Cape Cod Charter Fishing

Tips for Choosing a Cape Cod Fishing Charter

One of the best ways to experience some great fishing around Cape Cod is by booking a charter fishing trip. There are hundreds of captains with boats of all sizes ready to take you out for a memorable fishing adventure. The trick it to pick the right one and have a good idea what the experience will be like before you head out. Here are some tips and guidelines to make your day on the water both pleasurable and productive.

Because the waters here hold such a variety of fish it’s important to first ask yourself the most basic question of all: just what do I want to catch? While most of the charters are ready, willing and able to fish for multiple species – even on the same trip – in most cases a captain specializes in targeting one or two types of fish. These include charters that encourage casting for striped bass and bluefish, some that only troll for those species, larger boats that go after the biggest gamefish in our waters, the bluefin tuna, and even charters that primarily cater to fishermen who want to bottom fish for sea bass, fluke or scup.

The most common charters are those that target stripers and bluefish. These are the “backbone” species of Cape Cod sportfishing and are usually available anywhere around the Cape. Tuna charters are for the most part specialized operations and while beginners certainly are encouraged to experience that thrills of hooking up with those magnificent fish, usually someone booking a tuna trip has some experience with fishing in at least the general sense.

You can find brochures from the various charter operations online and in many locations such as restaurants and local chamber of commerce offices but one of the best places to begin your search for the perfect charter is a local tackle shop. Many of the local captains do business there or at the very least stop by these places to brag about their catches and glean what information they can from the shop employees. Those people who work in the shops can often make good recommendations – if you have a good trip you are likely to do business there again, and they know it. However, it’s important to think about what you want from that trip.

Are you someone who enjoys casting to fish or would you rather troll and not be quite so actively involved? If you do want to cast you will probably want to book a charter that uses a center console type craft as there will be more room for casting compared to a boat with a large cabin and a smaller stern area. That type is boat is fine for trolling however. You may want to consider how large the boat is, especially if you have any worries about seasickness. The boats used around the Cape for chartering range from guided kayak charters all the way up to serious offshore sportfishing boats of 40 feet or more. Smaller craft are able to get into places that big boats cannot go but more often than not you will be dealing with some moderate to heavy seas so be sure you’re willing to spend four or more hours rocking and rolling!

Another basic consideration is how many people will be going with you. As a practical matter, more than two anglers on a smaller boat may diminish the experience as casting room will dictate that only two will be able to fish at the same time. Also, if you plan to take youngsters a larger boat means more creature comforts – essential for the kids to have a good time!

Let’s assume you have a good recommendation (if you can speak with someone who’s fished with the charter you’re considering, all the better) and you’ve studied his or her brochure carefully and decided it looks good. The next step is to contact the captain; email is fine but speaking with him is even better.

Here are some questions to ask:

  1. What type of fishing do you do? Do you provide all the equipment (and bait, if needed)? Most do but if you prefer to use your own rod and reel they should be amenable to this.
  2. What type of license do you have? (most have a “6-pack” – a six-passenger, near shore license to take passenger for hire; some have 50-ton offshore licenses and others even have unlimited licenses)
  3. How many anglers can fish on your boat? Are you willing to take kids and can you teach them the basics of fishing if they have no experience?
  4. Can I keep my catch (assuming its of legal size of course)? Will you or your mate clean it for me?
  5. Do you have foul weather gear on board in case the weather turns rainy or should I bring my own?
  6. How long will be fishing and when should I be ready to sail? Where should I park? (most charters are either half-day – 3 or 4 hours, or full day – about 6 hours on the water)
  7. Do you provide food or refreshments of any kind? (Water and soft drinks will most likely be available but little else unless you book a very expensive offshore charter. Plan to bring a cooler with sandwiches or other food items – and don’t forget a sandwich for the captain and mate if he has one. It will be appreciated!)
  8. Do you allow liquor on board? (This is a touchy one. Many captains don’t mind if you have a beer or two but heavy drinking is never allowed and is downright dangerous. If the captain says that no liquor of any kind is allowed on board, heed his rule. You can party down when you get back to the dock when you show off your big catch!)
  9. What is your cancellation policy? (In most cases captains will require a deposit of $50 to $100. That deposit may or may not be refundable if YOU cancel the trip; any legitimate charter operation will refund it if THEY cancel for any reason. At least 24 hours will be required to cancel a trip, however, at the captains discretion, weather factors may force a cancellation sooner or later. Most captains will try to reschedule your trip, if possible.)
  10. What is the cost?  (Plan on spending at least $100 per hour for a near-shore charter and more for an offshore one. With rising fuel, bait and equipment costs don’t surprised if the cost is higher. Also, assuming your trip is enjoyable – even if you don’t catch a lot of fish – a tip to the captain and his mate if he has one is standard. It should be in the range of 15% for the captain and 10% for the mate, especially if the mate cleans and packages your catch.)

Know that the better-known, highly respected captains are booked up years in advance in some cases. It just makes sense to book as far out from the date you want to fish as possible. If you speak with a captain who’s booked up and can’t accommodate you, ask him for a recommendation. Charter captains, while often secretive and competitive have a vested interest in you having a great fishing trip and you can trust their recommendation – but don’t be afraid to ask a few questions, too!

Head boats – A family friendly way to go fishing!

If the idea of a private charter isn’t appealing or seems a bit “hard core” you do have an alternative: “head boat” fishing of larger craft that take a dozen or more anglers out for a day of relaxing bottom fishing. This alternative is great if you’re on a family vacation and your partner and kids want to get out on the water. There are only a few of these operations on the Cape, primarily running out of Falmouth, Hyannis, Barnstable and Provincetown. This is not the type of fishing that will appeal to the serious angler who is hoping for a trophy, but a day of pulling up feisty scup, black sea bass, fluke or even a bluefish or striper or two will be something kids will never forget. The cost is only a fraction of the fee charged for a private charter, too, making it an affordable day for a family. All equipment and bait is provided and snacks are usually available on board. Be sure to call the office of the operation to make sure space is available.

The waters of Cape Cod are magical places, filled with the promise of the catch of a lifetime and spectacular beauty is the norm. So book a trip with one of the great charter captains on the Cape or spend a day on a head boat.