Although I have my own boat, I will occasionally go out on a charter boat if conditions on the coast aren’t the best. Which is what my son Joe and I did last weekend down in Monterey.
Salmon season opened April first, which what my son and I were after, but charters are a lot of fun for all species of fish–from cod to albacore–and relatively inexpensive, too. BUT, I was reminded that a lot of people who go charter fishing for the first time don’t seem to really understand what they’re getting themselves into. So I thought maybe a brief tutorial might be helpful if YOU’RE considering a first-time trip.
- Seasickness. Obviously, this is the number one problem for most charter clients and it isn’t fun. Imagine a brief, seven hour bout with the flu, and you pretty much have it (and there isn’t a charter captain alive who is going to turn the boat around and take you back to port–and I once saw a guy offer a skipper $100 to do so). Somehow, I’ve managed to never get seasick, but I’ve come close a few times and usually, there were certain factors involved: Too much greasy food and/or adult beverages the night before, fishing near the back of the boat where the exhaust and fuel fumes are strongest, and spending any amount of time in the cabin before I get acclimated. For anyone prone to motion sickness, the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor about motion sickness medicine. There are plenty of over-the-counter treatments, with Dramamine being the most well-known, and they often work just fine. But for some, prescription strength may be necessary. Next, be careful what you eat and drink the night before, and try to get a good night’s rest. Go easy on breakfast that morning, too, especially if you’re not sure how things are going to turn out. Also…avoid fishing at the back of the boat because of the aforementioned fumes, and stay out of the cabin! I’ve found the best way to get your “sea legs” is to stay outside, on the deck–it helps your equilibrium immensely to be able to focus on land or the horizon. Plus, tending to your rod or talking to the other fisher folks can be a good distraction.
- Ask questions. Most captains and their deckhands are great, and will explain ahead of time what you’re fishing for and how to do it. But some, like our boat last weekend, just kind of leave it up to you, which isn’t fair if you aren’t a regular fisherman. The poor woman beside me had no idea how to operate her reel and within 20 minutes had snagged the lines of three other people and then got a tangle in her reel so bad they had to get her a new one, and they STILL didn’t tell her how to work it, so I did and she was appreciative. You paid good money to go out, you should at least expect a certain level of customer service. If you’re not getting it, be polite about it, but ask.
- Bring your own lunch! It’s amazing how many people forget this, or believe the boat will have food. I’ve seen it several times. And when you’re out there for 8 or 9 hours, you can get really, really hungry and thirsty. Speaking of thirst, some boats, but not all, will also allow alcohol. I personally don’t drink while I fish but if you want to, it’s no big deal, as long as the boat is OK with it. Just check ahead of time.
- Save yourself a little money, bring your own gear. We saved about $20 apiece by bringing our own rods, reels, hooks and weights. Now, obviously, there are different equipment needs for different kinds of fishing. You don’t want to bring your trout rod out for albacore. But if you have gear, and know how to match it with the kind of fish you’re going after, bring it.
- Be prepared to tip! Many deckhands are paid minimally, if at all, and survive on tips. It’s not unusual (or asking too much) to tip $20 or more to a good deckhand, especially if it’s been a busy day. Also, make sure it’s cash. Haven’t seen an ATM on a boat yet.
- Go in with open expectations! My dad always used to say after a slow day fishing, “You can’t be mad at the fish!” And he’s right. Fishing is a crapshoot and even the best skippers get skunked. The opening week of salmon in Monterey Bay had been pretty good yet our boat caught nothing…not even a bite. Fish, especially migratory fish like salmon, move around a lot to feed. . We didn’t catch fish, but we probably saw a dozen gray whales and a sunrise straight off a postcard. Plus, I got to spend the day with my kid. So, all in all, it was still time and money well-spent.
- Find a charter that’s a good fit for YOU. Read their Yelp and Google reviews. Check publications like Fishsniffer.com or Western Outdoor News. Some boats and skippers have great reputations. Some don’t. Ask around. Also, for more money, you can try chartering what’s called a “six-pack”–a smaller boat with fewer clients and usually a single guide for a more personal one-on-one experience.
This year’s salmon season is expected to be short because of low returning salmon numbers–it may not go past the end of April so if that’s what you’re interested in, better do it soon. But bottom fishing (for delicious fish like ling cod, rockfish, and halibut) should be good up and down the coast all season. There are charter services in virtually all California ports and a quick Google search can help you learn your options. Good luck, have fun and keep your tip up!