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Hooking up with a good charter captain

Anglers fish for red snapper and other reef species with Capt. Sonny Alawine of Summer Breeze Charters in the Gulf of Mexico south of Orange Beach, Ala.

By John N. Felsher

The federal government only allowed Alabama anglers nine days in June to fish for red snapper, but anglers can fish for them until July 31 in state waters, which extend out to nine miles from shore.

“Biologists have assessed the resource in our waters and we feel that there are enough red snapper in Alabama waters to open an additional season to give our citizens the ability to catch more red snapper this year,” says Chris Blankenship, director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division.

Despite the smallest coastline on the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama looms large among fishermen. To enhance fishing, the state placed about 20,000 artificial reefs in coastal waters, many within easy range of small boats running out of Orange Beach, Gulf Shores or Dauphin Island.

Not everyone can afford a boat equipped for fishing offshore, so many people hire professional captains to take them. Considering the cost of buying, equipping, insuring and maintaining a large offshore boat, anglers who only fish a few times a year actually save money by hiring captains. Most charter captains provide all the bait and tackle necessary. Their customers need only show up at the appropriate time and place ready for action, but might want to bring some food and refreshments, a camera and other personal items.

Don’t know how to fish? Don’t worry! Many charter guests have never touched a fishing rod or stepped onto a boat before and may need the most basic instructions. Captains don’t mind teaching people how to fish. Most would probably rather work with a novice who will listen to instructions than a know-it-all who tries to run the boat.

Before booking a trip with any guide or captain, do some research. A little time with a computer can eliminate many problems, save time and may even save money. Many charter captains host their own Internet sites or give fishing reports on other websites.

After surfing the Internet, call some captains and ask questions. Talk to the captain directly, not a booking agent. If possible, visit the boat before deciding to hire a skipper.

Questions customers might ask:

  • How does that captain fish, and is that what the customer really wants to do? If customers want to troll for marlin, they shouldn’t book a party boat heading out for four hours of bottom fishing around a reef. Some people don’t care what they catch. They just want to enjoy a good time.
  • Does this captain fish for the species I want to catch and how I want to catch them?
  • Is that species in season and is this a good time to catch it? For instance, someone shouldn’t try to book a snapper trip in August after the season closes.
  • What does the captain provide and what should I bring? What is included in the price and what costs extra? Customers and captains should agree upon special requests in advance to avoid surprises.
  • Some people also want to know about the captain’s reputation before booking a trip. How does this captain treat the customers? Does the captain find fish? How is the boat and equipment? Since captains rely heavily upon word of mouth for bookings, most gladly answer any questions and might even give potential customers contact information for some people who recently fished with them.

John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who writes from Semmes, Ala. Contact him through his website at