Destin has something for every angler, it’s just a matter of how you want to explore it. You might be reluctant to charter a private boat. Maybe you don’t want to spend a lot of money on your fishing trip. Don’t worry, you don’t have to. Today, we’ll explain how Destin party boat fishing works and why you should try it.
This article will cover everything you need to know to get the most our of your time on the water. By the time you’re done, you’ll know the type of fish you can catch, the costs, what to expect, how to tip, and much more. Let’s get started!
Destin is all about fishing. The town has pretty much all the fish you need to catch to call yourself a trophy angler. This is why here you’ll see a lot of anglers here. And we do mean a lot.
Having plenty of other anglers around is great because you might be able to find a spot on board, even at the last minute. You shouldn’t test your luck too much though. This is especially true during summer when hoards of vacationers arrive for their annual fishing trip.
How do party boats work?
When you fish on join a party boat trip, you will be fishing with anywhere from 20 to 50 people. Everyone’s there to catch some fish, get a nice photo, and head back home with a few pounds of tasty fish fillets. On average, these boats are between 40 and 75′ 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 also have an enclosed cabin. This is great because you can escape the heat and the sun on your way back home. Most party boats stock fishing rods, tackle, lures, and bait. You should always check this before the trip in case you need to bring your own gear, though.
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’ll most likely welcome you onboard and greet as you head home with your fish. The rest of the time, they’ll be looking for spots with good fish. The deckhands 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’ll 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. this means that you might be left to figure some things 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 many anglers choose private charters is that you know who you’ll 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. Other times, it’s a few friends who a nice day on the water and a few fishing at the end.
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. Even so, if you have a limited budget, party boats are the next best thing after private charters.
Where will you be fishing?
Once you leave Destin Marina, you’ll 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 in federal waters, you’ll likely be fishing some 20 miles offshore, where the water is 60-130′ deep. In this part of the Gulf, the seafloor has little natural structure, so people have created artificial reefs. You’ll be fishing over sunken ships, army tanks, and other man-made structures that attract bottom fish.
Unlike on private charters, you don’t get to choose where you fish on a party boat. The captain will set the course to wherever you’re most likely to catch fish. They’ll consider the weather, tides, and season, and then choose the location. However, most captains will change the fishing spot if there’s 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
Choosing the right trip is important if you want to really enjoy your time onboard. 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: traveling to and from the best fishing grounds can take three or four hours total. This leaves you with a 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.
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 always find a good deal in Destin. Four-hour trips will cost roughly $65, but you won’t have the time to head further out where the good fish are.
Longer trips are definitely the best option for people with some experience. They run somewhere around the $100 mark and last 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.
How experienced are you?
Is this your first fishing trip on a party boat? If so, 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’ll be able to get some other decent fish, though, and see how much you like fishing. As we’ve said earlier, our top 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. Your trip will happen only if the weather conditions are good enough, but this can still prove too much for novice anglers. As an extra precaution, take Dramamine before you leave your hotel.
Remember that the captain won’t be able to turn the ship back just because you’re not feeling well. Party boat trips aren’t as flexible as private charters. So, before the trip, ask if there’s a cabin where you can sit or lay down in case of seasickness.
Are you traveling with kids?
Fishing with kids is great fun. Most likely, they’ll love the whole experience. However, 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.
Top Fish Species on Party Boat Trips in Destin
While “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” has stunning fishing year-round, party boats can’t get at all of them. First of all, you’ll mostly be doing bottom fishing. That means you’ll be targeting the fish that live near the seafloor. Here are the top targets aboard Destin party boat fishing trips.
Red Snapper is the best of bottom fishing. The tastiest fish on the reef. Everyone waits to get a taste of these guys. They’re not just super tasty, they’re also a limited edition kind of delicacy. The Red Snapper season only lasts about 40 days a year.
These ruby 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 out of Destin have access to some of the best Red Snapper fisheries in the Gulf.
Known as ‘Beeliner’, ‘Mingo’, or even ‘Flamingo’, Vermillion Snapper are super tasty. They’re 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.
Fishing for Triggerfish can be tricky, but they’re tasty enough to be worth your time. They have tough teeth which they use to nibble the bait – so watch your fingers when you take them off the hook!
Often times, Triggerfish will flee with your bait and seek shelter in nearby crevices. They live around rocky bottoms, at pretty impressive depths. They’ll also come to shallower waters, though, especially during warm months.
These guys are feisty and won’t give in without a fight. Their tasty flesh makes up for whatever they lack in manners, mind you. Gag Grouper can grow up to be big—we’re talking 30-40 inches long. Trophy Gag Grouper, called ‘black bellies,’ can grow up to 5 feet and weigh well over 30 pounds. So, your trip may get you a real trophy! Bear in mind that there have been cases of ciguatera poisoning from large Groupers, though.
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 land and put even serious anglers to shame. But don’t let that put you off trying!
While AJs can grow to a whopping 160 pounds, you’re more likely to get something around 20-40 pounds or smaller. Spring and early summer are a great time to catch them. Either that, or during the Destin Fishing Rodeo in October. It’s a chance to hook big fish and big prizes!
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’ll be fishing with live bait, such as shrimp, mullet, or other smaller fish.
You’ll use sinkers to get your bait all the way down where the fish are. This produces a ton of tasty table fare, as you’ll be getting your line down to big, tasty fish are easy to catch. This is especially good for inexperienced anglers, but it’s still fun for experienced sportfishing types, too.
When is the best time to go?
Destin party boats operate year-round, as fishing ranges from “fiery hot” in summer to “really good” in the winter months. Here’s when you can get some of the most common fish:
Beware of Tangled Lines
Some people avoid party boats because you’re sometimes short on fishing space. 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’ll hear is the constant line tangling. And if the deckhand is too busy, it might take over 20 minutes to get the line untangled. So, most people with some experience, or anglers who don’t want to risk line tangling, would rather choose private charters.
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 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 tons of Snapper, Grouper, and Triggerfish.
Remember the groups we talked about before? Each group of anglers gets a number, and all the fish your group catches is combined into one cooler. At the end of the trip, they call 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.
Remember that the mates work for tips. It’s expected that you’ll tip them at the end of your fishing trip. The standard gratuity ranges between 15 and 20% of your ticket. Of course, if deckhand made your day, helped you untangle the line, and cleaned your fish to boot, you’ll want to tip him or her a little extra. After all, these people really put in a lot of work to make the whole trip go smoothly. You don’t want to cut them short.
Things to Remember about Party Boat Fishing
You’re almost ready to hit the water. Before you go, here are a few final tips 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 small 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. We 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 dress.
- Take Dramamine if you’re prone to seasickness. You don’t want to spend most of your trip feeling sick.
- Wear sneakers. You’ll want to have all the stability and comfort you can get.
- 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. It might even be cheaper!
- Your trip may get canceled if there are not enough people.
Have you been on a head boat before, or do you like private charters more? What’s your experience with party boats that fish out of Destin? What else would you like to know about party boat fishing? Let us know in the comments below!
Stefan is a writer at FishingBooker, who especially loves fly fishing.