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Charter Fishing 101

Looking to hook into the big one or numbers of them, without the difficulty of figuring out where, when, and how on your own? Charter or guide fishing is probably for you. Beside the convenience of hiring a licensed captain or guide to put you on the fish, charter fishing is also a great opportunity to explore and learn a new fishery, the techniques and tackle that work, and, yes, fill the cooler!

We’ve compiled an ever-growing list of local charters/guides throughout the region ready to put you on fish. There’s also an etiquette to fishing on someone else’s vessel—plenty of dos and don’ts—plus necessities for a full- or half-day on the water, all of which we’ll breakdown herein. Here’s our Charter Fishing 101 guide. Want to skip straight to the full list of Chesapeake and Atlantic charters? Click here to jump to it.

Whatever Your Heart Desires

The great thing about charter fishing is that you book the time, place, and species of choice. Want to hook into a trophy striper in the spring or fall? This is probably the most popular fishery in the Mid-Atlantic to do so. If you’re at the Atlantic beaches, try your hand at bluefish in mid-Summer or if you’re visiting in winter, black sea bass and tautog offer pullage at offshore reefs. Want to learn the intricacies of the Upper Chesapeake Bay’s largemouth bass population? A couple excellent guides offer the tips, techniques, and tackle to land a lunker. Curious about cobia, red drum, speckled sea trout, or everyone’s newfound favorites…invasive species (northern snakehead, blue catfish)? Bowfishing? The possibilities are endless.

Doubled up on bluefish at the shoals just a few miles off Bethany Beach and the Indian River Inlet.

Think through what you’re interested in and specifically ask yourself if your intent is fishing for sport or harvest. That will help narrow down your target species, which in turn, will key you into the time and place (season) for which they’re most plentiful and “running.” Most fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay region run spring through fall, but there are a number of species worth targeting in the coldest depths of winter (e.g. pickerel for sport; blue catfish for the meat).

Booking your charter is a fairly simple process based on availability, party size, and pricing. Once you have some initial thoughts about what your preferred catch will be, research your charter options, call captains, and ask questions. Today, many captains have become hip to social media and offer calendar/booking updates through Instagram, Facebook, and the like. Websites are plentiful as well, giving you the intel and initial impression that’ll help steer your decision making.

Expect captains to book half-day (4 hours) or full-day (8 hours) outings. Prices for each outing will be firm, no matter your party size. Unless you’re planning to go solo—in that case, you can usually join a booked charter that has an available slot or two, which your boatmates will appreciate as it helps fill the boat and lower the individual payments each person contributes to the overall charter fee.

Expectations & Curveballs

Are you an early bird or late riser? Diehards love the morning hours, which generally afford the best fishing activity. But the latter half of the day can be equally rewarding providing the weather doesn’t take a turn for the worse. A watchful eye on winds, tides, and weather will help you plan accordingly in the days leading up to your trip. It’s also the captain’s job to ensure safety and a mostly pleasant experience. Be in communication with your captain a week, couple days, and 24-hours in advance of your trip. A dynamite captain can put you on fish no matter the time of day or variable conditions. And things can change on a dime.

During a mid-summer chartered trip out of the Indian River Inlet in Delaware, my preferred target species was black sea bass. I really wanted to hook into these largemouth gems of the sea. But time and circumstance had our charter pivot to target the large schools of bluefish that were circling the humps just 15 miles offshore. They were thick, we had nonstop action, and filled the cooler. I’ve never eaten as much smoked bluefish as I did after that trip. Our captain and first mate had the winning formula down pat, ensuring we had a great experience despite missing the sea bass bite.

Be sure to tip your First Mate on your charter fishing trip. Typical amount is about 25 percent of trip cost.

Wants & Needs

You’ve booked a charter trip for your buddies. You’re on site and ready to fish. What now? What to bring? Let’s run through some helpful accoutrements and several must-have items for a successful outing. First things first—bring yourself healthy and happy to fish. You won’t do anyone any favors by showing up (or not showing up on time because you’re) tired, grouchy, or worse, hungover. Expect the captain and first-mate to be ready to depart on time. Trust me, you don’t want to test their patience, which could turn a day of fun into a tense outing.

And do you want to drink alcohol during your trip? Many captains today adhere to a no drinking aboard credo or, at the least, no glass bottles or hard liquor. There’s too much at risk already being on the water. True, it can help pass the time during the long excursions—say, during a blue water charter—but people get sloppy, accidents happen, and attitudes can go south. I’ve been on a headboat trip in the Florida Keys, in which drunk adults starting yelling at children because they felt the kiddos were fishing too close to them. It was an absurd mess. Other captains let you imbibe beer, spritzers, and seltzers. To each their own. It’s our opinion to share drinks on the return trip to port or, even, after you’ve docked—it gives you something to look forward to and helps embellish your fish tales at day’s end.

Must haves, on the other hand, include plenty of water for hydration, SPF 30 or better sunscreen, polarized sunglasses, hats, snacks (lots of snacks!), and proper attire. Wear layers if the weather will be cooler or looks questionable. Breathable material is best. Thermals are great during colder months; same for foul weather gear. Another option, especially for offshore fishing, are bibs (akin to waders), which keep your body from chest to feet protected. And these days, everyone has a buff to wear on their head, face, neck. So bring yours. Sun-protective gloves are also helpful for a full day spent under the sun. If you think of other must-have items, let us know—please add to this conversation.

Another essential that cannot be overstated is proper footwear. Flip-flops be damned. Leave them at home. We suggest avoiding casual footwear, but if you must, make sure your sneakers’ and sperrys’ toes are fully enclosed. Honestly, the best footwear is a pair of fishing boots. If you don’t have your own, ask your captain if he has extra pairs. And if you’re chartering in late-fall through early-spring, wear thick socks or several pairs. You simply won’t last long without proper footwear.

Check with your captain if a cooler and ice are provided. Most boats will have a dedicated ice chest for the day’s catch. Getting that catch home on the other hand will require your own cooler. Most ports will have ice available, and we advise you research and prepare accordingly. In most cases, your catch can be filleted at port, by either your captain and mate or a dedicated staff at the marina. Of course, it’s a great opportunity to pick up the skill and learn from a pro, so don’t be shy. Lean in and observe or give it a try yourself. Most marinas that offer the service charge a nominal fee by the pound of cut fillets.

If you bring a full cooler of fish back to the marina, you may want to have the captain or marina crew clean and filet your fish.

At day’s end, remember to tip. Bring cash. Plenty of cash. The first-mate relies on tips to cover his time and experience. A good rule of thumb is to pay the first-mate about 20–25 percent of the cost of the charter (so about $100 for a $400 charter). It is what it is, and it’s really not a negotiable. Pay the man.

Lastly, remember to fully charge your smartphones before leaving dock. You don’t want to miss taking photos of a once-in-a-lifetime catch because your phone went silent. Instagram would be sobbing.

Charter Captains & Guides

We’ve organized the following list of charter captains and guides from north to south in Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic waters, and indicate captain’s name, home port/river, type of vessel, and a sampling of target species. Don’t see your name on the list? Email to be added!

Maryland Upper Chesapeake

Maryland Middle Chesapeake

  • Badfish Charters | Capt. Michael Kent | Grasonville, MD | 48’ Carman | striped bass, inshore species
  • Locator Charter Fishing | Capt. Joe | Pasadena, MD | 40′ Robbins | striped bass, inshore species
  • Down Time Sportfishing Charters | Capt. Frank Tuma | Magothy River | 29′ C-Hawk | striped bass, crabbing, inshore species
  • Sport Fishing | Capt. Greg Shute | variable launch sites | 27′ Judge Yachts Chesapeake | striped bass, inshore species
  • Becky D | Capt. Jim Stickney | Annapolis, MD | 40′ vessel | striped bass, inshore species
  • Sellfish Charters | Capt. Ken Jeffries | Edgewater, MD | 42′ Evans commercial boat | striped bass, inshore species
  • Annapolis Fishing Charters | Capt. Dorothy | Annapolis, MD | 46′ Glass Boat Works | striped bass, inshore species
  • Down Time Charters | Capt. Frank Tuma | Annapolis, MD | 29′ C-Hawk | striped bass, inshore species
  • Family Fishing Adventures | Owners Chris Hendershot and Samantha Polizzi | Annapolis, MD | 30′ vessel | inshore species
  • Chesapeake Coastal Charters | Capt. Zack | various launch sites | MayCraft 1900 | striped bass, inshore species
  • Fish With Weaver | Capt. Tom Weaver | Annapolis, MD | 23′ center console | striped bass, inshore species
  • Last Hurrah Charter Fishing | Capt. Scott Singleton | Herrington Harbour N. | 35′ custom Markley | striped bass, inshore species
  • Kodiak Charters | Capt. Mike Middleton | Kent Island, MD | custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Captain Price’s Fishing Charters | Capt. Price | Kent Island, MD | custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Miss Violet Headboat | Capt. Darrell Roy, Sr. | Kent Island, MD | 46′ Deltaville | striped bass, inshore species
  • Chasin’ Tail Charters | Capt. Brandon Moore | Kent Island, MD | 41′ custom Markley | striped bass, inshore species
  • Chesapeake Bay Charter Services | Capt. Shelby | Kent Island, MD | 40′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Mallard Charters | Capt. Troy Ruth | Kent Island, MD | 45ft. O’Neil Jones Chesapeake Bay Deadrise | striped bass, inshore species
  • Prime Time Charters | Capt. Darnell | Kent Island, MD | 33′ charter | striped bass, inshore species
  • Natural Light Fishing Charters | Capts. Frank Updike, Sr. & Jr. | Kent Island, MD | 40′ charter | striped bass, inshore species
  • Ellen-R Fishing Charters | Capt. Jeff Ruth | Kent Island, MD | 45′ O’Neil Jones | striped bass, inshore species, waterfowl hunting

Maryland Lower Chesapeake

  • Schooled Up Fishing Charters | Capt. Travis Long | Chesapeake Beach & Point Lookout | 24′ Judge | striped bass, inshore species
  • Wound Tight Sportfishing | Capt. Shawn | Herrington Harbour S. | 50′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Dolly Diesel | Capt. Chris Sullivan | Chesapeake Beach | 50′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Mary Lou Too | Capts. Dave, Rich & Russ | Chesapeake Beach | 46′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Katherine Charter Fishing | Capts. Sam, George & Andy Gotsis | Chesapeake Beach | 42′ custom Evans | striped bass, inshore species
  • Reel Attitude | Capt. Jon | Chesapeake Beach | 42′ Glass Marine Charter | striped bass, inshore species
  • Sunny Leigh Charters | Capt. Marty Simounet | Chesapeake Beach | 42′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Hot Lick Fishing Charters | Capt. Marcus Wilson | Chesapeake Beach | custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Class Act Fishing Charters | Capt. Bobby Marshall | Knapps Narrows Marina | custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Screaming Eagle Charters | Capt. Herman Haddaway | Balls Creek | custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Let’s Go Fishing Guide Service | Capt. Joe Tkach | various launch sites | 27′ Pro Line Center Console | striped bass, inshore species
  • Four Seasons Guide Service & Light Tackle Charter | Capt. “Walleye” Pete Dahlberg | Solomons, MD | 27′ Judge | striped bass, inshore species
  • Patience Fishing | Capt. Tom Ireland | Solomons, MD | 42′ Charter Fisherman | striped bass, inshore species
  • Grace Mary Charters | Capt. Vince DiGiorgio | Solomons, MD | 40′ Pace Sportfish | striped bass, inshore species
  • Strike Zone Charters | Capt. Wally Williams | Solomons, MD | 42′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Shea-D-Lady | Capt. Bernie Shea | Solomons, MD | 46′ custom Markley | striped bass, inshore species
  • Lucky Strike Fishing Charters | Capt. Steve Barko | Solomons, MD | 40′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Loch Jaw Charters | Capt. Loch Weems | Solomons, MD | 44′ custom | striped bass, inshore species, waterfowl hunting
  • Chesapeake Bay Outdoors | Capt. Damon Williams | Solomons, MD | multiple vessels | striped bass, inshore species, waterfowl hunting
  • Renegade | Capt. Wally Talbert | Solomons, MD | 41′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Belladoe Charters | Capt. Bucky | Tall Timbers, MD | custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • North Star Charter | Capts. Butch Cornelius & John Guy | Piney Point, MD | 46′ Carman | striped bass, inshore species
  • Fish the Bay Charters | Capt. Phill Angley | Dameron, MD | 40′ & 48′ vessels | striped bass, inshore species
  • Marica II | Capt. Gary Sacks | Ridge, MD | 42′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Kingfish II | Capt. Harry | Deal Island, MD | custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Crisfield Charters | Capt. Ray Johns | Crisfield, MD | BX 22 Pro bay boat | striped bass, inshore species

Virginia Chesapeake

  • Chuck’s Charters | Capt. O’Bier | Lottsburg, VA | 44′ & 46′ vessels | striped bass, inshore species, offshore species
  • Crabbe’s Charter Fishing | Capt. Danny Crabbe | Northern Neck, VA | 43′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Midnight Sun Charters | Capt. Ryan Rogers | Reedville, VA | 50′ custom | inshore and offshore species
  • Fisher’s Bay Charters | Capt. David Fisher | Reedville, VA | 53′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Southern Tide Guide Service | Capt. Joseph Biddlecomb | Reedville, VA | 39′ custom | striped bass, inshore species
  • Rappahannock River Charters | Capt. William Saunders | Irvington, VA | custom | striped bass, inshore species, crabbing
  • Captain Billy’s Charters | Capt. Billy Pipkin | Heathsville, VA | multiple vessels | striped bass, inshore species
  • Chesapeake Charters | Haywood, VA | striped bass, cobia, inshore species
  • Salt Treated Fishing | Capt. Zach Hoffman | Seaford, VA | 25′ & 30′ Privateer | cobia, striped bass, inshore species
  • Sea Hooker Charters | Capt. Rob Lampson | Yorktown, VA | Parker 2510 XLD | inshore and offshore species
  • Reel Blonde Outdoors | Capt. Stuart Smith | Poquoson, VA | inshore and nearshore species
  • Four Winds Chartering | Capt. John | Hampton, VA | custom | striped bass, cobia, inshore and nearshore species
  • Hold Fast Charters | Capt. Corey Fenton | Williamsburg, VA | 30′ Baja Fisherman | blue catfish, striped bass, cobia, inshore species
  • Captain Hogg’s Charter Service | Capt. Hogg | Hampton, VA | 40′ Evans | inshore and nearshore species
  • Virginia Fishing Tours | Capt. Brian | Williamsburg, VA | 24′ center console | blue catfish, striped bass, inshore species
  • Night Stalker Guide Service | Capt. Archie Gold | Surry, VA | 23′ center console | blue catfish
  • PWC Fishing LLC | Owners Andrew Tucker & Colton Seaver | Newport News, VA | guided jet ski fishing | inshore species
  • Cape Charles Fishing Adventure | Capt. Ken Eshleman | Cape Charles, VA | tarpon, striped bass, inshore and nearshore species
  • Marsh Madness Charters | Capt. Zach Pfingst | Cape Charles, VA | Salt Marsh Heron 18 | red drum, tarpon, inshore and nearshore species
  • Tidewater Charters | Capt. Tyler Nonn | Cape Charles, VA | striped bass, cobia, red drum, inshore and nearshore species

Delaware Atlantic Charters

  • Skipjack II | Capt. Kevin Flaherty | Lewes, DE | shark, tautog, black sea bass, speckled sea trout, etc.
  • Miss Donna Charters | Capt. Joe Noble | Indian River Marina/Inlet | 29′ Aquasport Tournament Master | inshore and offshore species
  • Crab Claws Adventures | Capt. Natalie “Nat” | Indian River Marina/Inlet | skiff | back bay crabbing
  • Judy V & Capt. Bob II | Owners, Adams family | Indian River Marina/Inlet | 65′ & 55′ headboats | offshore bottom fishing
  • El Shaddai 1 Fishing Charters | Capts. Bob & Troy | Indian River Marina/Inlet | offshore species
  • Gale Force Charters | Capt. Aaron Hurd | Indian River Marina/Inlet | 27′ center console | inshore and offshore species
  • Razorback Sportfishing Charters | Capt. Roger Quigley | Indian River Marina/Inlet | 28′ Topaz | inshore and offshore species
  • 3 Amigos Sportfishing | Capts. Kevin & Corey | Indian River Marina/Inlet | 31′ Pro Sports center console | inshore and offshore species
  • Prime Hook Sportfishing | Capt. Hank Draper | Indian River Marina/Inlet | custom sportfish | offshore species

Maryland Atlantic Charters

  • Playmate Sportfishing | Capt. Jeremy Shandrowski | Ocean City, MD | 60′ Carolina | marlin, tuna, wahoo, dolphin, and shark
  • More coming soon!

Virginia Atlantic Charters

  • Coming soon!