Finding the best fishing charter in North Carolina can be the single most important and most difficult part of any fishing trip around the Outer Banks. The captain should be able to teach you how the fish behave locally or what bait and rig to use for each different species and most importantly, you should feel safe and confident using the equipment and on the charter boat.
Everything has to do with finding the best fishing charter! That is exactly why we at Jeannie D Sport Fishing have pieced together this comprehensive guide to help you choose from (usually) more than several dozen boats and captains that all look and sound the same, and still be certain that you’ve made the right decision.
Let start with the most obvious complications.
While charter fishing can run a little pricey, there’s a lot to consider that goes into maintaining and preparing a fully stocked and operating fishing boat. There’s bait and fuel and crew and safety considerations. Quite simple, it’s not cheap and chances are if you find a deal that looks too good to be true, it usually is: you’re paying less either because the crew is unskilled, the tackle and gear is in a lousy condition, the boat’s older than it looks, etc. Either way, if you’re going with the low-cost option, we definitely recommend checking the captain’s license number, as well as his/her credentials before you leave the docks.
The price of the charter boat isn’t a perfect indicator of the quality of service provided, but it’s a good starting point, and most anglers tend to choose comfort and quality over saving a few bucks.
2. Safety First
Safety should be your number one priority when choosing a charter. With that in mind, here’s a safety checklist to go over before choosing a charter boat:
Inquire about the charter’s insurance liability coverage before departing. Many businesses will try to cut corners here since covering everyone on board in full can cost the boat owner more than twice as much. If you step on a boat that doesn’t have you fully covered in case of an accident, and something does happen on the trip, your claim could end up being denied, leaving you in a world of pain, both physically and financially.
Check if the captain provides everyone on board with fitting life jackets, or PFD’s (personal flotation devices). Immediately locate where they’re kept on the ship, as well as the whereabouts of any fire extinguishers and throw cushions. If PFDs aren’t available, ask to bring your own if you if you have an inflatable one. US charters are required to be equipped with Type 1 PFD’s, which are primarily built for safety, not so much with big game fishing and comfort in mind. Type 3 vests, on the other hand, are viewed by some as an effort to compromise between the two aspects.
Check if the captain or the mates are trained in CPR and First Aid. As a matter of fact, check exactly how skilled the crew is in dealing with rough waters and surprises. Failure of the crew is the leading cause of all marine accidents. One of the ways you can identify just how concerned with safety captain really is, is by looking at the state of the ship immediately before departure. Is the vessel clean and organized? Are any moving parts locked in place or immobilized? An experienced captain wouldn’t sail in subprime conditions regarding the boat’s etiquette.
Check if the ship has twin engines, in case one of the motor fails during the trip. When determining the shape of the charter, don’t rely solely on the website photos: you can’t be sure how long it’s been since the last time those have been updated.
If you’re fishing in the US, make sure that the captain is licensed by the United States Coast Guard. A safety briefing is a norm before departing from any US dock. In Mexico, on the other hand, many seasoned charter captains are annoyed by the fact that the license is far too easy to be acquired, the credentials are sometimes even perjured or photocopied, and many so-called ‘boat drivers’ regularly ignore basic seamanship and sea traffic rules.
Finally, even if all of the above checks out, be sure to keep an eye on the weather on the day of your departure. As you may know, the weather in North Carolina and the Carolina Shore can be unpredictable. There are captains that won’t turn you down even if the wind and waves should require them to, either because their livelihood depends on it, or they’ve simply built up a higher tolerance to rough seas over the years.
3. Top-Notch North Carolina Fishing Captain
Choosing the right fishing charter in North Carolina could, for the most part, come down to choosing the right captain. The captain’s persona is certainly undeniably linked with the previous two factors we’ve considered: most people are willing to pay more for a seasoned guide with a wealth of local knowledge and a stellar track record, and a conscientious and experienced captain is an unavoidable aspect of any smooth and safe trip.
But even if you’re determined to only go fishing with the best, how do you know which one to pick? The Miami area alone, for example, is home to more than 200 charter captains, a type of market overcrowding analogous to most highly developed fishing destinations. Some of these captains have spent their entire lives threading the same waters, while others arrive as fresh additions to the party each year. Consider answering these questions when fishing for the right captain:
Is this the captain’s full time job? A portion of any charter market will be comprised of part-time fishermen looking for extra cash by offering charter services on the weekends, or commercial boat owners using the charter business as a method of subsidizing their own fishing (case in point: only 62% of charter boat operators in South Carolina are actually in the business full-time). While you may end up having just as good a time on board any of these gentlemen’s boats, only a full-time professional has the skill and the expertise needed to systematically deliver the highest quality of service.
Is he licensed? As we’ve already covered, licensing costs money, and many ‘captains’ find it easier to avoid going through the trouble of obtaining the permit altogether. This, of course, is somewhat illegal, as in that it’s usually followed by a jail sentence should the person be convicted. All charter boat operators in the United States must be licensed by the US Coast Guard.
How experienced is he? How well does he know the regional waters and local fish behaviour? Most anglers would agree that fishing professionally in a specific area for at least 5 years should be a minimum experience requirement when choosing a captain.
Is he knowledgeable about fish? An experienced captain also knows the kinds of lures and bait that are best to use on each specie, as well as the prime way to present it to the fish. More importantly, he’ll be able to use this insight to educate you, the customer, possibly increasing your success rate as a result. Finally, many fish are protected by the law, and these sometimes bear striking resemblance to the types of fish that are legitimate targets for anglers: a seasoned charter master will be able to differentiate between the two categories and save you from any legal troubles once you reach the shores.
How good are his social skills? This may sound like a funny way to judge a captain, but is a relevant one nonetheless. Should there be any beginner anglers on board, or really anyone unacquainted with the local fish variety and techniques, it is the captain that must be able to step in the role of a teacher before any lines are cast. If he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the local waters but is unable or unwilling to communicate it to his clients, the entire experience could be drastically affected. Charter fishing, after all, is primarily a form of entertainment: the one you’re paying good money for. So be sure to check out the captain’s reviews beforehand.
How dedicated to your fishing experience does the captain plan on being? Is he and the crew going to be fishing as well? If there’s a chance the service provider may neglect you, the paying customer, in order to fulfill his own daily fishing quota, you might be better off with someone who puts your interests first.
4. Finding Your North Carolina Fishing Style
What type of fishing will you be engaging in? Whichever style you prefer, there’s probably a fishing charter out there that specializes in it. Trolling or bottom fishing? Fly fishing or jigging? Some fishing charters in North Carolina will even set themselves apart by building their entire business around targeting a single specie (we’re looking at you, Florida’s swordfishing charters). Additionally, there are usually specialty charters willing to make any of your distinct fishing niches a reality for a bit of extra cash. Interested in kite fishing or deep dropping? Ask for a charter able to accommodate your specific angling needs and desires.
If you’re new to fishing, don’t forget to mention your skill level, or that of anyone else in your group, when booking a vessel. A good captain is the one who doesn’t let your fishing experience impact his ability to put you on the fish. A half-day charter may be a good idea for a complete beginner, however. Also, if the rest of your party doesn’t ‘necessarily share’ your obsession with sailfish, many charter services offer additional activities during the fishing trip: whether you entertain your kids with snorkelling, or take your spouse to a sunset cruise, customizing your day on the sea makes sure there’s more than one happy face when you get back home.
5. Boat Speed & Size
You may have heard differently, but it is in fact the size of the boat that counts, and not so much the motion of the ocean, at least when you’re out deep sea fishing (what’d you think I was talking about, anyway?). Although you’ll still be able to catch fish on a vessel under 32 feet, the cruise is less likely to be described with adjectives such as ‘comfortable’ or ‘stable’, as the ship tends to bounce around a bit more and you’re able to feel most of the bumps up close and personal. Groups of more than 4 are advised to look for a bigger boat. Charters between 33 and 35 feet are considered optimal for the overall experience, but generally speaking, the heavier the boat, the smoother you can expect the sailing to be. The speed of the boat is another highly important aspect of the journey. It usually takes some time to reach the fishing grounds, so if one captain pushes the charter at 35 knots whereas the other approaches the same location at half that speed, a 45 mile run could be only a small portion of the entire tour, or could cost you a couple hours’ worth of fishing time.
6. Sharing Your Fishing Philosophy
There are several general fish-related questions anglers tend to overlook, even though they feel very strongly about the possible answers. Just so there isn’t any major miscommunication between you and the captain, make sure to learn what his views are about the following:
7. Gear & Beer
If you’re not bringing your own tackle with you, relying on the captain to provide you with the appropriate equipment is essential. Many of the bigger fish will have little problem overpowering cheap rods and reels, and a premature line wear should be a clear sign that the gear for game fish has been overstressed, without any of the necessary repairs being undertaken. The amount of care the boat owner displays towards the tackle he offers to his customers is very much indicative of what you may expect from the rest of the trip.
Always, always ask about the gear.
- Is there a spinning or a bait-casting reel in the boat’s inventory? There should be both of course, followed by a captain that’s able to teach you how to use either of them.
- What types of rods does the charter offer?
- What’s the condition of the lines? If it’s seen better days, would the crew agree to strip off the first couple of yards, or more?
- What kind of bait is being used? Is there a surcharge for live bait, or do you perhaps have to spend the initial portion of your trip catching it before going after the real deal?
If you have any questions about booking a fishing charter in North Carolina, call Jeannie D Sportfishing at (856) 261-4646!