Often, I will write small informational articles in my online fish “reports” about my fishing methods or upcoming calendar in the hopes of educating prospective and regular clients of other ways of fishing and to consider how variables such as tide, moon phase, water temperature, tackle and bait supply may effect your fishing charter or personal outing. I offer that not only as a way to have my regulars pick a choice day as opposed to a less optimum one, but also as a way to pass some knowledge or ideas that may help the regular guy, regardless of whether he fishes with me or not.
Every year I, at some point, get frustrated when returning a prospective clients email or recorded phone inquiry about a charter, only to find that he has already booked a trip with another service. It may only have been only a hour or two since he had called, but since I wasn’t there to answer the phone at the time of his call, he immediately moved on to the next prospect and booked the trip with the first guy to answer his inquiry. It seems to matter not to compare other services with each other, or variables such as where or how the charter fishes, or the type of tackle used, or even the size of the boat, but merely how fast the Captain or the Captain’s wife returns the call. For me, I can only say if I was spending $500 to $1500 on a fishing trip, I would want to put a bit more effort into how I picked my boat and captain. So I offer the following article to possibly illuminate some things to consider BEFORE you commit to saying “aye” and sending the deposit check to a charter and reserving the boat. The following five items need to be taken into consideration before you book your trip.
Its important to know when you wish to plan your trip. I occasionally get calls from folks from out of our area looking to do a striper or tuna charter in mid February. They don't realize we do have seasons up here in the Northeast. On a smaller scale though, many of our local areas get the most productive fishing at differing times of the year, according to water temperature and food or bait supply. One example, might be how the waters of Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound warm much earlier in the spring than the ocean waters east of the Cape. Starting in mid April, the first herring start to accumulate in these warming bay waters prior to returning to the runs. At this time eels are also coming out of dormancy in the estuaries and shallow bays and salt ponds, and the plankton blooms are starting the food chains required to feed the migrating fishes into warming waters. Behind these warming “engines of life” come the striped bass, mackerel, squid, and tuna, followed by the bluefish, and eventually the hot water species. All are moving into the area and feeding heavily to fuel their natural circle of life. As the waters of Cape Cod Bay, Nantucket Sound and all the smaller embayments and estuaries warm, they become the first areas to provide gamefish and table fare for sport fishermen. These are the areas to target early in the year. As summer progresses however, these waters that were the first to get warm enough to attract gamefish, are now becoming too hot to be consistent. The stripers and bluefin tuna are moving to cooler, more oxygen rich waters and bluefish have moved in. If you want more striped bass and less blues, perhaps the 70 plus degree Cape Cod Bay or Nantucket Sound waters are not the place to be in August and September ? As these waters warm further into September, false albacore and bonita can be found here. What about the time of departure ? Many harbors go only according to the timing of the tide. Is 4 am too early for you? Where will you be staying ? How much travel time do you need to get to the boat ? Most fish feeding and successful fishing trips operate around the timing of tide events. Considering that, if you then specify to the captain that you only want to go from 10 am to 2 pm, you may not have the best fishing (catching) experience. I personally prefer early mornings as the crowds are less, and it seems some fish bite best before the sun gets high in the sky. Travel time to the grounds is a consideration as well. If it takes the boat two hours to get to the spot 25 miles offshore, and the fish bite best at dawn, I think it would be wise to leave 2 hours before dawn.
WHERE : Location is key for decent and productive fishing. The best location is where the fish and the bait are. Don't reserve your boat based upon a location close to the motel or lodging. Do the opposite. First find the harbor you want to fish from, by looking at water temps, bait supply, boat selection etc, and speaking with a couple, at least, of boat captains you are considering, and only then, reserve the lodging. Why pay for an extra 2-4 hours of travel time by booking a boat near where you are staying. Stay closer to where the fishing is best. Pay attention to water temperature and bait supply and talk to your skipper before you book. Ask about travel time to the “spot”, water temps and bait supplies etc. If you reside more than an hour away from the boat dock, consider travel time in selecting your day. Go to bed early, be rested, these trips are expensive, and require planning. Don't drink and party all night and expect to soar with eagles all day on the charter. Make your lunch and cooler preparations the day before. Car pool and make sure all drivers have written instructions to the boat dock. Have your thermos already to go, many coffee shops are hard to locate and may not be open at 3:30 or 4 am, and if you are driving around looking for java and bagels, you may miss the boat !
This may seem a silly question, but how you target the species you go for is important as well. Many charter companies say “we use light tackle”. Then you find out that trolling with umbrella rigs and wire line or 60 pound monofilament is what they considered “light”. Call the Captain and ask. Are you a fly fisherman? If so you will need an open boat. Perhaps you prefer to fish with bait ? Is trolling too boring for you? Perhaps you would rather cast to fish ? Do you have a novice or two in your group that will need extra care? Children, females and novices might need some extra attention or comforts provided. Is jigging wire and lead jigs something you are tired of, or perhaps you would prefer that method? Are you taking one friend or a half dozen? Its possible your method may require a small fast rig to get to fast moving surface feeders, such as blues or bonita and falsies, and a bigger boat might put the fish down. Do you want a trophy giant bluefin ? Then a larger more comfy and safe boat capable of some big water is what you want. How is the tackle - in good shape and top of the line stuff ? Or, is it boat rods with broken corroding guides and a stiff winding reel ?
WHY : What is the purpose of your trip? Is it a business outing, possibly to reward your employees for a job well done or to entice a prospective client? If so make it about the outing and make it about the comfort and relaxation of the day. It may not be required to leave at the crack of dawn. Having a huge assortment of food and drink is a good idea when making a large group happy. Think, sunscreen, cameras, water, perhaps have t shirts made for the group “team” photo, to add to the camaraderie of the trip. Maybe it is for your family to relax, share and enjoy some fun family time ? Do you want to catch as much fish legally possible as fast as you can to get as many fillets as you can legally take home? Bring a cooler then. It could be a “bucket list” item such as landing a giant tuna, but you should know what it is you are looking for before you start asking your prospective skipper for rates and open dates.
WHO : Now, considering the above criteria, you are closer to deciding with whom you want to entrust your outing to. Consider the size of the boat and the comforts (or lack of) the vessel provides. You are going on the water and size does matter! If you have a full group of 6 passengers, you will need a vessel of at least 32 feet or more to be spacious, seaworthy and comfortable. Will the $200 you saved on a smaller 23 foot boat be worth the salt spray soaking and the pounding you took coming back home into the wind ? Will the vessel have a head or bathroom for your wife or daughter or will they be required to pee in a bucket or “hold it” ? Believe me, most women I’ve seen would rather be uncomfortable and “hold it” than go pee in a bucket. Perhaps it is just you and a “pal” and you don’t need all that “big boat stuff”? How will you board the boat ? Is it at a dock or will you have to wade out to it ? Is there parking for your car ? How about the skipper, is he experienced? If so, for a lifetime or just a few years? Where does he live ? Locally or from out of state ? Does he trailer his boat from the city to the latest hotspot for some summer supplemental income or is he permanently located at a pier or marine on the Cape? Is he insured? Is he arrogant, impatient or unfriendly ? (you would be surprised !) When you called him, did he take the time to find out your needs as to the makeup of your party, or the nature of your intended targeted species. Is he willing to suggest a different area or boat to accommodate you, if his service isn't going to be best for you ?
COST: It is entirely possible that you can take a child fishing for less than $5 and have an exciting outing for them. All you need is 10 feet of very light monofilament line and a half dozen tiny size 18 or 20 streamer fly hooks. (longer shank than normal helps with removal) Take your child to the nearest dock and using whatever you find on the shoreline for bait - mussels, clams etc, thread the tiny hooks with scraps of bait. Let that hook and bait sink gradually under the dock or pilings, and you will catch minnow after minnow until your child gets bored with it. They will remember that for a long long time because you actually caught something and they were involved! Charter trips are expensive, due to insurance, dockage, permitting and fuel costs, boat payments, gear etc. Most 4-6 hour charters on a 6 pack boat go for a range of $300 for a small 21’ skiff to more than $800 for a top of the line sport fisher. The average 5-6 hour trip on a 35 foot sportfishing boat is from $500 to $800. The average tuna or combination trip of 10-12 hours or more is $1500 - $2000. That said, I believe you get what you pay for and a smart shopper will do their homework before the deposit check is sent, to make sure the best values can be had. Don’t cut corners on what you need, ask lots of questions and make sure that your boat and captain choice is what you want for the comfort of your party and for a reasonable chance of catching the fish species you are targeting.
Capt. Bruce Peters - Capeshores Charters www.sportfishingcapecod.com