Great charter boats, crewed by dedicated professionals who truly love to take people fishing, exist in just about every corner of the known billfishing world. But sometimes signals get crossed or expectations don’t quite match reality, and things just don’t come together the way they should to ensure that the charter customer has a good experience. I’ll never forget my first charter trip outside the United States.
A college buddy was getting married in Ecuador, so four of us headed down to the coast from the Ecuadorian capital of Quito for a day offshore. “Barely floating” best describes the boats fishing out of Salinas, Ecuador, in the early 1990s. However, the excitement our group felt about the chance to see a nice blue, or a big striped marlin for that matter, blinded us to the possibility of danger.
We loaded up, along with one of the mates and our tackle, into a small panga for the trip out to the anchorage. I did a double take when I saw that the four Penn 50s in the rod holders were completely white, all of the gold anodizing having worn off. Not a good sign. The line had seen better days as well. Even when we insisted to the mates that they strip off the first few dozen yards, they politely refused.
|To ensure a good day on the water, try to seek out boats that have a long history of excellence.|
The captain arrived in the next panga, holding a small round object that was obviously precious to him: It turned out to be the boat’s compass. No other navigational or communications equipment would be with us for the trip. The captain carefully placed the compass in its homemade holder at the helm, and we slipped the mooring lines and headed offshore at a stately 12 knots.
After a few hours on the troll, a blue marlin delivered a smashing strike to the outrigger bait, and the old wooden rigger bent over almost to the water before whipping back violently after the clip finally let go. The marlin leaped from the calm Pacific, tail-walking away in the typically blue-dog dance we all love to see, but within 90 seconds it was over; the line broke just above the Bimini twist. A good lunch of fish tacos, some gaffer-size dolphin, and a few cold beers on the ride home raised our spirits somewhat, but the third-rate tackle cost us our shot at a blue marlin.
Since those early days, I’ve done plenty of charter fishing, and I’ve learned a few things about scratching your offshore adrenaline itch on someone else’s ride. Here are my top five pitfalls to avoid when choosing a charter — disregard them at your own risk.
1. Fishing Half-Day Charters
This is one of the biggest decision-making errors, and it happens all over the world: choosing to fish a half day instead of a full day or multiple days. There are only a few places where you could even hope to see a billfish in a half day, and even in the hottest of hot spots, you’d have to be incredibly lucky to have any success in such a short amount of time. Take it with a big grain of salt when you hear someone say “We caught two blues and were back in time for lunch.” Possible? Maybe. Likely? No. This is also part of what I have come to call the “Guatemala syndrome.” Here’s an example of it: The boats that fished a full day yesterday averaged 20 sailfish releases each, but you say “Why spend all that money for a whole day when we could just go for a half day and catch 10?” It doesn’t work that way. First, those fish may be well out of range for a half-day charter. There may also have been an afternoon bite that takes place long after you’ve packed it in and headed for the dock.
And just one day really isn’t enough, especially if the fishing has been less than red-hot lately. By booking two or three days with the same boat, you’re giving your captain plenty of time to find the fish and greatly improving your chances for success along the way. Save the half days for fishing inshore.