10 Things Your Charter Captain in Orange Beach May Not Tell You About Deep Sea Fishing Boats
Fishing charters have changed over the years to a more family friendly type of experience. As a captain, I have often wondered why people did things in the charter business the way they did for so many years? I wanted to have a little fun and examine some of the things that I have found out for myself over the years and now I know the rest of the story. Hope you enjoy some of the things A captain may not tell you about charter fishing.
1. Your captain might not tell you the reason it costs so much to go charter fishing is because we don’t have a year round business like most industries do to make our living. Up until a few years ago when Red Snapper season was open for 6 months a year, everyone's prices were a lot lower. Fuel was also about .96 cents a gallon compared to $2.85 now. So you will know exactly what we are facing in the charter business now, we only have some business during spring break each year, but we have to make the rest of our revenue during the summer months of June, July and August. If we have a bad weather day at anytime during the tourist season, that much needed day of revenue is lost and is hard to make up lost revenue that is much needed in order to make a living charter fishing. Another problem is, we have fixed monthly expenses like slip rent, boat payments, advertisement, quarterly taxes, living expenses, etc., just like everyone else does. The money we generate each season has to last all year. We are very much like farmers and are dependent upon having good weather so we can make our trips.
2. Your captain may not tell you that the reason most charter boat captains in Orange Beach take 50% deposits for a fishing charter is because that’s the way it has always been done. Here is some rationale behind the practice. As mentioned above, most every charter boat owner and captain has boat payments and bills to pay all year long. When a captain takes a deposit for a charter during the off season, he most likely uses that money to live on during the long winter months. Also, there have also been instances where people did not show up for their full day or overnight charter and the captain could have booked that date with someone else who would not cancel. Remember, under the current fishery management plan which is called a derby, we only have a given number of days to fish each year when seasons are open for specific species of fish. If we miss one of those derby days or tourist season days, it is hard to make up for lost revenue in the off season months. Up front deposits are insurance for charter boat captains who book longer trips. Because we believe strongly in building long lasting, mutually rewarding relationships with our clients and family customers, our Orange Beach Charter boats only take a credit card number to hold your trip on half day trips or less. Besides, have you ever tried to get a refund from someone who can't take you fishing because of weather? The practice is they forced you to re-schedule because they most likely have already spent your money during the winter months and don't have it now to give back to you. Now, that is not exaggeration, but that is a policy at one of the marinas in Orange Beach. Now a days, most every captain has no problem refunding money if you can't go fishing for some reason. We do take deposits on full day and overnight trips or longer because it is harder to book a long trip with short notice if someone cancels.
3. Your captain might not tell you that fishing for reef fish like Red Snapper has never been better than before. I mean the fish have never been bigger on public reefs. Due to a strict rebuilding plan implemented in 2007 by NOAA Fisheries, as required by the Magnuson Stevens Act, over fishing of this abundant species has almost ended. We now have a world class Red Snapper fishery but the season is only open to harvest 40 days a year. This year it begins June 1 and closes on or around July 10 for federally permitted charter boats. This does not mean you can’t go catch and release a few of them the rest of the year or target other species. However, fish like Gray Triggerfish and Greater Amberjack have also undergone over fishing and it will take years to get them to a sustainable level. We are finding ourselves having to really look for ways to entertain our guests and still catch them plenty of fish.
4. Your captain probably will not tell you that if you want to realistically have a chance to catch a game fish like Blue Marlin or Sailfish, you probably ought to travel to areas like Costa Rica and Cabo San Lucas, where they catch 3 to 5 each day. We have those fish south of Orange Beach, but just not in abundance like other subtropical climates have. To even have a chance, we have to run 30 miles southeast to the steps or 60 to 120 miles to the oil rigs off the East coast of Louisiana. If you want to catch Yellowfin Tuna or Blackfin Tuna, you need to at least charter a big boat for at least 24 hours, because this gives the captain enough time to get far enough offshore to where these species can be found.
5. When we tell you that we provide all the licenses, bait and tackle for you at no additional costs, we mean it. For those of us who fish in federal waters (beyond 3 miles offshore of Alabama), we have federal fisheries permits issued by NOAA fisheries that cost us less than $50 a year and cover everyone on the boat and the fish they catch. Our Alabama commercial charter license for a 6 passenger boat is about $200 for the entire year and covers fish caught in Alabama State Waters. If you want to fish for Highly Migratory Species like Shark and Tuna, that costs us $20 a year for a charter boat. Bait - Some captains use expensive cigar minnows that run about $1.75 a pound. Some of us use Spanish Sardines and they run about $1.25 a pound. Most of the captain’s use cut Squid and that runs about $2.25 per pound. Most everyone uses the same rods and reels over and over and over and over. Tackle - Some captains take real good care of their gear and some captains have worn out equipment. Our Cooperative members who offer private charters have well maintained and new fishing tackle on board for you to use. The result is, you have fewer malfunctions and have a better chance of landing that trophy fish.
6. Your captain may not tell you that catching you some live bait is not always necessary and will not benefit the angler if your taking a 6 hour trip or less. With a world class Red Snapper fishery at our fingertips, catching live bait on any trip less than a half a day is deemed unnecessary by many charter fishing guides. Some customers like catching bait for up to an hour in the morning before heading offshore. When you catch live bait, usually means the fishery is in trouble and reefs are over fished and you need an edge to trick those few smarter fish that are left in the area to bite. If you are going to take a full day or overnight charter, by all means, get you some live bait. However, if you are only doing a 6 hour trip, you probably don’t need it. The inshore bay fishery is a different kind of fishery than deep sea fisheries. Having live bait like Croakers are necessary to catch bay fish like Speckled Trout. They eat them like candy. Our inshore guides usually already have all the live bait on board before your charter fishing trip anyway, so you can spend more time fishing instead of catching live bait. All of our charter boats do everything we can to have live bait onboard before you arrive for your trip.
7. Your captain may not tell you the truth about not being able to come upstairs where he drives the boat. If you are familiar with charter fishing boats in Orange Beach, you have seen signs on the captains ladder where it says “crew only” upstairs. This is a US Coast Guard stability rule for inspected vessels only, that keeps people from climbing too high on the boat, thus making it susceptible to flipping over or becoming unstable. Six passenger boats should not have a sign because they are not inspected by the USCG. If you will take close notice, deckhands and other crew members are upstairs all the time, so what gives? You have to realize that captains are working at their job when they are on the boat, trying to find you fish and navigating safely to and from fishing grounds. Any distractions can cause the captain or endanger passengers’ lives (theoretically speaking). However, there are some captains who simply do not want to be bothered with customers asking a million questions. You can immediately tell which ones are family friendly by seeing if their door is open during the day or invites customers and kids to come upstairs to see all of the neat instruments. Now if sea conditions permit it and we are going to another spot or heading home, by all means come upstairs and hang out a while. Safety is the biggest issue with anyone going upstairs to the wheelhouse. We don’t want anyone to get hurt. The most family friendly boat around is the Distraction Charter boat. They even lets kids come upstairs and drive the boat, only when it’s safe of course.
8. All of those fishing television shows demonstrate how to tie all of those fancy knots and feats of expert seamanship. The truth is, most bottom fishing, reef fishing, surf fishing and inshore fishing use very simple tackle and knots. The rule of thumb is less tackle means more bites. Ever wonder why most boats fish with Carolina Rigs or two Hook rigs with bank leads on the bottom? That’s because that’s the way it has always been done. In order to keep fishing simple, all of our charter guides tie simple grouper knots and use very simple leaders. The reason why, is because when a deckhand is in the heat of battle and someone gets broken off by a big fish, he has to quickly be able re-tie his line and get his customer back fishing again so he can maximize his fishing effort.
9.Ever wonder why some captains pull up on a spot after a 2 hour ride and only let you fish for a couple of minutes before he tells you wind up and lets go to another spot? Well, call it old school if you like. Some captains pull up to reefs and drop down and they quickly see what types and sizes of fish are coming over the rail. If the fish are too small or not the right species, he will tell you to pull them up and then ride to another spot. One reason a captain likes to move frequently is because he might be checking spots that he ran over while on a previous fishing tip and he wanted to see what fish are on it. If it produces large fish quickly, he then updates his book of fishing spots and writes words like HOT or Big Snappers beside the number. Our charter fishing guides do check spots and run-overs’, but that is usually after you have had your fill of deep sea fishing. It costs too much to burn so much fuel to run way offshore by yourself and without customers to check spots. The best time to check a spot to see if it’s hot is when customers are onboard. They have enough bait in the water to accurately predict what the captain can expect on future charters.
10. Running slow or running fast when heading offshore. The price of fuel is the largest expense of running an Orange Beach Charter Boat. If we run fast, we burn more fuel, thus taking any profit a captain has go away by blowing it out the tailpipe. A good captain always moves at a good pace, but an economical pace based on the rate he charges for his fishing charters. If you will watch, less expensive charters putt, putt everywhere they go, trying to make up for not charging enough for their trips. There are some charters where the captains pride makes him run faster than he should to get to the magical fishing hole. When he gets back, he realizes that he burned up all his profit in fuel. A good fishing charter guide always travels at a steady pace, pulling lures and trying to catch his customers fish like King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Bonita, Wahoo and even a Tuna while going to and from fishing spots. The key is for you to find a charter that keeps you fishing the whole time you are on the charter boat.