How to Choose a Fishing Charter: The Definitive Guide

Oct 11, 2023 | 11 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 11 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!

What is a fishing charter?

A charter boat on bright blue waters of Nassau, Bahamas
Born Free Charters, Nassau, Bahamas

To put it simply, a fishing charter is a trip run by an experienced captain or guide, often with additional crew members, on a private vessel. The main point of these charters is to introduce guests to fishing, or to take them out to a specific fishery to target certain species.

Charters can be tailored to suit novices or more experienced anglers. No matter your skill level, the aim of your trip is to hopefully learn how to cast a line, catch some fish, and enjoy your time out on the water. The price of your charter will differ depending on where you want to go (see below for more on this!) and how much time you spend aboard the vessel.

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. When choosing a fishing charter, keep in mind that 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, Nearshore, or Offshore

A graphic showing the meaning and difference between inshore, nearshore, and offshore vs deep sea fishing

Your day will be completely different based on where you fish – especially in the ocean. So what’s the difference between inshore, nearshore, offshore, and deep sea fishing trips?


A smiling angler holding a freshly caught Snook standing on board an inshore boat, Gulf Coast Charter Service, Fort Myers, FL.
A nice Snook caught with Gulf Coast Charter Service, Fort Myers, FL

Inshore trips stay in sheltered waters near land, usually only a few miles from shore. The fish are smaller and the sea is calmer. It’s not just about sea fishing, either. Many inshore fishing trips take place in shallow bays, mangroves, or brackish rivers.

On an inshore trip, you’ll generally be able to start fishing very quickly, within minutes of departing the dock. Because of this, half-day trips are a common choice. These short trips offer plenty of fun and are 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.


Two anglers hold a Snapper and Grouper after returning to the dock from a successful trip
Snapper and Grouper

As you move away from the coast, the fish start to get bigger – and tastier. Trips that take place around local reefs and wrecks and involve some traveling are known as nearshore trips. The exact distance you’ll be traveling from shore differs depending on where you’re fishing, but your attention will be focused on targeting delicious, easy-to-catch bottom fish.

You’ll move away from shallow protected waters into open waters, usually between 2–9 miles from shore, so the sea can be a little wavy. Beginners and older kids should be fine, though. It’s common to try out techniques such as bottom fishing around the reefs and wrecks on these trips, although this can differ depending on where you fish – and who you’re fishing with!


A photo of a man holding a Mahi Mahi on a boat.

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.

Offshore fishing usually takes place in waters at least 9 miles from shore, reaching depths from 50 feet to a couple of hundred feet. This is where you’ll be able to go after huge pelagic predators – the kind of fish that give you a real workout. Offshore fishing charters usually involve a lot more travel time than inshore or nearshore charters, which means full-day trips are common, if not necessary.

Deep Sea

A happy woman in a cap and sunglasses, standing on a boat, holding a Golden Tilefish
Golden Tilefish are normally caught by deep dropping

Finally, there’s deep sea fishing, also often known as big game fishing. Many offshore fishing trips can include deep sea fishing, but the main difference between the two is the depths of the waters you’ll be casting a line in. Deep sea fishing charters usually take you to waters at least 100 feet deep, with 300+ feet being very common. You’ll also usually be fishing on a much bigger boat, with heavier tackle.

As you’ll be fishing in extremely deep waters, sometimes around underwater canyons, it’s common for these types of charters to last for at least a full day. Depending on where you decide to fish, overnight trips are often the best way to make sure you get the most out of your deep sea fishing trip. These charters aren’t for the faint-hearted – but they’re a great option if you want to potentially hook some beasts.

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 Fishing 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 when choosing a fishing charter 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: When choosing a fishing charter, don’t book the cheapest option 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!

If you need more information on how to go about fishing for the first time, visit our Fishing Tips for Beginners blog.

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, it’s time to find a charter near you and get fishing!

Comments (11)

Taylor abrams

Feb 16, 2024

My husband’s birthday is coming up next month, and I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of the perfect gift. He’s always loved fishing, and lately, he’s been talking about how he’d love to have his boat to explore new fishing spots. While I look for one, I’ll keep in mind that the goal of your trip is to hopefully discover how to cast a hook, catch a few fish, and enjoy your time out on the lake, regardless of your ability level.

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Mar 14, 2022

Just to be 100% sure, when a Fishing Booker listing says (per your screen shot “$400 for up to 6 people”, does that mean $400 per person or $400 period?

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    Mar 15, 2022

    Hi Anthony,

    Thanks for your comment. Unless the trip is a shared trip, which should be highlighted in the description, the price shown is the price for the whole trip. So it will be $400 period 🙂

    Hope this helps!

    Tight lines,


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Susan Preston

Nov 7, 2021

So, I’m looking for a fishing charter for my family of 7 on the Gulf coast. Is this not even possible?

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    Andrijana Maletic

    Nov 8, 2021

    Hi Susan,

    Thanks for the question. It’s definitely possible to book a fishing charter for 7 people on the Gulf Coast, please take a look at our list of available charters. You can choose from a variety of destinations all over the coast including Destin, Orange Beach, Panama City Beach, etc. All you need to do is pick a date, find a charter that works for you, and book it.

    If you have any additional questions, we’re at your disposal, Susan.

    All the best!

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Rick Reed

Oct 25, 2021

Great information shared. Tips could aid even the Novice. The addition I would give is to pay attention to the weather conditions leading up to the trip as well as your hotel accomodations.. The fishing trip cancelled at the last minute due to weather concerns but hotel is already into the cancellation penalty period. Plan accordingly to find some other activities to save the trip.

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    Oct 27, 2021

    Hi Rick,

    We’re glad you liked the article. You’re definitely right about planning accordingly, you never know what could happen.

    Tight lines,


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Captain Mauricio

Sep 27, 2020

Excelent tips

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    Sep 28, 2020

    Hi Capt. Mauricio,

    Thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad you thought it was useful.

    Tight lines!

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Captain Pete Albrecht

Jun 8, 2020

very nice! thanks for info

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    Jun 9, 2020

    Hi Capt. Pete,

    Thanks for getting in touch. I’m really glad you agree with our suggestions.

    Is there anything you think we missed?

    Tight lines!

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