Carl Weber loves charter boat fishing and can’t wait for the new season to begin. A frequent flier aboard Capt. Tom Federico’s Surfmaster Charters in Sag Harbor, he and four friends have already booked a trip in May for spring fluke and porgies on Peconic Bay.
That Weber is anxious to kick off a new season of piscatorial pursuit isn’t surprising. Most Long Island anglers are already anxious to wet their lines. The interesting thing is that the 50-year-old Weber, a Dix Hills resident, owns his own boat and could head out anytime he chooses. Instead, he waits for his turn aboard one of the East End’s charter fishing operations.
“I’d rather go with a pro than go it alone,” says Weber with a slight chuckle. “My skipper knows his stuff, has good gear and doesn’t mind personalizing a trip to match my needs. Over time, we’ve grown to be friends, which makes each trip even more fun. I usually book eight to 10 trips a year.”
FISH WITH THE PROS
That may sound like a lot, but these pay-to-play trips offer some great advantages. Larger party boats require no reservations and can sometimes handle more than 100 anglers per trip, while charter operations generally cater to groups of six anglers or fewer, and reservations are always necessary.
Because of their small scale, most charter trips are booked exclusively — you choose your rail mates, since it’s a closed party. Charter trips also afford the opportunity to fish with a specific type of tackle such as fly-fishing or spinning gear, head off to new locations, target any species in season and even try for more multiple species on a single trip. All you need to bring, really, is some sunblock, a hat, lunch and a drink, plus a cooler to take home some fillets.
One key to getting the most out of a charter is to do a little research to find out which boats offer the kind of fishing and instruction you’ll like best. Each operation is different and some fill very specific niches.
“We’re out here every day during the season,” explains skipper Mike Barnett of Codfather Fishing Charters in Freeport. A full-time charter captain for over 30 years, he specializes in icing stripers, fluke, blackfish and, of course, codfish. Secret spots? Barnett has dozens of them.
“Staying on the bite from day to day really gives charter skippers an edge when it comes to finding the biggest fish and best action,” he explains. “But a good skipper doesn’t just put you over fish, he and his mate teach you how to tempt them, tie the right knots, choose the perfect hook. A lot of personalized service goes into a successful charter trip.”
Capt. Vincent Catalano of Joey C. Charters agrees. He specializes in light-tackle and fly-fishing for one to two people and follows the action throughout the season by sailing out of Long Island Sound, the North Fork, Block Island and Montauk.
“Most of my clients put a high priority on learning and many want to release their catch alive,” says Catalano. “We’ll work on casting skills, retrieving the fly and setting the hook. You can take weeks to figure that stuff out on our own or you can learn the basics on a half-day trip fishing with a competent guide.”
For Federico, family fun and flexibility seem to be the themes. “My patrons love fishing the mild waters of Peconic Bay. It’s perfect for beginners and families who want to relax while bending their rods,” he says. “We’ll catch porgies, fluke, weakfish, cocktail blues and stripers, too. It’s a fun mix and we have the flexibility to switch from one species to another as the bite changes.”
BOOKING A CHARTER TRIP
Reserve a date several weeks ahead of time, especially for weekends and full moon striped bass trips.
To find a boat, Barnett recommends calling a tackle shop in the area you hope to fish and asking for a recommendation. You can do some research online or check local fishing reports to see who is catching consistently.
“Top-flight charter boats usually look clean at the dock, have decent-looking tackle and enjoy a good reputation at the dock where they are berthed,” Barnett adds. “If you have friends who are experienced anglers, give their recommendation added weight.”
Charter fishing fares range from as little as $250 for a half-day light-tackle inshore trip for one or two anglers to more than $1,000 for an extended six-person adventure to the offshore canyons for tuna and other heavy-hitters. Figure a typical half-day trip for six on inshore waters will average about $500. A tip for the mates is extra.
“That may sound expensive,” says Weber, “but divide it up between several people and it’s actually a bargain. You don’t have to spend for gas, bait, tackle or lures and you walk off with a bag of fillets. You don’t even have to clean the boat at the end of the day — that’s one more reason I like to sail with the pros.”