How do you pick a charter without personal recommendations?

Started by JasonGotaProblem, October 20, 2022, 01:45:16 PM

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I decided that instead of spending a chunk of my bonus on another deep sea rod to add to my collection of unused ones, I'd try to go out and try out the ones I already own.

Problem is there's not a single local person I know personally who goes out on charters, so I have nobody to ask for a personal recommendation. I also have precisely zero experience myself, so I don't have any tools to evaluate the options.

So how do I figure out which ones are any good? Last night i was looking on a charter finder listing site, and the problem isn't that there's not enough to choose from, but that for the chosen date there's 18 pages of listings, all of which seem to have 5 star reviews narrowing it down to eliminate the inshore charters still leaves like 5 pages.

Do I need to just start calling around and asking who will let me bring my own gear, or is there some better way of narrowing it down? I just wanna go after some grouper. I hoped this would be simpler.
Any machine is a smoke machine if you use it wrong enough.


Good question.
When I can't get any "good" references, I try'n visit which is not always easy to do. Seeing the operation and face to face communication helps sometimes.

Got 2-references recently to an auto-shop and everything seemed good, after the initial visit, until I got there for the scheduled inspection appt. and the invoice price was $20 higher than the quote + taxes, so you never know. I left and did the work myself(brake replacement). Angry words were exchanged—-another burned bridge...

If they talk a lot and don't ask you what kinda experience you're looking for, that's one bad sign.
Also, if it's just yourself, beware of sudden change-ups or cancellations. Groups that bring alota $ can get the trip changed to their desires even after you have paid.
Fishing tackle is an art form and all fish caught on the right tackle are"Gfish"!

Hardy Boy

Gfish gave you some good advice. If you can get down to the dock and check out the condition of the boat and the gear that can also tell you something. I'll take an older boat with new power and great gear a sthat usually means the guy has been doing it for a while and he takes pride in his operation. That being said I have never had a "bad" charter. I have had poor fishing but that is fishing.

One more tip ................ you usually get what you pay for so the cheapest guy usually is offering less. One thing my guide buddies hate is when the client tries to get a discounted price right off of the bat. That is a good way to not start off on the right foot.




For a 30+ CC charter I would check the local in-out storage marina. If they can spend the money for a marina chances are they have been doing it for a while and are good at it. Not saying a guy running off a trailer won't put you on fish.

The marina ship store will usually have some sort of advertisement for all the charters running out of their marina. Ask them who they recommend or don't recommend, deckhands are usually brutally honest about charter Captain's. They would always tell me what so and so brought in when I was having my boat put in the water.

I wouldn't go on a Sat or Sun and expect too much info though, pop in after work on a weekday. Chances are the Captain will be there on a Friday night getting ready for a early Sat charter. If the Captain isn't approachable then I wouldn't waste my money on them.


All good ideas from Greg, Todd, and Thrasher —-

If I was going into a charter "cold" —-

Check with the local tackle shops, boat maintenance yard, and the Harbor-Master.

Ask who does a good and solid job of getting clients on the fish.

The tackle shops will know, so will the Harbor-Master, and the boatyard knows who takes care of their equipment over a period of years —- and is a steady, reliable guy who pays his bills, along with a record of steady fish production.

At the end of the day —- most fishing is still a gamble —- but a good, solid, experienced operation removes most of the chance.

Best, Fred
The Official, Un-Authorized Service and Restoration Center for quality vintage spinning reels.

D-A-M Quick, Penn, Mitchell, and ABU/Zebco Cardinals


"Enjoy the little things in Life — For someday, you may look back — and realize that they were the big things"

"Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent".
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Check your "local" fishing websites for info on charters.
Hi, my name is Lee and I have a fishing gear problem.

I have all of the answers, yup, no, maybe.

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
Mark Twain

Jim Fujitani

Quote from: JasonGotaProblem on October 20, 2022, 01:45:16 PMI decided that instead of spending a chunk of my bonus on another deep sea rod to add to my collection of unused ones, I'd try to go out and try out the ones I already own.

Do I need to just start calling around and asking who will let me bring my own gear, or is there some better way of narrowing it down? I just wanna go after some grouper. I hoped this would be simpler.

Since you own your own gear, use it.  Don't trust rental equipment. 

I would avoid boats that restrict personal equipment.  I have never used "boat gear" or landing rental equipment.  I have fished on open and closed charters where I have loaned out gear to other fishers to replace their rental gear that has failed.  And if the failed equipment was rented from the landing, the boat may not necessarily have to replace it during the charter.


Might help to define what you mean by charter.  It used to only mean hiring the whole boat.  You could charter a smaller center console for yourself up to a a giant party boat for yourself and 50 of your closest friends.

Nowadays "charter operations" also are selling individual seats on a shared trip, and even a spot on a large party boat that rarely charters. 

Different advice for a spot on the rail on a jumbo party boat vs a split or whole small boat charter.



in pre-web days, w/ no other info, I looked for the Goldie Locks Zone of cleanliness:
  • boat too filthy = LAZY
  • boat too clean = can't find fish


Thanks guys. Some great advice here. No surprise.

I'd likely be going out by myself. I don't mind being with others, and don't feel the need to hire a private boat for myself.
Any machine is a smoke machine if you use it wrong enough.


Check out Captain Ed Walker! He's around the Tampa area I believe


OCD Reel Service & Repair
Gulf Breeze, FL


I am with the others on recommendations- especially Lee's advice. Recommendations can really improve the odds.  If you get a recommendation from a tackle shop or other affiliated business, the odds of getting a bad charter go down, but there are still plenty of brother-in-laws, and cross-referrals going on.

The best recommendations are from paying repeat customers.  So if you can find a local/regional club or web board, it is usually not too difficult to find some good operations.

Some other tips:

Party boat:

How tightly will you be packed in?  Are limited load trips available?  How fast is the boat, how stable on the drift?  Same long time captain, or are they burning though skippers?  Nicest party boat in the landing is usually at least an average quality trip.

Gear restrictions are not always a deal killer.  Sometimes necessary to prevent endless tangles.  But they should allow you to bring your own gear if it matches.

Shared small boat (e.g., six pack):

Check if the charter has a web site with a visible booking calendar.  The busier, the better.  Trip reports are useful for newer operators. At least you know how often they are going out, and what they are catching, but the guys that have been doing it for a few years often quit posting reports.

Like Todd, I have had plenty of good charters.  Unlike Todd, I have had more than a few bad ones.  Usually burn-out (it is a tough job), but also hungover crew, the angry captains that resent those unskilled customers that get to do all the fishing, and worst of all, mechanical failures. Being able to put your eyes on the boat before booking can help a lot in terms of picking a safe ride. Plus if you bump into the skipper at the dock and mention that you repair reels, you might make a new friend-albeit one with some pretty crusty reels :).

Small boats (e.g., six packs) that are busy and do mostly full charters and fewer split charters tend to be better operations.

Hope this helps,