All You Need to Know about Your Destin Party Boat Fishing Trip

Destin fishing has something for every angler, it’s just a matter of how you wish to explore it. You might be reluctant to charter a private boat and don’t want to spend a lot of money on your fishing trip. But, you can still get a good deal of the Destin finest. Today, we will explain how Destin party boat fishing works and why you should try it. You’ll know the essentials of party boat fishing in “the world’s luckiest fishing village”, the type of fish you can catch, the costs, what to expect, and how to tip. Read on!

A big Destin party boat taking anglers to fish in the Gulf of Mexico

Why Destin?

Destin is all about fishing. The town has pretty much all the fish you need to catch to call yourself a trophy angler. Which is why here you will see a lot of anglers. And we mean a lot. This is great because you might be able to find a spot onboard, even at the last minute. You shouldn’t test your luck too much though. Especially during summer, when hoards of vacationers arrive for their annual fishing trip.

How do party boats work?

Party boats can take anything between 20 and 50 people. Both you and they all want to go fishing, get a nice photo of the catch, and come back home with pounds of tasty fish fillets. On average, these boats are between 40 and 75 ft long, though some are way bigger than that.

Most of the time, party boats have a toilet, kitchen, tables, and benches onboard. Some of them have an enclosed cabin which is great as you can escape the heat and the sun on your way back home. Most party boats store fishing rods, tackle, lures, and bait. But, you should always check this before the trip in case you need to bring your own gear.

Each party boat has a captain and one or several mates (deckhands). Now, unlike when you fish on a private charter, you won’t be seeing the captain a lot.  They will most likely welcome you onboard and greet as you leave home with your fish. The rest of the time, they will be looking for spots with good fish. Mates will be going around the boat, making sure the fishing goes smoothly.

As we’ve said, you could be fishing alongside as many as 40 other people, so you won’t get a lot of one-on-one attention. You will team up with your own friends or total strangers – a good chance to meet fellow anglers. Each group will have a mate who will help you cast the bait, retrieve it, reel in the fish, or untangle the lines.

Now, unlike on a private charter, one mate might be helping out other groups of anglers as well. Which means you might be left to figure some moves on your own or miss some info on the fish species. But don’t fuss over that too much. You can get good fish if you prepare in advance. Read on, and you’ll be fine.

Who else will be onboard?

One of the main reasons why many anglers choose private charters is you know who you will be fishing with. On a party boat, you don’t know who else will be there with you. Sometimes, it’s a family of six (and three generations). Other times, it’s a group of friends who want a nice day on the water and do some fishing. Most of the time, it’s people who want to get Red Snapper (who doesn’t, right?)

Destin party boat fishing: a group of anglers with kids holding Red Snapper and Grouper fishing from a party boat

Different people will have different fishing skills. Some of your fellow anglers will cast like a pro. Others will lose the fish, while some will keep tangling the line. If you have a limited budget, party boats are the next best thing after private charters.

Where will you be fishing?

Once you leave the Destin marina, you will be heading out into the Gulf of Mexico. It will take you about an hour and a half to two hours to reach the fishing spots. This depends on the weather conditions, though. If the tides are rough, the captain might not be able to go at a full speed.

If the party boat is licensed to fish the federal waters, you will likely be fishing some 20 miles offshore, where the water is 60-130 ft deep. In this part of the Gulf, the seafloor has little natural structure, so people have created artificial reefs. You will be fishing over sunken ships, military tanks, and other man-made structures that attract bottom fish.

While on a private charter you can tell the captain where you’d like to fish, party boat captains will set the course themselves. You will head out where you can get the most fish. Captains will consider the weather, tides, and season, and then choose the location. But, most captains will change the fishing spot if there is no bite. On an average trip, you might be fishing two or three different fishing spots.

Each angler in your group will take turns casting and battling with the fish. The mate will fix everything and hand you over the rod, and then it’s showtime!

How to choose the right trip duration?

Before you book your spot, consider these questions:

What’s your budget?

If you can afford to go on a six-hour trip, or longer, do it. Here’s why: going to and from the fishing grounds will take away about three to four hours. Which leaves you with about solid three hours of fishing. If you’re a newbie, you’ll need some time to get used to it before you start reeling in pounds of flaky fish meat.

Six-hour trips for adults range from $75 to 80$, while kids need to pay about 10$ less. Again this varies across party boats, but you can find a good deal in Destin. Four-hour trips will cost about $65, but you won’t have the time to head further out where the good fish are.

Longer trips, which I do recommend to people with some experience, are about $100 and run for about 10 hours. It’s possible to go fishing longer than that too. But in that case, go on a private charter and save yourself some time. Private charters are usually faster so you will have more time for fishing.

How experienced are you?

Is this your very first deep sea fishing party boat trip? If so, I’d say go with a half day trip. Book a four-hour trip, but have in mind that this might not get you to the Red Snapper fisheries. You will be able to get some other decent fish too and see how much you like fishing. As I’ve said earlier, my warmest recommendation is to go on a six-hour trip first.

Do you get seasick?

If you’re prone to seasickness, you may want to start with a shorter charter. Take Dramamine before you leave the hotel. Your trip will happen only if the weather conditions are good enough, but this can still prove too much for novice anglers. The captain won’t be able to turn the ship back just because you’re not feeling well. Remember, party boat trips aren’t as flexible as private charters. So, before the trip ask if there is a cabin where you can sit or lay down in case of seasickness.

Are you traveling with kids?

Kids are most likely going to love fishing, but they may lose interest after some time. So you should talk to your kids before the fishing trip, explain and agree on how long you want to fish. If your kids are younger than 10, you should book a four-hour trip. Kids older than that can go on longer charters as well.

What fish will you most likely catch?

While ‘the world’s luckiest fishing village’ has stunning fishing year-round, Destin party boat fishing is a bit different. First of all, you will mostly be doing bottom fishing. That means you will be targeting the fish that live near the seafloor.

Red Snapper

Angler holding a Red Snapper with a rack behind him filled of other Snappers, all caught aboard a party boat in Destin, Fl.

The queen of all bottom fishing, everyone waits to get a taste of Red Snapper. They are not just super tasty, but they are also a limited edition kind of delicacy. The Red Snapper season lasts about 40 days a year. These red beauties are the reason so many anglers come to Destin. You can bet that everyone on that party boat of yours wants to get them. The good thing is that charters that head out of Destin have great access to Red Snapper fisheries. With a little bit of luck, you could be going home with a dozen fillets.

Vermillion Snapper

A little smiling girl holding Vermillion Snapper aboard a Destin fishing party boat

Known as ‘Beeliner’, ‘Mingo’, or even ‘Flamingo’, Vermillion Snapper are super tasty. They are available year-round, but peak during the summer. They have a tiny mouth, so you’re probably going to use small hooks. As for the bait, Beeliners love squid and shrimp. These fish are not particularly feisty but are fun to catch. It’s excellent family fishing.

Triggerfish

Triggerfish caught aboard a Destin party boat

Triggerfish are tricky to catch but tasty enough to get your attention. They have tough teeth which they use to nibble the bait – so watch your fingers when you take them off the hook! Often times, they will flee with your bait and seek shelter in nearby crevices. Triggerfish live around rocky bottoms, at pretty impressive depths. But, they will also come to shallower waters, especially during warm months.

 

Gag Grouper

An angler in blue T-shirt holding Gag Grouper caught during fishing from a Destin party boat

These boys are feisty and won’t give in that easily. Their tasty flesh makes up for what they lack in manners, though. They have a white, firm flesh. Have in mind that there have been cases of ciguatera poisoning. Gag Groupers can grow up to be big—I’m talking 30-40 inches long. Trophy Gag Grouper, called ‘black bellies,’ can grow up to 5 feet and weigh over 30 lbs. So, your trip may get you a real trophy!

Amberjack

A group of anglers holding Amberjacks while fishing from a party boat in Destin

If you get really lucky, you might get one of the strongest fish in this part of the world. Amberjacks (aka ‘reef donkeys’) are super hard to get and put even more serious anglers to shame. But, don’t step away from a good fight! While AJs can grow to a whopping 160 lbs, you’re more likely to get a 20-40 lbs, or a baby Amberjack. Early spring to early May is the best time to get them out of Destin. Again, people have reported poisoning, so my advice is to let them go.

How will you be fishing?

Once you reach a good spot, the crew will give you the fishing gear. They might then use some chum to spice things up and get the fish excited. Most likely, you will be fishing with live bait, such as shrimp, mullet, or other smaller fish. You will use sinkers to get your bait all the way down where the fish are. This produces excellent results, as you will be getting yourself pounds of tasty fish that are easy to catch. Which is great, especially if you’re looking to do only some fishing for starters. Onto that flaky tasty meat!

When is the best time to go fishing?

Destin party boats operate year-round, as fishing ranges from ‘fiery hot’ in summer to ‘really good’ in winter months. Here’s when you can get some of the most common fish:

A diagram showing most common fish species caught aboard party boats in Destin, including Red Snapper, Vermillion Snapper, Triggerfish, Gag Grouper, and Amberjack, as well as info on size, daily limits, and how to measure fork length.

Beware of Tangled Lines

Some people avoid party boats because often times you simply have no space to fish. Since there will be between 30 and 50 people fishing alongside you, you might need to elbow with the rest of them. This can cause frustration, but even worse – line tangling.

Inexperienced anglers have difficulty keeping their line away from other lines in the water. The biggest complaint you will hear is the constant line tangling. And if the deckhand is too busy, it might take over 20 minutes to get line untangled. So, most people with some experience, or anglers who don’t want to risk line tangling, would rather choose private charters.

But, this isn’t a rule, it’s just something you should be aware of. People are usually able to catch enough fish for some juicy fish tacos later that day.

Tipping and taking the fish back home

As a rule, all the fish caught belongs to the anglers, in line with the daily limits. If you show some skills and have a bit of luck, you could go home with dozens of Snapper, Grouper, and Triggerfish.

Remember the groups we talked about before? Each group of anglers gets a number under which all the fish your group has caught is placed. The mates place all the fish of one group into a cooler. At the end of the trip, the mates take the fish out, call out your number, and you split the fish with your teammates. Usually, the crew will clean and bag your catch. On some boats, the cleaning service costs about 0.35$ per pound.

As the mates work for tips, it’s customary to tip them at the end of your fishing trip. The standard tip ranges between 15 and 20% of your ticket. Of course, if a mate made your day, helped you untangle the line, and cleaned your fish, you will want to tip him some more. After all, these people really put in a lot of work to make the whole trip go smoothly, so you don’t want to cut them short.

Some more tips

Here’s what you should know before you head on your Destin party boat fishing trip:

    • You don’t need a fishing license. You’re covered under the vessel license.
    • Bring a cooler for your food and drinks.
    • The crew will supply the bait. You can also bring your own bait.
    • Bring pliers to unhook the fish, in case you don’t want to wait for the mate, but check if this is ok before the trip.
    • Wear old clothes. I know you want to be fashionable, but once you start fishing, you’ll get your hands dirty and you don’t want to ruin your favorite shirt or peach dress.
    • Take Dramamine if you’re prone to seasickness. You don’t want to spend most of your trip feeling sick.
    • Wear sneakers. You will want to have all the stability and comfort you can.
    • Bring along sunglasses and sunscreen.
    • Bring an old towel/wet wipes to clean your hands after handling the fish.
    • If you can, book a head boat on weekdays. It’s less crowded than on weekends.
    • Your trip may get canceled if there are not enough people.

What’s your experience with party boats that fish out of Destin? Have you been on a head boat before, or do you like private charters more? Which fish did you get? What else would you like to know about party boat fishing? Let us know in the comments below!

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