The time is right for a party boat
The boat might be under wraps in the backyard or boatyard, but there are still fishing opportunities beyond your loyal family cruiser. Up and down the Northeast, large party boats offer a variety of trips not possible in a small craft, and farther south, party boats offer day trips or adventures for those visiting Florida during the winter months. Let’s take a look close to home first.
In the late fall, when colder winds are beginning to blow, large and seaworthy party boats head out from a variety of ports looking for blackfish: hard-fighting critters that hang around wrecks and rocky lumps, waiting for someone to drop a bait to them. They grow in excess of 15 pounds and make good eating, especially if you like fish chowder.
Party boats that fish for tautog usually require no reservations — just show up at the dock on a Saturday, pay your fare and be transported to the fishing grounds, often places the weekend angler doesn’t know about but the professional skipper does. If the weather is a bit breezy, the large party boat is an ideal platform to fish from, offering both safety afloat and an enclosed, often heated cabin to duck in out of a November wind.
They are also fine for taking kids out for a day of fishing adventure. Anglers who don’t know much about blackfish will find most party boat mates are experts who willingly offer advice about rigging and hooking the quarry of the day. Such tips often help a youngster win the pool for biggest fish, that wonderful spark that happens often when kids get around fishing rods.
During the fall, party boats also offer long-range tuna trips, taking anglers to the edge of the continental shelf miles offshore, to fish for yellowfin tuna and exotics like swordfish. These trips are well beyond the range of a small boater, offering folks a chance at a type of fishing not found just outside the harbor bell buoy. The boats typically arrive at the grounds at sunset, anchor up, then the mates begin chumming with a variety of cut fish to draw tuna up out of deep water to the awaiting baited hooks.
These trips usually require reservations and could be a parent’s reward for a good report card. Some of the outings go for more than one day, giving the skipper a chance to explore other areas if the first spot wasn’t productive.
Shallow-water fishermen have never felt anything quite as strong and hard charging as a 100-pound yellowfin tuna when it the takes hook then goes barreling down into the deep water, line spilling from a big reel at an alarming rate. Adequate tackle for this type of fishing can be rented on board.
Hooking a swordfish is also a possibility — probably the only time someone lacking a large sportfisherman has a chance to hook one of these exotics of the deep ocean.
Be sure to consider whether seasickness might be a problem before signing on for a multiday trip. Also, bring along extra clothes for the night chill. All party boats have galleys aboard that serve coffee, soda and basic meals, including eggs in the morning — for a fee.
In the last month of the year there are party boats that specialize in diamond jigging for striped bass. I recently saw a fishing program on the Outdoor Channel that showed folks in early December boarding a boat in Sheepshead Bay, N.Y., to catch striped bass up to 20 pounds on diamond jigs off the Long Island coastline. The weather was still chilly early in the morning, way too late in the season for most small boaters to be on the ocean.
Many party boats advertise in the sport pages of newspapers or regional fishing magazines. Most have Web sites that give up-to-the-minute fishing news about latest trips and catches. In addition, some regions have electronic magazines with Web sites updated as a regular newspaper column, often a good source of timely local fishing news.
During the winter many snowbirds board party boats on both the east and west coasts of Florida, taking in some warm weather and catching everything from grouper to kingfish. A check at the local tackle shop will no doubt turn up the names and phone numbers to call. Many boats in Florida offer half-day trips.
There are also boats like the Yankee Capts (www.yankeecapts.com) that offer multiday trips from Key West. These leave from the southernmost city for two, three or even four days, fishing around the Dry Tortugas — probably the best bottom fishing in the Southeast U.S. People from all over the east coast sail on the four-day trip called the Iron Man. I’ve watched people from Long Island drive all the way to the Keys arriving dockside in a large SUV with four anglers in it, pulling a small trailer with gear and coolers in it. Many of these hearty souls are rewarded with outsized grouper or snapper in the waters anywhere from 70 to 100 miles from Key West.
There are other options to consider about party boating, like taking a trip in the summer from Gloucester, Mass., to Cashes Ledge, 80 miles to the east. This offers a great opportunity to catch lots of great-eating haddock, codfish and — at times in the warm months of summer — pollock to 30 pounds. Like the pull of a yellowfin, a youngster will remember how hard a 30-pound pollock will fight.
Some anglers get a group together from work to charter the boat for a day or three, maybe customizing an offshore trip to combine bottom fishing on wrecks inside the continental shelf with a hunt for tuna.
Extending the fishing season after your second love is under wraps is a great aspect of party boating. It can get one out of the house and on the water at times and places beyond the ability of the family fish/cruise boat. Play it safe, enjoy the fishing on one of the many large, safe party boats sailing from a port near you.
Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.