I have a few friends who simply refuse to fish on a headboat; they say there’s too many people, no control of the destination, and a lack of flexibility in the scheduled departure and stops along the way. For the most part, these are the same arguments against taking mass transit!
Of course, that’s exactly what a party boat is; it’s mass transit for individuals to economically travel from Point A to Point B. Sure, party boat patrons may eventually move from bus to cab or limo, enjoying the luxury of a custom charter. And we all strive to own our own transportation; if things go especially well on the job front we may someday find ourselves behind the wheel of a fine luxury vehicle (think Henriques or Viking) which can comfortably take us farther from home.
There are those times when you’re traveling with family and friends, perhaps looking to make the most of a sunny day; most of your group would like to take in the sights of the city, maybe check out the local outlets. What to do, what to do.
Hop on the bus.
The COVID-19 epidemic took a terrible toll on our local recreational fishing community, but perhaps none greater that on the larger, Coast Guard inspected vessels capable of carrying more than six patrons and often up to 100 or more. With social distancing requirements having been established and states finally allowing these larger vessels to depart with more passengers, there’s probably been no better time than now to enjoy a mass transit trip to the local fishing grounds.
As the name infers, a “headboat” charges fares per head. In most instances this season, reservations and pre-paid entry is made by credit card over the phone or online. To ensure onboard safety of crew and customers alike wherever possible or required, boats have tape on the rails to mark 6 feet of distance or more between passengers. In actuality, for those taking friends or family members who are not regular fishermen, the limited capacity on these boats is making party boat fishing even more enjoyable this season. And the somewhat limited access to the fishing grounds this spring has left many of the head boat hotspots loaded with hungry fish, another benefit.
Depending on the length of the trip and distance from port, expect to pay anywhere from $50 or $60 per person on up to a hundred or more (Offshore sea bass and tuna trips being significantly pricier, though most boats may also offer discounts for seniors, kids or members of the military.). You don’t have to have your gear with you on vacation, as boats rent the rods and reels you’ll need for the day’s action, rigs are often sold onboard and baits are available to all. Capable crew members will man the net, and can clean your catch at the day’s end; this is often a pay service, but either way it’s important too to tip your mates (Typically 15 to 20% of the fare is recommended.).
Arrive early, and come with a plan. Many of the regulars have their favorite spot along the boat already in mind when getting to the gang plank. A lot of folks prefer to either be up on the bow or back in the stern for most drift trips as it provides the flexibility to manage lines on alternating drifts (Where those port and starboard midships will always contend with every other drift where lines go under the boat.). Keep in mind too that due to the COVID-19 crisis, you’ll want to bring what you need (food, drink, cooler filled with ice, some of your favorite gear including a knife and pliers).
Most of the party boat skippers in The Fisherman’s readership area are full-timers who make their living in this arena; the knowledge and experience they provide is truly unmatched. A “per head” trip lets someone else worry about the driving, you just show up, fish, and go home (ideally with enough fresh filets to make those friends and family who spent the day sightseeing a little envious).
Whether you’re looking to tackle doormat fluke in Nantucket, hubcap porgies on eastern Long Island, night blues off the Jersey Shore or some of those four-fish limits on summer tautog off the Delaware coast, a quick hitter on a local headboat is a return to simpler times, and for many of us, those are trips back to early days when we first got started. It’s also a great way to load up the cooler using the experience and know-how of an experienced captain and crew.