Hook Games: Deepsea Sportfishing
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Both captain and crew, usually one or two mates, generally expect tips, and mates may depend on them. Ritchie suggests tipping "as you would in a restaurant, 15 to 20 percent of the charter fee, more if you set a record or win a tournament." When making special requests, consider tipping more. Scott Nichols, a former charter captain who now works on fishery management for the state of Florida, fishes the more challenging light tackle, which forces the crew to work harder.
"I went down to Cancún for Memorial Day weekend and I caught 27 billfish in three days," says Nichols. "I had 43 bites, and just seeing that many fish in three days is amazing. I caught a couple on six-pound line, which is very hard to do, so I tipped an extra $50 above and beyond what we gave as a group. They worked really hard, and the boat was clean and well maintained."
Ideally, if you know you are going to fish while on vacation, it is best to arrange a charter in advance. This avoids the possibility of being shut out, especially during the busy season. More importantly, it allows you to select a reputable captain and boat.
"Most good boats have a lot of interest, and they are booked well in advance," says Pete Barrett, an experienced charter captain who is also editor of The Fisherman., a weekly trade publication. "Some customers book the same boat every year. In most places that do not have a heavy concentration of tourists, it's not usually a matter of walking up to the dock and finding a boat. For recommendations on a boat, contact fishing clubs, friends who've gone before, local tackle shops or fishing magazines."
The charter experience is very similar throughout the world, but there are subtle differences. Usually, you will be pursuing the prevalent game fish for that location and time of year, and the crew will stock appropriate bait or lures. If you have special wants, such as fishing for tuna where most people seek marlin, let the crew know in advance. Some boats also charge an extra fee for live bait.
The crew typically provides coolers full of ice, and it is up to you to bring lunch, beverages and cigars. Sometimes soda is provided, but many customers bring beer. In rare cases, it is the local custom for the charterer to provide lunch for the crew as well, so ask in advance to avoid an awkward situation. While a responsible crew will not share your beer, they may well share your cigars, so bring plenty.
Sunscreen is a must, as are polarized sunglasses. If you do not have experience at sea, motion sickness medication is a good idea. Captain Morrow estimates that on nearly half his charters, someone gets seasick.
One of the most important questions to ask up front is: "Who gets to keep the fish?" This helps to defuse a potentially explosive situation. Large fish are typically released, but smaller tunas or mahi mahi are quite edible and may be kept for food or bait. Often the crew will carve a fish into steaks for you to take back and grill. Ritchie advises checking rates and local policies. In some areas you may pay more for the charter fee but get to keep the fish. In other venues, the crew will keep the catch, but fees are usually lower.
Light tackle fishing is one of the reasons for the resurgence of the sport. The popularity of freshwater fly fishing has led many of its disciples to the ocean, as well as conventional offshore anglers looking for new challenges. Using very light rods, reels and lines, they attempt to land the same fish that are so difficult to catch on heavy equipment, giving their prey even more opportunity to break free. Light tackle fishermen also stand, using a harness to hold the butt of the rod rather than the fighting chair.
This form of sportfishing requires a skilled crew, and if you are interested, inquire as to their experience with light tackle. Some crews may not own this equipment, and many serious anglers bring their own rods and reels.
If you are concerned with potential record catches, make sure the crew adheres to IGFA regulations, or your catch may be voided. Fishing has as many rules as golf, and sharing your rod with another angler or a mate during the long fight will void your record. Tournaments have different policies about the mates' roles, including whether they can bait lines or set hooks.
Tournaments are often open even to inexperienced anglers, and can be a lot of fun, as well as extremely lucrative. Some are steeped in tradition, others in cash. There are no cash prizes at Club Náutico's prestigious tournament, for instance, but the mere $1,000 entry fee provides four full days of fishing on well-appointed boats, meals and nightly parties, awards banquet and all the rum and beer you can consume. A BMW is awarded to anyone who can break the tournament record; the current mark of 719 pounds was set in 1976.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 in Cape May, New Jersey, which, despite its name, awarded $1,133,000 in prizes last [NOTE: 1996] year. Big-money sportfishing tournaments are going on constantly all over the world.
Sportfishing is a simple hobby that can easily turn into an obsession. What may begin as a day here or there during your vacations can quickly turn into weeklong trips to fishing lodges in Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica. Quality sportfishing boats are highly specialized and easily run into the seven figures. The most ardent anglers pursue sportfishing's ultimate accomplishment, the grand slam, catching one of each of the four species of billfish in a single day.
Larry Olmsted writes frequently on sports and travel for Investors Business Daily. The World's Best Sportfishing
Marlin Magazine editor David Ritchie regularly rates some of the world's best locales for big game sportfishing. Here are my choices from his various compilations:
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: The best fishing on North America's Pacific coast; plenty of marlin and sailfish, especially in the summer.
Costa Rica: Reliable fishing for all four species of billfish year-round.
Panama: Black marlin year-round and other billfish in the summer, with one of the world's best known sportfishing venues, the Tropic Star Lodge.
Cairns, Australia: Near the Great Barrier reef, this is the destination for the really big black marlin, over half a ton. Add on many other billfish and most secondary game fish, and this is the choice of many anglers. Australia is also one of the few active shark-fishing destinations.
South Florida: Year-round action for sailfish; a great destination for first-timers, with the occasional blue marlin, especially in the Keys.
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico: Between Cozumel, Cancún and other nearby towns, some of the best, most professional billfishing in the world.
Kona, Hawaii: The steep drop-off from this volcanic island offers year-round fishing for big billfish and yellowfin tuna, as well as many smaller tunas.
Madeira: Off the northwest coast of Africa, anglers go to this remote island destination for one reason: enormous fish.
Outer Banks, North Carolina: Discovered in recent years, this Mid-Atlantic destination has some of the finest fishing in the world. Big blue marlin, white marlin, yellowfin tuna and this country's best shot at the giant bluefin tuna.
Midway Island: No one has been permitted to fish these central Pacific waters for more than a hundred years, until this year. In an environmentally friendly manner, one charter company, Midway Sportfishing Inc., has been selected to offer the opportunity at trophy marlin and tuna at this remote outpost some 1,200 miles northwest of Honolulu.