It doesn’t matter if you’re headed to Alaska, Canada, or somewhere warmer like Florida or Central America – or even your home state with a local guide for that matter – there exists a certain etiquette in the charter fishing world. If left unaware, anglers can stumble into some easily avoidable faux pas that can negatively affect their trip. No matter where you’re booking your next fishing excursion, the following tips will help you be a better client and should lead to a more enjoyable day for both you and the crew.
The author, Chris Atkins (2nd from the Right) has been living in Costa Rica since 2005 where he now runs and owns Central America Fishing, a travel agency offering customized fishing vacations to Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, and Guatemala.
1. First impressions go a long way
If you want to ensure your day gets started on the right foot ask your captain for permission to come aboard before stepping into the boat. The boat is their office, their livelihood, and where they spend most of their waking hours, so you can bet it’s near and dear to them. Even if they are waiting for you and give you a warm greeting, asking for permission to come aboard is a great way to instantly get on the captain’s good side and subtlety show them respect.
2. No bananas on the boat
Seriously. You may have heard this one before, and if you haven’t maybe you think it’s funny now, but it’s no joke. The VAST majority of fishing captains hold fast to this belief: man or woman, expert angler or beginner, don’t bring bananas on the boat. Some captains take this superstition to next level and don’t want anything with even the word ‘banana’ on the boat like Banana Republic clothing or Banana Boat sun lotion. Many theories exist as to where this belief came from, but if you bring a banana on your charter boat you can bet anything from mechanical failures to bad weather to tight-lipped fished will be blamed for it.
3. Tell the captain what you want
Communicate with your captain what kind of fishing experience you’re seeking. Fishing captains are skilled at reading the weather, water conditions, and fish behavior – not your mind – so if you don’t tell them what kind of fishing day you want to have there is no way they can help you achieve it. Whether it’s at the dock before you push off, or better yet, days before your actual fishing trip, communicating your desires is key to a successful day of fishing. This can include anything from specific species you want to target, fishing methods you do or don’t want to try, and even special requests for food and drinks on the boat – the more info you can provide, the better job they can do to make you happy once you’re on their boat.
Sushi rolls anybody?
4. It’s called fishing not catching for a reason
It’s great to come prepared with a game plan, but some anglers show up and have a laundry list of species they expect to catch on their one day charter. To make matters worse, they think that once they check off one species they can simply move to another. These are wild animals we are after and they live in large bodies of water to which we are merely visitors, predictability is not their strong suit. Some days you can catch a boatload of one species but can’t buy a bite from another no matter what you throw at them. Captains will do their best to put you on the fish you want, but keep an open mind and remember that it’s fishing, not the grocery store.
5. Anything can happen
Realize that fishing calendars and weather seasons are basic guidelines, but anything can happen. If you are from the Midwest like me, you’ve probably experienced 30-degree weather changes in a single day. I’ve also seen snow in May and I’ve played golf in 50-degree weather in January. Just because you’ve booked your fishing trip months in advance, and spent a paycheck or two doing so, doesn’t mean that everything is going to work out as planned. A lot of anglers travel to a destination to target one specific species on their bucket list, but it’s important to remember that the concept of a bucket list is that it’s something you complete before you ‘kick the bucket’, not every time you hit the water. If you are channeling your inner Hemmingway and are after a trophy marlin, think of it this way – every time you hunt do you see a trophy 12-pointer? Of the times you have seen a trophy buck, did you have a clear shot at it? Point is, even if you choose the perfect destination, the best month of the year, and handpick the best local captain, there are simply no guarantees in fishing.
A couple of Legendary Anglers with a good haul!
6. Don’t throw your trash overboard
That really shouldn’t have to be said, but a fair amount of tourists who charter boats on vacation may not have a lot of experience on the water. Unfortunately, there are still people out there who believe that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ really is a thing and they don’t understand how one person could possibly have an effect on the vastness of the ocean. The problem is too many people have thought that way for too long and now many of our favorite fisheries are full of trash – most of it plastic. In addition to being terrible for the environment, if you start throwing your trash overboard, it’s also incredibly disrespectful to your crew as they make a living out there. No one comes to your office and dumps garbage all over your keyboard, so don’t do it to them.
7. Need a bathroom?
Speaking of waste, know what to do if you have to go number two. Sometimes nature calls and no matter what tricks you may try, she just isn’t going away until you answer her. If you are smart you chartered a boat with a marine toilet, or head. If the crew didn’t already explain this to you at the start of the trip, swallow your pride and ask what to do if you need to use the bathroom. Some boats have holding tanks that get pumped at the dock, others have systems that flush right then and there either with a hand pump or regular handle. Remember you are on a fishing boat, not at the Ritz, so many of these systems can’t dispose of waste like toilet paper. You might find it embarrassing to have to ask what to do, but you’ll find it 100 times more embarrassing if you actually clog the toilet and create an issue that makes you come in early or worse, costs money to fix.
8. Write reviews and spread the word
Like many small businesses, charter captains survive on repeat and referral business. In today’s internet age, few things are more valuable to them than online reviews, so be sure to take a few minutes and write them a positive one if you enjoyed yourself. Whether it’s their Facebook page, an online fishing forum, or Trip Advisor it will be appreciated. Nothing beats word of mouth referrals, however, so if you found a captain that you know your fishing buddies would love too, be sure to pass along the contact info.
9. Fill the tip jar
As the saying goes, the best way to become a millionaire in the fishing business is to start off as a billionaire. Rarely will you see fishing captains driving luxury cars or sporting Gucci watches as very few actually become rich from fishing for a living. The appeal of being a charter captain has much more to do with their passion for the sport and the altruistic joy they get from sharing that with others. Charter fishing trips may seem expensive to you, but once you factor in marina fees, insurance, maintenance, fishing gear, gas, and all the beer you just guzzled down, there isn’t much left to line their pockets.
Fishing crews survive on tips, so if you enjoyed yourself, be sure to let them know by doing more than just saying ‘Thank you’. A general guideline for tipping your fishing crew is like that of a restaurant, 10%-15% is standard and 20% if you really thought they went the extra mile and/or helped you land that trophy on your bucket list. If you have trouble parting with the cash, think of it this way: Your tip today is an investment for the future. If you plan to come back and fish with this same crew in a month or the following year, you can rest assured they will remember clients who never tipped and clients who tipped well; you want to be the later. Take these for example – Some other guy just booked the only weekend you have open and you want to bump him from the calendar? Or, it’s getting dark but the bite is on fire and you want to stay out another 20-30 minutes? You guessed it, the clients who get to enjoy these benefits are the ones who the captain knows are going to leave a nice tip.
Whether you are new to chartering boats or if it’s simply your first time in a new destination, hopefully, these tips will make for smoother sailing on your next angling adventure. When it’s all said and done, fishing captains are in the customer service industry – fishing trips are just the product they offer. One way to receive better service is to be a better customer, and being prepared with a little fishing charter etiquette will only work in your favor.