Party charters offer great offshore sampler

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

DESTIN, Fla. – For those seeking an inexpensive, hassle-free day on the water or looking for an introduction to fishing the deep blue sea, a party charter can be just the ticket.
Conducted on boats in the 65-foot range, party charters usually host 30 to 40 fishermen and target species like snapper, grouper, amberjack and other deep-feeding fish. Unlike trolling adventures for marlin or tuna, hooks are outfitted with cut bait and fished above heavy sinkers just off the bottom. Fishing depths may run 120 to 180 feet or more. A day on such a trip generally begins with a run of 90 minutes or so out of port, followed by stops at a number of hot spots ranging as far as 30 miles off shore. Once the captain confirms fish holding around structure at pre-scouted points he gives the signal to commence fishing.
Catching fish expected
While party charters don’t offer the fighting-chair action associated with blue marlin and other big game of the sea, they offer much more continuous fish-catching action and don’t carry remotely the same price tag. A full day on a party charter should cost $100 or less per person, half-day trips run a little less than that, and the only thing you have to bring is your lunch and drinks. Your fee covers fishing license, fuel, bait and the use of already-rigged fishing tackle, not to mention the captain and crew’s expertise and assistance. Frequently the crew cleans your catch at the end of the day as part of the deal as well.
With 40 people dropping lines more than 100 feet down next to one another, you would think tangles would happen on a continuous basis but, while they do occur from time to time, it’s not at all the debacle one might imagine.
Good time on the water
“So much of the enjoyment of this depends on (the crew), and we’re lucky to have some really good guys who’ve been with us for a long time,” Mark Tilden, captain of the Swoop, out of Destin, Fla., says. He’s been working on the water for more than 40 years, the last decade and a half of that spent as captain. “I’ve been fishing all my life, and it’s something I still look forward to. Fishing is always an adventure and there’s always something to fish for here.”
Fishermen new to a full day offshore should be aware that it is still fishing, some days are better than others, and it does require significant effort.
Be ready to work
Most charter boats have an air-conditioned interior cabin for those who need to take a break but, to get the most out of the experience, fishermen need to be ready to adjust to a deck rolling with the waves and be prepared to handle moderately heavy gear, reeling hard and fast when they do get a bite and rebaiting frequently. Adults who bring youngsters along should expect to give up a good bit of their own fishing time to help their child out.