"You know, I was reading this guy Spore in the paper about how good the fishing is right now," said Ted. "Why don't we take a day off and book a charter?"
"Sounds good to me," said Jack. "You set it up and I'll get a couple more guys."
"Do you know any charter boat captains?"
"Nope, but they shouldn't be too hard to find."
Well, sometimes they are. Charter boat operators are small businessmen, and like small businessmen, they must watch where the money goes. Advertising is expensive, and its effectiveness questionable.
Most charter boat captains rely on word-of-mouth for their advertising: Billy Smith had a great trip with Captain Jones, so he told all the folks who worked at the Smith Bottle Works. Six of the workers booked individual trips with Captain Jones and their parties told all their friends about the great Captain Jones. Before long, Captain Jones has all the bookings he can handle.
A few captains advertise in the yellow pages, a few in regional outdoor magazines and a few in the classified ads (usually on Sunday). A fair number of captains run out of fishing centers such as the Rod 'N Reel Dock at Chesapeake Beach, Harrison's Chesapeake House on Tilghman Island and Bunky's Charters in Solomons Island, where the centers book trips for the captains. Ted or Jack could call one of these centers and ask them for a charter on such-and-such date.
If you know the name of a captain who is particularly good, you might even find him through the information operator. No one in his right mind would have an unlisted phone number if he is depending on the public for his livelihood.
Jack and Ted can expect to pay about $300 to $400 for a full day charter (eight hours), $200 to $300 for half days (six hours). Some captains charge extra for bait or fish cleaning.
A hidden cost is a tip for the mate. A good mate can make your trip a dream; a poor one might make the six or eight hours !B aboard a nightmare. A reasonable tip for a good mate should be $30 to $60. One way to look at it is, "Would you work that hard and that long for $40?" Also keep in mind that, when you wave good-bye, his big job of cleaning up the boat is just beginning.
Since Jack is putting the party together, he should be wise and not get left holding the bag. Bill, Sam, Jim and Ed all say they want to go, but the night before the trip, Sam and Jim might decide to pass on this one. Jack should split the total cost six ways and get the money up front. Then if Sam wants to back out, he will find a replacement so that he can be reimbursed.
Meanwhile, Ted is firming-up the trip. He has found a captain with a good reputation, picked a date and talked with the captain concerning the do's and don'ts and what they might catch. Ted told the captain that this was a first-time charter and asked for the captain's suggestions on what to bring. A good move, because most people bring too much.
The day of the charter finally arrives and enthusiasm is bubbling over. One way to start your relationship on the wrong foot is to arrive late. Arriving too early is almost as bad. This may be a red letter day for you, but it is another work day for the captain and mate. Both will be slightly apprehensive with a new party.
Before arriving, it is a good idea to decide how many fish you want to take home. Most captains are becoming conservation minded: they want you to have a good time, but they do not VTC want to waste the resource. Tell the captain that if your group is lucky, they would like to take home x-number of fish. After that, catch and release.
To insure your fish stay fresh, take a cooler or two to carry them home. Put a block of ice in the cooler(s) and leave them in the car while you fish. When you return to the dock, transfer the fish from the captain's fish box to your cooler(s). Block ice is a little harder to find than cubes, but it lasts much longer.
One charter will not put you in the class of the 10 percent who catch 90 percent of the fish, but you can learn a great deal.
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.