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A beginner's guide to charter fishing

By Michael ParkerNZ Fishing World
A beginner's guide to charter fishing

Many of us get our first taste of boat fishing aboard a snapper charter. It can be a great experience leaving you wanting more or it could turn you away forever. If you are thinking of going on a charter boat, choose carefully. First you need to decide on both your budget and your target.

Most charters specialise in a certain style of fishing. Those that simply target bottom species such as snapper and tarakihi using baits tend to be the less expensive options. A typical snapper charter, though, is a day trip. 

Not all snapper charter operations are created equal, and to a degree you get what you pay for. Some of the more expensive ones favour softbaits and lures, although they generally allow bait fishing too. Charter trips may be only a few hours long, or overnight. It makes sense that more expensive charters usually go further afield to make the experience more memorable for their clients. An inexpensive charter operating out of Auckland is unlikely to travel far offshore. 

When the weather in Tairua wasn't looking great, Tom Maxwell of Epic Adventures took his clients all the way to the West coast off Manukau to catch this 128.2kg striped marlin in late January; the first for the angler Shane Clapp and the team. 

Blue water expeditions

Some charters specialise in species such as kingfish and hapuku, or game fishing for marlin and broadbill. Generally, these will fish locations such as White Island, East Cape, Ranfurly Banks or the King Bank. Popular fishing personality Matt Watson honed his trade as a deckie aboard what must be New Zealand’s premier game fishing vessel for hire, Primetime. They often fished the Wanganella Banks, which is out of range of all but the biggest vessels. Naturally, you can expect to pay a whole lot more for an offshore adventure targeting big deep water species.

Cobalt Charters cater for groups interested in bottom fishing for snapper. The skipper works hard and doesn't mind sharing his knowledge. It is a very well set up boat with identical gear and tackle at every bait station

Cobalt Charters cater for groups interested in bottom fishing for snapper. The skipper works hard and doesn't mind sharing his knowledge. It is a very well set up boat with identical gear and tackle at every bait station.

While a top end charter can’t guarantee you a lot of fish, it will get you a skipper who will do everything he can to ensure you enjoy the experience. When you find a charter that suits you, it really pays to stay with it.

Over the years I’ve been on many charter boats, several of them returns visits and long ago I lost count of trips. While I can’t recall being too disappointed when I’ve had a good catch, I have also had very enjoyable trips without a lot of fish coming aboard. Sadly, there have also been times I’ve sworn I’d never set foot on ‘that boat’ again. Before you book a trip, ask around for recommendations.

Group parties

fishing boat nz

Cobalt charters run a very slick operation. Quality gear with a bait board and knife at each fishing 'station'. It's one of the tidiest boats around.

Many charter operators will take both group and individual bookings. My preference by far is to fish with a group of friends who mostly have an understanding of where and how they will be fishing. I have booked places on charters for two or three of us where we were fishing with strangers, and that can be an enjoyable or unpleasant experience depending on the makeup and attitudes of the other anglers. Enjoying a beer or two with your mates is a different experience from fishing with a bunch of drunks you don’t know!

I was once invited on an overnight trip to White Island to target kingfish, hapuku, bass and bluenose. I only knew one on board, my brother-in-law. They turned out a great bunch of guys, although I was concerned when we stopped for ‘supplies’ in Whakatane. The event was fully catered, but understandably any drinks we wanted to take were not included. The three of us who weren’t drinking woke at 5.00am to the sound of twin diesels firing up. Running into big swells leaving the sheltered bay of White Island soon had me feeling queasy, but grateful I had not overindulged the night before. That feeling was reinforced forty minutes later when I was feeling much better and enjoying the ride in what was still the biggest sea I have fished in. The first of some very tired, green-gilled individuals surfaced a couple of hours later, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Some didn’t even have the desire to catch fish. Those who did had the more able-bodied winding in their catch. I thought it was great, but it certainly was tiring hauling in hapuku from 350m.

multiple hook-ups are common

Multiple hook ups aren't uncommon, the skipper works hard in this situation!

Charter etiquette

  •  Listen to the skipper and follow his advice and instructions
  •  Dispose of litter or rubbish responsibly
  •  Match methods of fishing to fit with the rest of the crew
  •  Use at least the same weight sinker as the guy in front of you; tangles are always a pain.

kids love fishing

Charter boats are a great way to get kids into fishing

Don’t...

  • Go under-gunned, use gear suited to the task at hand
  • Start fishing the moment the boat stops as the boat may turn on anchor
  • Keep doing the same thing if it’s not working for you; ask the skipper for advice
  • Take too much gear it will get in the way and could get broken
  • Set unrealistic expectations but treat it as an adventure - big fish aren’t always going to be caught
  • Take more fish than you are allowed or need.

A nice snapper

Another fine snapper caught onboard Diversity. Photo courtesy Damian Clayton

Do...

  • Take a sense of humour
  • Ask advice from the skipper or deck hand before trying a different technique
  • Ask your mates if they want to donate towards a kitty for the biggest fish
  • Look and learn from others; it is the best way to learn.

Tangles are common

The skips most important job, fixing tangles

Getting organised

Before you book your charter it is important to understand a little about the operation and there are some important questions you should ask. For starters, you need to know what gear to take and while most charters can supply gear, make sure it is tackle you are comfortable using. You should also ask about additional costs, such as loan gear. If you are fishing for kingfish, hapuku or gamefish, discuss whether your gear is up to the task. There’s no point in taking your snapper strayline set on a specialist kingfish charter.

When considering a charter, make contact well ahead as good boats are usually booked months in advance. Try and get a group together; it’s usually a lot more fun if you are fishing with friends. Sometimes people commit happily but at the last minute can’t make it. Set the rules early and have people to pay in advance. If there is a cancellation due to the weather some of your group may not be able to make the new date so you will need a contingency plan. The charter operator may have a list of people he can call on or you may simply decide to chip in a little more to cover the cost of the missing members. If you can’t get a group together, individual bookings can work out fine too. Just be aware that you don’t know who you will be fishing beside.

A typical Hauraki gulf snapper

A typical Hauraki Gulf snapper

Many years ago a mate and I booked a trip to the Poor Knights islands. It was in the days before they were granted marine reserve status. Weather postponed the trip three times, and in the end only three of the original crew of eight made the trip. Luckily we were able to fill all the spots.

Listen to skip

Regardless of whether you are on your own or with a group, always listen to the skipper’s advice. He is out there doing it most days and almost always knows what is and what isn’t working. The crew on board your charter can make or break the trip. While a good skipper and deck hand will do everything possible to put people on fish and offer advice, they can only do so much. There are those who just don’t listen, determined to do things their way. An exceptional skipper will at least try to overcome that and do his best to give his clients what they want.

A typical kingfish

Kingfish are a common catch onboard Diversity, photo courtesy Damian Clayton

Naturally, obey any rules on the boat. One thing that will get you offside with any skipper is allowing your rubbish to go in the water. Not using the bait boards provided also won’t win you any favours. Often the crew will take care of the fish for you by netting, unhooking, releasing or despatching. If you are new to fishing this can be a great opportunity to watch, ask questions, and learn. Fishing alongside others is one of the best ways to master fishing. Not only do you see new, different and better ways to do things, you also see things go wrong. Sometimes there’s more to be learnt by seeing what you shouldn’t do!

A classic mixed bag of fish

A mixed bag for Tzer charters. Porae made a welcome change from snapper for the team on Tzer charters. Photo courtesy of Craig Millar

Last word

Even though I have been a boat owner for over twenty years I still enjoy charters. I regularly fish aboard Diversity in the Hauraki Gulf. A group of us target snapper using jigs and softbaits in deep water, almost always drift fishing. As we are mostly experienced fishermen there is a lot of knowledge to be shared. I’ve learnt from fishing beside some of the best in the business. A good sense of humour is always a good thing to take fishing with you, and the team on Diversity have no trouble keeping the fun going.

8kg snapper

Lucy caught this magnificent 8kg snapper on a soft bait aboard Diversity on the Hauraki Gulf

So, while a charter is a good way to get into fishing, there is plenty to offer the more experienced angler too. Kingfish, hapuku and marlin are not within striking distance for many fishermen and not everyone owns a boat. Far-off destinations are something best done via charter boat. Not many of us have the means to get to the King Bank, the Ranfurly Banks or White Island, all of which are hotspots. It is especially important on those trips to use the right gear and most boats will be able to provide it. Once again, ask first!

Questions you should ask when booking a charter

A nice fish soon to come onboard

Another good solid fish about to come aboard Diversity. Photo courtesy Damian Clayton

  • What gear should I bring?
  • Is bait supplied, if not what do you recommend?
  • Is ice provided?
  • Is lunch provided?
  • Is hire gear available and at what cost?
  • Do you have people available to fill a spot if someone in my group can’t make it?
  • What will we be fishing for and where will we be fishing?
  • What happens if the trip is postponed due to bad weather?
  • What have I not asked that I need to know? 

Recommended charters

West Coast (Kawhia)

Three ‘O’ Eight Charters (Crazy Horse) 07 8767827

Can cater for all species.

Gisborne/East Cape

TZER Charters-06 86871191

Can cater for all species.

Hauraki Gulf

Diversity Charters - 021 2446346

Snapper & kingfish in the Hauraki Gulf.

Wavedancer Charters 0800 347469

Snapper & kingfish; softbait specialists.

Tairua

Epic Adventures- 0800 374269

Kingfish specialists; can cater for other species.

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