Party Boat Fishing in Destin: The Complete Guide

Oct 25, 2022 | 10 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 10 minutes

When a destination is called “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” you know you’re in for an unforgettable angling adventure. Destin is all about fishing. All the fishing potential is a short boat ride away, it’s just a matter of how you want to explore it. 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 talk about how Destin party boat fishing works and why you should try it.

A large party fishing boat returning to Destin Harbor after a shared fishing charter

This article will cover everything you need to know to get the most out 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!

How do party boats work?

A party boat on the water

When you join a party boat trip (also known as head boats), 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 feet 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.

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 you 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.

A line of fishing rods set up on the side of a charter boat, with whole fish baited onto the hooks
A good crew will have everything ready by the time you hit the fishing grounds.

As we said, you could be fishing alongside as many as 40 other people, so you won’t get a lot of one-on-one attention. Even so, if you have a limited budget, party boats are the next best thing after private charters. 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 out some things on your own or miss some info on the fish species. But don’t worry about that too much. You can get good fish if you prepare in advance.

Where will you be fishing?

A group of anglers standing on a party boat, holding the fish they caught

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

A large group of anglers posing with their fish at a dock after a party boat fishing charter in Orange Beach, AL
If you’re after the bigger fish, you’ll need a longer trip.

Choosing the right trip is important if you want to really enjoy your time on board. 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 get a bite.

The price of the Destin party boat fishing trips varies depending on the duration. Six-hour trips for adults range from $75 to $80, while kids need to pay about $10 less. Again, this changes 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 trophy 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?

Two anglers posing with a large Sailfish caught out of Destin, with two crew members helping them hold the fish
You can catch some real monsters on party boat trips, but you need to know how.

Is this your first fishing trip on a party boat? If so, go with a half day trip. If you book a four-hour trip, bear in mind that this might not get you to the Red Snapper fisheries. You’ll be able to land some great inshore and nearshore fish, though, and decide how much you like fishing.

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?

A smiling man and child holding a Golden Tilefish, while standing on a boat

Fishing with kids is great fun. Most likely, they’ll love the whole experience. However, they may lose interest after some time. Talk to your kids before the fishing trip, explain how the trip is going to go, 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 always get you where you need to be for those big catches. 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

Two men and one woman standing on a dock, each holding a Red Snapper

Red Snapper is the superstar of the bottom-dwelling species. They’re the tastiest fish on the reef. Everyone waits to get their hands on one of these guys. They’re not just delicious, 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 your party boat 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.

Vermillion Snapper

Two couples standing around their daily catch of Vermillion Snapper hanged on a board

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


A smiling man in sunglasses and a hat holding a Triggerfish, with other anglers standing behind them

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!

Oftentimes, Triggerfish will flee with your bait and seek shelter around nearby structures. They live around rocky bottoms, at impressive depths. They’ll also come to shallower waters, though, especially during warm months.

Gag Grouper

Two fisherman on a boat, one holding a Grouper, the other a Triggerfish

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 five feet and weigh well over 30 pounds. Bear in mind that there have been cases of ciguatera poisoning from large Groupers, though.


A man in a hat and sunglasses holding an Amberjack fish, with blue water in the background

If you get really lucky, you might get one of the strongest fish in this part of the world. Amberjack (aka “Reef Donkeys”) are super hard to land and put even serious anglers to test. But don’t let that put you off!

While AJs can grow to a whopping 160 pounds, you’re more likely to get 20–40-pounders or smaller. Spring and early summer are great times 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?

Anglers lined up against the side of a party boat, all holding their fishing rods

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 to the bottom. Bottom fishing can produce a ton of tasty table fare, which is a perk everyone wants. This technique is especially good for inexperienced anglers, but 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.

Beware of Tangled Lines

Some people avoid party boats because they can be 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

A Gag Grouper being filleted at the dock after a fishing trip
The crew will normally clean your catch, ready to take away and eat.

As a rule, all the fish caught belong 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 Snapper, Grouper, and Triggerfish fillets.

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 the 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 Destin Party Boat Fishing

A large party boat cruising in shallow water with land behind it in the distance

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.
  • 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. 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 prefer private charters? 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!

Comments (9)
  • Stephanie

    Mar 24, 2021

    What is the best party fishing boat company to take kids on?

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      Mar 25, 2021

      Hi Stephanie,

      Party boats are generally pretty kid-friendly, as long as you know your way around a rod and can teach the little ones what to do. Here are a couple of party boats we work with in Destin.

      However, if you’re all beginners, you may be better off taking a private charter. The captain will have much more time to help you that way, and will be able to adapt the trip to make sure you get the most out of it. Private trips are pricier, obviously, but you get your money’s worth.

      I hope this helps!

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  • Eric Flowers

    Feb 16, 2021

    Im coming down next month because I got a deal through my hotel points. March doesn’t look so hot for fishing?

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      Feb 17, 2021

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for reading.

      It depends on what you want to catch, really. March can be a great time to catch Triggerfish, Vermillion Snapper or Cobia. Offshore, you can expect to hook Wahoo, so you definitely have some options.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Tight lines!

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  • John. Blackstock

    Feb 15, 2021


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      Feb 15, 2021

      Hi John,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Absolutely, we’re looking forward to a great summer season.

      Hope you catch some big fish this year – tight lines!

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  • Richard Mohler

    Dec 30, 2019

    I fished many years on different boats and I always tell people if you are not sure if drinking coffee before going out on a rocking boat gets you sick its better not to drink it…I still get violently sick and have witnessed many with the same problem..

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  • Aaron D Carter

    Dec 4, 2018

    First timer on ocean boats.but fished all my life..

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      Dec 19, 2018

      Hello Aaron,

      Thank you for reading the blog.

      I hope you had a great time on your first boat fishing trip.

      Feel free to contact us next time you decide to book a charter.

      All the best from FishingBooker!

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