The half-day trips are four to five hours and basically shallow water trips for the family. The tackle provided is usually a medium quality Penn reel on a five foot, limber boat rod with forty-pound line and a four-ounce sinker.
On the boats that I have run, the crew will clean your catch for you, generally for twenty five cents apiece for the small fish and twenty five cents per pound for the larger ones. You should shop around for the boat with the best reputation before you plunk down your money. I started out just to give you a little insight into party boat fishing, but instead I may have gotten carried away.
In the winter you will see a lot of grouper, the spring and fall hold mackerel, kings, mangrove snapper, and cobia. You will get boneless, skinless fillets in a plastic bag that you can either freeze, cook yourself, or take to one of the many restaurants that will cook your catch for you.
The boat will have live wells, but it is necessary for you to catch or buy your own live bait before the trip.
The biggest difference is that most of the regulars are hard core commercially oriented fishermen that act like they are not out there to have fun. I hope that if you have never gone out on a party boat before this description has made it seem a worthwhile and fun thing to do. There are others such as night snapper trips, twelve hour wreck trips and who knows what else that the trip promoters want you to try, but the basics are half, full, and overnight. Even if you don’t know what you are doing, the crew on the boat is there to help you have a good time by catching fish. The bait is again squid, but on the full day trips, they also generally supply frozen sardines. Summer not only adds sharks, but since the full day boats can travel further, you can also anticipate some back-breaking amberjack and others in the jack family that will really pull your string. Most boats leave the dock at around eight PM Friday night and return on Sunday between six AM and noon.
As on the all day trips, the boat will supply you with frozen sardines and squid, but I would not spend this kind of money to go fishing without taking live bait. You will be fishing in water that is one hundred to two hundred feet deep and you need all the power in the rod and reel that you can get to grind up fifteen to thirty pound grouper out of the bottom. The captain and crew on these over-niters are usually professionals who run these trips exclusively, and for the most part, they know their jobs well. Because of these experiences I guess I am more qualified than most to tell you what to expect on a party boat if you have never been out on one. None of the boats want you to go away unhappy so they will usually go to great lengths to see that everyone catches fish. If you want different bait they will let you purchase and bring along your own if you like. They’re fun to catch on the tackle that the boats provide, and even more fun on a little lighter tackle if you take your own.
Some of the all day boats have live wells, and you can purchase or catch your own live bait to take along for the day as well. Just so you have an idea of the type of bait to take, pinfish are always good, the bigger the better. They will get a pittance from the company, maybe twenty to twenty-five dollars per half day trip, but they certainly could not live on that, could you? Party boat fishing is one of the best ways to introduce youngsters and adults to saltwater fishing because they are nearly guaranteed of catching fish, and after all, isn’t that why you want to take them fishing with you? The price of most half-day trips varies, but generally includes the tackle, bait, and license.
Usually a box of sardines is a pretty good investment for a half-day trip, but you don’t need them.
There are many other fish that you can look forward to in a half-day depending on the time of year. Those that do not have live wells will allow you to bring along portable systems for live bait as long as you tell them in advance that you will be bringing your own live bait well (limited space on some boats may create problems.) The tackle is usually the same as the half-day boats, but some full day trips have a little heavier tackle available. You can expect to pay around $3.95 per person and will generally get beverage, slaw, and potato with your own fish prepared the way you prefer, fried, broiled, or blackened.
These trips are more expensive of course, depending on whether it is the weekend or mid-week trip, and usually the same discounts would apply as on the other trips.
Many regulars will come to the dock early in the afternoon and catch spadefish up to two or so pounds. I have seen many grouper over one hundred pounds brought in by these boats, so you need to be ready. They have different accommodations, carry different numbers of anglers, run at different cruising speeds, and have varying levels of comfort available when sleeping, resting, eating, and fishing.
There are some things that are standard though, no matter what boat you take on the Suncoast. Discounts are offered for youth, seniors, milatary discounts and those with their own tackle.
When I said the crew will do what it takes to make you happy, this includes fishing lessons, taking your fish off the hook if necessary and of course stringing them for you in the fish box. It is always a good idea to bring your own tackle on the full day trip if you have heavier tackle or favorite tackle, since the probability of larger fish is higher than on the half days. Some of the all day boats will have galleys on board with food and drink available for sale, others will not.
The accommodations on these trips are relatively spartan, there are no private quarters, generally bunks down below that are open to everyone. A rule of thumb could be the same as in a restaurant, 15% to 20% of the total charges for the trip. There are many other services the crew will provide to make you happy, but folks, you have to bait your own hooks.
It is fairly common in the winter for grouper to be taken on every trip, and it’s exciting to pull grouper on the medium weight tackle that you are provided on the boats.


You will need changes of clothes, bedding, towels, coolers, and anything you think you will need for three days on the water. Many times I have had fishermen on my half-day trips doing nothing but catching bait for the overnight trip they have booked for that same evening. Steve Dougherty November 30, 2007 comments testHead-boats, also known as “party-boats” or “drift-boats,” are a type of large recreational fishing vessel that charges a fixed fee per person – or per head – for regularly scheduled trips. Some promoters would say that is too big an area, but most residents consider that the Suncoast. Don’t even get on the boat if no one in your family is willing to dip into the squid and bait their own hook after the mate shows them how. In the spring and fall, the migratory fish such as mackerel, kingfish, and cobia are in these same areas because their food is living on these reefs. The boats will have a galley with food and drinks for sale, but I wouldn’t depend on them for all my food and drink needs. Also, when you are booking this trip, make sure you sign up for a live well and arrange with the bait shop well in advance for your live bait.
You will need the rod to bend and work the fish hard in order to get him quickly up that far to the surface.
This is not a pretty sight for anyone and the smell is definitely conducive to getting you to join them in their misery. In the summer time, watch out for the sharks, as well as all the others that I have listed so far. You don’t want to get there the night of the trip just to find that all the bait wells were taken or that no more pinfish were for sale just because you forgot to book ahead. The regulars also take six feet or so of neoprene plumbing insulation that is used around hot water pipes along with a roll of duct tape. Talk to the Captain and crewmen, and let them know that you are trying to decide which trip that you want to take. Head-boats can be found along the entire coast of Florida, and usually carry anywhere from 10-100 passengers on drift or bottom fishing excursions. All of these fish make for an exciting morning or afternoon of fishing on the half-day boats in the Gulf of Mexico. You can, of course use the boat’s tackle, but on a trip like this, I prefer to take my own. They will wrap the top rail where they will be fishing with the insulation to keep from ruining their rod on the rail.
You will be from eighty to one hundred fifty miles offshore in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, and whatever happens on the boat, you can’t get off until it gets back to the dock at the scheduled time. Just don’t forget, after thirty-six straight hours of fishing, the crew may not be the most personable people that you have ever met. Fishing trips on head-boats vary, and between the standard four hour reef trip and multiple-day extreme Middle Grounds jaunts, there is certainly a perfect trip waiting for you. The regulars will sometimes have their spots on the back of the boat booked and paid for months in advance, but don’t let this deter you. This can be an incredible fishing experience if you know what to expect, or it can be a nightmare if you don’t.
The Captains on the party boats are not exactly overpaid either, and will usually accept a tip if you feel the fishing was good and that he deserves some of the credit for putting you on the good fishing spots. Unless you are certain that they love fishing and can stand being cooped up in one place for that many hours, take them on the half days. You can catch fish from anywhere on the boat, if you listen to the mates and the Captain and watch what the successful fishermen on the boat are doing and how they are rigging.
If you get a large fish on in deep water, there is no way to hold the rod without using the top rail as a fulcrum while you put your weight on the butt of the rod with it under your arm while you grind the reel. For anglers who have basic fishing skills, head-boats provide a good chance of catching quality fish.
You have to remember that on a fishing boat you will be elbow to elbow with twenty to one hundred people that you have never seen before. These fish are coming straight up from the bottom, they are not running away from the boat and taking out line. He or she has worked very hard over many years to not only find the spots that hold fish, but also learn when each area is productive. Even though most fishermen are alike because they enjoy the same thing that you enjoy – fishing - they are as different as any other large group when it comes to personality, patience, language (dirty or clean), and of course how well they hold their alcohol.
Your reel drag is locked down tight and you had better be ready to hold on to your tackle and fight harder than the big bruiser that is on the other end of the line fighting for his life. This knowledge doesn’t come easily or cheaply to the Captain, believe me - he has a little bit of himself in every fish that you put in the boat. The crew cannot shield your children, wife, or girlfriend from the language used by some people when they have a few beers, and you should not expect them to.
If you plan on purchasing your ticket in advance, ask the captain whether or not you can reserve a premium spot at the rail. Please don’t misunderstand me, this is not to be expected, but you should consider the possibility of obnoxious people being on board when you plan your trip. If you can not reserve a spot, then I suggest you arrive at the boat as early as possible prior to departure so you can ensure a prime position along the stern. It always benefits to fish from the stern of the boat, because when the captain positions over a reef or other promising structure, he will without question position the bow into the current.
You can buy them on the boat, just as you can use the boat’s tackle, but I prefer to have my own. Anglers who fish from the bow and sides will constantly have to deal with their lines running astern, towards the inevitable “tangle city.”Be sure to ask the captain if his mates will actively fish while on the trip.
Most professional operations do not allow this practice, however on some, this is a normal occurrence. Before you pay, ask what the policy is, it will surely affect your experience.Inquire if you are permitted to bring your own live bait.
Some boats actually provide lockable bait-wells ideally suited for keeping pinfish, squirrelfish and other prime treats healthy and happy.


I would never rely on someone else’s equipment to get the job done when powerful fish are on the line – no pun intended. Even if I am going on a half day trip, I bring enough gear to suffice for any situation that may occur.
Fishing licenses are normally included in the fare, but double check with the captain just to be sure.To help protect from the suns harmful rays, I suggest bringing a long-billed hat, polarized sunglasses and sunscreen with a high sun protection factor. Non-slip, rubber soled shoes or lightweight fishing boots are also helpful on wet, slippery decks.
All of this is especially important during extended overnight excursions.Because you are going fishing with strangers and not your neighbors, the captain will not turn the boat around if you start feeling seasick.
If you are prone to motion sickness, I suggest taking Dramamine or an equivalent motion sickness remedy. Lastly, two other items that are important and often forgotten are bungee cords and a hand towel.
Bungee cords can help prevent gear from slapping the rail or sliding around deck while the towel can be used to wipe off slimy hands. Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera, and remember cash in small denominations to tip the crew. If you are in doubt about anything, it is better to bring it and not need it then need it and not have it.Tackle… For a half or full day bottom fishing trip – four or eight hours – snapper and grouper are the most commonly targeted game fish. Because these great tasting bottom fish can be line shy, I suggest using light line and fluorocarbon leader. Be sure to check with the captain about the gear you plan on bringing, as some party boat crews are not fond of anglers fishing ultra-light monofilament or braided line.
Typically, the old beater rods that head-boats supply are filled with heavy line in the 30-50lb.
A variety of bucktail jigs will complete a well-rounded arsenal.Etiquette… I already mentioned the benefits of arriving early, but be courteous to the crew and arrive no later than 20 minutes before the scheduled departure. On your head-boat excursion, you will be fishing in close proximity to other anglers and ultimately, close to other fishing lines.
If someone near you hooks a large fish, it would be courteous to wind up your line until their fish has been landed.
When fighting fish, use the railing for support while moving around the boat, and watch your step and rod tip around other anglers.While most head-boats allow alcohol consumption while on board, remember that you are on a fishing trip and not on a booze cruise. I guarantee your neighboring anglers will not be to happy fishing next an inebriated booze-hound. A few Budweisers is okay…chugging Bacardi straight from the bottle is not.What trip to book… In our great state of Florida, there are numerous party-boat fishing trips worth experiencing.
Although it may sound obvious, before you make a reservation, be sure you know what type of trip you will be heading out on. The most basic half day trips usually last four hours, and are usually loaded with novice anglers.The price of a half day trip is generally between $20 and $40, and includes bait, fishing license and equipment rental.
Because time limits the area in which captains can explore, I suggest taking a full day trip if at all possible. With a cruising speed just over 20 knots, the short run to the fishing grounds seems like nothing more than a hop, skip and jump. Although the crew provides squid and blue runner, don’t hesitate to bring your own offerings.
To ensure that everyone leaves with some tasty table fare, all of the broadbills caught are evenly divided between the paying passengers. Because of high demand and limited space, I suggest you book your swordfish adventure well in advance.The Viking Fleet out of Tarpon Springs, offers long range canyon trips that target wahoo, tuna swordfish, grouper and snapper. Daytime hours are focused on trolling for tuna, wahoo, sailfish and dolphin, while evening hours are spent drifting for swordfish and tuna.
Anglers on this trip also target deep water grouper like snowy, scamp, mystic, black and Kitty Mitchell. If you are interested in a trip like this, it is advised that you make a reservation early, as most sell out months in advance.Due to the success of the extended Middle Ground trip, the Viking Fleet also offers a full moon deep water snapper and grouper tour. This trip involves deep water fishing for grouper during the day and during evening hours, the boat anchors over prime structure to target the elusive mutton snapper. This trip is limited to 10 passengers, and electrically-powered deep-drop outfits are available for rent for only $50.Located approximately 20 miles from Key West are the Marquesas Keys. This tiny group of islands is known for its remarkable sportfishing, but because of its distance from the mainland, the charter fleet generally doesn’t make the long run and the fishing is virtually untouched. Several Key West head-boats offer trips to the Marquesas, so check the local docks for availability.Even further west of the Marquesas are the fertile grounds known as the Dry Tortugas. The Florida Fish Finder offers two and three day overnight trips to the rich wrecks and reefs around the Dry Tortugas. They have packages that include meals, select spots around the railing and with a maximum capacity of 36 paying anglers, the spacious vessel offers private bunks and comfortable surroundings for all passengers.The above is just a brief overview of some of the many exciting trips available to Florida anglers. If you are new to head boat fishing, I would suggest you start out by experiencing a half or full day trip before setting off on a three or four day full-blown adventure.Don’t forget about the crew… On most head-boats, the deckhands work for gratuities. As a general rule, 20 percent of your trip cost with an additional fee for fish cleaning services is adequate. If you do not feel that the mates were helpful and do not deserve a gratuity, then I advise you speak with the captain and let him know why you are disappointed.
If the fishing was good and the captain put you on the ‘spot,’ then by all means show him your appreciation.Remember, the crew can’t take “Thanks” to the banks. Without the help from the crew, your trip would not be possible.In conclusion, regardless if you are a boatless angler itching to fish or if you are just visiting our wonderful Sunshine State and simply want to experience our bountiful waters, head-boats provide an affordable alternative that should not be overlooked.




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