How to start your own Salmon Chartering business
by Salmon University Staff
Many times during a salmon charter trip or after a Salmon University Seminar I have been asked, "How do you get to become a charter captain?"
First of all, if all the anglers who ever dreamed of becoming a charter captains actually did so, there wouldn't be any clients. Fortunately, the financial commitment, long hours, salmon permit availability and dedication needed to become a captain reduces that universe to a very select few.
There are probably as many reasons for wanting to become a charter captain as there are fisherman who want to pursue the dream. Many anglers own a boat and want to pay for it by running some fishing trips on the side. Most are just attracted by the lure of profiting from a hobby they enjoy.
The simple fact of the matter is that few part timers can develop enough business to make any serious money fishing. The overhead is just a killer. The costs of the vessel, moorage, and maintaining the boat and fishing tackle are enormous and unexpected costs like the current fuel prices can turn even small profits into losses.
Despite all the reasons for not getting into the business, there are some solid reasons to charter fish.
Love of the water and job satisfaction cant be measured on any balance sheet. No you wont get rich, but you can make a decent living if have the drive to build a successful business.
Let's look at what it takes to get into the salmon charter business:
Number one, experience counts. If you're going to charge people to go fishing, you had better know the in's and out's of salmon fishing. Just because you can catch a few coho during the middle of the run or that lucky derby fish doesn't mean you're an expert. As one of my best friends Joe regularly says about weekend warriors Even a bind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn. The point being the best captains train under more experienced skippers for several years to learn the fine points of salmon chartering to produce fish year round. Theres a big difference when it comes to fishing for yourself and taking someone fishing. Remember youre not in control of the rod, but you still take the heat if the fish spits the hook! After all, fishing clients think salmon bite all day and all they have to do is drop their bait back into the water for another opportunity.
People skills are also essential for anyone even thinking about chartering. If you dont have them you flat wont make it in this business.
An overwhelming love of the sport and a desire to succeed is also required. You will have many long days starting at 4:30 AM in this trade. Remember customers only care about results, not excuses.
Now to the required paper work:
The dreaded US Coast Guard exam. To carry any passengers on any waters for hire you must earn a US Coast Guard Masters License or an Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) or commonly called six pack license. Before you can test you will have to show proof of documented sea time for the type license your testing for. Have a Merchant Marine physical exam and drug test. Current First Aid and CPR cards are also required. The exam itself covers Navigation, Seamanship and Rules of the Road that requires a 90% score to pass. Trust me when I say it takes a lot of studying to pass this test!
Here in Washington State you will also need to attain a Washington Department Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) salmon charter permit in order to take clients fishing in the marine waters. This includes the Ocean, Puget Sound, Bays and below the Astoria Bridge on the Columbia River. The catch is, the permits have not been issued over the counter since 1976 because of a legislative moratorium on commercial licensees... yes, a salmon charter permit is considered a commercial license. Commonly referred to as poles, one pole equates the right to fish one angler. Hence six poles = six fishing passengers. There are around a 100 permits left in the state. I have seen the permits sell for one to three thousand dollars a pole. The catch is, many times to get the prized permit you might be forced to buy out the charter business and his boat from the party selling it.
These salmon charter permits are highly sought after and dont remain on the market long when offered for sale. I have been asked many times if I would sell my permit and business... the answer is always the same, if you have the right number $$$.
All expenses are higher with a Charter boat and that includes insurance, as you will need adequate indemnity for your fishing clients as well as your boat and equipment. Normal marine insurance will not cover you or your clients if youre chartering.
Most reputable charter fishing captains belong to professional organizations like the National Charter Boat Association or here in Washington the Charter Boat Association of Puget Sound (CAPS) which require proof of USCG & WDFW licensing and insurance to join.
Assuming that you go through the hassle of attaining a Captains license and locating and buying a WDFW charter permit, how do you attract clients?
Word of mouth is the best over the long haul; over fifty percent of my clients are repeats. In the short term, advertising in local fishing publications, or a better choice is running an ad on the Salmon University web page as a good start, as it's visited by 325 thousand readers a month.
Establish good relationships with Outdoor Writers, take them on free trips, they can make your business or break your business. Its a small circle when it comes to Outdoor Writers in this game and word gets around quick if dont know what youre doing.
It also helps to create a good brochure for hotels and tackle shops to market your charter and a web page to attract out of state clients.
Chartering has become a source of both enjoyment and profit for me, but its not for everyone. Consider all the requirements before jumping into it as a full or part time business. Long hours, hard work, and major wear and tear on your boat and equipment.
The real reward is in having a job, doing what you love.
For more information on chartering in Washington click here.