What is a successful trip? We are all unique, so we all have different answers. On my charters, I try to encourage communication — especially when planning the trip. If we don’t understand each others’ abilities and expectations, it’s hard to accomplish them.
It amazes me when I have folks tell me after the trip what they wanted to do. What, I’m supposed to be able to read your thoughts? One fellow started to give me a hard time about our destination until his girlfriend reminded him I’d asked what he wanted to do while we were heading out. We did what we agreed on.
I try to pull information from people early enough that I can do something to give them what they want. It’s much harder if you don’t share this vital information, and frustrating to both of us after the trip is over. Once I show up with gear for the trip we have planned, it’s not always possible to change course. Whether you’re setting up an outing with friends or a guided trip, planning and communication help make things better.
With charters, start out by taking the time to actually read the information provided on the captain’s website. Guides and their webpage designers work hard to include all required information, but it’s useless if you don’t read it. If there are specific pages about varied trips, be sure to select the one that fits your requirements. They invested time and effort to include what you need to know to ensure you’ll have a good trip — but you have to do your part too.
Fishing is not math, and there are no if-this-then-that results. It’s very different every day. Tides, weather, water conditions, angler abilities (or lack thereof) — all must mesh to catch fish. If you’re going fishing, it’s to have fun and be prepared to catch fish if they cooperate. If you go to have fun, it’s always successful. If you’re already counting on bringing back a bunch of fish, that itself is a jinx. Be prepared and be optimistic, but don’t expect to feed the neighborhood.
Even when you catch lots of fish, many species are closed or very restricted to harvest. Right now, for instance snook, redfish and trout are all closed for harvest. Spanish mackerel and mangrove snapper are usually our best bets inside. Most fish have minimum sizes, and many have slot limits (legal fish must be above a minimum size but smaller than a maximum size). Some are closed during specific months. It is challenging to keep up.
How can you help improve your odds of catching fish? First, have faith in your captain. Ask questions before committing. If you have any special needs and desires, share them. Ensure your expectations are reasonable. Follow the captain’s suggestions and try to follow their directions. If all else fails, do what your guide suggested the first time.
If fishing circle hooks, which are required for many species, do not jerk! They were invented to work from a static line; let the fish hook itself. Equipment only works if utilized properly. Your crew wants your trip to be fun and productive. A guide’s livelihood depends on your enjoying the adventures. We all like to return with smiling clients.
Why is fishing so expensive? Just compare the cost of a guided trip with the cost of renting and fueling a boat and providing your fishing gear and bait. Consider the cost of boats, motors, fishing gear, fuel, tackle, etc… it’s extremely expensive. Your crew is not getting rich! If your crew works hard for you please take care of them, even if catching was tough. Successful captains do their best always.
Charter guides choose this life because we love fishing and entertaining folks. We like to help you catch fish and create smiling memories. But it’s work. For every hour we spend with you, there are at least three spent preparing and maintaining gear. We frequently go catch baitfish before we pick you up. Again, if the trip seems simple, it’s because we have worked extra to ensure this outcome. Note that we try to have everything ready when we pick you up. Many of us carry several rigs for special occasions. Salt water is rough on our gear.
Fish don’t always corporate. Tides, currents, moon phases and weather will affect the bite — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Winds can help or hurt. There are so many variables that must be considered. Even then, remember it’s not math. We try our best guesses, based on local knowledge. It often works, but not always.
If you bring children, it needs to be their trip. It’s near-impossible to please both adults and kids fishing. Kids need action, plain and simple. Please don’t spoil your kids’ experiences by crowding them out to catch fish yourself. If they get tired and want a break, your captain will try something for you when conditions allow.
Please make sure your children have an adventure to remember and create lasting happy memories. Their first experience is critical to your future fishing adventures. Keep them wanting more. Take plenty of pictures; they’ll help you rediscover the memories years later.
One final thought: Any experienced local guide will enhance your odds of catching fish, but if you don’t like the guy you’re still going to have a lousy day. Be sure you match your personality with your guide. If you’re straight-laced and he’s a jokester (or vice versa), you may not get along. Four hours can seem like 40. Communicate both ways to ensure success. Ask questions and consider the answers.
And remember, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.