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10 Things to Know Before Going on a Fishing Charter: Advice from a Veteran Fishing Guide

Tips on how to get the most out of a guided fishing trip

10 Things to Know Before Going on a Fishing Charter: Advice from a Veteran Fishing Guide

Having plenty of provisions on hand makes a long day more enjoyable.

Guided fishing- whether it’s on a kayak tour or a large sportfishing yacht and all levels in between can be one of the most enjoyable and educational experiences you partake in if you love to fish. Too often however, things can go south and a fun day on the water ends in disappointment. If you plan to hire a guide or jump aboard a charter boat any time soon, follow a few simple guidelines to maximize your enjoyment.

1. Know what to expect

Before you send off that deposit check- you should be crystal clear with your guide about all of your expectations regarding the day. Ask how the fishing has been and what is typically a possibility for that season. Be sure to get a detailed explanation of how your day might go. Ask about the weather conditions cancellation policy, tackle and bait, what’s included, are there any potential hidden costs? Clear up all of these matters beforehand to avoid any disputes and leave the dock with a firm grasp of what your day will bring. Total clarity should be a priority for any seasoned guide but it doesn’t hurt to open up the dialogue on your own to be sure about their normal procedure.

2. Manage expectations

Two fishermen with bent rods on a boat
When the bite is hot everyone gets in on the action, other days require more patience.

If you are looking to accomplish a specific goal, communicate the goal to your potential guide and ask them how realistic your expectations are. When it comes to the fishing, it’s vital to let your guide know if you are committed to a certain outcome and ask him if this is realistic. Keep your plan tailored to catching something that is a realistic possibility.

For example, I can’t tell you how many guests I’ve had onboard who state at the beginning of a trip that “I know it’s not prime time for catching “XYZ,” but that’s all I want to do and I don’t mind if we don’t see many as long as there’s a chance” At this point it’s the guide’s responsibility to be honest with you and tell you if there is no chance of seeing “XYZ” (if this is the case) and steer you in a different direction. If the client forces my hand and demands we try, at the end of the day regardless of how much they insisted they wouldn’t be disappointed, they usually are when your prediction comes true. For your part of the transaction, be specific about your wish and ask for the truth to avoid disappointment.

3. Come prepared

Fly fisherman on bow of boat with casting rod and reel in foreground
Sight casting with fly tackle takes lots of practice before you jump aboard the guide boat to ensure success.

If you are on a specific mission that requires a level of skill on your part, PRACTICE well before your trip. If you have a goal of catching a permit on a fly rod which is very challenging for the best of fly anglers, be sure to spend as much time as possible working on your casting at home before your trip begins. For detailed advance-level goals like this, a team effort is required for success. The guide's job would include getting you in front of the target species but without you executing a perfect cast you will likely fail. Should you decide to embark on anything that requires advanced skill, training, or physical fitness- do your part well in advance to avoid failure and disappointment.

4. Bring supplies

Snackle box open inside a kayak on the water
The perfect portable meal, traveling musician Whitnye Raquel enjoys her "snackle box" from the yak in Fort Worth, Texas. See below for info on how to make your own.

Having provisions for everyone for a whole day is key. A full day on a boat is always made more enjoyable if you have plenty of cold drinks and food to keep up your energy while passing time. There can be long stretches between bites some days and having a sandwich or snacks handy between bites keeps you sharp for extended periods on the water. Keeping hydrated is equally important, especially under the tropical sun. For a group of people boating together, plan to make a run to the store beforehand and pack for the entire group. Few things are more awkward on a boat than one guy who brought his own sandwiches while everyone else goes hungry and watches him eat. It sounds kind of silly but believe me, some days the snacks make all the difference in everyone’s enjoyment level.

Got a few mouths to feed? A good way to bring a variety of eats on the boat hails from a social media trend that you may have heard of recently, the snackle box. What is a snackle box? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like, a tackle box filled with delicious finger food snacks! Basically, a to-go charcuterie board for anyone who doesn’t like their food touching. Not every viral trend is worth a second look, (let's be real, most aren't) but once in a blue moon we’re blessed with something absolutely genius.

Snackle box on a boat
Pro-tip: Separate snacks that need to stay cooled from ones that have no refrigeration needs. That way you can keep one in the bag and one on ice. Photo credit: Lux Boards

The snackle box is a great way to bring a diverse selection of snacks that normally would require many bags and space to accommodate, allowing everyone in the group to find something they like to graze upon. Be wary of meltable treats like chocolate, as you may have a goopy mess if you’re snacking in direct sunlight. If you plan on participating in the “snackle box” trend, be sure to consider if your tackle boxes are food safe.

See Inspired by Charm for ideas on what to put in a snackle box or if you’re a busy bee, order one from a local company like Lux Boards by Lex which operates out of Tampa Florida.

5. Don’t be “That Guy”

Alcohol while boating can be tricky. Many charter operators don’t allow it but some leave this matter to your discretion. The bottom line is having a cold beer on the boat isn’t a bad thing but getting drunk on one exposes everyone to a new set of liabilities. No guide likes babysitting a drunk and the likelihood of an accident onboard increases exponentially with each drink. The bottom line is if it’s a party you are in search of, there are a lot better places to find one than on a fishing boat. Show restraint and don’t put the captain in an awkward position or spoil the trip for the rest of your group. Save the celebration for after the trip.

6. Don’t “Guide the Guide”

Remember when you enter into an agreement with a fishing crew for hire- you’re paying them for their expertise. Unfortunately for everyone onboard, sometimes the bite is slow. This isn’t the time to start suggesting a change of tactics because “my guide last year in the Keys did it this way” or even just second-guessing the crew’s choice of tactics. Let them do their job. The reality is that some days are better than others and believe it or not, the guide is probably stressed out enough about the lack of action. Reminding him of how much better the fishing was on a previous trip is not a positive motivational tool. If you want to call the shots on a boat yourself, ask the captain if that’s feasible beforehand. If they are willing then knock yourself out, if not- find someone who doesn’t mind or get a rental boat and go it alone.

7. Hook a kid on fishing

Charter captain holding a triggerfish for a boy that caught it
Starting kids out with constant action from non-gamefish builds interest for future outings.

Fishing with kids can be the most enjoyable days on the water you’ll experience. Sadly, for the kids at times, it can be torture. If you plan to bring kids on a charter boat be sure to make the day about them. Measure your child’s attention span realistically and plan accordingly. Kids typically need to be constantly engaged and when boredom sets in they stop having fun. The easiest way to make your kid hate fishing is to torture them by making them stay out when they lose interest. The same is true if they get seasick. Never make a kid suffer through sea sickness all day while you get your money’s worth. A half-day of bottom fishing with a chicken rig where the bites never stop is much smarter than a long day pulling plastics waiting for a blue marlin bite when you’re a kid. Give them time to develop an interest at their own pace if you want a fishing partner for life.


8. Respect the boat and equipment

For a charter boat operator, the expense of both buying and maintaining a boat and all of the necessary fishing tackle to run a business is considerable. Sometimes in their carelessness people can be reckless about swinging leads or rigs into painted surfaces or dropping things on the deck. Likewise, carelessly laying a rod against a gunwale to fall overboard or man-handling light tackle can result in scratched finishes and broken or lost rods. Understand that the cost to repair broken parts and paint jobs eat into an already narrow profit margin. Lost tackle is usually the party at faults responsibility and the awkward conversation leading to you writing a check for a rod dropped overboard can spoil a trip to be sure. Your guide will always appreciate your thoughtfulness if you treat their investment with respect.

9. Don’t spend beyond your means

Anglers with various fish caught on a fishing charter boat
Splitting the cost among friends is helpful but plan for everyone to take part in the action whenever possible.

Charter fishing can be quite costly and part of this cost can be offset if you share the expense with a friend. What you should never do is bring the maximum amount of people along only to reduce your cost. For example, if your goal is to catch a blue marlin on light tackle but you need five guys to chip in on the cost with you, the likelihood that each of you will get to catch a marlin is almost non-existent. More likely than not, most of you will never touch a fishing rod. If your high expectations exceed your budget, be smart and save until you can go it alone. Otherwise, if you just want to go have fun with the guys and catch a bunch of “whatever’s biting” by all means split the party.

10. “Tipping is not a city in China”

angler with rod bent on charter boat with a sailfish jumping in background
Catching trophy billfish on light tackle is unforgettable but rewarding your guide for effort as much as results is appropriate.

An often debated subject when it comes to hiring a guide to fish is what is appropriate for a tip. Most guides will feel uncomfortable when asked how much is normal and rightfully so.  The fact is that it is a gratuity in appreciation of a person’s effort and you place the guide in an awkward position when you ask the question. Industry-standard for tipping fishing crew is 15-20% of the cost of your trip. Sometimes it’s lower and often it’s much higher but use these numbers for a baseline. The one thing I’ll assure you of is that every guide remembers a big tipper and it will be reflected in the effort on any future trips you make with them. Personally, I give everyone my A-Game 100% of the time but if I have somebody who has been generous in the past they always get my undivided attention and force me to dig a little deeper when the conditions are tough. Remember you’re not tipping for how many fish you caught rather you’re rewarding somebody for how hard they worked to get you the bites.

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