Getting Hooked on Charter
Even the most accomplished fisherman can learn a thing or two from a charter trip.
While I was drying the rods in the cockpit after a day of tournament fishing in the Florida Keys, a private boat pulled into the next slip. After shutting down his engines, the owner struck up a conversation with me about the difficulty he had raising a sailfish, while the boats fishing near him seemed constantly busy. A glance at his fishing tackle in the cockpit confirmed my initial impressions that he was not set up with the stubby rods and other gear that the regulars use for kite fishing, a wickedly effective technique for live-baiting sails. When I asked about the kites, he admitted that was not his style. Instead, he preferred to drag dead baits or tow a few live ones off his flat lines and outriggers until they were dead. Kite fishing just seemed too complicated to him. I have heard it said that kite fishing was actually invented by a skipper who hated mates, so there’s a bit of truth in his observation, but when it comes to fishing, another truth of equal importance is: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
I suggested that he should charter a local boat and get a taste of the excitement of kite fishing for sails with an experienced crew, because the guys who do it every day can put you on the fast track in a hurry. In a few hours he would be tutored with the right gear and rigs, learn techniques that produce strikes, and perhaps even come home with a few sails under his belt. If he liked the results and better understood the ins and outs of flying a kite, he would no doubt be a better fisherman. He also would have to invest in more tackle and equipment, to be sure, but the money spent as well as the knowledge gained by chartering a couple of days could pay dividends that would likely last a lifetime. Considering what he had already invested without seeing any results, chartering would make sense.
I have always liked to fish, but I like catching more. It has much to do with techniques, and this is why I’m also a big fan of taking advantage of charter boats and guides, whether fishing locally or in new and unfamiliar territories. In addition to being on the water with a professional team, I always come back to the dock with some fresh insight about trolling speeds, tackle, rigging baits, tying knots, and honing boat-handling skills. It pays off when I fish from my own boat. Even if the fish aren’t biting, there’s so much to learn every day you’re on the water and fishing with the guys who were out yesterday. Without a doubt, some of the best fishermen you could ever wet a line with are located on charter row.
Learning new techniques and tricks is among the many other benefits of chartering. On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I chartered an express boat, because it’s the type of platform I generally fish from. The skipper was on the ball, calling the game in the short tower, and I was never more than a few feet away from the action in the cockpit. In between bites, I watched an angler fight a sail with a fly rod from the bow of an outboard-powered boat and another aboard a big sportfisherman backing down at 6 knots, salt water pouring over the transom and flooding the cockpit, angler, and crew. Chartering can also be an excellent way to help you decide on your next boat. If you’re planning to move up, chartering a bigger boat than what you currently own will provide insight as to the comfort and fishability it can offer. At the same time, it poses some budget questions about real costs, such as if a full-time crew may be necessary to operate, maintain, and clean it. Conversely, if you’re scaling back, a smaller boat will reveal its pros and cons. It might be built for speed, for example, but it might also lack the beef to push offshore when it gets rough, cutting back on the days you can fish in comfort and safety.
Boats are always a compromise of sorts, and chartering lets you sample before you buy. Another alternative could be to keep the boat you have and charter one for special trips, such as northeast canyon runs, or for giant bluefin tuna fishing in Nova Scotia. Then again, maybe you’ll just want an afternoon to fly a kite in the Florida Keys and drive the sailfish nuts.
This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.