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Fishing Party Boat 101 on 3 Coasts

Click here to see the Hawaii Equivelent--a split charter, scroll down to fishing

What is a Party Boat?

Party Boats, also known as Cattle Boats, Head Boats, and 'Open Party' boats are a catagory of commercial sportfishing boats that instead of charging a fixed fee for the entire boat and scheduling around a small set of customers (Like a conventional Charter Boat-by the way the contract specifying the cost for a voyage and number of passengers is the definition of a Charter), charges a fee per passenger for regularly scheduled trips.  Like a train or plane, the boat has posted departure and return times, holds a set number of passengers, and charges the same fixed fee for all voyagers.  The numer of anglers (i.e. passengers) on a trip depends on the size of the boat, and the cost of the trip.  The less the trip costs, and the bigger the boat, (also the shorter the trip), the more people will be on the boat.  If the trip is taken during the local tourist season, and the trip is during the day, expect a large number of 'riders'(people who go out just for the ride-not to fish) and extremely novice anglers. If you want to avoid the crowds take trip during bad weather, off-season, long trips, or 'limited party' (costs more hence fewer folks).  Etiquete is a MUST for party boat fishing for both your sake, other anglers, and the crew (see the General Rules below).

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What Should I always Bring and the General Rules of Party Boat Fishing?

First one must know the etiquete of party boat fishing:
1) Always obey the Crew and Captain.  Their goal is to keep you and all the other anglers happy, since with out your money they will go broke. Most of the time, with a good professional crew, this is not a problem.
2) Always be aware of those around you (right, left, and when casting-behind).
3) Be knowledgable of local species, and local laws-DON"T EVEN TRY TO BREAK THEM. Often a single illegal fish on a boat can result in very large fines for both boat Captain and the offending angler.  When in doubt, ask the crew or release the fish.
4) Exercise patience, kindness, and courtesy.  Cursing loudly, while common among most of us anglers when fishing alone, can offend others on a party boat.  Never drink excessively (if allowed at all).  If your lines get tangled, don't get frustrated or try to assess blame-it goes with fishing elbow to elbow, and can be a good way to MAKE friends.

5) AND THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE: HAVE FUN! A party boat is a great place to meet other anglers and 'trade lies' as anglers often do.  I have kept in contact with some of the people I have met this way, and they have become friends for life. Yes, there is more to fishing than just catching fish.

What should I bring on a party boat?

1) Food, Beverages (I recommend fruit juices and soft drinks-while I do occasionally indulge in moderation in alcholic beverages, I find that they hurt my fishing abilities and make me take too many trips to the 'head'. Also, some boats prohibit alchohol on board.) Some boats sell food and drinks on board so check with the boat before going out.
2) A camera (sealed in a Zip Lock Bag to prevent it getting wet).
3) Extra Clothing (much colder on the water then on land)
4) Rain Gear
5) Sunscreen and Polarized Sunglasses
6) An old towel to wipe your hands on (Trust me-this is a must)
7) Non- Marking, no-slip, warm shoes that can get wet.
8) A cooler to get your fish home in (you probably can leave it in your car at the dock).
9) Tools: Plyers, Scissors, Folding Knife, extra line, and a tackle box or bag that can get wet.
10) At least 3 Bungee Cords or lengths of rope: To tie all of your gear down and keep it from slapping around.
11) Sturdy Fishing Tackle (Specifics in each section below)
12) A waterproof bag or heavyplatic bag to put you non-fishing gear stuff in.
13) Any specialized baits not provided by the boat (call the boat first, more to follow below)
14)  Cash in small denominations (usually I bring $40 in ones and fives, and $3.00 in change, though I very rarely spend more that half of it on a day trip). You will need it to tip the crew (ask what is customary), to buy extra tackle, to pay for fish cleaning, to buy snacks, to put money on the 'Big Fish Pool', etc.
15) Asprin (or equiv.) and/or dramamine (for those sea-sick prone-take one BEFORE you leave the dock)
16) DON'T EVEN THINK OF BRINGING A GPS or other navigation equipment.  The coordinates of wrecks and special fishing spots are the bread and butter of most boat captains, and they will do nearly anything to guard them.  Attempting to wrest these precious numbers from a captain is akin to trying to find out and use your credit card number!

Whew! Sounds like a lot of stuff but without these items you may loose some of the fun in your trip.

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San Diego (So. Cal.) Party Boat Fishing in the Pacific

(and a little about Ensanada BC Mexico)
 Some of the most exotic and definitely the greatest variety of party boats trips in the Continental U.S. can be found leaving from San Diego. Alternatively in the LA Area, Newport Landing has interesting trips to the islands for Tuna, white seabass, and bottomfish.  The 'mission' city has two primary party boat ports: a big three-company landing that has Sportsman's Landing, Point Loma Landing, and H&M Landing, all on the San Diego Harbor near Shelter Island off Roscrans Blvd (+ Scott Blvd), and the Mission Bay Docks (Seaforth Sportfishing is the primary group here) on Mission Bay near Sea World of San Diego.  From either set of docks, depending on the time of year,
(Rockfish, etc.)
(Yelowtail, Barracuda, Tuna, etc.)
you can find trips from 6 hours (known as a 1/2 day here) to 14 days, fishing for everything from bottom fish (several species of Scorpionfishes , Lingcod, California Sheephead, California Halibut, Calico Bass, Sand Bass, White Sea Bass, Dorado, and many more), seasonal surface fish (California Yellowtails, Pacific Barracuda, Pacific Mackerels, and several Tuna species including bonito, albacore, yellowfin, and bluefin), Mako Sharks, Thresher sharks, Striped Marlin, Wahoo.


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New England Party Boat Fishing in the Atlantic (Plymouth Massachusetts)

 Ironically, one of the largest  party boat fleets in New England  (Capt John's) has its port only a half mile from where the Mayflower landed (Plymouth Rock), and as a result leaving from Plymouth on a trip also has the side benefit of a quick tour of the harbor and a good view of old lighthouses and a replica of the Mayflower.  The water in both Cape Cod Bay and in the Atlantic is cool year round (like southern California), and in both summer and winter most trips focus on bottom fish Atlantic Cod like the one above, Hake, Pollack, Flounder, Scup, Tautog, though in summer a few trips are offered for bluefish at night, and in late summer for tuna (overnight trip). The bottom here is strewn with rocks, wrecks, and lobster pots, and few trips end without loosing at least 4 or 5 weights and a couple of jigs (diamond jigs mostly).  The trip from the dock to the fishing grounds for most 1/2 day trips (4 or 6 hours here) are only 20-30 minutes from the dock and in sight of land.  The boat parks over the wreck, sound the drop horn (which means you lower your baited hooks to the bottom), and usually anchors for about 30 minutes before moving to another wreck.  The bait provided by the boats here is clam (very slimy and smelly!! remember that towel I was telling you to bring above), which usually raided in seconds by pesky bergals who will pick at the bait with weak taps.  The angler who can exercise willpower will not strike at these taps but instead will wait for the yank of a larger fish.  An angler with even more willpower will strike at the first yank, but will not reel up until it is followed by a second yank from a second fish, resulting in a 'double'.  If any two anglers pull up sharks (usually sand sharks and spiny dogfish), the boat will sound a horn to pull up the lines, the mates will curse, and the boat will immediately move to a second wreck!  On longer trips (8hr, 10hr, 14hr, 20 hr all are called 'all day') the boat will travel out of Cape Cod Bay to one of the wrecks in the open Atlantic.  These longer trips are not for the faint of heart (especially in the Winter), and will require high quality raingear, cold weather gear (most of the year), and good non-slip water proof  boots. In winter, I must empasize that cold weather, watreproof gear is an absolute requirement, or you will suffer hypothermia (and most captains will allow you to board their vessel).  The winter longer trips are hard on the fisherman but result in spectacular cod, often over 20lbs and some bigger!  Any long trip in New England will tax your arms as well, since like the bottom trips in California described above, heavy weights and gear are used due to the deep water and very strong currents.  The rig here for all bottom fishing is the basic bottom finder with 1/0 to 7/0 long shank hooks (at least two  drop loops), and for lures the diamond jig and bug combo.  Inshore 4oz-16oz weights and jigs are used, while on the long trips 10oz-36oz weights and jigs are used.  Inshore, use 15lb-20lb tackle (Penn 500's and 3/0's are very popular) if you want to have good catches, though this will usually mean that will either have to bring your own or find a place near the dock that rents it. Offshore, the boat tackle rented tackle will probably suffice (Penn 4/0-12/0).  Remember to keep your ticket stub, as most boat offer prizes for the biggest cod and have a door prize drawing.


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Gulf of Mexico Party Boats (Destin & Tampa Florida)

 Related Articles:

 Each place adds its own flavor to the party boat mix of fishing and fellowship, and Florida's  Gulf of Mexico is no exception.  The warm waters of the Gulf host several colorful species of fish, including the prized Red Snapper.  Like cod in New England, or yellowtails in Southern California, the red snapper is the holy grail for the party boat angler's quest.  Like most party boats anywhere, the bulk of fishing here is done on the bottom on reefs in 80 feet to 180 feet of water.  Unlike California or New England, however, the Gulf is largely sand, essentially an aquatic desert with reef 'oases'.  A good Gulf partyboat captain will have literally thousands of coordinates for reefs and geographic features, which he/she will alternately fish (like crop rotation).   If the captain spots another boat attempting to move near the vessel, the captain will move the boat immediately to guard the secrecy of the spot.  Unlike anywhere else, very precise boat handling and constant adjustment is required to hold the boat over the exact location of the reef, and a difference of 30 feet can mean the difference between lots of bites and no bites.  The boats in Destin, Tampa-St.Petersburg, Sarasota, Panama City, etc. will usually drive the boat for over an hour from the dock before stopping to fish, and for an 8hr or longer trip expect to travel at least 2 hours each way.  When the boat gets within 300 yards of a reef, the captain will slow the boat to a crawl and use sonar to pinpoint the reef and to see if any snappers are present.  Then he/she will have the mate cast a marker buoy over the reef and disengage the engines to check the wind and current.  Finally, once the captain is happy with the boat position relative to the reef, the captain will sound the horn to drop the lines and fish (and tell you how many feet above the wreck the fish are holding-see Reef Layout for how fish hold over a reef/wreck). While nearly all Gulf boats include rod rental in the price of the trip, the rods they will try to have you use will be Penn 4/0 or 6/0 rigs with 60# to 130# test and a 16oz basic bait finder rig with two #2 hooks.  This is one of the places where bringing your own gear will absolutely make or break your trip! While the gear provided will catch fish (mostly small triggerfish, vermillion snappers, and grunts), it will not usually produce the best fish of the trip.  Since the Gulf is crystal-clear, the larger fish can be both line-shy and uninspired to eat the squid hunks provided for free by the boat.  I bring three rigs when I fish the Gulf, and fish each differently (see HOW-Gulf below)

 Now, obviously fishing more than one rig at a time could prove difficult!  What I do is when the boat first stops, I fish with the 6/0, since most large grouper (another prized denizen of the reef) are caught within 15 minutes of hitting the reef.  If I don't catch anything on it in 10 minutes, I switch to the 555 and fish it 10-15 cranks of the handle above the reef for amberjack and red snapper.  After the boat is on the reef for 30 minutes, or in the late afternoon, I switch to the fly line and spinning rod to pick-up surface cruising snappers, king mackerel, and mahi-mahi in summer or fish the double jig rig in winter for red snappers and amberjack (as small snappers are released by the boat, some are often intercepted by king mackerel, barracudas, and amberjack in their struggle to make it back to the bottom, sort of a live chum).  Also, in the summer and fall, take a couple of pieces of squid and toss them into the water and watch the pieces descend through the water. If the squid is intercepted by anything, rig up the jigs, cast them out (CAREFULLY, WITH AN UNDERHAND TOSS!) and retrive it with swift jerks for mahi-mahi, little tuny, and spanish mackerel.


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How to?
Southern California Pacific Tackle and Rigging
Winter/Spring bait rigging
Summer/Fall bait 
10#-20# Spinning-Penn 650/750/850/708Z/706Z 1/2oz-3oz Spoon (summer)
1oz-4oz UFO/Salas/diamond/Kastmaster 
1oz-4oz Jig w/tail
 drop loop w/2 hooks (#4-#2)& 8oz weight
anchovy or squid chunk
(only on shallow water trips!)
tie straight to line (#6-#2 for anchovy, #2-#1/0 for sardine) or add rubber core 1-2 foot above hook
use anchovy or sardine
Penn /Newell 555GS or 3/0 or 4/0 (20#-40# baitcasting-california live bait action rod) 1oz-4oz Spoon (summer)
2oz-8oz UFO/Salas/diamond/Kastmaster
1oz-8oz Jig w/tail
drop loop w/2 hooks (#2-#1/0)& 8oz -12oz weight
anchovy, sardine, or whole squid 
tie straight to line (#6-#2 for anchovy, #2-#1/0 for sardine) or add rubber core 1-2 foot or torpedo 3-4 feet above hook
use anchovy or sardine
Penn/Diawa 6/0, 9/0, 12/0 (50#-80# baitcasting) Trolling Lures (Zuckers/Rapala/etc.-summer)
8oz-32oz diamond/Salas/etc.
drop loop w/2 hooks (#1/0)& 16oz -36oz weight
anchovy, sardine, mackeral, or whole squid 
ie straight to line (#2 for anchovy, #2-#3/0 for sardine,#3/0-7/0 for mackeral or chunk) or add rubber core 1-2 foot or torpedo 3-4 feet above hook

New England Atlantic Tackle and Rigging

Lure Rigging
 Bait Rigging
(Clams/Herring in all Cases)
20# Spinning-Penn 750/850/708Z/706Z 1oz-4oz bucktail, 4oz diamond jig w/bug 4oz-8oz drop loop w/2 hooks (#2) (bottom)
single hook fly line w/1oz weight (bluefish/mackeral)
Penn 555GS, 309M or 3/0 or 4/0 (20#-40# baitcasting) 4oz-8oz diamond jig w/bug+tail 6oz-16oz drop loop w/2 hooks (#2/0) (cod)
single hook fly line w/1oz weight (bluefish)
Penn 6/0, 9/0, 12/0 (50#-80# baitcasting) 8oz-36oz diamond jig or equiv w/bug+tail 6oz-16oz drop loop w/2 hooks (#2/0)
straight to hook or light egg weight w/5 foot leader and 5/0 hook (tuna)

Gulf Tackle and Rigging

Winter/Spring Rigging
Winter/Spring bait
Summer/Fall Rigging
Summer/Fall Baits
20# Spinning-Penn 750/850/708Z Double jig rig with 8oz bankweight  jigs tipped with fresh shrimp or squid  1/4 oz weighted fly line with stinger and using 25#-30# wire
(also bring several 1/4oz jigs if mahi-mahi are spotted)
1) Live minnow (mullet, cigar minnow, blue runner)
2) frozen cigar minnow, herring, ballyhoo
Penn 555GS or 309M (20#-25# baitcasting) Sliding Baitfinder with 2/0 hook and 8oz weight cigar minnow/herring/finger mullet or jumbo live shrimp egg weight rig with 3 foot leader of 25-50lb florocarbon or mono leader  and 2/0 hook(also bring several rigged yellow or black small trolling lures for the trip out) 1) Live minnow (mullet, cigar minnow, blue runner, pinfish)
2) frozen cigar minnow, herring, ballyhoo
Penn 6/0 (50# baitcasting) egg weight rig with 5/0 hook and 15oz weight live vermillion snapper (caught with the spinning rod) live pinfish, or frozen cigar minnow, mackeral, mullet, or ballyhoo egg weight or sliding bottom finder rig with 3/0 to 5/0 hook and 12oz weight (bring a couple of large trolling lures rigged with 60# or better wire to troll on the trip out) Live vermillion snapper, live mullet (6"-14"), live cigar minnow or blue runner bring a bait bucket with aerator to keep the bait alive


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Location Licenses Trip Cost: 
(1/2 day)
8-12 hr 
(3/4 day)
(1 day)
Rod Rental Bait 
(if Recommended
Other Costs
(not incl. tips/food)
Newport Landing See California DFG Website at See Newport Landing site See Newport Landing site See Newport Landing site See Newport Landing site Not Required bag-$5.00 
San Diego
(from H&M Landing )
See California DFG Website at See H&M Landings website ; See H&M Landings website See H&M Landings website $6.50-$15.00 Not Required bag-$5.00 
Plymouth (from Capt. John's ) See Massachusets Website, used to be none, but may have one now. Capt. John's website Capt. John's website Capt. John's Capt. John's website Not Required hooks/weights: 
Destin/Tampa (from The Destin Princess) Included See The Destin Princess website $See The Destin Princess website See The Destin Princess website Included** ( for minnows-they will have it on 10hr+ trips) Squid is provided for free (wire/hooks for flyline:$4)
*=If the trip enters Mexican Waters add money for Mexican Permits, otherwise just the Calif. Non-resident  Pacific Ocean License. Check California Fish and Game/Marine Resources Div. for Latest
 **=For these trips I strongly reccomend bringing an additional rod of your own (20# class) Note: for tuna bring something in the 50# and 30lb class. The Landing websites will tell you exactly what you will need.

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Year Round in all Three Places!!!!!

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Where am I?

 See the map below.


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Some Fishes you might see:

Blacktip Shark

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