A Beginner’s Guide to Charter Boat Fishing with Captain Troy Frady

Alabama Gulf Seafood isn’t just great to eat—it’s fun to catch!

If you’ve ever been deep-sea fishing along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, you know what a fantastic experience it can be. But for the landlubbers out there who’ve never been deep-sea fishing, it can feel like the sort of thing that’s too complicated or too difficult to try.

That’s why we’d recommend getting your feet wet (literally) with an experienced fishing guide on one of Alabama’s charter boats. Captain Troy Frady of Distraction Charters in Orange Beach was kind enough to give us a rundown of just about everything you need to know before embarking on your maiden voyage.

Give it a read through, then schedule your charter boat excursion today! (It is summertime, you know…)

What’s the best time of year to go charter boat fishing?

The best time of year to go charter fishing depends upon the wants and needs of the angler. The fish are highly regulated, and sometimes the seasons are short, so if keeping fish is a priority, then the angler needs to inquire about what fish are in season at the time that they’re planning their trip. If you are not wanting to keep fish, and you would like to catch some fish, you can go pretty much year-round here on the Alabama Gulf Coast. But you’re more subject to weather patterns if you choose to come in the spring or in the fall. Generally, the summertime is the best time to go fishing for consistent weather—Memorial Day to Labor Day.

What kind of fish are most popular to catch?

When you talk about deep-sea fishing—which is fishing offshore, usually in federal waters beyond nine miles—we have reef fish like Red Snapper, Triggerfish, Amberjack, Vermillion Snapper, and Grouper. Then you have some migratory fish that show up during the summertime like Cobia, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, and occasionally we get some Mahi-Mahi and a few Sailfish that come in during the latter part of the summer and fall months.

Do I need a fishing license for a charter boat excursion?

No. If you are on a for-hire vessel, the vessel has the permit for you and everyone on that boat. If you fish from a private vessel or someone that you’re friends with who has a boat, you would have to have a state fishing license. But fishing from a charter boat that’s permitted either state or federal, you do not have to have a fishing license.

How long will we be on the water?

There are many different business models for charter fishermen down here. They offer fishing trips ranging from four hours to four days. The most common fishing charter offered in Alabama is the six-hour or the ten-hour (full day) fishing trip. There are shorter trips, such as a four-hour or a five-hour trip, that have been very popular during the off-season months and during spring break. But there are some folks who offer four-hour trolling trips during the summer months that are more economical for the consumer. In other words, there’s a fishing charter for every budget.

How much do charter boat excursions usually cost?

There are two types of charters down here. There are private charters and there are shared-expense charters.

A private charter means you can bring up to six people in your group on the boat for what’s called a private experience, which means no one else outside of your party will be on the boat except the captain or the deck hand. A typical six-hour trip on Distraction Charters during the peak summer months (mid May through the end of August) is about $1300-$1350 plus about $250 for the deck hand. But that is a premium trip, and that type of trip budgets for fuel to get you further offshore to where the fishing pressure has been less, and you have a greater opportunity to catch a larger fish or more variety of fish.

The other type of charter available is a shared-expense trip or walk-on charter, where the angler pays a per-person fee to get on a boat and join other people. When the boat gets enough people signed up for that trip, they will send the boat out. There are two types of walk-ons. You have party boats, which are considered an entry-level fishing trip ($69-$85 per person for a six-hour trip), and those boats will have anywhere from 15 to 50 people. These boats do not offer a premium fishing experiences like the private charters do. The advantage is they’re very cost-effective for your first time. The drawback is, once you catch your two Red Snapper for instance, you pretty much have to stop fishing until other anglers have reached their limit, then there may be time to target another species before the trip is over. Also, if someone gets seasick and wants to go home, you’re stuck there until everybody wants to go home. These excursions let you test your sea legs to see if you want to invest more money and do a private charter.

You also have what’s called a shared-expense trip where it’s similar to a party boat but there’s only six to ten people on the boat. These trips run anywhere from $120 to $185 per person for a six-hour trip. The difference between shared-expense charters and party boats is that you’re often on a smaller boat. But they do offer an opportunity to catch a better grade of fish than what the party boats would. So there’s a direct correlation between the cost of a charter and the experience and results.

What kind of equipment should I bring on my charter boat excursion?

All charter boats have their own rods and reels on board. However, if you are left-handed or possibly handicapped and require a special type of reel, you might want to bring your own. Because most people carry traditional right-handed reels, and a few people do carry left-handed, but you never know if that’s going to be available or not.

Is it okay to bring adult beverages on a charter boat excursion?

Most charters allow adult beverages. The only drawback or restriction may be bringing bottles that can break. And hard liquor is often discouraged because it’s a safety issue. When people drink too much, they become a liability. But people bring cold beer every day. That’s pretty common, but you do need to bring your own cooler for food and drink.

What happens if it’s supposed to rain the day of my charter boat excursion?

Charter boats don’t generally worry about rain, because during the summer months, the summer storms tend to move out of the area pretty quickly. We do operate in and around thunderstorms, but we generally try to avoid them by choosing a route that will get us around the storm. So if it’s going to rain, that’s not a big issue, but if the seas are rough and the captain says that this is not going to be a good experience, I would listen to the captain. Generally, rain is not that big of an issue. But the more experienced anglers are, the more they can handle rougher seas or bad-weather experiences.

If I reel in some big fish, am I allowed to keep and cook what I catch?

If the fish you catch are in season, the deckhand will put it in the cooler for you. Then when you arrive back at the dock, he will clean your fish and give them to you in a plastic storage bag. You can take those fish home with you and prepare them any way you want to. But the fish has to be in season, and if it’s not, you have to release the fish. Additionally, it is the angler’s responsibility to tell the deckhand that you want to keep your catches prior to bringing them onto the boat. If you release the fish, you have to ensure that you do what is called responsible angling and either vent your fish so it doesn’t have the bends, or use a fish descender [such as a Seaquilizer] to take the fish back down so the fish will survive. Because we all have a responsibility as anglers to make sure all the fish that are released have an opportunity to survive to be caught again another day.

What’s the secret to deep-sea fishing like a pro?

Everyone who fishes in freshwater has a general knowledge of how to fish in saltwater. But often, saltwater fishing requires different angling skills that have to be learned over a period of time. However, if you choose to go with a professional guide service, they know how to maximize your opportunities so you’ll have a greater catch, whether it be quantity of fish or the size of the fish. You’re just dependent upon the reef that you’re fishing over, how much fishing pressure it’s seen, the type of bait you’re using, and the angling skills. Somebody who’s never been fishing before may have a hard time getting a large fish up from down deep, because they don’t have the technique or the skills to do it. A lot of angling is learned behavior—in other words, you have to learn how to catch these fish. The more times you fish, the more times you put bait in the water and reel up, the better you get at it. That’s where the deck hand comes in, because a deck hand is able to guide you and educate you, then demonstrate and let you practice until you get better.