By Capt. Fred Davis

When you are planning your winter vacation, don’t rush into the unknown. If getting out on the water for a fishing charter is included in your plans it’s best to begin shopping well in advance of your trip. Waiting until you arrive at your destination may leave you standing on shore.

Florida is one of the most popular states to enjoy a charter fishing excursion, especially when it comes to those of us from the Great Lakes area. I am well acquainted with the area and its charter opportunities after spending the past 25 years wintering in the Florida Keys.

If you receive a recommendation from a friend or relative, it is likely they had a successful outing. You too may enjoy a good experience but keep in mind not every fishing trip is guaranteed to be successful. There are lots of variable conditions that play a part.

When planning ahead and questioning a captain, inquire about the size of the boat, how many people is most comfortable for a good trip and the cost. Ask if the price includes; beverages, bait and tackle and any other items. What amount of deposit is required and is it refundable? Inquire if a portion of your deposit will be retained if you have to cancel. Also see what fishing license requirements are needed for your trip.

If you are arranging a group charter, you may want to ask all those going to invest in the deposit. Another inquiry to make of the captain is; if it’s a group trip will the captain add walk-ons if your whole group doesn’t show up? This would help cover the cost. If you are unsure of the number of people in your party and don’t wish to risk losing a deposit, you may want to wait until you get to your destination to book.

Once your group is assembled, meet other boats at the charter docks. Talk to anglers who have returned from a trip and take note of the catches displayed. Once the fish are cleaned and the boats are being washed down by the mate, the captains will usually be happy to chat with you.

Something to keep in mind, rough seas on ocean waters differ a great deal from those on the Great Lakes. Considering this thought, ask perhaps the most important question. What will happen if the weather is unsettled? Some captains will answer, “If it’s fishable we go.” If it is truly un-fishable, will your deposit be returned? This question could lead to an a few different answers. Some captains have a back-country boat that they use to fish the shallow, calmer waters of nearby bays. They may offer to take you out on it if there are only two of you.

When chartering for back-country, captains prefer to take only one or two passengers because the action takes place in shallow waters and their vessels are designed to navigate those waters. They also catch live bait and that is tricky with more than two others aboard. If your group includes several anglers, some captains have more than one small boat. They also may have other captains they book for and could still accommodate you. They understand you have come a long way to get out fishing and will try to work with your circumstances.

Another option could be that a captain offers to apply your deposit to their next available opening which leads to a dilemma. What if they have no openings before your vacation ends? These questions and perhaps more need to be considered when planning to go on a charter fishing trip while vacationing.

Charter fishing in Florida’s many offshore locations and the Florida Keys produces big fish; trophy Sails, Marlin, Swordfish, Shark, Tuna, Mahi, and many others. Fishing the flats in the backcountry also produces trophies; Bonefish, Tarpon, Snook, Grouper. You have read the magazines, seen the photos and heard exciting tales.

Some of the fish have seasons of catch and limits you need to be aware of. Many are great eating but be sure to inquire about keeping them because some captains sell their catches. Most large fish are considered “catch and release” and you may have an opportunity for photos but not always. Mounts are not made from the actual fish but from photos that a skilled taxidermist recreates of your catch.

Back-country fishing can be one of the most exciting fishing experiences you will ever have. I recommend a whole day charter to fully enjoy the experience. I sent my kids on a once in a lifetime experience on a back-country excursion, the results were sure more than they expected. Just image catching a big shark or a rare, seldom seen, five-foot sawfish in shallow water on light tackle.


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