As native Floridians know, and visitors to the state soon discover, fishing (also known as angling) is one of the most enjoyable recreational outdoor activities enjoyed by people of all ages in all regions here. Inland fresh water is fun, but what really defines an ultimate angling experience in Florida is to get out on the Gulf or Atlantic and fish for some of the most popular saltwater species.
The most popular means for fishermen to get out and do some fun and meaningful deep-sea trolling is to look into a party fishing boat in the area they’re interested in going out to, and checking out a few to see if what they offer is what they’re looking for.
The “party” in the party fishing boat refers to a number of fishermen. There won’t be any balloons, blasting music, or free-flowing booze on board (though people’s personal fishing trips can often turn into that!) These boats, also known as head-boats or drift-boats, take groups of between 10 up to 100 people out on excursions, most commonly either half-day trips (about 4 hours) or full-day trips (approximately 8 hours). There are some excursions that are overnighters, popular with more experienced anglers that are often out to fish more migratory and special species on more or less ‘themed’ trips.
These half- and full-day excursions are extremely popular with people of all skill and experience levels. From the novice, who doesn’t really know one end of the pole from the other, to seasoned veterans that get out all the time, everyone can have a memorable experience on one of these jaunts.
These trips are technically on charter boats, but are a much cheaper means of getting out than chartering a boat yourself. You can go by yourself and fish with strangers (have some fun and meet new people!) or get your group together and all make a reservation on the same excursion. These charters can be found on both coasts, so no matter where you are in Florida, you’re not too far from your next deep-sea adventure.
Now, all these charters are independent of each other, so rules and regulations can change from boat to boat. Don’t just look at one or two operations and assume every boat goes about things the very same way. It’s easy to check out each boat and find out what their operation is all about. If you don’t know anything about how to fish, at least know what you’re getting into before you step on board.
Generally speaking, half-day trips range in price from about $20-40 per person. A lot of novices and first-timers will be found on these trips, so if you’re a veteran fisherman planning on one of these trips, be ready for rookies all around you! The full-day trips will see more veterans and regulars on board. All-day trips start off at around $50 (or a bit more) per person.
You won’t need to have to worry about purchasing a Florida fishing license going out on one of these excursions as they are covered by the boat for all paying passengers. Check with each individual charter for specific information regarding equipment rental. Many, if not the majority, will have basic equipment rental fees incorporated into their charter fee. Some will charge for more specialized equipment, which may be a more common occurrence in charters where specialized game is fished. Most will let you bring your own tackle and bait, but check with them to make sure that’s okay for your trip.
Captains and their crews will be highly experienced, and will bring you out to the most recent “hot spots” to fish. If you get something on your line, pull it up, and a crewman charges over and tells you not to touch that fish, take his advice! You’ve just hooked a poisonous fish, and chances are good the crewman will just cut the line right then and there. Better to lose a lure than having a bad medical situation aboard, after all.
Safe fish you’ll likely see, and perhaps catch a whole bunch of (if it’s a really good day) include wide varieties of grouper and snapper, as well as cobia, mackerel, porgy, trigger fish, amberjack, an occasional sailfish, and more. You never can tell out in ‘the deep’ what surprises you may find out there, so bring your camera. You or someone on board may haul something in quite special.
Charters will have indoor galleys to head into to get out of the sun, or make that needed restroom break (some charters have both male and female ‘heads’). In terms of food and beverage, some charters provide refreshments, and some have snacks for sale. Check to see if you can bring your own cooler to bring your own lunch and drinks. If you want to bring beer or other alcoholic beverages, be sure to ask before bringing it on board.
Another good thing to ask about is if the charter is “family friendly”. In reality, some can be, while others really aren’t at all. If it gets to be a harried time out there, with multiple fishermen fighting fish at once, and crew running around trying to help land the fish, this wouldn’t be the best time for first-timers and/or small children to be wandering around the decks.
When all is said and done, and you’ve headed back in, many crews will clean your fish for you for free, while some make this an additional charge. Either way, it’s well worth it to let the crew do the cleaning. They’re very experienced, quick, and efficient. If you brought in a nice haul, it takes away from the experience a little bit handling and cleaning a bunch of slimy fish before you leave.
So if you find you have a few hours or even a full day to spare, and haven’t tried it yet, get out and have a great time on a party fishing boat. If you’ll be going out for the first time, try the half-day trip first to see how you like it. Chances are great this terrific activity will get you “hooked”, wanting to get right back out there again.