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Away Game

How to Go Fish...on Vacation



After nearly four hours of casting my line and getting only a fleeting nibble, I finally reeled in the catch of the day. I didn’t use a particular technique to hook this fish. In fact, the captain assured me there was no tried and true way to do what I had just done. I was lucky.

The fish I had caught, quite literally, was a fluke. And for the first time in my life I understood what “It’s a fluke” really meant.

Don’t even get me started on the time a school of loudly snapping mackerel surrounded my boat and the passengers aboard involuntarily shouted “Holy Mackerel!” in unison. Actually, that’s pretty much the whole story. The point is, there are certain things in life that only make sense when you’re fishing. And if you’ve long wanted to incorporate some fishing into your vacation, here’s how.

Know how to pick your boat

My fluke experience was aboard a charter – a privately-hired boat with a captain and a mate. The mackerel siege took place on a party boat, typically a larger craft where you pay a relatively nominal per-person fee. But as the name “party” implies, if it’s a particularly nice day you may find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder at the rail with other anglers, which can lead to instant vacation friendships even as you’re trying to untangle your fishing line from your neighbor’s. A charter can be as intimate as you want to make it if you’re willing to shell out a few more bucks for the extra elbow room and attention.

Ask the captain how long he’s been in business as well as how long he’s been fishing the area, says fly-fishing angler Brandon White of Also get references and find out if you’ll be fishing with the actual person you’re booking with or if the operation has a “fleet they ‘broker’ out to,” White says. “If a broker, get the name of the person you will be fishing with and contact them directly.”

For your part, come clean about your fishing abilities. “Be honest about your expectations and skill levels so [the crew knows] where to begin and where to take you,” says former fishing guide and fly shop manager Kevney Dugan of Visit Bend. “More disappointment occurs from misunderstanding of expectations than anything else.”

Know what you’re getting

Ask what’s included in the price of your trip and what you’ll be fishing for, as well as what bait and lures you’ll be using, says Peter Hillenbrand of Caribbean fish and dive resort Southern Cross Club. Generally, use of a rod and reel as well as lures and bait ought to be included in the price. No matter what kind of boat you’re on, it’s appropriate to tip the mate if he cleans your fish. Hillenbrand also suggests asking your captain if he “adheres to sustainable fishing practices, [if there] are there species [he’ll] not permit to be taken,” and if [he practices] any form of catch and release.” And while laws vary by state, ask if your boat will have life jackets, says Amy Terrell of Yapta. Terrell’s part of an avid fishing family including her two sons and husband Shannon, who notes that “accidents happen so fast it’s not worth it” to be unprepared, recalling the time his youngest child fell in between their boat and the dock. “He was wearing a life jacket, and a good thing, because we had to pull him out the drink,” Shannon recalls.

Bring these basics aboard

If fishing is just one aspect of your trip versus your entire vacation, you won’t want to buy specialized gear, nor should you. But in terms of stuff you’re probably packing anyway, “sunscreen, sunglasses, and a rain coat are musts,” says Dugan. “When you are on the water the sun is magnified by bouncing off the water. You are typically in open elements so if it does rain it is near impossible to find shelter.”

When it comes to sunglasses, Hillenbrand recommends ones that are polarized, important if “you have to see and read the water well, especially if you need to be able to see the fish.” White would add a hat, an extra tee-shirt and sweatshirt to your list, and Capt. Ralph Allen, owner of King Fisher Fleet , says “if the boat doesn't offer food or drink, bring “your food and more to drink than you think is necessary,” a point underscored by virtually every source for this story. Some say it’s the salt air or the way that time begins to have no meaning while you’re on a boat, but you haven’t known hunger or thirst until you’ve been fishing, which is particularly important to keep in mind if you have kids in tow.

Don’t wait until you’re seasick to worry about it

It’s not Titanic-like swells that’ll nauseate you as much as the slow but relentless back-and-forth motion of your boat. Assuming your doctor okays it, consider taking some motion sickness pills before boarding the boat; some manufacturers make tablets for kids, too. I learned the hard way that if you wait until you start feeling seasick to take your motion-sickness medication, you’re too late. “If you have even a remote concern, take a Dramamine at least an hour before leaving the dock and then read directions to take another if you are on an 8 hour type trip,” suggests White, adding that “if you feel sick, stay outside in fresh air and look at the horizon, do not look down, do not stay inside a cabin.” White and Allen say that a prescription behind-the-ear patch, often applied the night before, can also be effective. Though if you prefer the homeopathic route, Allen says he’s had “modest success by suggesting that victims of mal-de-mer eat ginger snaps if available, but I'm unsure whether the results are medical or mental.”

Look at the trip through the eyes of a child

If you’re taking a fishing trip for the first time and especially if you have kids along, it’s generally helpful to approach and experience the trip through a child’s eyes, in part so you can keep your expectations for the day in check. Consider a charter so you have more control of the situation, especially if someone gets sick, and make your first fishing expedition a short one.

If you have kids, remember that “small children need action and small fish. They do not have the

patience or the skill to handle bigger fish,” says Todd Staley, director of fishing at Crocodile Bay Resort in Costa Rica. “I have seen too many times [where a dad takes] a child out here and the child gets bored trolling, and when a marlin or sailfish is hooked, it is too much fish for a child. The only experience the child is left with is watching dad catch a fish.”

Especially if you’re a fist timer, remember that fishing should only be one aspect of your trip. “I find that if we take a side trip or fish only half the day the [vacation] is more relaxing. Find a beach where the kids can run and be loud,” says Amy Terrell. Having just returned from Vancouver Island, the Terrells are returning in August, when they plan to go zip lining “and then,” Shannon says, “fishing.

“Don’t make it a fishing trip,” says Shannon. “Make it a vacation.”