If you’ve never been charter fishing on the Outer Banks, you should know that you have a lot of options. Everything depends on when you’re coming here, what you want to catch, how much money you want to spend, how long you want to fish, and how many people you want to take with you.
Fish are nearly always biting some place on the Outer Banks. But you can’t catch them all on the same trip or even on the same boat. And most fish can only be caught in specific seasons.
The purpose of this guide is to help you choose the best charter fishing trip for your particular needs and interests and to help you understand how it works.
What Should I Know About Fishing Charters in General?
Boat captains are professionals and this is their livelihood. I used to think this was glamorous work and maybe it is to outsiders. But these guys work long days like dogs and it is hard on their bodies, etc. Plus fuel costs, boat costs and maintenance, insurance costs, etc are always a huge factor.
Ultimately, a boat captain wants you to catch fish and have a good time so you will come back next year or tell your friends about it. It is in his best interest to put you on the fish and give you the best trip possible. He will work with you to deliver the type of fishing experience you desire.
However, two points: there’s a reason they call it fishing and not catching. There will be times when the best captain is foiled by the fishing gods. Secondly, as a customer you need to be reasonable in your expectations. If you are paying for a trip, keep in mind that at the end of the day the captain cannot go in the hole on fuel costs. Don’t expect him to fish in the sound for half a day then run to the Gulf Stream and back. It doesn’t work that way. Also you cannot charter a near shore boat to save some money and then hope he’ll take you out to the Gulf Stream to catch marlin. Finally, keep in mind again that this is the captain’s livelihood. Do not expect him to break the law for you just because you are on vacation and have spent money on a trip. Your cost for a charter does not compare to the cost of a whopping fine by US Fish and Wildlife or the Coast Guard.
What Will We Catch?
It depends upon the location, the boat, the weather, the season etc. Most charters will fish for what is biting best that day, given weather and other conditions. Generally it is best to leave it up to the captain and his experience. However, you also need to consider the type of fishing you want to do before you choose a boat. If you want to catch a marlin, you can’t do it in the sound and you can’t do it on a half day trip. On the other hand, if you are here with young children and you want to give them the experience of fishing and they are new to the sport, do not ruin them with a 12 hour day of offshore Gulf Stream fishing.
What to Bring on Your Fishing Trip
The captain will provide all the bait, tackle, ice and safety equipment necessary for the trip. Everything else is your responsibility.
Cooler with food and beverages for the day (bring lots of water). Extra cooler in your vehicle to take home the fish you catch.
Jacket or sweatshirt. It can get chilly on the water even in the summer. We recommend a long-sleeved shirt even in summer. Change of clothes in case you get wet. Dressing in layers is a good idea. Think comfort, not fashion.
Camera and/or video camera.
Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen (the sun is intense on the water).
Shoes - no bare feet; soft soled, non-marking shoes.
Medications you may need (and tell the captain if you have any serious medical conditions that could need treatment while on board).
Money to tip the mate (15-20% is customary).
Alcohol (if you want it) – most charter boats allow alcohol but you need to buy it the night before. Alcohol cannot be sold before 7am in NC (noon on Sundays).
We hope you come home with fish. And you may have more than you know what to do with. Unless you just love to clean fish, we recommend using the fish cleaning services at the fishing marinas and at some of the fish houses. The cost is reasonable and you can also get vacuum packing, freezing and fish storage.
How Do I Choose and Book a Charter Fishing Trip?
All of the fishing marinas on the Outer Banks and nearly all of the charter fishing boats on the Outer Banks have web sites. You can look at the fishing reports, photo galleries, types of trips they make and fish they typically catch, etc and see what looks good to you. If you’re just overwhelmed, call the marina. They’ll be happy to help you. If you’ve narrowed it down to a few captains, email them or call them and ask questions.
You can book your charter directly through the fishing marina or directly with the charter fishing captain. You will be required to make a deposit (generally 50%) and the policies vary by marina and captain. We also suggest that you confirm your charter the night before to get any last minute instructions from the captain (eg when to arrive to the dock, expected weather conditions etc).
Most charter fishing boats and fishing marinas on the Outer Banks offer make-up charters (also called boat sharing), giving small groups of anglers the opportunity to team up on trips and split the expense of their fishing trip. If you have only a few people in your party who want to fish, call a captain or marina and ask if they can fit you in. There are always people looking to fish with another smaller party. Give your name, preferred dates, and contact information to either the marina or individual captains, and they will try to pull six people together to book the boat. The cost of the trip is distributed equally among party members, and each captain has a way of fairly allotting the catch. Don’t worry about fishing with strangers. Most people just get nicer when they fish and it is a great way to meet new folks.
How Much Does a Charter Cost?
Charter costs depend on the marina, how far you will go, the captain, size of the boat, etc. If you want to just fish in the sound on a small boat for a half day, the cost will be much less than if you want to head to Gulf Stream for a full day of offshore fishing aboard a 50+ foot sportfishing yacht.
Full day trips are more than half day trips; offshore Gulf Stream trips are more than inshore/near shore.
A full day trip is generally 10-12 hours; a half day trip is generally 4.5-5 hours; a few captains and marinas offer ¾ day trips. A trip to the Gulf Stream offshore is always a full day trip. Half day trips are either morning or afternoon.
Full day offshore Gulf Stream trips are your only option for catching billfish (marlin, sailfish, tuna, big dolphin, etc). Trips from Nags Head and Manteo fishing marinas (eg Pirate’s Cove Marina and Oregon Inlet Fishing Center) are more expensive than those from Hatteras Island marinas or Ocracoke marinas because they have farther to run to the Gulf Stream (thus higher fuel costs). Rates for full day offshore Gulf Stream trips range from $1200-1700 depending on departure location. Check specific charter fishing boats and fishing marinas for details.
Full day inshore and near shore fishing trips are less expensive but still vary depending upon the captain, boat, their definition of near shore (how far they will go out), etc. Expect to pay between $500 and $1000 (even less if they only fish the sound). Half day trips are obviously a bit less but remember that fuel is the big factor.
Some near shore, inshore charters are not affiliated with a particular marina. This does not mean they are any less professional and some very good captains operate this way. These are called independents. You must book trips with independent captains directly with the captain.
Why Do Rates Vary So Much?
If you are surprised by the prices for charter fishing, consider this. How did you feel the last time you filled up your car? Boats for full day offshore Gulf Stream fishing trips typically burn more than 200 gallons of fuel to get out to the Gulf Stream. You do the math. Obviously it depends upon the boat and how far it has to run to get to the fish. A dual engine boat (generally considered safer offshore in case one engine fails) will obviously burn more fuel than a single engine boat. Plus you are paying for the experience of the captain and mate, the boat has to be maintained constantly, licensing has to be maintained, insurance is high, docking fees are paid to the marinas, bait is supplied, gear and tackle has to be maintained and replaced, etc etc.
Remember, you are paying for the boat not the number of fishermen. Due to US Coast Guard licensing regulations, there is a maximum of 6 passengers per boat (not including captain and crew) for nearly all charter boats on the Outer Banks. Headboats and a few larger boats can take more people. If you charter a boat, the rate is the same for 2 people as it is for 6 people.
Some captains offer special rates for military. Some marinas require all boats to charge the same price for same type/length of trip. Others allow captains to set their own rates.
Mates work for tips and this is standard practice so budget 15-20% for that. Nearly all of the boats (except for small one man operations) have a mate. At the end of your fishing trip, you will appreciate how hard a mate works. You may even think all your captain does is drive the boat and it may look that way, but remember the captain has the knowledge and experience to find the fish. And most captains own their boats so they have the financial risk. Having said that, your mate will work very hard and earn every dime you give him.
Your trip can be cancelled due to bad weather. Be aware that your idea of what constitutes bad weather and a boat captain’s are two different things. Wind speed and direction are the most important things. If the boat cannot safely go out, the captain will keep it at the dock and cancel. On the other hand, if it’s raining and but the water is calm, you’ll go fishing. And all of this depends on the size of the boat and the destination for fishing. Bottom line, trust your captain’s judgment and experience.
Am I Guaranteed to Catch Fish?
No. There’s a saying among fishermen, “That’s why they call if fishing, not catching.” It is in your captain’s best interest to put you on the fish. He wants a happy customer. But some days it just doesn’t happen. No refunds. One way to better your chances is to trust your captain and not insist on fishing for one thing when he knows the conditions are better for something else.
Can We Keep Everything We Catch?
Fishing is heavily regulated and the fines for illegal catches are stiff. There are many species that must be released. But that’s why you’ll bring your camera. Your captain and mate will tell you what you can and cannot keep.
Charter Boat Fishing Directory Search by location, type of fishing, length of trip and more.