The first step in finding a charter boat is to decide what type of fish you'd most like to catch. Have you dreamed of catching sailfish? How about dorado, or even marlin? With your dream fish in mind, talk to the experts at fishing tackle shops and along the docks to see where these fish are currently being caught. There's no point in hunting for a fish that's not within 100 miles of your boat.

For your first outing, plan a half-day charter, which usually runs from 8 a.m. to noon or from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. If the sailfish are biting best in the mornings, don't book an afternoon charter. Once you've gotten your "sea legs" and had a taste of offshore fishing, you can plan a full day adventure (usually 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

Depending upon the season and the size of the boat, a half-day charter is commonly in the $295-350 range for up to six fishermen, while a full day costs up to $650. All of the tackle is provided as well as most of the bait, although live bait (needed to attract some fish) is often extra. Besides the boat and tackle, you also get the expertise of the skipper and mate, and you can get a feel for which teams are "luckier" than others from talking to other fishermen on the docks.

If you don't have anyone to share the cost of the boat, many charter boats will arrange "split-parties," where they match up customers with other fishermen.

One important point to agree upon with the skipper before leaving the dock is whether you plan to keep or release the fish. Because game fish have been decimated by commercial fisheries, most fishermen prefer to release any non-record setting fish rather than keep them. If you want a trophy for your wall, modern taxidermists will use your photographs to create a perfect reproduction from fiberglass which not only lasts longer than the traditional "stuffed fish," but is also considerably less expensive. One popular taxidermist for sportfish is J.T. Reese Taxidermist, 1918 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316.