At this time of year I speak daily with potential and repeat customers alike. Many call me after reading an article in this magazine. I have found over the years that the conversations and questions all have a similar theme.
Their concerns and questions are as wide-ranging as their level of experience at booking a fishing trip. I recently had a call from a gentleman who didn't care about anything other than if I had one of those "big screens" on the dash so that I could find the fish.
So I thought I would put together a few thoughts on what to look for as well as what to look out for, and what to ask when looking to book a guide service for a day of offshore fishing. Being thorough in your conversation with the guide will go a long way in determining the safety, success and overall enjoyment of your offshore fishing charter.
In my opinion, one of the first and greatest concerns should be how often the captain fishes. There are many in the industry that book charters on weekends only as nothing more than a tax write-off, to support a fishing habit, or cover a boat note. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it makes for a great part time job and many are great fishermen.
On the other hand, with that being said, there is absolutely no substitute for time on the water and having a fulltime professional fisherman at your disposal. This daily time on the water allows them to keep up with the constantly changing patterns and normal migrations of any number of species. This allows them to spend less time hunting fish and more time putting you on them for a successful fishing trip.
A prime example would be stiff currents that make fishing extremely difficult at times. I will often try to discourage customers from fishing for deepwater species such as amberjack if I know from the last couple days of fishing that the current is just too strong to make us as successful as I would like. Had I only fished a day or two a week, I might not have known about the ripping currents that constantly come and go. This one piece of info has many times prevented me wasting hours of someone's time and led us to target something else that kept them busy catching fish.
Ask specific questions to learn what is provided or allowed on the trip and what is not. Many provide all you may need for a day and others do not. Even the cleaning of your catch will vary between companies.
Obviously a concern that will be at the fore of everyone's thinking when looking for a charter is always the price. This one thing will often determine the company that many will decide to book with. While it has to be affordable it also needs to be successful. When booking a fishing guide, the old adage "you get what you pay for" is true more often than not.
In the offshore industry, boat fuel is a major factor in determining how a guide will set his pricing and here is where things can get confusing. It is also where you need to ask pointed questions to make sure you're getting what you pay for. There are two basic ways of pricing a fishing charter. Either a flat-rate trip, where a single charge covers the price of the boat with fuel included - the other is a plus-fuel rate.
While the flat-rate trip seems the most straight forward and could be a good option for you, there can be some hidden drawbacks. With a flat-rate charter, on some occasions, the captains first and foremost priority is to burn as little fuel as possible, therefore increasing the company's profit margin, but many times to the detriment of the fisherman's success. On many occasions the owner of the company will set limits on how far the captain can run in search of fish, sometimes going as far as telling the captain where to fish regardless of the outcome. The captain is essentially leaving the dock with his hands tied. So while that flat-rate trip looks good on the surface it is not always the most successful option given the prevailing conditions of any given day on the water.
The plus-fuel trip on the other hand will have a set price for the charter and then address the fuel that was used at the end of the day. Fuel burn rates will vary between boats and fishing styles as well as the obvious factor of how far you travel. There are advantages to this method of running a charter boat. It allows the captain and the customers to make mutual decisions on customizing the trip for the group, either before the boat leaves the dock or on the fly as the day progresses. Every day is different and some unforeseen conditions can make anyone have to pick up and change zip codes to change the rate of success. When these situations arise it can be a group decision as to either move on to better conditions or change targeted species, etc. It gives the captain the ability to explain the options at hand and include the customers in these fishing and monetary decisions.
The dirty secret though of plus-fuel charters is how they determine the fuel burn and how it's charged. The only proper and consistent way to do it is to leave the dock with the tanks full and pull up to the pumps upon return and top off again. Another way is to figure it off of their fuel management gauge and then charge accordingly. Only problem with this one is it lends to charging a higher rate than is actually being paid for the fuel after the customers are long gone. So make sure to ask a lot of questions when planning a trip to make sure you are clear on any additional charges.
Last and equally important is the ever-present question - "Will we catch fish?"
There is an old saying, "it's called fishing not catching," and unfortunately some operators use this as a crutch. And with that said, on a full offshore trip you should not come home empty handed. Not ever.The cheapest offshore fishing trip out there is still an awful expensive boat ride. So as I tell people when they are shopping for a trip, checkout lots of websites, study carefully, and make a list of questions. Lastly, take a look at recent catches in the photo gallery. It will speak volumes about what you'll be getting for your money, more than all the other web pages combined.