How to Choose a Fishing Charter: The Definitive Guide
Mar 13, 2020 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Fishing charters are the stuff memories are made of. Getting away from everyday life and doing something special as a group – there’s really nothing like it. This could be a regular event or a one-off thing. Either way, you want to choose the right charter and enjoy your dream day on the water.

That’s where we come in. We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of anglers book the trip of a lifetime. Today we’ll explain how to choose a fishing charter that suits you: from deciding on the type of trip to finding a captain, picking the boat, and securing that photo album experience. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!

Step 1: Choose a Fishing Experience

Before you start browsing boats and contacting captains, it’s important to know what type of charter you’re looking for. Every charter service is unique and most specialize in a certain style of fishing. Consider the following aspects of your trip and you can narrow down your search massively.

Shared or Private

A flats fishing boat in shallow sea grasses. the captain is poling the boat from the back while an angler fishes at the front

Your first choice seems pretty straightforward: Do you want the whole boat to yourself, or are you happy to share it with other anglers? Actually, there’s a little more to it than that.

Shared charters are great for people who know their way around a rod. Reel in dinner on the cheap and make new friends along the way! The downside is that the crew has to move around helping everyone on the boat, so beginners can feel a little lost. You also don’t get much of a say in how or where you fish.

Private charters give you a completely tailored experience. Fish at your own pace and target the species that you want. If you don’t know much about fishing, the captain will teach you the basics and help you bring the fish aboard. On top of all that, you get your own personal guide who can tell you about the area. They cost more than shared trips, but you get what you pay for.

Inshore or Offshore

A captain piloting a charter boat in rough water, with heavy tackle fishing rods on the side of the boat

Your day will be completely different based on where you fish – especially in the ocean. Inshore trips stay in sheltered waters near land. The fish are smaller and the sea is calmer. Short trips offer plenty of fun, so this is a great option for first-timers or young kids. That’s not to say that pros will get bored – many of the world’s top game fish live inshore, too.

As you move away from the coast, the fish start to get bigger – and tastier. Nearshore trips usually take you to reefs and wrecks to reel in delicious, easy-to-catch bottom fish. You’re in open water, so the sea can be a little wavy. Beginners and older kids should be fine, though.

Then there are the bluewaters. Offshore charters take you so far out that you completely lose sight of land. This is serious sportfishing and usually lasts the whole day. The fish are big and mean. The water can be rough. Offshore fishing is perfect for confident anglers who are looking for a challenge.

Food or Sport

A large family group holding red snapper caught on a fishing charter

This one ties into everything we’ve covered so far. Take a step back and ask yourself what you really want from your trip. If you’re booking a private charter, you can adjust your day to suit your priorities, but you should still be clear on what’s more important. Is it that one trophy fish? A full cooler? Or are you just in it for some fun with the family? 

For example, if you’re set on landing a monster, your best chance is on a private charter with a deep sea specialist. Want to make sure the little ones have fun? Pick a short inshore trip with a kid-friendly captain. If all you’re after is something to throw in the fryer, shared reef fishing trips offer serious bang for your buck.

Step 2: Choose a Charter Service

You know what you want, time to find it! In the online age, you no longer need to stroll the boardwalk and collect flyers. You can find out a lot about a charter on their website, social media, or FishingBooker listing. Here are the main things you should be looking for.

The Captain

A charter captain piloting a boat near a bridge.

More than anything, it’s the captain that makes the trip. That’s why it makes sense to “get to know” them before you book. Find out how long they’ve been in business. If they’re new, how long have they been fishing in the area? Are they local? An experienced guide can be the difference between a good day out and the trip of a lifetime.

A good way to learn more about a captain is through their fishing reports. These are a public journal of what they’ve been catching and the kinds of charters they’ve been running. They can tell you how often a captain is out on the water, or what species and habitats they focus on most.

Lastly, reviews. We don’t need to tell you how important reviews are when shopping online. The actual content of a review can reveal much more than just the captain’s star rating. Read some recent reviews and see what makes the captain special. Flexibility and good communication before and during the trip will affect your experience just as much as the number of fish you catch. 

The Boat

A large sportfishing boat in the water

This is the first thing that most people think about when they’re choosing a charter – and it’s definitely worth some thought. Do you want comfort or speed? A floating home or a lean, mean fishing machine? There are a dozen types of charter boat, each with their own pros and cons. Most trips are run on center consoles and sportfishing boats.

Center consoles are fast and cheap to run. You’re quite exposed, with little if any shade. The upside is that you can move around freely as you fight fish. They often have a basic toilet inside the console. On the other hand, sportfishing boats have proper toilets below deck. Above, there’s plenty of space in and out of the sun. They’re also more stable – great for avoiding seasickness. The catch? They’re slower, more expensive, and can’t fish in shallow water.

One thing that all boats have in common is a maximum capacity. This is normally four or six passengers, depending on the license – not the size. A boat may legally hold four, but be much better suited to two. Around 22 feet is a comfortable minimum for a family of four. Sportfishing boats should have space for six.

Permits and Licenses

A sample merchant mariner credential, also known as a captain's license. This is one of the things you should always ask about when you choose a fishing charter

Always choose a charter that has all the right paperwork. That way, you know you’re in safe hands, with somebody who’s properly trained. It also means that you won’t run into trouble if the Coast Guard shows up. The main things to look for are a captain’s license, a permit to run fishing trips, and insurance. Every country has its own rules, though, and it can even vary by state. 

In the US, there are different licenses for fishing in state and federal waters. This is particularly important in the Gulf of Mexico, where federal licenses are hard to get hold of. The Coast Guard is cracking down on people fishing without them, so you should make sure your charter is federally-licensed if you’re going offshore. 

The Price

A hand holding chalk next to a drawing of a dollar bill on a hook.

We’re going to come out and say it: Don’t book the cheapest charter you find. It’s probably cheap for a reason. Maybe the boat’s old or the equipment’s worn. Perhaps the captain doesn’t have insurance (which isn’t mandatory in many places). Most commonly, there are a bunch of additional charges. Because of this, you should find out what’s included before you book.

Ask about the fuel and the bait (is live bait more expensive?). Also check if the crew will clean your catch and what refreshments are provided. You can usually find this information online. Bear in mind that the price never includes gratuities. Speaking of prices, FishingBooker offers a Best Price Guarantee, so you never pay more than the captain’s regular rates.

Step 3: Talk to the Captain

An example of a captain's profile on FishingBooker, with a button to contact the captain before you choose a fishing charter

The internet has made things a lot easier in all walks of life, and charters are no different. Even so, it often pays to ask the captain a few questions before you commit to a trip. You might even end up building a custom package that suits you better than their “off the peg” options. Here are a few things worth asking:

  • What fish are biting? Most fish migrate. Water conditions change week by week. Even if the fish are there, they may be closed for harvest. There’s a lot of info online, but it’s still best to ask if you’re after a certain species.
  • What should I bring? Do you need bug spray? Does the boat have child-size life vests? Similarly, what can’t you bring? (Spray sunscreen, marking shoes, and bananas are common ones). Don’t forget cash for the tip!
  • What happens to the fish? In many countries, the crew keeps some or all of the catch. On shared trips, you either keep all your fish or it’s pooled and shared. Want to release the fish? Let the captain know ahead of time.
  • Do you offer discounts? Not a captain’s favorite question, but sometimes worth asking. Many charters have discounted rates for military personnel and veterans. First responders and medical staff can save money, too.
  • Can I start a little later? Captains can be flexible about when the trip starts – especially in low season. If you’re on a tight schedule or don’t like early mornings, mention it to your guide. They might be able to start later.
  • Do you have insurance? As we mentioned before, insurance isn’t mandatory in a lot of places, even within the US. Check if they have it and what it covers. It will give you peace of mind and help you learn about the captain.

Step 4: Book

Various trip packages on a FishingBooker listing. The trip and price are a common concern for people who don't know how to choose a fishing charter.

You’ve chosen the trip, narrowed down your options, and talked things through with the captain. Time to choose a fishing charter and book it! We can’t tell you how booking directly works because it’s different for every outfitter. However, we can tell you how it works on FishingBooker. It’s pretty straightforward. 

How do I book?

The simplest way to lock in your trip is through Instant Book. Just hit that lightning bolt and fill in your details. No waiting to hear back. No worrying about your dates being free. You’re set. Like a captain but can’t find the trip you’re after? Drop them a message. They can suggest a custom package that suits you better.

When you book, you will be asked to pay a deposit to secure the trip. You usually pay the remaining balance to the captain when you meet them, either in cash or by card if they accept it. Some captains also let you pay the full balance online when you book – useful if you don’t like carrying that much cash on you.

What about cancellations?

Life’s unpredictable and sometimes things come up that mean you have to cancel. It’s a shame, but it’s not necessarily a problem. Depending on the charter, you can cancel anywhere up to 24 hours before the trip and get your money back. Every captain has their cancellation policy set and clearly visible before you book.

Sometimes, it’s the captain that has to cancel. This could be because of the weather or a problem with their boat. If that happens, we’ll reach out to find another date or charter that works for you or give you a full refund. Safety is the captain’s number one concern. Trust them if they cancel due to weather – even if it’s sunny on the beach.

Choosing a Fishing Charter: Easy When You Know How

A couple sitting on a large center console boat on the ocean with the sun setting in the distance

Choosing a charter can be a daunting task. This is your big day out and you want it to be perfect. Hopefully, we’ve given you the know-how to narrow your focus and decide what you want from your day. To find the right package with the right captain. Now you get to kick back and enjoy an amazing fishing trip. Tight lines!

Did this article help you to choose a fishing charter? Let us know how it went! Are there any tips that you think we missed? Drop us your stories or ask us a question in the comments below. Otherwise, give us a call to talk through your trip – we’re always happy to help!

Rather be fishing?

Get great fishing tips, travel inspiration, and fun facts straight to your inbox, once a week, every week.
Invalid email address This email address is already subscribed

Something went wrong!

Unfortunately we can't subscribe you at this moment due to a system error. Please try again later.
Leave a reply
NameRequired *
Your comment Required *