First Charter Aboard The High Cotton

Production Notes from The First Shoot of Charter Kings

With the upcoming premiere of Charter Kings in October, I thought it’d be a unique idea to offer productions notes and insight into this adventure. To start things off here’s a quick rundown of what fans can expect from this season of Charter Kings. A season will consist of ten episodes featuring captains from Alabama & Mississippi on real charter trips. Captains and deckhands will offer insight into this process and we’ll be offered a behind the scenes look into what it takes to run a successful business. Each boat offers a unique set of characters audiences will enjoy.

On the morning of September 2nd I had set alarms to wake myself at 2am. That would allow me time for a shower, final gear check, and to stop for gas, before leaving from Ocean Springs, MS to SanRoc Cay Marina located in Orange Beach, AL, the home of High Cotton Charters. The drive was two hours and allowed me a full hour before departure from the dock to let the gear acclimate to the moisture in the air and survey the landscape with the drone.

The Crew

Captain Chris Garner is a no nonsense businessman dedicated to providing a world class experience for his customers. Talking with him during the trip he explained how he had started out as a deckhand and learned a work ethic from his former employers that he tries to mirror in his own practices.

Years later, now the captain of a ship, Chris’s dedication to the job would pay off when he had the opportunity to purchase the charter boat he had been operating after his good friend and employer, Paul Kell, passed away. Operating as his own boss for six years now, High Cotton Charters has grown in reputation for its clean accommodations aboard the ship and focus on providing trips for larger groups. Chris’s custom built 55ft. Gillman Sportfishing boat, the “High Cotton,” is certified to carry up to nineteen passengers.

Shrimpboat Mike, one of the deckhands of the High Cotton, understands it takes more than just cutting squid to earn his tip. During the trip Mike was always interacting with the customers and making sure they were informed with what Chris had planned. The youngest customer aboard this trip Mike would call, “Chawlie Brown,” emphasizing his original Boston accent that only managed to slip through normally when he began talking too fast. It’s really a sign of the professionalism some deckhands offer when they can interact not only with the sports loving adult customers, but offer a memorable experience for the children and keep them entertained on a several hour excursion.

The Day’s Catch

In charter fishing, numbers can be key to making sure customers are happy. The first goal out on the water was to get rods in the hands of the customers who had never fished with High Cotton Charters before and let them get accustomed to things by catching the bait. One by one cigar minnows and other species came aboard the boat as fast as Mike could get them off the hook. After landing the bait we headed farther out to Chris’s first spot to hopefully land some Bee-Liners, one of many colloquialisms for Vermilion Snapper.

This first spot offered rapid action, unfortunately what was coming up were Red Snapper and Trigger fish, two at a time in some cases. Both of these species are out of season and after throwing a number of them back, we prepared to go farther out. Setting the trolling lines we ended up getting several catches throughout the day traveling from spot to spot. The first was when young “Chawlie Brown” reeled in the King Mackerel he came aboard hoping for, then a Bonito, and finally his grandfather, Charles, reeled in the final King Mackerel of the day.

Upon reaching one of the new locations, the fishing really picked up. Every customer on board began pulling up Vermilion Snapper and lane snapper to fill the ice chest. When we’d almost reached our target number of sixty Vermilion Snapper, Chris & Mike opted to travel to a new spot to finish out the snapper and have several rods ready for the Amberjack they knew would be in the area.

The Ones That Got Away

In our last spot of the day, we could see the large Amberjacks, or AJ’s, chasing the lines Mike had set out. When an AJ made himself known, Chris would cast a live bait out to it from the bridge. With the fish hooked Mike or Chris would hand the rod to anyone ready to fight the AJ to the boat. Michael, a solidly built individual, struggled fighting the “Volkswagen” of a fish we all knew was at the other end of the line. The fish ended up snapping the line and in trying to get that same fish we lost several more rigs to the AJ’s below. With no landed Amberjack, but a limit reached of snapper and highly satisfied customers worn out from the fish fight, we headed back in where Mike filleted the fish and bagged them for the customer.

Experience Gathered from This Trip

This was the second out of three trips I would be making to Orange Beach that weekend. First lesson learned was that I’d be signing up for AirBNB. Working with NCN to produce ads in Baldwin County for six years, I figured the drive, one that I’ve always enjoyed, would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, that last stretch from Foley to Orange Beach feels like forever.

Where actual gear is concerned, everything went off without a hitch except I underestimated the amount of condensation to expect that morning, my camera and wireless kit were drenched while waiting to be placed on the boat. My only other thought on equipment, one that would matter more in a future shoot I’ll publish next week, was my lens choice. My go to lens for this shoot was the Canon 18-135mm to make use of dual pixel auto-focus and snappy zooms from subject to subject. The lens offered enough zoom for tight shots on fish, but wide enough to capture most of the action. The lens I should’ve made more use of was actually the Canon 10-18mm to offer a complete field of view of what was happening in front of me. The only downside is the fsheye distortion the lens is subject to, but in the future it’ll be my lens on smaller boats.

It was a pleasure working with Chris and Mike as both of them were instantly comfortable on camera and wanted to show their aptitude for what they do. Catch Chris and Mike this season on Charter Kings and don’t forget to give them a like on their Facebook or visit to view rates and book a trip!

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