best guide to charter
fishing on the islands
and Ocracoke islands are home to some of the oldest and most
experienced charter fishing fleets on the East Coast. The islands
have had a long and rich fishing history— Hatteras even got a nod
in a Marilyn Monroe film—and they continue to be among the most
legendary fishing destinations in the United States.
you’ve never been fishing off Hatteras or Ocracoke, it’s
definitely worth looking into. The variety of trips, boats,
captains, and species of fish available is quite impressive, and
there are options that can accommodate almost any budget or interest.
said, with so many options available, choosing the right charter can
be a daunting task, especially for first-timers. To make it a little
bit easier, The Island Free Press has compiled a guide to Hatteras
and Ocracoke charter fishing. With answers to frequently asked
questions, information on everything from choosing a boat to cleaning
your fish, advice on making your trip more enjoyable, and pictures to
rouse your inner angler, this guide is designed help get you off the
docks and on the water.
1: I want to go fishing. What are my options?
you’ve never been fishing you should know that you have a lot of
options. Everything depends on when you’re coming to Hatteras or
Ocracoke, what you want to catch, how much money you want to spend,
how long you want to fish, and how many people you want to take with
should I go and what can I catch?
seasons dictate what’s available to island visitors, and summer
offers the most options—more stores and restaurants are open, more
captains and trips are available, and the variety of species you can
catch is wider. From May to July, you can catch just about anything
off Hatteras or Ocracoke. As one captain put it, “Within 12 miles
of Cape Point, you can catch anything from a bluefish to a blue
can’t catch them all on the same trip or even the same boat.
captains troll offshore for large gamefish—marlin, tuna, wahoo, and
dolphin—and their boats are designed and rigged-up for that
purpose. On the other hand, some captains target the smaller species
that live inshore, on wrecks, or in the sound. These include bottom
fish (snapper, grouper, sea bass, etc.), Spanish mackerel, bluefish,
trout, and flounder. In addition, there are some species, such as
cobia and drum, that pass by Hatteras and Ocracoke at certain points
throughout the year and are targeted on sight-casting trips.
chance that you will find a captain who will take you grouper,
dolphin, and flounder fishing in the same day is pretty much zero.
It’s best to focus on something specific and go from there. If you
have no idea what you want to catch, what species are available at
certain times, or what kind of fishing you might enjoy, don’t be
afraid to ask around. Fishermen like to talk about fishing.
will it cost?
price of a trip depends on the captain, the boat, and the type of
trip you want. If you want to fish the sound for trout on a small
boat, for just half a day, then you can expect to pay considerably
less than someone who wants to spend the whole day on a 50-foot
sportfishing yacht, chasing billfish in the Gulf Stream.
a rule, a full-day trip will cost more than a half-day, and an
offshore trip will cost more than an inshore.
full-day, offshore trips will be the most expensive across the
board—they’re also your only option for catching “the big
ones.” Prices, on average, range from around $900 to $2,000.
Full-day, inshore trips are less expensive, ranging from round $500
to $1,000. Half-day trips have the widest price range, and can cost
anywhere from around $300 to $900, depending on where you go and the
size of the boat.
fishing trips are less common, with only a handful of captains at
each marina offering them, and they fall on the lower end of the
half-day, inshore spectrum.
you will be fishing alone, then by far the most economical options
are make-up and headboat charters, which range from around $100 to
$250 per person.
addition, mates work for tips, so when budgeting, you should figure
an additional 15 to 20 percent for a gratuity. Also, you may want to
consider that almost all captains and marinas require a
deposit—either a fixed amount or a percentage of the trip cost—as
well as the fact that some marinas offer a discount for paying in
inshore, full-day, half-day, make-up, headboat…what?!
not as complicated as it sounds. Without getting too specific, an
offshore trip will take place in or around the Gulf Stream—the
warm-water current that passes 15 to 25 miles off Hatteras—and
anything inside the Gulf Stream will be considered inshore.
and half-days are pretty much exactly what they sound like—full-day
trips last the majority of the day (around nine or ten hours) and
half-day trips usually last about four-and-a-half or five hours.
general, regardless of the marina, most charters leave the dock
somewhere around 6 a.m., though some captains may opt to leave
slightly earlier or later. If you book a full-day, you can expect to
be back on land around 4:30 or 5 p.m.
you want to book a half-day charter, most captains will give you the
option of a morning or an afternoon trip. If you can, take the
morning trip. The water is usually calmer and the fishing seems to be
a little bit better. Plus, you’ll be home around 11 or 11:30
a.m.—plenty of time to take a nap on the beach! If you prefer an
afternoon trip, you can plan to leave around noon and return around
4:30 or 5 p.m.
and headboat charters are arranged and paid for on a per-person
basis. Both are economical options for individuals, and headboats
are pretty much the only way to accommodate a group with more than
you want to fish and it’s just not practical to book the whole
boat, make-up charters can be a good idea. You give your name,
preferred dates, and contact information to either the marina or
individual captains, and they will try to pull six people together to
book the boat. The cost of the trip is distributed equally among
party members, and each captain has a way of fairly allotting the
charters are something of a gamble—you won’t necessarily know who
you’ll be fishing with, and there’s always a chance that the trip
won’t come together. In addition, your options for a trip are
slightly limited. Not all marinas and captains offer make-up
charters, and, with few exceptions, they are available only for
called because you pay “per head”—offer more flexibility and
are generally cheaper. They are large boats that are licensed to
carry more than six people (the maximum number that most other charter
boats can carry).
are currently several headboats on both Hatteras and Ocracoke
make-up charters, there are some drawbacks to headboat fishing.
Because of their size and the number of people they carry, headboats
are less specialized than other types of charter boats. Most of them
target only inshore and bottom fish.
unlike make-up charters, headboats offer both full and half-day
trips, and some offer evening cruises in the summer—for those who
don’t necessarily want to spend all day fishing, but would like to
take a boat ride.
do I get more information and book my trip?
it is true with most things these days, when it comes to getting more
detailed information about Hatteras Island fishing, the Internet is
your friend. All of Hatteras Island’s major marinas and Ocracoke
marinas have websites that provide descriptions of the fleet, rates
and booking information, and fishing reports with pictures. Each
marina’s website lists contact information, so if you don’t know
what you’re looking for, you can call or e-mail the marina for
addition, most captains have their own websites, which provide phone
numbers and e-mail addresses, descriptions of their boats, the types
of trips they run, photos from past trips, and recent fishing
reports. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call the captain
and ask. It’s much better to do that than to book a trip without
knowing if it’s what you really want. Moreover, if you deal
directly with a captain, he or she will mostly like be happy to
recommend another captain who can meet your needs if necessary.
it comes to booking, your safest bet is to go through the marina. Some
captains take reservations directly from customers via phone or
e-mail, so if you know which captain you would like to book, you
approach it that way. But, if you don’t have a preference, or you
aren’t sure what you want, the marina can save you a lot of time
marina will have different policies and procedures, but be aware that
when you book a trip, you will need to make a deposit. Even if you
schedule a trip directly through a captain, you should still be
prepared to put something down. Similarly, there is no standard
refund policy, so check with whoever books your trip for details.
2: I’ve booked my trip. Now what?
of booking a fishing charter as buying a plane ticket (except without
the paying upfront and in-full part). Basically, barring some
emergency or drastic change of plans -- in which case, you would need
to let someone know as soon as possible -- you do nothing but get
really excited until a day or two before your trip. At that point,
you need to call the captain (or marina) and confirm.
with flights, details, such as departure time, may change slightly
from day to day. For example, maybe the website said you should be at
the boat by 6 a.m., but the captain wants to leave at 5:30 to beat
the crowd to the fishing grounds or maybe the weather has turned ugly
and you won’t be able to go. A lot can change in a Hatteras day, so
don’t forget to call your captain.
should I wear?
something comfortable and adaptable. If you hate the feeling of wet
denim, then don’t wear jeans (or jean shorts). If you get cold
easily, then consider bringing a sweatshirt or a jacket—even in the
middle of summer, the morning ride can be quite chilly. And,
obviously, dress for the weather. If it’s raining, take a raincoat.
If it’s 95 degrees in the shade, wear something loose and
breathable—or maybe a bathing suit. And for safety reasons, you
should always wear shoes.
don’t wear anything that can’t get ruined, because there is
always the possibility that it will. You will get wet, and at the end
of the day, you will be crusted with salt, and if you catch a fish,
there will be blood, and if someone gets seasick, there will be
vomit. So keep that in mind when you’re getting dressed.
should I bring?
captain will provide all the bait, tackle, and ice necessary for the
trip. Everything else will be your responsibility—excluding safety
equipment. The following list is not exhaustive, but it should cover
and all food and drinks you will want (Note: It is a good idea to bring
your own cooler, with ice, to keep these items cold)
hat and/or sunglasses
sweatshirt or a jacket
change of clothes (This may seem unnecessary—until you rip your pants
or get soaked by some rogue wave.)
medicine you may need. It is very important that you let the captain
know of any serious medical conditions you or a member of your party
may have and how to address them.
there anything else I should know?
are a few additional things you may want to keep in mind when
preparing for your trip.
be aware that you could get seasick. Even if you can read a book
while simultaneously eating a chili dog and chugging a beer on that
crazy teapot ride, there is no guarantee that you will not get
a whole different ballgame 20 miles offshore, and I can promise you
that, after you’ve spent several hours emptying the contents of
your stomach over the side of a boat that won’t stop rocking,
you’ll spiral downward into the most diabolical form of vertigo
imaginable, and you will beg for the merciful hand of death. It will
someone will hand you a box of crackers and a fishing rod, and you
will curse the day you decided to book a fishing trip.
though, seasickness can ruin your trip, so if you don’t know, don’t
risk it. There are all kinds of preventative strategies—everything
from prescription-strength anti-nausea medication to wristbands that
keep steady pressure on specific points in your wrists—and any of
them would be better than getting sick.
I have some experience in this area, so I will pass along the best
advice I’ve received over the years:
- Take Dramamine, but take it the
your trip. Otherwise, you might sleep through the whole thing
- No matter how badly you want to go
lie down in
the cabin, don’t do it. It’s the worst place to go. Stay outside and
take deep breaths
- Take some sort of bland chips or
you on the boat (Cheez-Its work best for me), and if you start feeling
sick, start eating. I cannot tell you why or how this works, but the
advice came from a very salty captain and has proved most helpful in
- You will be able to tell the
between “Oh, I feel nauseated,” and “Holy moly, I am going to
vomit.” When you reach the latter point, just let it fly. You
will feel better when it’s over.
second thing to consider is that, while most items you will need or
want can be purchased at any of the marina stores the morning of your
trip, there is one crucial exception—alcohol.
Carolina law forbids the sale of alcohol before 7 a.m. (noon on
Sundays), so if you want to take alcohol with you, be sure to get it
the day before. Also, if you choose to take alcohol on the boat, get
it in cans or plastic containers whenever possible. Broken glass can
understand that your trip could be cancelled due to bad weather. Just
be aware that your idea of bad weather and a fisherman’s idea of
bad weather may be completely different.
the wind speed and direction is more important than anything else, so
if it’s raining cats and dogs but the water is calm, you’ll
probably go fishing. On the other hand, if it’s sunny and warm and
there’s not a cloud in the sky, but there’s a 20 knot south wind
blowing, you’ll probably be sitting at the dock. Basically, when
the captain makes a decision based on the weather, don’t argue with
lastly, there’s a saying around the docks that goes, “That’s
why it’s called fishing, not catching.” Keep that in mind on your
trip, because there is always a chance that you will spend 10 hours
on the water and come home with nothing but a sunburn and an empty
bag of chips. That’s just the nature of the beast.
because fishing is heavily regulated, you may not get to keep
everything—or anything—you catch. If the captain tells you to
throw something back, then throw it back. He can face strict
penalties and hefty fines for illegal fish.
said, there’s also a chance that you will come home with more fish
than you know what to do with. A word to the wise: In that case, get
your fish cleaned by professionals.
of the marinas offer a fish cleaning service, and most charge around
$1 per pound. Unless you are a seasoned fish cleaner yourself, it
will be well worth your time and money to take your fish to someone
who knows what they are doing. What a shame it would be to waste the
fruits of your labor.
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