Head Boat Fishing

Another fishing method available to the boatless

Virginia Sea Grant/flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

We talked in the past about how "shore bound" fishermen can still have a great day fishing. In this piece, we are looking at another method available to the boatless, albeit a little more expensive. I'm talking, of course, about charter boat fishing, and more specifically, head boat fishing. Available at most any coastal location, these head boats (some call them party boats) take anywhere from 10 to as many as 100 fishermen on a bottom or drift fishing trip lasting from a half day to as many as four days. Trips to these range from $30 to as much as $200 per person depending on the trip.

Some fishermen would say they can't afford the $30 a day, but they need to look at the numbers before making up their mind. The trip in almost all cases includes the boat, gas, bait, tackle, someone to gaff and take your fish off, and super help when lines break or get tangled. When I look at the cost of going offshore in my own boat, I generally can't come close to the pure economic advantages offered by these boats. So, "what's the deal," as they say, with these boats. The deal is this: if you are a halfway decent fisherman, meaning the mechanics of handling a rod and reel, setting the hook, and fighting the fish, you stand to catch a significant number of fish from a head boat.

There are regulars, who frequent specific boats, and there are tourists, who just want a day of fishing. You can tell the difference very easily. The regulars will be there early to capture a spot on the stern of the boat. They usually bring their own tackle and quite often their own bait. They will board the boat with a small truckload of gear, including a good sized cooler. The tourist, on the other hand, will usually go to the side or front of the boat for the comfort and the view as they travel to the fishing grounds.

"Why the back of the boat?" you may ask. Simple - the captain will position the boat headed into the current over the structure he wants to fish. Whether he anchors or just maintains position, the current is running off the back of the boat. Those on the stern end up with fewer tangles, and a better shot at catching a big fish. Those souls on the side and bow generally find their line going under the boat, or at best angling back toward the back of the boat. Some call this "Tangle City." A good captain has LORAN and GPS readings of wrecks, ledges, reefs and live bottom. He will run to these locations and anchor or hold a position in just the right place. Sometimes he may need to reposition once or twice if the wind and current are tricky. He will also move to another location rather quickly if the fish are small. "Wind 'em up," is a frequent phrase heard from the mates and captain during the day. As soon as the boat is positioned correctly, "Let 'em down", can be heard all over the boat. A good captain and crew will also not be fishing during the day. Some captains and their crew have a bad habit of wanting to fish. This tends to take up most of their time, and the paying passengers get left unattended. Ask before you pay, whether the captain and or crew will fish. It makes a difference.

If you decide to try a head boat, follow these general rules for success:

  1. Avoid the half day trips if possible. Time constraints prevent the half day boat from reaching the better fishing grounds.
  2. Arrive early and get to the back or stern of the boat. Usually, it is first to come, fist served when boarding the boat.
  3. Ask whether the captain and or crew will be fishing.
  4. Listen to what the mates tell you. Follow their instructions; they want you to catch fish.
  5. If time permits, go to the dock several times and see the catch before you decide to go on a particular boat.

Try these tips and see if you catch more fish! Good luck and good fishin'!

Do you fish on Head Boats? Know someone who does? Tell me about your experiences and ideas for others by sending me an Email. Previous Features