How to Plan Your First Offshore Trip

Published on 05/17/2023 · 8 min readFishing Expert Christian Nelson shares all the necessary planning for your first offshore fishing trip so you'll be prepared and ready for fun!
Christian Nelson, Fishing Expert
By Fishing Expert Christian Nelson

Photo by Hailey McKim

Fishing offshore is hands down one of the most thrilling kinds of fishing there is. Not only are you presented with the opportunity to catch big fish, but you also have the chance to catch a huge variety of different species of game fish, from billfish to grouper. That being said, there are nearly endless options for us as anglers for charter boats, all offering a different experience. This can make just choosing a charter overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! We all want our first offshore trip to go as smoothly as possible, and by doing some basic planning you can ensure you have a great day on the water, shrinking that bucket list!

What Do You Want to Catch?

The most important thing to do before planning a trip is to ask yourself what you want to gain from this trip! What do you want to catch? Are you wanting to do some deep water bottom fishing over a reef or wreck for species like red snapper and amberjack, or troll lures and ballyhoo for king mackerel, mahi mahi, and wahoo? Maybe you want to find a charter service that specializes in a certain species, like chasing cobia or catching sharks! After deciding what species you want to catch, you can start to narrow your search and begin keying in on a location. For red snapper, for example, you may want to plan a trip in the summer to somewhere like Gulf Shores, AL, or Destin, FL. By isolating what you want to catch, you’re also able to estimate the time of year and location to fish, which is a big step in making this trip a reality!

These are all really important steps in the process, so take your time doing some research! Once you’ve decided what you want to catch, do some reading on the best areas and times of year to produce these fish! All too often I see people dreaming of catching a certain species but plan all their trips at the wrong time of year. This happens just as often as people wanting to catch Mahi, but booking trips that fish natural reefs, artificial reefs, and shipwrecks. You must understand where, when, and how it’s possible to catch what you want! Not understanding this can lead to some frustrating and disheartening days on the water, when in reality, it could have all been prevented by putting a little work into planning the trip!

Where Should You Go?

This is kind of a trick question because it depends on what you want to accomplish. When it comes to deciding on a destination though, there are a few metrics I use to make my decision. First, I always consider distance. Can I catch this fish somewhere local? If not, where is the nearest place to target these fish? For example, let’s say you wanted to catch a Yellowtail Kingfish. There’s a spectacular fishery for them in New Zealand, but it would be much more attainable if you plan a trip to catch them in California. This is of course an extreme example, but these are variables that play into your trip.

By choosing somewhere relatively close, you’re cutting travel costs, which means you have more money to put toward a great charter boat once you get there. Living in Mobile, AL gives me a nearly endless amount of charters to choose from within two hours in any direction I go. In situations like this, there’s no need to travel far for your first offshore trip. That being said, whether you plan on going across the country or just a few miles down the road, choosing the right charter boat can make or break a trip.

Choosing a Boat

So you know where and when you want to go fishing, now you’ve just got to choose a boat! One of the first things to decide is what kind of boat you want to go on. Party boats, or walk-on charters, are the most affordable. I’ve gone on party boat trips for as low as $40 per person for four hours to fish for red snapper and as high as $800 for three days and two nights to fish for blackfin tuna. These can be a great option if you’re planning on fishing alone because the cost of the trip is split between everyone on board, but there are obvious downsides. Don’t expect to catch as many fish on these boats since there are lots of people fishing! That’s just the tradeoff for a more affordable experience, and while not perfect, it can still make an awesome fishing trip.

If walk-ons don’t sound like what you want, you’re going to want to get your own charter! These trips can be booked for yourself or a small group of family or friends. Trips like this usually run $400-$1200 for four to eight hours, depending on where, when, and who you go with. This can seem pretty steep, but splitting this with friends can make them much more affordable.

Photo courtesy of Christian Nelson

Choosing a boat is arguably the most important decision you make when you plan a trip. After all, you’re paying these guys regardless of whether or not you catch fish! Once you’ve decided whether you want a walk-on or a direct charter, Google is a good start! It should show you a plethora of options for deep-sea fishing charters at your destination. I highly advise you to take the time to check reviews and visit the website of any charter you’re interested in. I usually start by narrowing my decisions, because with 50-100 different options, coming to a decision can be really hard! I try to single out three to five charter services with good reviews and then narrow it down more by looking for customer service. The last thing you want is to spend your day on a boat with a disagreeable crew. I recommend calling all of the charter services and explaining what you want to do and when you want to go.

I look for a few things when I make these calls. Firstly, are they available when I want to go? This is a great first question to ask because if the answer is no, then you don’t have to bother asking anything else, and you can move on to calling your next option!

Assuming they are free on the dates I want to go, I ask about their rates. This will let you compare the prices of different services and take that into account when making a decision. If you’re stuck between two good options and one is a few hundred dollars less than the other, that decision becomes a lot easier!

Outside of that, there are a few big red flags I look for in a charter service. The biggest of which is being guaranteed to catch fish. Fishing isn’t called catching for a reason—it’s never guaranteed. A good captain will always be honest and explain that no guarantees can be made, and they’ll probably explain why they’re 90% sure you will catch a ton of fish! Good captains will be the first to tell you that fishing could be slow because they want you to understand that reality, while still reassuring you that they’re going to work hard to put you on the fish. Ultimately, I would shy away from anyone who guarantees a result!

Charter Etiquette and FAQ

Photo courtesy of Christian Nelson

Outside of just planning a trip and booking a charter, there’s also a few things that can make or break your day. Virtually all charters provide all the live bait, tackle, and gear you need. Also, a fishing license is not required to fish on these boats.

Aside from this, some select charters will provide lunch and drinks on full-day trips. For the most part, though, this falls on you! I always pack a small-medium cooler with sandwiches, snacks, and plenty of water and Gatorade. Some other essentials I bring include sunscreen, Dramamine, sunglasses, and extra cash. Most deckhands working for these charter services are paid almost exclusively on tips, which are not factored into your cost for the trip! These workers work hard to rig every rod and reel, get fish off hooks, keep baits ready to go, and all-around make your trip successful, so leave them a tip! Some charters also offer a cleaning service, usually priced in cents per pound of fish cleaned. If this is something you’re interested in, having cash with you will be a must!

Going on an offshore fishing trip can be the trip of a lifetime or just one of many, so make it what you want! Whether this means taking a walk-on trip for red snapper with friends to get your sea legs or traveling across the world alone for the chance of a lifetime at a sailfish or blue marlin, proper planning will make it a trip that you won’t be forgetting anytime soon! Check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Fishing content.

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