You’ve saved up some hard-earned cash and now you want to find the best Chesapeake Bay fishing charters around, to make sure your day on the Bay is an all-around awesome event? Of course you do! Many anglers who don’t own a boat look forward to a charter fishing trip all year long, when they can enjoy getting out into open water and targeting fish they may not commonly catch. And anglers who do own a boat are often excited at the prospect of fishing with and learning from a professional. But all charter fishing operations are not created equal, and the best fishing guide for Angler A is not necessarily the best fishing guide for Angler B.

charter boat fishing
Find the best Chesapeake Bay charter for your needs, and you're bound to have a great time.

How can you ensure you’ll have that perfect day of fishing the next time you charter a boat? You can’t! Variables ranging from weather to a slow bite can make any day of fishing fall short of ideal. But if you do your homework and choose the best Chesapeake charter fishing operation for your personal needs, there’s a far better chance you’ll be happy with the outcome.

The Best Chesapeake Bay Charter Captains

The number-one factor to consider is the character of the captain and crew. You can spend a day on the biggest, most beautiful boat on the Bay and catch hordes of fish, but still have a lousy time if you don’t get along with the captain. Conversely, you can be on a Clorox bottle of a boat and fail to feel a single tug, but still have fun when you’re surrounded by the right people.

If you don’t already know a captain and/or mate you get along with, you can learn a lot by word of mouth. You can also glean a bit of info by checking Google and Facebook ratings, though these should always be taken with a grain of salt since online and social media ratings can be either sugar-coated, or on the other hand, made by someone with an ax to grind. But the very best way to judge the character of a captain is to meet them. Visit winter fishing shows (where many set up booths), attend seminars when they talk at local fishing clubs, or even walk the docks at the end of the day and strike up some conversations.

The Best Charter Fishing Boats

As a general rule you can depend on a professional charter fishing boat to be safe. The captains take their boats off the dock on a daily basis and want to come home at the end of the day as much as you do. But some people want luxuries like an air-conditioned salon. A clean head can be a consideration. You might want to fish from a relatively small, open boat similar to your own to learn more about how you can effectively catch fish on your boat. Or you might want a break from the usual exposure to the elements to experience fishing from a much larger boat than your own.

big chesapeake bay charter boat
Some Chesapeake Bay charter boats are very large, and can take out huge parties for team-building or office parties.

Which charter fishing boat will be right for you depends on the experience you, personally, are looking for. The critical thing is that you check out the boat either in person or in pictures ahead of time, to make sure it fits the bill. And if price is a factor, remember that as a rule of thumb the larger the boat is the higher the cost will be. Bigger boats cost more and burn more fuel, so you have to recognize that chartering prices will reflect that.

Charter Boat Fishing Style and Target Species

Different captains and boats use different types of tactics and tackle, and many will target different species depending on seasonality and availability. You’ll want to make sure you’re in store for the form of fishing you enjoy, and many charter fishing boats will be live-lining for rockfish one month and then trolling for blues and Spanish mackerel the next — so don’t make any assumptions. It’s best to ask ahead of time what the operation’s specialty is, what species might be targeted at a specific time of year you’re thinking about booking, and what type of tactics the charter uses.

You’ll discover that there’s a wide range of attitudes in this regard. Some captains will dictate the terms, period, and you won’t have any input on the matter. Others will ask, “what would you like to target and how do you like to fish?” Remember, however, that these people fish for a living day in and day out and generally know what they’re talking about. If you want to target redfish and they tell you the reds haven’t been around, listen to them. And if you insist on fishing “the hard way,” you have to accept that you might not catch many fish.

Chesapeake Bay Fishing Charters Versus Fishing Guides

When talking tackle and tactics it’s a good time to distinguish between charter fishing boats and guides. Many people see them as one and the same, and there’s no dictionary definition separating them. But as a general rule of thumb, services that advertise themselves as “charter fishing” usually focus mostly on catching fish and less on the party’s hands-on learning. Most charter fishing boats operate with a mate who will set the lines and bait the hooks for you. You do the relaxing and the reeling. Their boats are usually 30-plus feet long and have a cabin, and while most carry up to six passengers (“six-packs” in fishing lingo), some larger boats can carry dozens of people and specialize in big parties, team-building excursions, and similar trips.

Those captains who call themselves “guides” and especially “light tackle guides” tend to run smaller boats without additional crew. Some carry up to six passengers but others may have a limit of four anglers. They tend to use lighter tackle and more finesse-oriented techniques, and usually provide more of a learning experience. If you can tie your own knots they’ll leave you to it, and if you can’t, they’ll show you how.

best fishing guides on the chesapeake bay
Chesapeake Bay fishing guides often run smaller boats and use light tackle fishing tactics.

Of course, this isn’t true across the board and there are plenty of exceptions. The only way to really know what you’re getting into is to talk with the captain before you book, and be straightforward about exactly what sort of experience you’re looking for.

Okay: are you ready to find that perfect Chesapeake Bay charter fishing boat, perhaps go looking for the best Chesapeake Bay fishing guide for your needs, or maybe try both and see which you like more? Hiring a pro can be a great way to learn how to catch more fish, and it’s also a great way to simply enjoy a day on the Bay — whether you own your own boat, or not.

Our Guide to Fishing Charters and Guides

Remember that FishTalk has charters and guides who advertise with us, and our interactive Charter Fishing Guide shows where they’re based and their contact information. Naturally, we think you should give them bonus points for helping to support FishTalk as they spread the word about their services. But the fact that they advertise in our magazine tells you something else, too. It tells you that they want to reach the recreational angling community here on the Chesapeake Bay — you, the person reading these words right now. So if you don’t already have a favorite charter captain or guide, we hope you’ll start your search with these folks. After all, they’re playing a part in bringing you FishTalk, and thereby helping you catch more, bigger fish.