Your son just announced that his two friends are coming for the weekend. Both like to fish and would like to take a trip, but your boat is either in the shop or laid up for the winter, and your friend with the 42-footer is away on business. What do you do?
The answer might be to board one of the many safe party boats up and down the coast from New Jersey to Maine, weather and season permitting. For instance, the last three winters have seen an increase in the cod catches from Block Island, R.I., to northern New Jersey.
The fishing was so good around Block Island that Capt. Joe Huckemeyer moved his 100-foot Helen H from Hyannis, Mass., to Montauk, N.Y., from mid-January to mid-March to take advantage of the action. Many of these party boats — from Point Judith to the south shore of Long Island to northern New Jersey — will sail for cod, offering a way out of the house during the winter and possibly a chance for your son and his friends to catch a 30-pounder.
Most party boats don’t require reservations; all you have to do is show up, pay your fare and hop aboard. Many boats have galleys, so you can get coffee or breakfast and enjoy it in a heated cabin. You can find listings for these boats online, in advertisements alongside fishing columns in newspapers and magazines, in the telephone book and at local tackle shops, many of which have connections with boats, some sponsoring trips from time to time.
If you’re headed to Florida, you’ll find a lot of boats operating on the east and west coasts all the way down into the Keys. Many of these go for half a day, ideal to take the kids out yet still get other things done in the afternoon. And you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for the midday half-day trips.
If you prefer a longer outing, there are boats that go on overnight trips (reservations required) to spots way out in the Gulf of Mexico. Yankee Capts (www.yankeecapts.com), which operates out of Safe Harbor in Key West, makes multiday trips to the ocean side of the Dry Tortugas, taking people to perhaps the best bottom fishing in the southeastern United States.
Rental tackle is available aboard most boats, which is great for those who don’t want to tote fishing tackle back and forth from the Northeast to the Sunshine State. And party boat mates are usually expert anglers, more than happy most of the time to offer newcomers to the area tips for catching the local fish population.
Once the weather warms up again, more Northeast boats begin sailing for all manner of fish. They’re great if you have more people to take out than your boat can handle, or if the weather is doable in a big boat, but not in your 20-footer. In Connecticut, many anglers board boats such as the Blackhawk (www.blackhawksportfishing.com) and Mijoy 747 (www.mijoyboat.com) out of the Niantic section of East Lyme, Conn., and Waterford, Conn., for bass and blues from June through late fall. Some of the youngsters on these trips not only catch their first striper, but also a bass weighing in at more than 30 pounds, not bad for half-day of fishing that sails at 6 a.m. and again at 1 p.m.
If you prefer a slightly longer trip, the big red Hel-Cat (www.helcat.com) also sails for bass and blues from nearby Groton, Conn., in season from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — bankers’ hours, they are often called, right in step with people who don’t want to get up early.
Boats on both sides of Long Island go out for all kinds of fish, including porgies, fluke and sea bass in season, and make trips for striped bass, the latter very popular at famed Montauk Point. Farther up in New England there are boats such as the Yankee Fleet (www.yankeefleet.com) in East Gloucester, Mass., that sail all-day trips for cod, pollock and haddock. They fish from March through December, sailing at 7 a.m. and again at 8 a.m. (two boats) and returning about 3 p.m., often early enough to beat the Boston traffic on Route 128.
There are also plenty of safe, large boats that take whole families out whale watching during the summer. These boats sail from Provincetown, Mass., on the tip of Cape Cod and from ports on the south and north sides of Boston. Your family will marvel at whales breaching just a short distance away.
Around late May, my friend Capt. Greg Mercurio has the Yankee Capts back in Gloucester, after steaming up from Key West, to start overnight trips to Cashes Ledge, 80 miles out. These two- to three-day trips require reservations and offer a crack at the best fishing for cod, haddock and large, hard-fighting pollock in New England.
There are also boats from northern Massachusetts and up into Maine that offer half-day trips for blues and all-day trips for cod and haddock. Capt. Tim Tower’s Bunny Clark, out of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, is a known producer of groundfish, very popular with locals and tourists (www.bunnyclark.com).
In the fall, at times with north winds blowing a bit much for the family boat, you can take the kids out for a Saturday trip for blackfish on any number of party boats from Point Judith to New Jersey. You might also look up boat schedules for some that offer diamond jigging trips for striped bass. Some of the boats from Sheepshead Bay, N.Y., fish until late December. A warm cabin and a large, safe vessel are available to get you back and forth; the grounds are often only a short ride out as stripers travel along the shore on their migration south.
As fall shortens into early winter, we’re right back into cod-fishing mode, and people on party boats once again set their sights on a tasty cod dinner. And once the day is over, you don’t have to worry about cleaning the boat. Load your charges into the car, put the fish that the mates cleaned for you into a cooler and head home. The kids might be sleeping after a safe time and the calendar is ticking away to Christmas. You’ve fulfilled your duties as a parent — smart enough to explore all options to get you and yours a day on the water.
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.