About 400 fishing guides offer bay charters around Corpus Christi.
It would be a¬†mistake to think they’re all the same or equally proficient. For example, did you know some charter captains¬†strictly use artificial lures, while others insist on¬†natural baits?
Still others are more flexible,¬†employing a variety of¬†effective¬†methods to catch fish, depending on bay conditions, available species and the skill level of their clients. Most are experienced professionals.
Ultimately, a¬†client’s satisfaction begins with asking the right questions and expressing clearly what they expect and desire from a¬†trip.¬†
Here are some guidelines for navigating the process of¬†finding a¬†charter captain who’s¬†right for you and your party. These suggestions¬†apply mostly to fishing guides who operate in coastal bay waters, rather than freshwater or offshore destinations.¬†
Upon request, a guide should produce a valid federal license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. This required permit, informally referred to as a six-pack license, means¬†the captain may carry up to six paying passengers. This¬†Merchant Mariners credential means the captain is¬†subject to random drug testing, and should carry a card to prove this. They also must be trained in¬†first aid and CPR.
Texas Parks & Wildlife also requires an all-water fishing guide permit, which will not be issued without¬†proof of a¬†federal six-pack license.¬†The guide’s vessel¬†must also be registered through the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
It’s not impolite to ask a prospective guide about the vessel he uses for charters. Most Texas saltwater guides own a center-console bay boat that is at least 20¬†feet long. Some guides take the extra measure to have their vessel safety checked by a local¬†Coast Guard Auxiliary outfit, which issues a¬†sticker for display on the boat. Guide boats must carry a fire extinguisher and a Type 1 life jacket for each passenger. Many guides hold a¬†liability insurance policy that covers passengers on their boat, but this is not required.
Are you a novice or experienced angler? Some guides are better suited than others at¬†teaching. Be honest about the experience level of your party. And for gosh sakes, admit when¬†you’re unfamiliar with fishing. You’ll have more fun and catch more fish if you¬†follow¬†the guide’s instructions.
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Be aware that from May through September, the primary natural bait used in many stretches of the Texas coast is juvenile croaker, which can run from $9 to $12 per dozen. And the most popular target species for many guides during this period is speckled trout. The daily trout limit is five fish from north of East Matagorda Bay southward. The limit is 10 trout along the upper coast. And as part of this daily bag,¬†we can keep only one trout 25 inches or better. Ask the guide before booking whether they plan to end the trip after everyone reaches their trout limit. Some might agree to target another species, or to continue catching, but not keeping, fish.¬†Or maybe during the remainder of the day you’d like to try artificial lures or a different bait and method.¬†
There is no standard age for when children should be allowed on charter trips. There is, however, a minimum maturity level each child should meet. Clients should not expect their guide to be a baby-sitter while the adults are fishing. Kids, 13 and younger, must wear a life jacket while the boat is underway. Some¬†guides cater to families with young children, while others might not be as comfortable with kids below a certain age. Include this topic in your¬†conversation.
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Yes, you may¬†bring your own rod, reel and tackle if you are sure it’s in good working order. Have you changed the line in your reel lately? Tell your¬†guide what you plan to bring, so you can discuss¬†whether¬†it’s appropriate for the¬†occasion.¬†Often, it’s best to use the guide’s equipment, which is included in the charter fee. Most professionals provide quality, well-maintained tackle.
Many charter captains have at least two ice chests on board, one for fish and one large enough to carry¬†food and drinks for your party. Remember, space is limited on the deck, so if you must keep personal¬†drinks/food separate, consider bringing a small cooler. Be sure to fill¬†one¬†with ice¬†for fillets, if you plan to take home fish. It can remain in your vehicle.
Maybe. Some guides prefer clients do not smoke for safety reasons. Most allow beer. But keep in mind that they may not tolerate drunkenness, again, for safety reasons. You also should be aware the captain is the authority on the vessel, so it’s their call.¬†
Wade-fishing is popular in many Texas bays, but not feasible in many areas that are too deep or sport soft-mud bottoms. If you’re not familiar with wade-fishing, talk to the guide about possible options, constraints and equipment needs. Some guides specialize in wade-fishing, while others simply will not do it.¬†
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Most bay boats have a legal carrying capacity that exceeds the number of anglers that can reasonably fish from the vessel. Most standard guide¬†fees are set for three anglers, but this may depend on whether the party intends to cast lures while drifting or anchor the boat and toss out baits. Four anglers simultaneously¬†slinging lures with treble hooks on a 22-foot¬†boat could be painful for one or more of the people aboard. But four anglers using cut bait or croaker could be fine. So, the number of¬†people to bring depends on the style of fishing. Also, some guides charge a flat fee for 2-3 anglers, plus $75 for each additional angler.
Most Texas guides charge one fee for a day of fishing, while others (mostly novices)¬†offer a discounted fee for half-day charters. The standard day fee is more or less¬†$600 for 1-3¬†anglers, which includes equipment, bait, fuel, fish cleaning and bottled water. Half-day fees vary, but generally run about $300 to¬†$450. Consider what you want from the trip, then¬†decide¬†what’s best. If you simply want to try catching speckled trout, using live croaker for bait, then maybe a half day is appropriate. If you change your mind while on the water, most guides will accommodate a client by adjusting his fee to stay a few additional hours.¬†But be aware, the guide may have plans for the afternoon.
Be wary of this promise. Notice, they never make this promise: “No legal-sized game fish; no pay.”¬†A hardhead catfish clearly is a fish, and so are any number of other inedible species in our bays. Ask specific questions about this policy. If fish don’t bite, most guides offer a discounted fee to encourage¬†you to give them a second chance. Even the best guides have an off day. More often, when¬†no fish are caught the fault lies with the person holding the rod.
This is a common and fair question. And generally, a¬†guide will either tell you what they’ve been catching and¬†which methods have been successful. But they might¬†simply ask¬†what species you’d like to catch. The basic species for Texas bays are speckled trout, redfish, black drum, flounder, and sheepshead. These are all fun to catch and good to eat, but not consistently available in all seasons and conditions. If you really want to target a particular species, tell the prospective guide before you book the trip. If you want to catch trout during a chilly windy day, the guide may¬†steer you toward another¬†species or another season. If you want to catch a 30-inch trout, then book 10 trips and be prepared to book another 10 later. Best to allow the season and conditions to dictate the species. If you’re looking for¬†a guarantee, try a seafood market.
Many guides¬†clean and fillet their clients’¬†catch as part of the charter fee. Some do¬†not, but they may launch from a marina that offers a fish-cleaning service. Generally, the fee is 30-40 cents a pound.
Yes. But the custom does not suggest a particular¬†percentage of the charter fee. Tips generally are based on professionalism,¬†entertainment value or the¬†sheer effort put forth by¬†your guide, though some clients will¬†base gratuity¬†on the take-home weight of fillets.
Most charter services advertise online in one form or another. Many have websites or Facebook pages where they alone control the content. Some guides working within¬†certain regions of Texas, have organized nonprofit associations. About 80 professional captains belong to the¬†Coastal Bend Guides Association, which¬†was founded in 1989. Members are listed by categories, such as bay-fishing, flounder gigging, birding guides, fly-fishing, kayak-fishing, wade-fishing, offshore and so on. Online services such as¬†FishingBooker provide¬†another one-stop shopping source for guides. The¬†site¬†lists thousands of charter services that have been vetted for proper credentials, allowing you to comparison shop with confidence, read reviews and¬†book online. They’ll also help you reschedule or receive¬†a refund if the¬†weather turns sour. Most charter services offer this courtesy on their own. Also, FishingBooker holds the security deposit, which essentially is their commission if the trip goes through. And they¬†offer a helpline, to walk you through the process or facilitate communications between you and the guide.¬†¬†¬†¬†
Having said this,¬†word of mouth or¬†referrals from friends could be¬†the¬†most reliable way¬†to narrow your choices. Old-fashioned conversation is surely the best way to¬†avoid surprises and disappointments. Ask lots of questions.¬†¬†¬†