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Imagine you and your friends are heading offshore on your 75 ft. aluminum catamaran at 20 knots. It's not far from reality, the boat's not yours, but you have reserved spots at the rail for today on a smooth riding, twin hulled marine marvel. It's party boat fishing at its finest, blue collar, blue water fishing for a variety of exotic species at an affordable price. I've been doing it for almost fifty years along the Gulf Coast and still look forward to every trip.
Boats I've fished from over the years are mostly out of Galveston, and party boat fishing is one of the great ways to get offshore. They're one of our greatly overlooked offshore fishing opportunities. These boats are fast, well maintained, have expert captains and deck crews. Speaking of captains, the key to catching fish is being where the fish are... location, location, location... and these captains know where to go.
In today's economy, you'll know, if you run your own boat offshore, that party boats are an efficient, cost effective way to get out there. Not only do you get in on some great fishing but when back at the dock, you don't have to clean the boat or work on it.
Modern party boats are loaded with fish finding electronics. When combined with their crews, they virtually assure safety on every trip to go along with the primary goal catching fish.
In my offshore fishing departure area, Galveston Island, there are a couple of party boat operations; there are others in Freeport, Port Aransas, Port Isabel and other ports along the Gulf coast. Offshore fishing trips from 8 to 80 hours are run, and range from 30 to over 200 miles from port. The longer length trips of 30 hours, or more are mostly run late summer through late winter.
In this first of a two part article, the basics of party boat fishing in the Gulf, the time period of the longer trips, and what can be expected fishing-wise, will be covered. Part two will cover spring through summer possibilities. Between the two, you will have a greater appreciation of party boat fishing.
Trips that range from 24 to 80 hours are run on party boats of 70 to 130 ft. in length, and all run with much smaller numbers of fishermen than on, say, their 12 hour day trips. At this writing, prices range from $240 to $1150 for the 24 to 80 hour trips. All have bunks or approved sleeping/resting accommodations, snack bars, air conditioning, ample deck crew and a second captain aboard. Most are cats, others mono-hulled. Ask the boat operator before booking, if that's important to you. Depending on the regulations at the time, double limits of various species can be kept. Every operation knows these regulations.
Target species for overnight fishing on extended length trips are yellowfin or blackfin tuna. Yellowfins generally range from 40 lbs. to over 150 lbs. with blackfins going up to the 30's in my area. This is drift fishing in very deep water - over 3,000 ft. Drifts are made from very near production spar platforms to 3-4 miles downwind/downcurrent. They hit topwater poppers, hard or soft bodied swimbaits, castable cedar plugs, chrome diamond jigs, butterfly type jigs, freelined or Carolina rigged chunk baits, sardines, plus squid or live baits. Tackle options include heavy spin rigs, loaded with 65-80 lb. Spectra, or revolving spool 2 speed rigs, loaded with 100-130 lb. Spectra. A rod belt and harness will make the fight easier on you.
During these drifts, listen to the captain on the deck speakers, or to the deck crew as to what depth the tuna are running. The most exciting strikes are at the surface. Tuna crashing a bait or topwater are a sight to be seen and never forgotten.
While near-surface strikes are an awesome sight, most hits come from 30 to 300 ft., or more. No matter the bait or depth, a tuna's hit will definitely get your attention, big time!
On some trips, stops are made on the way out and back over various bottom structure such as wrecks, rocks, old coral outcroppings, or fixed-to-the-bottom production platforms. Besides the tuna 2-speed tackle for big bottom dwellers, other revolving spool reel rigs loaded with 80-100 lb. Spectra and the heavy duty spin rigs do the work here. These stops are usually in water from 200 to 350 ft. Species caught might be an assortment of grouper, amberjack, wahoo, blackfin tuna, ling, kingfish, vermilion snapper, rainbow runner, and dolphin. The same baits used for tuna fishing also work here.
If you already have tackle for this type fishing, you're ahead of the game. If not, ask the folks you're booking the trip with for a recommended tackle list or check their websites.
Another tackle alternative is to ask about their tackle rental package. I also have a detailed tackle recommendation list for trips of 12 hours or more that will work on any of these trips. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, using the subject "Party boat Fishing Part 1", and I'll shoot you the info. Also, ask any questions you might have about party boat fishing in general. (If you'd like a longer conversation, also send me your telephone number and a time when you'll be available to talk at length.)
In just about any endeavor you choose in life, the highs and lows are in the details. If you've party boat fished in the past, you'll be familiar with this area. When contacting the office of the party boat operation you've chosen for your adventure, there are important questions to be asked and answers to be clear on. Some of them are, naturally, "How much does it cost; what type payments are accepted; deposit or payment in full, due by when?" Also, are your rod numbers limited; taking coolers, food or drink, tackle rental, trip cancellation policy (theirs and yours), parking and cost, directions/map to the boat. What's available at what cost in their snack bar/galley? If you need to bring "medically necessary food", such as if you are diabetic, ask what is OK to bring or, do they have it available on board?
Ask the questions, make the payment as outlined, get to the dock in a timely manner and do not be late. Also, bring clothes changes; things don't often stay as you want or start with. Your comfort level really goes up when a needed clothes change is possible. Don't forget any prescription medications you'll need. If you take motion sickness meds that are 12 hour doses, take the first one the night before and again before leaving the dock, then it's in your system and working. I also recommend deck boots when fishing; wet feet are cold feet and uncomfortable not good, wear boots. Gloves such as those yellow ones with the latex crosshatch pattern are good; also, think about sleeping that means a blanket, pillow and possibly a sleeping bag. A hooded sweatshirt or windbreaker will come in handy if it gets cool. Don't forget your dark underbilled cap, polarized sunglasses for daytime fishing, and your most likely forgotten piece of fishing equipment your camera. Fully charged or fresh camera batteries are another must-have. There are many photo opportunities on any trip, you and others, with their prize catch, sunset, sunrise, cloud formations, production platforms, and other boats/ships.
Make up and vigorously use a "Trip Take List". Mark it off as the items are loaded into your vehicle and verify on the boat. To do otherwise will almost guarantee you'll leave something at home or in the vehicle that you need. A simple but vitally important item on the list is to set your alarm clock. As simple as it is, I've forgotten to do so a couple of times, but not recently. Waking up late is the first bad step in any day; when it's a start for one of these great fishing adventures, it's much worse set the alarm!
On your first extended length winter trip, use the boat tackle supplied, rental if available or bring yours that will work. Although it's very unlikely party boat fishing might not be your thing, don't initially jump into the deep end, tackle-wise.
Party boat fishing is some of the greatest offshore fishing around. You can make new friendships that will last a lifetime, plus gain a multitude of experiences that you'll want to share with everyone, and it all comes at a bargain price. It is the most overlooked method of enjoying the sport of offshore fishing. The catch and weather may vary, but each one I've been on for almost 50 years was good for a variety of reasons.
If visions of decking 40-90 lb. amberjack or wahoo, 50 lb. king, 30-300 lb. grouper, 30 lb. blackfin, 100 lb. yellowfin tuna are in your head well, that possibility exists. These species weights could be caught on any of the extended length trips. It's part of the allure of bluewater, party boat fishing you never know who's going to catch what at any stop on any trip.
Get on a party boat, and you'll be amazed at what comes over the rail on your blue collar, blue water party boat adventure.