Friday, January 29, 2016

FISHING HOW-TO: Party Boat Fishing 101 (10 Things You Need to Know)

By Peter J. Park

NOW is always a prime time to catch big fish! NYC marine waters offer rich fishing opportunities to catch a trophy fish from shore or a boat. While we could spend endless pages on shoreline or surf fishing, this post is about fishing from a party boat (also called "head boat"). Don’t worry, there is no real party here on a fishing party boat (no disco lights, dancing, or music) - it is just good old fashioned fishing fun!

Generally, there are two types of fishing boat services available in NYC – private charters or party/head boats. Private charters are pricier but provide a unique opportunity to fish with fewer anglers and with a local expert. In NY, booking a charter requires advance reservation by a group of anglers and a single payment due in full (often cash) upon arrival on the boat (but some captains prefer to be paid at the end). Charters trips are usually on smaller boats and thus, have a maximum limit of anglers (usually 2-6). Cancellation fees might apply if you don’t show up or cancel last minute on a private charter. In contrast, party boats are less expensive, usually do not require a reservation, do not require that you come with a group (each angler pays for himself/herself), and do not have cancellation fees if you no-show. However, compared to private charters, party boats can get crowded. In summary, booking a charter is a lot like a group of pals chartering a private jet and jumping on a party boat is like flying on a commercial airplane (except for the no cancellation fee part). Each type of fishing boat trip comes with its own perks, expectations, and logistics. This post will focus on party boat fishing.

Over the countless years fishing on different local party boats, I have come to know many party boat captains. Before I begin, I just have to mention that I know them all to be amazing, hard-working, and extremely knowledgeable professionals. Here is a video of a dedicated party boat captain at work who also just happens to be a good friend of the Nyack College Fishing Club - Capt. Anthony Romeo of Never Enuff Fishing!

So, are you feeling ready to jump on a fishing party boat? Below is a list of norms to be mindful of as you prepare for a trip.

1. Be Prepared to Pay in Cash and Arrive at the Dock Early. Payment of the fare is usually in cash but some party boats do provide a credit card option. Check rates online or give the captain a call. What are you paying for in the fare? A LOT ACTUALLY: the safety and comfort of a big boat, the captain's expertise, gas, bait, sinkers and hooks, rod and reel (loan), assistance with line tangles and tackle troubles, someone to net and handle your fish, someone to fillet your fish, and a motivational chat from time-to-time when the fishing is slow. Also, arrive at least 15-30 minutes before sailing time (or earlier). This will allow you to speak to the captain and/or mates, should you have any last minute questions. Note that the sooner you arrive, the better chance you have at choosing your fishing spot on the boat.
 

2. Where to Fish on a Party Boat? It depends. Every fisherman has their preferences. Some prefer the “bow” (front of the boat), some prefer the “stern” (rear of the boat), while others prefer various spots in between. Choice of spot depends on many factors such as direction that the boat will drift (if the captain chooses not to anchor), convenience (sometimes mates are more accessible at certain spots on the boat), or sometimes, simply superstition. Also, you should be aware that it is considered rude to take over someone else’s fishing spot on a boat. If an angler establishes a spot (often marked by their rod being in a particular rod holder) and leaves it for a moment, always make sure that he/she has no intention of returning to that spot before you decide to move in.

3. Check Recent Fishing Reports. Some party boat companies will regularly post fishing reports. Online forums (such as www.noreast.com) provide additional information about how good the fishing is or has been. It also doesn’t hurt to give the captain a call and just ask about the fishing. However, when it comes to angler-initiated fishing reports, take them with a bit of caution because sometimes anglers will only post after a solid period of excellent fishing has passed (when the “awesome bite” is over). Why? Because this prevents the likelihood that they will be fishing with a crowd. In other words, experienced anglers know how to keep a secret. :)

4. Dress for the Weather. Once you are on the boat, that’s it. When you are out on the water, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature. It is best to be prepared than sorry. Remember, it is often chillier and windier out on the water than on land. Wear waterproof boots. If fishing in the day, bring sunglasses and sunblock. If clouds are in the forecast, bring a rain jacket.
 

5. Pack Snacks and Drinks. The party boat will post or inform you of the time duration it will be out on the water. Plan accordingly – it’s always nice to have food with you should you get hungry. Drinking water is a must because standing and fishing can be quite taxing on the body. Some party boats may provide food and drinks for purchase on board. Oh and ABSOLUTELY NEVER BRING BANANAS ON A BOAT!

6. Fishing Gear can be Borrowed (or Rented). There is no need to have your own fishing gear. Almost all party boats in NYC can provide anglers with a fishing rod-and-reel, rigs, and bait – it is usually included in the fare cost (but some do charge separately). Experienced anglers usually bring their own gear, which is often more sophisticated than boat equipment, to enhance their fishing experience. 

7. Wait for the Horn. So, you are finally prepared to fish on the boat. It leaves the dock and rumbles toward the fishing grounds. Upon arrival to a fishing area, wait for the captain to signal when it is okay to start fishing. This is often indicated by the sound of a horn. You will generally see experienced anglers ready themselves moments before it is time to drop a line. The horn blows, and the fishing ensues. After some time, once fishing at a spot has run its course, the captain may plan to re-locate the boat. If so, he/she will give an indication (again, often with the sound of a horn), immediately after which anglers must reel up their lines and patiently wait until the boat has settled at the new location. 
 
8. Be Mindful of Fish Open Seasons. Fishing that is permitted for a particular fish species often occurs during specific times of the year. Reasons for this vary – for example, some species are migratory and thus are only present in our area at certain times of year, while other species are around but are limited to specific “open seasons” when it is legal to target them. Government agencies tightly regulate a fish species’ open season to avoid the chance of anglers over-harvesting them. The start and end dates of open seasons are based on current scientific research. For example, many fish species have closed seasons (where it is illegal to target the species) when they are known to be actively breeding.
Most targeted fishes also have size (total length) limits - this too is based on research. Usually a keeper-sized fish is a fish that is sexually mature and has had several opportunities to contribute to its species' gene pool. Thus, taken together, a keeper-sized fish is very likely to have bred several times before it can be legally caught and kept.

For example, in NY, the 2015 size limit for striped bass caught in the ocean was 28 inches in total length. Striped bass tend to become sexually mature at 3 years of age, and at 28 inches, it is usually 6-7 years of age (See age chart below). Legally, any fish shorter in length must be released. Anglers always have the option of keeping or releasing keeper-sized fish – do not ever feel obligated to keep a fish if you have no plans to eat it (or mount it, but even catch-and-release fish mounts are now readily available). Each angler on a party boat is responsible for their catch, and an illegally kept fish will result in a hefty fine. Information on fishing seasons can be found here: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7894.html
(Striped Bass Age Chart from delaware-surf-fishing.com)
 

9. Some Fish have Possession (Bag) Limits. Be sure that you are aware of fish species possession (bag) limits. As mentioned, many fish species are tightly regulated, and they must be caught in accordance to the legal possession limit allowed. See the figure below for 2015 NY possession limits of popular saltwater fishes. Each angler on a party boat is responsible for their catch, and an illegally kept possession limit will result in a hefty fine. Before and after you catch a fish, always check with a mate on species regulations. Detailed information on fish possession limits can be found here: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7894.html
 
10. Mates Always Deserve Gratuity. Typically, non-captain staff on a party boat (usually called “mates”) work for tips. This means that at the end of the day, customers should plan to give at least a 15-20% gratuity in cash for a mate's services, just like at a restaurant. Mates do many things on a boat, which include but are not limited to: offering suggestions and techniques, tying all rigs, re-tying rigs, freeing tangled any lines, de-hooking fish, and filleting and bagging fish. In my experience, mates work extremely hard and absolutely earn the gratuity, even when folks don't catch fish (which really isn't their fault anyhow). It is not customary to tip every mate on the boat (but you certainly can!). Usually, anglers select one mate (the one who paid you most attention) to give the tip. 

So, What's it REALLY Like Fishing on a Party Boat? It's fishing. That means some trips will be outstanding with "fish coming over the rails," but other times, it may be very slow. That's why they call it "fishing" and not "catching," right?

Here is a neat video of phenomenal fishing on the party boat Celtic Quest:



Need Party Boat Recommendations? Our members have fished on the following party boats and had a great time! We highly recommend any one of these top-notch party boats:

Never Enuff Fishing (Flushing, NY): http://www.neverenufffishing.com/
Island Current (City Island, Bronx, NY): https://islandcurrent.com/
Capt Dave (Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY): http://www.captdaveonline.com/
Ocean Eagle (Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY): http://oceaneaglev.com/
Captain Al (Point Lookout, Long Island, NY): https://www.facebook.com/The-Captain-Al-167971516830/
FishFinder (Captree, Long Island, NY): http://captreefishfinder.com/
Laura Lee (Captree, Long Island, NY): https://captree.com/
The King Cod (Center Moriches, Long Island, NY): http://www.kingcodfishing.com/
Rosie (Moriches, Long Island, NY): http://www.rosiefishing.com/
The Angler (Port Washington, Long Island, NY): http://www.theangler.com 
Celtic Quest (Port Jefferson, Long Island, NY): http://www.celticquestfishing.com/



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