Not all charters are the same. So There are lots of different fishing charter types. From single angler fly fishing on the flats, to bottom bashing with a dozen or more others in 100m+ on 60ft monstrosities. We can easily split these up into two main groups. Liveaboard, and day charters. I am going to focus on just the day charters for this one. But a lot of the things I discuss will also be reverent to your liveaboard trips. You can then break the day charters down into two groups also. Firstly you have the shared larger group charters. They take say from 6 up to 20 odd people and are normally mainly bottom bashing. Most of these types of charters generally use large ex cray boats and are usually the cheapest type of charter purely because the cost is spread over more people. The other type of day charter is your exclusive or very small groups charters. Normally taking anything for 1 to about 6 people. They could be anything from a trailer boat to large game boats. These are always going to cost that bit more. Surprisingly even a smaller high-performance trailer boat flying around is going to use a similar amount (if not more), of fuel that a big cray boat just chugging along all day (as they do). This and the fact that the smaller boats still normally run 2 crew (skipper and decky). Means that operating expenses are similar to the large boat charter. But fewer people to share the cost between.
What do you want to get out of it? So firstly and most importantly you need to decide what you really want to do, or get out of the charter. Are you just after an enjoyable days fishing and not too fussed about what you catch or how you catch it. Are you there purely to fill the freezer, or did you have a particular bucket list fish to tick off. It may even be a combination of a couple of things. This will obviously determine the type of charter you want to go for. Obviously, if you do have a bucket list fish, or a type of fishing you are dead set on. Then look for a charter that specialises in that. It’s a no brainer. This is where the smaller exclusive charters are the only way to go. Don’t book onto a shared charter with a dozen other people if the only thing you care about is landing that billfish. Sure they have it on their brochure and might catch a few. But even if they are lucky enough to get one that day, you have one in 12 chance of even being on strike. Also if you do have something in particular you want to achieve. Make sure you and the charter, make that the priority. Don’t think you will get a monster marlin, bag out deep dropping and land a horse GT on a popper, on your half-day charter. Sure with some of the best guys in the business, it’s possible, on a good day. But the more you try and do, the less likely you will actually achieve any of it, and end up wasting your money. If you want that marlin or GT, the plan should be to spend all day trying for that. Sure if you get lucky and tick that off, onto the next thing. But make sure you and your skipper know what you want to get out of the charter. But ok, let's say even if money was no object, don’t think that booking the best flashes boat all to yourself is always the right choice. If you don’t really have a plan, say are just in the area and want a fun days fishing. The shared charter is not only a more affordable option but in some cases can be a more enjoyable day. After all, one of the best things about a fishing experience is being able to share it with others, even if you don’t know all or any of them.
Do your research. So once you know what you want out of the experience, find the charter that can provide it. Luckily the days of having to be in the know or walking the docks to find the gun charter is over. Any charter business worth their salt will be a few clicks away. A quick search will normally give you a few options. There will be some places where there is only the one charter available. Still don’t just book on blindly. Unfourtnetly there are some bad operators. And the fact is if they are operating somewhere with no competition there is more of a chance of them getting lazy and not providing a service that is worth your hard earned cash. Again luckily these days it will only take a matter of seconds to work this out. There is nowhere to hide for a bad operator. Most charters these days are pretty active on social media, but a couple of photos of good fish on the gram doesn't mean everyone on the boat had a good day. Hit Facebook or Google reviews. Just make sure you are looking at recent reviews. Charter businesses change hands more often than you think. So make sure the most recent reviews are good, and don’t be too discouraged from a bunch of bad things if they are from a few years ago. Also, I always find the truth and better more telling information is always in the mid 2-4 star reviews. These are normally from the more critical customers, and usually will include some relevant info. These are the ones you can be sure are from genuine non-bias people too. What do I mean by that? Reviews from their mates will always be 5 star, and ones from people who have what may be an unrelated beef will give them 1 star. If you are lucky enough to have a few options for charter companies at your destination, then check up on them. And after all that don’t be afraid to jump on the phone. Sometimes a quick convo can quickly let you know if these are the people you want to spend your money with. Tell them what you want to get out of it and ask them what to expect. Obviously don’t always expect to talk to the skipper, he should be fishing. Some of especially the larger operators will have someone who just takes bookings and answers the phone. And sometimes that new booking person may not be full bottle on everything fishing. But don’t hold that against them, if they need to get back to you about a couple of things. But if you tell you, “yeh of course we can guarantee you that marlin, bag out deep dropping and then finish with a few GT’s on poppers on your half-day charter. Either you have just found yourself a cracking charter or you might need to jump back on the reviews and check if they can back at least half of that up. On that, in my opinion, the word guarantee and fishing should not be used in the same sentence. So if a charter guarantees you anything other than that your credit card will be charged, be sceptical
Using your own gear. A lot of people turn their nose up at the type of gear most larger share charters use. But without getting too far into it (ill save that for another time). There is normally a good reason they use what they do. Charters have to catch fish, in all types of fishing conditions. By conditions I don’t mean weather, I mean different depths, currents, drifting or on anchor. As well as having a dozen or more lines in the water at a time, with people with varying levels of experience and ability. The gear has to cater for all, and be ready for anything. Most operators have also spent years trying everything and refining the gear they use. So don’t discount it straight away. Always check with the operator before booking if you are dead set on using your own gear just in case it's a firm no. Most will allow you to, but might have certain restrictions. Such as minimum line weight, or particular rigs or hooks. Check with them what depth they will most likely be fishing. No point bringing your 20lb light soft plastic setup if you're going to be fishing in 100m+ all day. In a lot of cases, you will be ok using your own gear, and in some cases, it may even outfish theirs. Also, don’t be afraid to ask their opinion on your gear or even how to rig up. This will not only improve your chances, but hopefully will help with it working well with their gear. But if your braid starts wrapping up 12 other mono lines, expect the knife to come out.
Do the little things matter? Well, it's up to you if they do. By the little things, I mean the stuff that not all charters do or provide. Do they provide lunch, or at least coffee, or water? Do you meet them at the dock or do they pick you up from a more convenient location? Do they fillet your fish for you or chuck them on the jetty and send you on your way. On a shared charter you may want to know how do they divide the fish. Do you keep what you catch or is it just all evenly shared out. Or even how do they decide who is on strike while trolling or where on the boat everyone fishes. Little things like this some charters may do differently. This may matter to you or it may not. But going back to earlier. Keep in mind what you want to get out of the charter. Think how important these little things really are in the scheme of things. Am I going to pick this charter over the other one because they provide lunch? Or am I just going to bring a sandwich and book the boat that will get me on the fish? Do I want the deckhand worrying about making everyone a coffee, or do I want him ready next to me ready to gaff that prize fish?
Weather. Unfortunately most of the popular charters you will have to book well in advance during busy periods. So it doesn't normally give you much wriggle room if you book days turn out to be bad weather. And keep in mind there is always the chance that your charter may have to be cancelled if it's bad enough. Just because it's a big boat doesn't mean they can fish in anything. The boat may be safe to operate with an experienced crew in all but the worst conditions. But what especially shared charters operators need to keep in mind is that there may be people of all ages and levels of experience onboard. And despite the boat being safe, all it takes is one person to lose their footing or not be hanging properly and an injury and possible lawsuit is not far away. This is another advantage to the exclusive charters. It gives the skipper the opportunity to talk to the customers and decide together if the conditions are suitable. Where with shared charters, this becomes impossible with a dozen different bookings all with different feelings about the conditions. In all cases make sure you keep a bit of an eye on the forecast for yourself. You are not going to get a call from a charter a week out from your booking even if a storm is forecast on your booking date. I know from my experience it is almost impossible to make any type of call on the weather more than a day or two out. A lot of the time if the weather is borderline it may have to wait till the morning of the charter to make the call. The weather on the ocean is always going to be more erratic and harder to forecast than on land. With a lot more variables that affect it such as surface temperatures and currents. There is also a fine line between what is safe and enjoyable and what is not, and it can change quickly, normally while you are 2 hours or more from shore. There seems to be a lot of weather experts out there (trust me). But the operator is the one that will know not only the local conditions but more importantly, how their vessel will handle it. For some people, the weather might not affect their day, but trust me for a lot of people it will. This brings us to the one thing that is garnered to ruin your charter.
Seasickness. So no matter how good the charter operator is, no matter how many fish are caught, seasickness can still ruin your experience. I’m no hero, and will admit I used to suffer a bit as a kid, and until I was working on boats full time, if it was bad enough at night I still felt it. So I have some idea of what it’s like. This and witnessing literally hundreds of grown adults over the years curled in a ball, wishing for the day to end. So one thing I’m sure of is it's not a nice thing. Unless you are a regular boat fisherman and it has never affected you, don’t be a hero, don’t risk it. Take some tablets. You are paying a lot of money to go fishing, why risk ruining your day and wasting your money for the sake of a few bucks of a packet of tables. The two main ones are Kwells and Travelcalm, I don’t think there’s much in it but I have seen better results from Travelcalm. And whatever you do, don’t make the most common mistake. Buy a packet to bring “just in case”. Thinking you will be fine, but if I feel sick I will take one. If you feel sick it’s already too late. As the directions tell you too, take them before you get on the boat. Once you start feeling it, normally it's too late, there’s no coming back. They are not going to fix it, they just help it stop happening. This is especially the case with younger kids. Probably about half the younger kids that come on a charter get sick at some point. With many on the floor half an hour in, and don’t move all day. So don't risk it, don’t be a hero. If you are not 100% sure you will be good, take some tablets. There are plenty of other good and not so good remedies but I reckon I have enough of them for a whole article about that on it’s own. So I will save them for that and leave this one here.