to save yourself from an unpleasantly large bill, double check.

Departure Time and Directions to The Boat

As funny as it may sound, confirming the departure time and place one last time before you leave is key if you want your trip to happen. A lot of things can happen between the day you book and the day that you go out. A marina could be under renovation, or your guide may have simply moved his base of operation.

Ask for directions – your guide probably knows the area better than you – use that. You don’t want to be late for your fishing trip. If you’re set to go out in the morning, your guide might have another trip in the afternoon. That means that if you’re late, your trip will be cut short.

a man holding his head outside his car looking at the traffic jam ahead

Most marinas have their own parking. If yours doesn’t, ask the captain for recommendations on where to leave your vehicle.

FB customers: Luckily for you, a lot of the things we mentioned are visible on your captain’s listing as well as in your booking confirmation email. Your confirmation email will contain your captain’s details, the trip name, departure time and location, as well as what’s included in the price. If you paid a deposit, the email will let you know how much the remaining balance is.

You should use this information as a point of reference, but still make sure to contact your guide ahead of time. Staying in touch with your captain is super easy with the Instant Messaging feature; not only will you be able to contact the captain right away, but you will also have a record of everything you agreed on in one place.

Check out this guide to learn how to contact the captain.

How to Prepare

You’ve nailed all the details with your guide, great. Now it’s time to pack. Your clothing will obviously depend on the season and location, but a few things are essential. Rubber-soled sneakers will keep you firm and steady on the boat, and layered clothing will give you flexibility if the weather changes. Always go for materials that dry out easily but keep you warm at the same time.

A few other crucial items include sunscreen, polarized sunglasses, a mini first-aid kit, and seasickness meds (like Dramamine). For storage, bring a backpack, one smaller cooler for food and drinks, and one larger for fish (if you intend to keep it).

Almost every fishing charter will provide drinking water on board. Still, anything can happen on a boat, so bringing a bottle or two of your own certainly won’t hurt. For more information, check out our complete guide on what to pack on a charter fishing trip.

Most fishing trips start early in the morning. If this is the case for you, make sure to get a good night’s sleep before you set out. This probably won’t be an issue if you’re fishing with your family, but if you’re in town with your buddies, a night of partying will come back to bite you, once you’re out on the water.

The Trip

The day of your trip has finally arrived – hurray! As the excitement builds up, you’ll still have a couple of things to take care of. First, make sure you’ve packed everything. The foolproof way to go about this is having a checklist. We all forget stuff, especially when we’re excited. Go through your list and make sure it’s all there.

The second thing you should do is leave early – this is really important. Even if the news report says there are no traffic jams, leave early. Aim to arrive at least 15 minutes before your trip is scheduled to start. If you happen to arrive early, you’ll just have more time to get acquainted with the crew. Which brings us to the next step.

Meeting the Crew

Getting to know your captain and first mate will have a tremendous impact on what you get from your trip. A friendly attitude and a respectful relationship will go a long way into making your time on the boat an enjoyable one. 

Many fishing guides are showmen full of amazing fish stories. Others might be a little quieter, but still no less of an expert. No matter who your captain and deckhand are, don’t be afraid to ask questions. These guys aren’t just here to drive the boat and bait your hooks, they’re here to teach you how to fish.

Getting on Board

If this is your first time on a boat, you’ll need a few moments to get comfortable getting around. Even if the waters are calm, this isn’t solid ground, so try to keep your balance at all times. When the boat is in motion and you need to move, make sure to hold on to something or at least have a well-balanced stance.

The first thing you’ll want to take care of after stepping aboard is your belongings. Ask the crew for a secure dry spot for your things. If there’s one thing every first-time angler underestimates, it’s how wet and slimy things can get.

The Drive

Often, when people book an “x-hour fishing trip,” they think they will be hooking fish for x hours. It’s important to realize that if you booked a six-hour trip, you’ll be away from the dock for exactly six hours. That includes time from the dock to the fishing spot(s), and time from the fishing spot to the dock. This might seem like lost time, but you should use these moments wisely.

a view from a fishing boat as it moves through the water

As you set out from the dock, the mate or guide will most likely give you a run-down of the equipment onboard. Depending on the fishing technique, you’ll be using one or more rods, bait and/or lure setups, etc. Make sure to pay attention to what the crew tells you, as this can be the difference between a full or empty cooler.

The Fishing

Deep sea fishing trips often require live bait. If you’re fishing for live bait (as opposed to buying it at the marina), you’ll obviously need to spend time catching it. This usually doesn’t take long, but you should still factor it into your total trip time. Alternatively, you can ask the captain to buy bait at the marina ahead of time, if possible.

Once you finally reach your first fishing spot, the crew will let you know (again) which technique you’ll be using and which fish you can expect. If there’s a deckhand on board, they’ll likely be the ones to show you the ropes. For a first-time angler, these guys are an invaluable resource of information. Don’t be afraid to pick their brains for anything fishing-related.

If you don’t catch a fish on the first few tries, don’t give up. There’s a lot of ways to catch fish, even if we’re talking about a single species. If the fish aren’t biting, a good captain will try a few different things. More often than not, this will result in a catch.

big game fishing, an angler battling a marlin from a boat

If you would like to change the species you’re after, or try a different technique or spot, don’t hesitate to ask. The captain will fulfil your wishes as long as what you asked is feasible. If you addressed such situations before your trip, neither you nor the captain will be surprised. Again, communication is key.

What do I do with the Fish?

You’ve caught your first fish – congrats! If it’s a keeper (within the legal size limits), the crew will let you know and proceed to bring it aboard. Depending on the size of your catch, you’ll either reel it straight onto the boat, or you’ll bring it as close to the boat as possible for the crew to gaff it and swing it aboard. There will be a cooler on board to keep the fish nice and frosty until you return to dock.

fish in a cooler

If you’re practicing catch and release, or your fish is outside the legal limit, you’ll need to safely unhook it. The crew will show you how to do this at first, but you’ll get the hang of it sooner or later. 

The basic principle is to first wet your hands before handling the fish so as not to remove its protective slime. If possible, try not to remove the fish from the water.

As you remove the hook, hold the fish horizontally with your hand on its belly, just under the gill plates. If you want to snap a quick pick, the captain will probably have a tip or two on how best to go about this. When you’re ready to release it, don’t just throw the fish back. Doing so will probably kill it.

an angler's hand releasing a cutthroat trout back into the water

For most fish, you’ll want to hold it just under the surface for a few moments first, so water can enter its gills. Check out our detailed guide to catch and release if you want to learn more.

Rounding Things Off

There are several ways to end your fishing trip. The most conventional one is to try to catch as many fish as you can until the very last moment. Keep in mind, however, that some guides will return to shore early if you catch the legal daily bag limit before the clock runs out. You should discuss this ahead of your trip to avoid any misunderstanding.

If you’re fishing in the tropics, one of the most enjoyable ways to finish your trip off is with a little snorkeling. If you’re fishing in the afternoon, you might get a bonus sunset cruise.

After the Trip

Getting back to the dock, you’ll probably be tired from all that reeling in the sun. Still, there are a few things you should pay attention to, as they are no less important than the fishing itself. As you leave the boat, make sure you’ve collected your belongings. The crew will arrange a customary photo shoot with your day’s catch next to the boat.

filleting a fish

There are a few important things you should discuss with the captain and mate once you’re off the boat. This is the time when the crew will clean and fillet your catch, so make sure that your prior arrangements are honored. Some crews will charge you for this service, others won’t. Some will split the catch with you 50-50, others will let you keep it all. Again, if you agree on all this ahead of time, you’ll have no surprises to deal with.

How Much Do I Tip?

The most important thing to do right after the trip is over is, of course, paying for it. Even if you paid for the entire trip in advance, you still need to remember to tip the crew. Gratuity is a standard in the recreational fishing industry, with customary amounts in the 15–20% range. 

If this sounds like a lot, look at it this way: if you would tip someone who poured you a beverage, why not tip someone who just spent hours on the water with you, teaching you how to fish? Moreover, deckhands are often paid through tips only, so you’ll be rewarding their service directly. We recommend giving tips with the captain and deckhand both present.

Eat Now or Later?

When the fish is all filleted and nicely tucked away in your cooler, you’ll have a somewhat difficult choice to make. Do you fly it home with you, or bring it to a local restaurant for dinner? If you caught a bunch of fish, we say definitely do both. Larger marinas even have booths on site where you can leave your extra catch for charity. If you do opt for a local restaurant, make sure to ask the crew for a recommendation.

a table of seafood on a table at a restaurant near the water

Saying Goodbye

All good things must come to an end, as they say. Luckily, with fishing, you can always come back and wet your line another day. If you enjoyed your first fishing trip, chances are you’ll be back next year. Everybody likes fishing with someone they already know, so you can bet the crew will be as glad to see you again as you are to see them.

The last thing you should do to round off your first fishing trip is write a review for your guide. Most people like to wait a day to let the dust settle and gather their thoughts. 

five star review, a hand holding the last of five starts against a wooden background

FB customers: At FishingBooker, we try to make leaving reviews a quick and hassle-free process. As a customer, you’ll receive a message shortly after your trip, providing you with a link where you can share your thoughts on the trip you just had. 

Most captains will ask you to leave a review, but you should still feel encouraged to do this even if they don’t. If you had a blast, let everybody know, so that they can have a good time, too. This also boosts the captain’s business, and they will undoubtedly thank you for it. 

But what if you didn’t have a good time? Again, leave a review. You will help another first-timer avoid the same experience. You’ll also allow the guide to learn from their mistakes. 

What if my trip gets canceled?

A fishing trip can get canceled for a number of reasons. Whether it’s bad weather, a mechanical issue with the boat, or even a case of your guide being double-booked, these things can happen. Even you might have a last-minute change of plans. What’s important is that you stay on top of things by keeping in touch with your guide. 

a fishing captain sitting at the helm of his boat

FB customers: Canceling a fishing trip is never easy. Especially if you made plans around your outing. Thankfully, FishingBooker’s Customer Service will help you out if this happens. Through clear and transparent cancellation policies, and round-the-clock support, the process is easy and seamless. Let’s cover a few examples of how a trip can get canceled, and what you can do about it:

  • Trip canceled by the captain:

As we mentioned, your guide may cancel the trip for a number of reasons. The most common ones are bad weather and mechanical issues. If you’re fishing on a party boat, there may be an insufficient number of people for the boat to go out. Lastly, your guide may even inform you that they need to cancel because they’ve been double-booked for the day.

If any of the above happen, FishingBooker will refund your deposit. Of course, if you’re flexible with your dates, you may choose to reschedule your trip instead. To learn more about what you can do when your guide cancels the trip, check out this article.

  • Trip canceled by you:

If you’re considering canceling your trip, we recommend taking a look at your booking details to view the captain’s cancellation policy. This will let you know if you’re eligible for a refund or not. 

In a nutshell, good communication can save even a last-minute cancellation. Whether it’s rescheduling for another date, finding an alternative boat, or even a different location, staying in touch is key.

If all this cancel talk left you discouraged – don’t worry! The vast majority of bookings actually do happen. Did you know that three million Americans tried fishing for the first time last year? All of these people had the same thoughts running through their heads, and you know what – they had a great time. We’re willing to bet that you will, too.

An Adventure to Remember

Granted, this is a lot of information to digest. Luckily for you, you’ll have your captain to guide you through all the steps we mentioned. If you’re worried about forgetting something, you can always come back to this guide as a reminder.

Lastly, don’t fret too much about the size of fish you’re going to catch. You might end up with the fish of your life, and you might catch nothing at all. Returning to dock with an empty cooler happens to the best of us, and that’s completely normal. Sure, catching big fish is what everybody brags about. But trust us, that’s not what’ll keep you coming back.

What you should do is take a step back to truly enjoy your time on the water. 

angler holding a fish with the fishing guide smiling behind her

By the time you get back to your hotel you’ll see that, ultimately, it’s all about the learnings you had, and the laughs and stories you’ll share. That’s how a first-time angler becomes a passionate fisherman.

Where will you fish for the first time? Do you have any concerns? Let us know in the comments below. Otherwise, it’s time to find a guide near you and start your new hobby!

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Comments (2)
  • Rose Ford

    May 18, 2020

    Just a question actually.
    My 15 year old grandson will be going deep sea fishing soon. His first time. Do you strap them in for safety? Those are some awfully large fish. Nervous Nana here.
    Thank you!

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      May 20, 2020

      Hi Rose,

      Thanks for asking.

      Frankly speaking, strapping in could do more harm than good. This is because straps can limit your grandson’s mobility on the boat, or even become entangled with other anglers or on-board equipment.

      The most important thing here is to choose an experienced crew. If your grandson has a good captain and mate, all he’ll need to do is follow their advice, and he should be completely fine.

      Deep sea fishing vessels also need to have safety equipment on board. Depending on where you are, the regulations can be a bit different, but you’ll find life vests and similar items on almost every deep sea fishing boat out there. These boats also have higher gunwales (top edges of the hull), and they are built to allow anglers to battle big fish, even in rough conditions.

      Of course, you can always contact the captain for some additional peace of mind.

      I hope this was helpful. I’m sure your grandson will have a great time!

      Thanks for reading, and all the best!

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