How To Pick A Good Fishing Charter

You’re on vacation or traveling out of town and you want to get some fishing done. We know the situation. You take to the internet and start searching for local fishing charters and instantly it’s an overwhelming process.

The first two pages are full of boats with people catching fish, how are you ever going to pick somebody to take you fishing?

We know this situation first hand and have experienced it ourselves many times. That is why we put together this guide on how to pick a good charter fishing boat. If you are here on Hilton Head, then you can check out our list of the best fishing charters on Hilton Head Island.

However, if you are going it alone or visiting a far away port, the tips and info below will make it super easy to find the best fishing Captains no matter what marina you are sailing from!


Everything depends on the fishing charter.

The one you choose will determine how your day unfolds on the water. Pick one led by a knowledgeable captain and you’ll be able to relax knowing you’ll see the region’s top fishing spots. Hiring a reputable charter with an experienced captain guarantees you’ll get in some quality fishing time.

The challenge is selecting a charter service that makes the grade. How do you know which one to pick? Keep reading to discover the answer.

Cheapest Is Not Always Best

Let’s face it, charter fishing can be expensive. And it’s understandable that you want to save money, especially when the amount may be several hundred dollars.

However, the old adage is right: you get what you pay for. And if you’re paying for a really inexpensive service, you may end up with correspondingly cheap quality.

A good captain is worth his (or her) price, and higher prices come when captains have proven their quality. If you want to have the best charter experience, don’t cut corners and book the cheapest possible charter.

Do the Homework

People often get intimidated because they have never booked a charter before. Because of the unfamiliarity, they worry about not knowing what step to take next. However, you should treat this like any other expensive purchase. Before you plunk down your money, you need to do your homework

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For example, you’ll want to know what their insurance covers and if they carry their own life jackets and safety gear. You’ll want to check their licensure and make sure at least one person is trained in CPR and first aid.

Fish Online Reviews Before You Go

Online reviews are a great resource and easy way to see what actual customers say about a charter operation. Sure, there is always an upset customer two (sometimes even the best fishermen have a bad day) but if you see one-star reviews over and over, you might want to look elsewhere. Another good idea is to look how the captain responded to negative reviews, this will often tell you a lot about the captain.

We are also big fans of picking up the phone. This lets you pose very specific questions and get an idea of the charter’s character and honesty as they answer you. With a simple phone call, you can verify things like deposit amounts and departure times. And you can also verify the fine print on things like their cancellation policies. Don’t forget to pose any questions that you couldn’t find answers to on your own. You’ll want to have as much information as possible before hitting the water in the hands of a stranger.

Winning Personality

Here is an interesting dilemma. What do you do if it comes down to two different charters and both of them look really solid? Simple: you go with the one who has the better captain. And in this case, “better” means that you have a good feeling about them.

A good captain does more than keep you alive on the water. The captain should have deep knowledge of fish and, ideally, good social skills, Sound shallow? Not really. You’re going to be stuck with this person in a contained environment for a really long time. Might as well get a captain you like.

“Catch Their Policy”

Chances are, you have a preferred way to fish. Do you like catch and release, or are you more of a “catch and keep” person? Just as you have your fishing preferences, the charter may have their own. And you want to make sure the two of you are in agreement.

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For example, many people get a thrill at bringing home a huge fish and feeding it to their family. But certain charters are catch and release only, which might leave such a person disappointed.

Again, do your homework before you make a payment.

Know Where You Want to Go

Often, people consider all fishing on a charter “offshore.” However, there are several different types of charter fishing and most of the difference involves where you want to fish. There are several choices and knowing ahead of time the type of experience you are looking for is a good idea.

  • InshoreInshore is great for beginners and those who aren’t interested in (or are a little nervous about) heading far out to sea. Think: within sight of the shore. Often this is in the salt marshes, shallow bays, and even local rivers.
  • Nearshore – The further you get away from the shore the bigger the fish. Usually you’ll be within ten miles of shore. This is a great way to start experiencing some bigger game fish.
  • Offshore – If you are looking for a truly challenging adventure, where big fish are the name of the game, then trying offshore fishing is perfect for you. This is usually a whole day adventure and can include rough seas. Think of battling tuna and marlin, but still being a little closer to shore than deep sea fishing.
  • Deep Sea – This is the big kahuna of fishing. The depths of the water are usually in excess of 100 feet and you are very far out to sea. This adventure will be costly, as the size of the boat needs to be much larger than with the other types of fishing, but the battles with the fish can be epic. This is also perhaps the best for a larger group of friends who have had some experience fishing off shore.
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So now you have booked a charter fishing trip and you are excited. But this excitement and anticipation can quickly turn into a nightmare if, despite doing all your homework, you’ve chosen the wrong charter. In fact, if you end up on a boat that’s wrong for you and your needs, you could end up regretting the day you booked a fishing charter.

Here are five common scenarios, along with tips that will help you have a day of amazing angling instead of a charter disaster.

Communication Breakdown

What type of fishing do you want? If you don’t let a charter boat captain know ahead of time, you may end up stuck with a style you don’t enjoy. For example, it’s common for certain boats in certain places to do nothing but troll with heavy tackle during certain seasons. If you’re a die-hard light tackle angler who gets bored by trolling, you’re more than likely to do little more than yawn all day long. Same goes for whether you want to keep and kill the catch or take a quick picture and then release the fish. On some boats, the fish gets gaffed before you can even raise an objection, on some others, catch and release is a must.

Low Country Style and Living Tip

In advance of booking a trip, talk to the Captain to let him or her know what styles of fishing you enjoy and what you’re planning to do with the catch. Different captains will be more or less willing to accommodate your preferences, but be aware that some will put the goal of filling the fishbox ahead of their client’s personal satisfaction. So if you feel strongly about the way you fish, be sure to raise these topics ahead of time.

Personality Conflicts

Some people are easier to get along with than others, and we all know that some people’s personalities simply don’t mesh with our own. Getting stuck on a boat all day with someone that you can’t stand isn’t likely to be a fulfilling experience. And while a captain’s character counts, don’t forget about the mate, too. Many times you’ll spend more time interacting with the mate than with the captain, so their disposition is just as important to consider.

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Low Country Style and Living Tip

To make sure you’re happy with your choice, swing by the marina on an afternoon prior to your trip and meet the captain and the mate in person. They’ll usually be there for at least an hour or so after a trip to clean the boat and rig the lines and should be more than happy to spend a few minutes shooting the breeze. After that, you can form an opinion as to how well you’ll all get along.


Some inexperienced anglers, or people who are used to fishing only very different types of waterways, may discover that uncontrollable variables, like seasickness or physical demands, can make for a day of misery. And on some charter boats, especially those with makeup parties, (different couples put together on one charter to share the cost), the option for turning around and heading home early will be off the table.

Lowcountry Style and Living Tip

If you’re trying a completely new kind of fishing or venturing into territory you don’t have experience with, consider booking a half day trip. Virtually all boats offer them and that way if physical conditions become problematic, at least it won’t last for hours on end

Limp Lines

The reason you book a charter in the first place is to catch fish, so if the lines stay slack all day long and you never feel so much as tug, it’ll be more than a little bit disappointing. And while it’s true that the captain and crew can’t control the fish (even the best of them get skunked from time to time) some are simply better at catching fish than others.

Lowcountry Style and Living Tip

While we note that it’s impossible to ever guarantee action on any fishing boat, you can ensure the best chances of success by doing your homework. Ask a captain for references or walk the docks and talk to other anglers in the marina to get an idea of how good a boat is (or isn’t) at finding and catching fish. And in this day and age, most people simply peruse online for ratings and comments. But remember to take everything you find online with a grain of salt.

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There are always a few people impossible to satisfy, and others may have personal reasons for singing unearned praises. Rather than basing any decisions on specific reviews, look for prevailing attitudes. Additionally, be sure you listen to your captain. You’re paying good money for a reason; trust his/her advice. Sometimes the customer wants to call the shots and tell the captain where to go and what type of fish they want to catch. Usually your captain will be more than agreeable, but if conditions change and the captain wants to alter course a bit, you should trust his/her opinion.

Shopping for a Bargain

Choosing a fishing charter by price is a huge mistake and can put you on a sub-par boat with sub-par gear and a sub-par captain. Sure, charter boats can be expensive. But in any given area you’ll find that most boats charge within a prevailing range of rates. Some boats charge more, some less. Yes, there’s a reason why those cheap boats go for so little; if they could justify charging the prevailing rates they certainly would.

Lowcountry Style and Living Tip

To stay out of pricing pitfalls, it’s important to first identify the prevailing range. This varies from state to state, country to country, and even port to port. However, with a little internet browsing, the prevailing range should be easy to find. Some boats have good reasons for charging less, like the size or age of the boat, which won’t necessarily be a disqualifying factor to you. When all else appears to be equal and a charter is offering rates that seem rock bottom, buyer beware.

Beware of Boats Available on Prime Days

If a charter isn’t booked on a summer Saturday, there’s probably a reason why. It doesn’t mean the reason isn’t a good one (like a canceled trip) but it is worth taking a closer look and asking a few questions.

Blair Witkowski
Author: Blair Witkowski

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