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Tips for Choosing an Alaska Fishing Charter

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Posted by Captain Hill on

Welcome to the vast amount of options available while seeking out the perfect saltwater fishing trip in Alaska. Many folks come to Alaska every year to fish and, for some, it may be a once in a lifetime trip. The common factors for all those planning an Alaska fishing charter are: figuring out the best place to fish, the best charter company to fish with, and who is the best captain to fish with.

There are two main types of charter boats to be aware of when booking an Alaska Fishing Charter. A "6 pack" charter boat and a larger inspected vessel charter commonly referred to as a "head boat".

Below, I will explain the differences between these charter boats, the many choices you may have when choosing a charter, and how to make the right choice for your trip.

Six Pack Charter Boat
Six Pack Charter Boat
Six Pack Charter Boat - 6 person capacity

What is a 6-pack charter boat? A 6-pack boat is a boat that cannot take any more than 6 passengers for hire. Typically, the vessel will be about 24-30 feet in length if fishing on the ocean. A 6-pack boat is smaller than a head boat and has limited space and/or amenities. The main advantages to a 6-pack boat are the vessel's speed on calm days and that there are no more than 6 passengers onboard.

Larger Inspected Vessel Charter "Head Boat"
Inspected Vessel Charter Boat
Larger Inspected Vessel Charter Boat "Head Boat" - Generally holds a max of 14-20 people

The next type of charter boat is an inspected passenger vessel that is allowed to take more than 6 passengers for hire, also known as a mid-sized vessel or a "head boat". Head boats are slower than 6-pack boats on calm days but faster when the ocean is a little rougher. Head boats are generally mid-sized (around 46 feet long) and normally take up to 16 passengers per fishing trip. Put simply, a head boat is any boat that: can take more than 6 passengers, has been inspected by the USCG during the building process, is required to have on board many types of safety equipment above and beyond a 6 pack boat, and has yearly scheduled safety inspections and drills with the United States Coast Guard. The ability to carry more passengers requires more regulations to operate and additional safety requirements than a 6-pack. So, you might ask which boat is a better boat for Alaska fishing charters? The answer varies depending on whom you ask. Head boats have lots of room to move around, more creature comforts, and more boat to keep one comfortable in rougher weather. 6-pack boats are smaller, yet advantageous if you want a private boat, as the cost is less than that of a head boat because you are only purchasing 6 seats or fishing spots.

Big Fish Trip Versus Action-Packed Trip

What kind of trip do you want? "I want a 100 lb halibut" is the battle cry we hear as captains! I say put your money where your mouth is! Some people like the wait and hope to try for a trophy size fish. In my experience, 80% of customers just want to catch fish.

What are your fishing goals? Is it an action filled day or do you want a shot at a HOG? If you are looking for that big halibut then try a halibut only fishing trip or book a private boat for best odds at a trophy halibut.

Action-packed trips are what I refer to as the 20-minute limit. Stop the boat, drop the bait, and catch the fish. This is how it should go when all works right. When the boat stops and the captain says, "Time to fish!" I want fish on the hook within 10 minutes. For this to happen we typically concentrate on areas with more fish but that are less likely to have the monsters.

At the end of the day, the best "complaints" I can get is that it seemed to easy, or there were fish everywhere we went...I wish we could have fished longer. I can handle those types of complaints with a smile on my face.

When is the best time to go?

That depends on what region you plan to visit. Are you planning to fish Southeast Alaska (Ketchikan - Juneau - Sitka) or Southcentral (Seward - Homer - Kodiak). Each area has slightly diffent run/peak times. Out of Seward I will fish for Halibut and Salmon every day from mid June to late August.

When is the best time to book your charter?

As soon as you are ready to book is the best time...don't wait! If you wait till the last minute most of the more popular companies are full . The larger the group the harder to find a boat. The smaller the group it is easier it is to find a few seats.

In my experience many of the peak season slots start booking 9 - 12 months out.

What do you want to catch?

Alaska has many fish in its ocean. You'll need to decide what type of trip you want and what species you want to fish for. Do you want Halibut, King Salmon, Silver Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Sea Bass, Lingcod, Yellow Eye Rockfish, Grey Cod or something else or are you happy with whatever gets on your hook?

The three main fishing trips offered by charters are. Be sure to find out what trip you are booking.
  • Halibut Only
  • Salmon Only
  • Halibut / Salmon Combo Fishing Trip

What is the best boat to fish on?

There are many answers to this question. First, if you book the trip at the last minute during the peak season, then you'll have to take what you can get. If you are planning your trip in advance, then I would say the boat does not matter. It is truly the Captain that makes the difference. A quality charter captain will catch fish with any boat. Research your Captain and the company. Find out who will be running the boat and how long they have been fishing the area. The more experience the captain has or the longer the company has been around then chances are the experience may be a little better. Yes, it is all still an unknown when booking a trip, but try to read between the lines and go with your instinct.

Thank you for you interest in Alaska and your willingness to spend your hard earned money in the Last Frontier. Feel free to contact me with any questions, and I will do my best to point you in the right direction.

The team at My Alaskan Fishing Trip is collecting information on Alaska Charter options now and will be posting those summaries in the near future - sign up for our email newsletter to be the first to know about those listings.

About the Author: Captain Hill

Owner - Fish With Hill Charters & Lodge in Seward, Alaska

My name is Hill Norvell and I own and operate Hill Norvell Alaskan Fishing, also (or better) known as Fish With Hill. I first came to Alaska as a captain for hire and was employed as a charter captain for 5 years. In that time I operated 6-pack boats in Deep Creek, Homer, and Seward before eventually starting my own business in Seward, Alaska. My family and I have operated our business in Seward since 2005 where I run charters on my boat the "2 Day" as well as a small bed & breakfast for guests that prefer 2-6 day fishing packages.

To learn more about Fish With Hill visit or email Capt Hill Norvell at

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