How to Choose a Fishing Charter (in Miami)

There are few destinations in the united states which afford visting anglers the opportunity to fish with experienced captains who excel at putting their customers on fish.  The inshore and offshore waters of Miami, FL provide an incredible variety of gamefish which are available year round, and many local Captains have built their businesses targeting specific gamefish based on the season.  That’s good news for visiting anglers, because the variety of charter boats and guides available deliver something for everyone at any time of the year. But with so many charters and guides to choose from, how do you pick a fishing charter in Miami, FL that’s right for you, your friends, or family? Consider the following:

  1. How restrictive is your charter fishing budget?
  2. How far are you willing to travel to reach a charter?
  3. Is the charter operation you’re considering truly professional?
  4. What are the forecasted weather conditions?

While there are a myriad of other factors to consider, choosing the charter boat that’s right for your budget, experience level, and location requires some due diligence. If you take the time to research several charter boats, talk to at least 5 local captains, and learn more about what’s biting during the time of year you’ll be visiting Miami, FL – there’s no doubt you will make a wise investment that delivers line screaming ROI.

How much are fishing charters in Miami, FL and what am I willing to spend?
What you’re willing to pay for a 1/2 day or full day of charter fishing significantly impacts the opportunities available to you. There is a substantial price difference between fishing inshore, offshore, headboat, or private boat. Remember that Captains make their living running these trips – the cost of the boat maintenance  fuel, fishing permits for passengers, insurance, and tackle are significant factors which go into how charters are priced.  The size of the boat and the engines which power it also impact the cumulative cost in the trip. For example, a headboat which putters out to reefs burns very little fuel, which is why day fishing rates are anywhere from $45 – $80 per person – whereas an offshore sportfisher can burn upwards of 70 gallons a day – that’s almost $400 in gasoline or diesel alone! While some charter boats may seem expensive, don’t feel bad investing in a small business designed to put you on the fish of a lifetime.  The cost you would incur owning your own boat, buying tackle/fuel, and learning to fish pales in comparison to a day of charter fishing.

So, what does it really cost to charter a boat and go fishing in Miami, FL? Typically, the rates work like this:

  • Offshore Sportfisher (35′ – 50′ Sport Yacht)
    • $750 – $850 for a 1/2 Day
    • $1100 – $1500 for a Full Day
  • Offshore Center Console (28′ – 36′)
    • $550 – $650 for a 1/2 Day
    • $750 – $1000 for a Full Day
  • Head Boat – Reef/Wreck, Inshore/Offshore (50′ – 75′)
    • $35 – $50 for a 1/2 Day
    • $60 – $100 for a Full Day
  • Inshore Bay Boat (18′ – 24′)
    • $375 – $450 for a 1/2 Day
    • $550 – $750 for a Full Day
  • Inshore Flats Skiff (17′ – 19′)
    • $350 – $450 for a 1/2 Day
    • $500 – $650 for a full Day

Most Captains offer specialty fishing trips off Miami as well, like swordfishing charters, deep dropping charters, kite fishing charters, or jigging trips, or trolling trips. The price for specialty charters changes depending on the amount of fuel necessary to reach the fishing grounds, the availability of the boat, and the tackle required. Your best bet is to speak with the Captain you’re considering directly and learn more about what’s biting consistently during the time of year you will be fishing Miami waters.  Captains are usually not flexible on the price of their charter trips because they operate on tight margins and the cost of fuel is substantial as oil prices continue to rise. Don’t be rude and try to talk the Captain down, although they will honor a slight discount from time to time if the season is slow.

captain mario throws the netRemember that charter trips do not include tips for mates.  Most offshore charter Captains bring a mate to “run the lines” and land fish while the trip is underway.  Mates work just as hard as the Captain to ensure the customer’s get the most out of the charter experience – it is customary to tip them 15% – 20% of the trip cost.  Mates rely on tips to make a living just like waiters and waitresses.

Don’t overextend yourself financially to go fishing – if you do, it’s likely the trip will be frustrating because you will feel pressured.  It’s fishing.  Its supposed to be a good time.  You can never be 100% positive you will catch fish – so don’t head into a charter thinking you will walk away with 100s of lbs of meat at the end. Also consider that many charter boats in the Miami area have commercial licenses – they rely on fish sales to supplement their income as well.  It is customary on many charters for the Captain to keep most of the fish caught, but don’t be deceived.  As a paying customer, you are entitled to take what you would like to eat – but don’t be greedy. Giving away lots of fish to your friends may sound like a good idea, but most of it will go to waste.  Take what you will eat and leave the rest for the hardworking crew to supplement their livelihood.

At certain times of the year, many Captains will run specialty trips to target a specific species.  Often, they will offer a promotional discount to win business during the slow season (typically August – November). Be sure to ask Captains if they offer any promotions or if there are specialty trips which might be more suited for your budget.

Finally, it is customary for Captains to request a deposit to hold a specific day for your trip.  This is commonly 10% of the charter (never more than $200). Remember that professional fishermen make their living by scheduling fishing trips – so if you no show on your scheduled day you are costing that Captain alot of money.  A deposit is a way for the Captain to make sure their salary (that’s right!  most pro captains only put $200 in their pocket all said and done at the end of a charter) is guaranteed by blocking off the day.  A deposit is a way of showing you’re serious about booking the trip and will allow the Captain to plan their schedule accordingly so you they can maximize your experience on the water.

How far are you willing to travel to reach a charter?
The internet has made it possible for fishing charters to market themselves across multiple geographies.  While Miami may seem like a small place in comparison to other cities, traveling around once you’re here is difficult.  Public transportation isn’t very reliable and taxi cabs are expensive. If you’re staying on Miami Beach, book a charter on Miami Beach or ask the Captain to pick you up from Miami Beach Marina (they will do this for an extra fee). If you’re staying on Key Biscayne, arrange a charter out of Crandon Marina. Coconut Grove and Downtown Miami (Bayside) also offer a variety of fishing charters with boats ready to leave the dock on 24 hour notice (in some cases same day). Most flats fisherman (bonefish guides, tarpon guides, snook guides) keep their boats on trailers so they can get to where the bite is best.  They leave from a variety of ramps from Key Biscayne to Homestead.  Make sure to communicate with your guide or Captain about where you are staying and how long it will take you to travel to the boat so the trip can depart on time.  Many captains can even help coordinate travel to the boat if you don’t have access to a vehicle.

If you’re considering charter fishing in Miami, don’t bother researching charter boats in Ft. Lauderdale.  It’s just too far to commute, and even if an enthusiastic captain attempts to talk you into it, reiterate that you’re staying in Miami and that travel there early in the morning is likely impractical and expensive.  The best thing to do is find a charter boat that is local or within 8 miles of where you are staying.  This is very easily accomplished because most hotels/resorts in the Miami area are central to areas where charters boats operate. Key Biscayne, Miami Beach, Downtown Miami, and Coconut Grove are the most known and accessible charter boat areas in Miami, FL.

Is the charter operation you’re considering truly professional?
This is a major factor in choosing a charter boat in Miami, Fl.  There are almost 200 captains who operate charter boats in the Miami area.  Some have been here all their lives, others have been here just a few years – some are brand new to the area. When you choose to invest in a day of charter fishing, you absolutely want to maximize your time on the water.  The experience, professionalism, knowledge, and attitude of the captain you fish with makes all the difference. That being said, Miami is home to some of the very best, and very worst Captain’s in the U.S.

A truly adept Captain should be able to provide you with a fishing experience that is comfortable, pleasurable, action packed, and educational.  Customer service should come first.  Some of the first class charter operations in Miami, FL have built a reputation on professionalism and courtesy, while others have built their business on consistent fishing and tournament winning attitude. At the end of the day, the Captain you fish with should meet these minimum characteristics:

  • Minimum 5 years fishing professionally in Miami waters
  • USCG Licensed and Insured
  • Owns the charter business or works as the full time captain on the vessel
  • Courteous, respectful, low-key attitude
  • Knowledgeable about the fishing seasons in Miami, FL
  • Knows where to get live bait consistently
  • Can accomodate anglers of all skill levels
  • Loves to go fishing

Make no mistake, it is difficult to get a sense of someone you’ve never met before.  Consider how the Captain markets his business.  Does he have a website? Or does he rely on a marina to send him business? Does he have a regular clientele? Or do people fish with him once and then never come back? Is the Captain very busy (lots of charters) or does he only fish once or twice a week?

The best advice when choosing a miami fishing charter is to learn as much about the Captain, the boat, and their experience in the area.  Its perfectly normal to ask about the Captain’s background and they’re favorite type of fishing.  Do your best to determine whether the captain really enjoys their career as a professional fisherman.  There are many captain’s in the Miami area who have lost their passion for sport fishing – they do it because its all they know and aren’t motivated to try something else. Fishing with a professional captain who truly loves the sport, loves the ocean, and takes pride in their business makes all the difference. At the end of the day, you’re paying for the experience…and you deserve to get what you pay for.

What are the forecasted weather conditions?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many visiting anglers don’t consider the weather as a factor when they book a fishing charter.  Certain times of the year are prone to rough conditions, and it’s up to you to understand what you’re prepared to handle.  Most charter captains will go out in any condition as long as their customer agrees to go.  If you agree to leave the dock and get sick because its too rough – that’s on you.  Not the Captain. Most Captains in the Miami area use prudent judgement when it comes to the weather, but they’ve also been fishing professionally for years and are used to foul weather.  The human body adjusts to being at sea after four or five trips in rough weather, but for someone who lives most of their life on land – even a gentle swell can cause sea sickness.  Make sure you’re aware of the weather conditions before you book a charter…and don’t be a hero.  If it’s blowing more than 20knts – you have no business going fishing recreationally unless you’re used to fishing those conditions.  Some visiting anglers are so determined to go fishing since its THEIR vacation that they ignore what mother nature is saying and brave conditions that are basically unfishable.  Captain’s rarely turn down business to weather since it’s their livelihood on the line, and while you might a professional captain to advise you accordingly – their tolerance for the sea is drastically stronger than yours.

The winter months in Miami, FL (late november – march) offer incredible offshore fishing, but the weather is rough.  Strong winds from the NE create a substantial swell offshore which can impose sea sickness very quickly.  The summer months (may – August) are usually doldrum months where the wind is non-existent, but thunderstorms are quite common.  Again, its important to rely on the professionalism and experience of the Captain you’re considering to advise you of the best time of year, day, or weather to book your fishing trip. Additionally, do not be upset if a Captain cancels a trip due to inclement weather.  While it may be disappointing  it’s not your or their fault.  The Captain of a fishing charter is responsible for the safety and comfort of their anglers…and it takes ALOT for a professional fishing captain to call it a day or cancel a trip.

As with all outdoor sports, use solid judgement.  Understand the risks associated with fishing in rough weather.  It is impossible to predict the weather months in advance, but you can stay in touch with the captain before your trip to understand the weather pattern leading up to the trip. Your travel schedule may not afford the opportunity to reschedule a trip, but don’t make a decision that could put your or anyone else in your party at risk. Sea sickness, thunderstorms, big waves, and strong winds are all facts of life to professional fishermen, but visiting anglers must weight the pros and cons of venturing out in “sporty” weather. Make a decision that’s best for you, but expect open communication from the Captain about how the weather will impact your trip.

About CaptCharlie

Charlie Ellis has written 2 post in this blog.

Capt. Charlie Ellis of Miami, FL has 25 years experience fishing for big game species like Bluefin Tuna, Sailfish, Swordfish, and Sharks. Capt. Charlie is also an avid scuba diver, world traveler, writer, and entrepreneur.

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