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Vol 37 | Winter Issue | Jan 1, 2012

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Driftin' Easy

Article by Sue Foster

“I want to go fishing on a “party boat!”

In the old days people used to call these large ocean going vessels “head boats” because the captain took a fairly large group of anglers out into the ocean to go “bottom fishing.” When you call around to find information about a trip or to make a reservation, keep in mind that a charter boat takes approximately 6 people while a party boat takes 25-70 people. Obviously the cost of going on the party boat is much less than a charter boat.

“How much does a party boat cost to go out into the ocean?”

The full day boats range from $60 to $125 per person. Half-day trips run approximately 25 to 30 percent less. You definitely get more for your “bang” on a full-day trip because the boat can go out further and you get more fishing time. It usually takes at least an hour to get to the fishing grounds, BUT, if you are fishing with a child or a first time angler that wants to “test the waters” to see how it feels to be in the ocean, the half-day trips are for you! The boat ride alone is worth the money! (Hint: Some of the boats offer coupons online or in the Coastal Fisherman)

Party boats frequently take special long trips that cost more (usually between $85 and $125) and can last 10 hours, and even occasionally 18 hours (around $200)! Be sure you know the length of the trip you are on and make reservations in advance. Keep in mind that most party boats ask that you get to the boat a half an hour before departure. Think about that the night before and go to bed early and leave the partying alone!

“What should we take?”

Clothes! In the spring and fall you can usually bet that the air temperatures on the water are cooler than the land temperatures. Layered clothing is always a good idea. You can always peel some layers off. In the heat of the summer, carry a lightweight, long sleeve shirt to cover your arms if you get chilly or get sunburned. If the wind is from the west little black flies can follow you miles offshore. I carry my lightweight, long pants and some bug spray. I hate those pesky, biting flies.

I have a lightweight rain suit I always carry with me. If it rains, I have a rainsuit and if it gets cold it serves as a windbreaker! OK, now I realize I’m a little older and am very careful about the sun and keep my legs, neck and arms covered up. (I like to wear a gaitor around my neck to protect the back of my neck.) If you want to get a little sun, keep in mind that the sun’s rays reflect off the water and you can get sunburned a lot quicker on a boat than you can laying on the beach. Carry sunscreen of some sort, (a tan looks nicer than a burn!) lip protection, a hat, and really important, a pair of good sunglasses.

Now, if you have never been on the ocean, it’s a good idea to take some sort of motion sickness pill with you such as Dramamine, Bonine, or Marazine. Most of these companies have chewable pills that you can take at the first sign of feeling queasy. I also carry in my bag some pretzels or saltines and a ginger ale in case I start feeling the ocean waves. (Yes, I get seasick and I always take a Marazine one hour before I go fishing offshore.) You can also check with your doctor to get a prescription for either The Patch (Transderm Scop) or Meclizine. Both work really well.

Boots! Some boats are wetter than others, but in cold weather, I wear a pair of waterproof boots as opposed to a pair of tennis shoes. Otherwise, be careful when the boat backs up when getting ready to anchor. A pair of wet tennis shoes on a cold day is miserable! Also, watch out for waves coming over the side when moving if it’s rough.

“Should we carry food and drinks? Can we take a couple of beers?”

Again, every boat is different. Some party boats have a galley and you can buy food and beverages. Other boats offer nothing! When you call the boat to make a reservation, which is highly recommended, ask what the boat has to offer. Some boats have a liquor license and you are not allowed to bring your own beer, while other boats do not have a liquor license and then it is OK. (Hint: Always carry cans or plastic bottles as opposed to glass bottles. Never, ever carry a banana aboard a boat! It’s considered bad luck and someone, believe me, someone will be offended and blame you if fishing is slow or there is engine trouble or it rains or anything!!!!)

Ice! Carry a bag of ice and a medium-sized cooler. If you catch a couple keeper fish, it’s good to keep them cool.
What other items should I take?

-Definitely a rag!

-A pair of pliers and/or some kind of tool to cut line.

- An array of sinkers in the 3 to 8 ounce range if you have them. Otherwise, you can buy them on the boat.
-Hooks and/or rigs if you prefer. Kahle hooks in sizes 3/0 or 4/0 on monofilament dropper loops are what most party boats use for bottom fish. If you have no idea about rigs, let the mate rig you up!
-Berkley Gulp, curl tail grubs or other trailers or teaser tails to help attract the fish (usually chartreuse or white)
-Fluorocarbon leader around 40 lb. test if you prefer to use that rather than the monofilament leader material supplied on the boat

“Where do I call to make a reservation?”

Almost all the local party boats advertise in the Coastal Fisherman and a phone number will be provided. Party boats run out of a marina and usually anglers call the marina for information and to make reservations unless there is a special “reservation” line that you need to call. You can also do a Google search for the boat. Make sure you add the city and state where the boat is located to your search. You will find that most party boats have current websites with information and phone numbers as well.

Now! Down to serious business!

“What is the best time of year to fish on a party boat!”

Follow the seasons. Sea bass is the number one fish of choice for anglers to fish for. These fish are regulated in federal waters, so any time the season is open is a good time to go. Spring (May/June), late summer (end of August/Sept) and fall (Oct/Nov) are the very best times to fish for sea bass. Long trips in December are also good.
Some anglers love to fish for tautog. Spring and fall is also a good time to fish for tautog, but you need to watch your seasons and see when tautog season is open. Tautog are regulated by the states, so Delaware and Maryland seasons can be different.

Flounder are caught offshore on the party boats and they bite best from mid-summer into early fall.

Croaker are popular fish for the half-day boats to fish for. These panfish generally bite best in late July, August, and into early September.

Triggerfish are also popular for anglers on half-day boats. These fish bite anytime during the summer.

Cod have come back to us and these fish generally bite best in the early part of the season and anytime the boats go out on long trips.

Tilefish also bite on long trips.

“Should we bring our own rods and reels?”

Bring your own rods and reels if they can handle 4 to 6-ounces of sinker weight on a regular trip and 6-8 ounces on a long range trip. Otherwise, the party boats all have rental rods and reels. Most rental rods are the conventional type, so if you are not familiar with them, let the mate show you how to use them, and listen carefully!

“Should I bring my own bait?”

A lot of people like to have an “edge” and carry something special. If you are targeting flounder, bring along some Berkley Gulp! and maybe a pack of shiners. Any kind of fresh strip bait is always good for flounder.

If it is summer and you really want to try for a tautog and the boat is targeting sea bass, you may want to carry along some sand fleas or green crabs. Call and ask what bait the boat has to offer. If the boat is only using squid, you can bring some clam. If the boat is only using clam, you may want to carry some squid.

“What’s the best spot to fish from on a party boat?”

Most anglers like either the bow or the stern, with the stern being the most popular. The corner of the stern is probably the most coveted because you can cast out without tangling other patrons. I like the bow too, because you can cast out, but if it is a rough day, it can get bouncy up there and then it’s a little more difficult to fish!

“What are the keys to a successful trip?”

First of all, if you want to learn and become successful it is important to listen to the captain and mate and follow their suggestions. If they see that you are really trying to learn the techniques, they will offer you more advice and tell you their little secrets. If you are “hard headed” and won’t listen, they will leave you alone! (Tipping the mate well will also help you out in this department.) Remember, they are out there day after day, year after year. They know how to catch fish.

When you are flounder fishing and they tell you to twitch the rod tip, twitch the rod tip! When you are tautog fishing and they tell you not to move the sinker off the bottom, do just that. If the sea bass are biting “funny” and the mate tells you to let slack in your line and let the bait sit on the bottom, do what he says! If the party boat is on extremely snaggy bottom and the captain says to keep the sinker a few inches off the bottom, do just that. When the captain says to keep your bait fresh and change it periodically, please don’t leave that old washed out piece of meat on the hook! When the mate shows you how to hook the clam and put the yucky dirty part of the clam at the very point of the hook, pay attention, he’s letting you in on an important secret!

“Is there party boat etiquette?”

There’s a lot to say about party boat etiquette if you fish the boats a lot. Show up early so the boat can leave if everyone is on board. Pay attention to your rod and use enough sinker weight so you don’t tangle with your neighbor. Be friendly, but don’t talk someone’s ear off. Don’t be rude, loud, get drunk or cuss around children. Don’t let Capt. Monty on the “Morning Star” catch you with a handheld GPS! Tip the mate! Don’t grumble that the captain or mate don’t know what they are doing, and never say, “At home, we do it this way…” When the mate tells you you are hung on the bottom, believe him, it’s not a big fish! And please, leave those bananas at home!

Most of all have fun!

Good fishing….

Sue Foster is an outdoor writer and co-owner of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City, MD and Fenwick Tackle in Fenwick, DE.


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