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                 The A to Z of picking a boat excursion
Captain Shaun Chute, Six Chuter Charters

If you are like I am, when I travel, I like to see everything about the place I’m visiting, especially if there is fishing involved. Everything here, in Southwest Florida, revolves around the water. There are so many choices you can pick from, such as fishing, sightseeing, shelling and sailing. Some trips will even do a combination of the above. 

I will tell you about the fishing aspect. Let’s start with offshore (into the Gulf of Mexico). This involves fishing in waters from 30-75 feet, which is relatively shallow compared to most fishing on the eastern seaboard. In the Gulf, we fish mainly live bait (big eye shiners, thread herring, blue runners and shrimp). The structures we fish are wrecks, artificial reefs and some natural coral rock bottom. Types of fish include: Grouper, Snapper, Cobia, Permit, Shark, King Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel. The time of year can have an effect on what species we fish, since many migrate with the bait and water temperatures. 

Boats carry up to 6 passengers and are mainly 25 feet and larger. The waters can get a little rough when the wind is blowing, so if your captain tells you that it might be to rough believe him. 4-6 feet seas on the Gulf of Mexico are rougher than 4-6 feet seas on the Atlantic. 

If offshore fishing is a little bit too rough, try inshore which is also called backwater fishing. The boats are usually 22-26 feet and are very versatile. They can do offshore as well as backwater. They are open boats (usually center consoles with t-tops), which can take a good wave, but can also run in a foot or more of water. 

Backwaters are mainly the 10,000 Islands, which Marco is the northern tip of. This area starts on the edge of the Gulf, in the passes and around shoals and sandbars, then proceeds back into the mangrove islands. These islands have channels, which wind back miles into endless bays and tributary creeks. This area is the same as it was thousands of years ago. In some areas we fish, you can still see some of the shell mounds which the Indians built upon. These protected waters are always calm and beautiful, even when the seas are rough offshore. Catches include: Snook, Tarpon, Redfish, Snapper, Pompano, Spanish Mackerel and others.

All tackle is light spinning gear, which provides a great fight and is easy to handle for adults and children. There is a fair amount of casting, which is an easy skill to master. Baits consist of: big eye shiners, thread fin herring, and shrimp, and artificial such as bucktail jigs. 

Flats and fly fishing is just a little different than backwater. These boats are a little smaller, usually 16-21 feet and carry up to 2-3 passengers. These boats are built low to the water and can travel often in 6-8 inches of water. Often they are used for spin casting and fly fishing, which is a growing sport today. The captain usually runs a trolling motor or pushes the boat from a high platform in the stern (rear end to you land lovers) with a long pole. 

Baits range from shrimp, shiners, to artificial plugs and artificial flies. One thing to remember is these boats have no cover whatsoever, so bring a big hat and lots of sunblock. 

Sightseeing and shelling around Marco can be fun. There are lots of shells to pick from on the beaches, especially after a good storm. As you travel around, you will see dolphins, manatees and thousand of birds. Some very popular ones are the ABC Islands. 

Also, popular places to visit are the marinas and docks where charter boats dock. There you can walk the docks and see the catches brought in, visit the shrimp tanks and see the hundreds of fish that feed on the day’s scraps of shrimp and fish. 

As far as picking a boat excursion, I always follow a few rules. 

  • Pick a full time business or captain.
  • Ask lots of questions to make sure what size your boat will be and which type of fishing you will be doing (offshore, backwater, flats).
  • Ask around about the captain, pick a patient and friendly one.
  • If you are at the docks glance at the boats and gear. If this is kept in good shape, the captain probably cares enough to work hard for you on your trip.
  • If you have a good time let the captain know or tell someone else that might want to go.