Head boats, also known as party boats have been around for generations. These are charter fishing boats that can accommodate many anglers. Head boats are a great alternative for anglers that do not own boats and still want to go deep sea fishing. Trips can range from hours to days.
If you are looking for a good outfit and have the time, check the docks as the boats come in. Watching the catches of the day and listening to passengers comments are great ways to choose a boat. Keep in mind, every boat has bad trips, so you may want to observe for a couple of days.
These vessels have experienced captains and mates, they are the key to a successful fishing trip. Do some homework, go to their website and look at the history of the company and photos of the latest catches. Once aboard a head boat, the fishing rods, reels, tackle, and bait are provided or you can bring your own. Most boats provide dead bait, if you want to fish with live bait, boats can accommodate this by individual live wells or you can provide your own aerated bait bucket. A majority of boats allow you to bring your own food or you can eat from their galley. Don't expect gourmet style food, but when your fishing hard, their burgers are hard to beat.
Evaluating your skill level, “sea legs”, and the fish you want to catch are important factors in determining the length of the trip. A six hour trip is great for a social get together, but your stringer may look pretty slim at the end of the day. Remember, the length of the trip determines the distance, water depth, and number of stops a captain will make. If you are a novice, you won't want to start out doing a 72 hour trip. 100 miles out is no place to find out that you get sea sick.
Choose a boat that has the amenities and rules that fit your needs. On overnight trips and longer, a working shower is a great way to cleanup and get ready for the next stop. Check the bunk situation for longer trips, is it inside and air conditioned? Meal tickets may be available for purchase in advance. Some party boats allow coolers with your own adult beverages (beer) and some don't, check before your trip. When bringing your own equipment remember, many operations do not allow braided line, it may cause cutoffs of other people's line. Always check which fish are in season before a trip, there are some months that species are limited.
Please, don't be that “guy/gal” that sneaks a GPS aboard. Captains work hard for their numbers and this is just not acceptable! If you drink adult beverages, pace yourself, you don't want to be that person hanging over the rail “chumming” the whole trip. There is nothing worse than a “runner”, a person that sees another individual catch fish and picks up his/her gear and immediately tries to work their way into the action, don't do it! Be courteous to your fellow anglers, don't be that dummy that slams the lid to the bait well each and every stop.
There are a number of things you can do to make your trip more enjoyable, bring all the necessary gear, towels, suntan oil, etc. If you are allowed to reserve spots, as a general rule, reserve the stern. There is more room and it can be advantageous for better fishing. If it is first come, first serve, get there early. Take the proper precautions to prevent sea sickness, purchase motion sickness patches or pills.
These trips can be very fruitful, take advantage of the captain and mates experience. The crew of these boats work very hard, be sure to show your appreciation and tip accordingly. Whether you are looking for a social outing or an overnight adventure, head boats are the answer. They are a great way to enjoy deep sea fishing without the headaches of boat ownership!
Photo Credits: Jason Goulet
Published by Coastal Angler (Tampa, Florida edition) January 2017