I've gotten a request in my report thread to post a in-depth guide to effectively fishing on party boats. The do's, the don'ts and everything in between. I can't speak for other party boats but I can try and speak for Kelley Fishing Fleet out of Haulover.
First of all, you need to decide what time of day you're trying to fish. Here at Kelley Fishing Fleet we run 3 trips a day Sunday through Friday and 4 trips on Saturday. We've also got three boats to choose from depending on the schedule. (Hurricane, Mucho K and the Atlantis)
Here's the schedule:
- 9:00AM (7 Days)
- 1:45PM (7 Days)
- 8:00PM (7 Days)
- 1:00AM (Saturday night)
- There's also an all-day trip on Sundays aboard the Atlantis.
People will ask me what time is the best time to go out fishing. Here's my response, "Trophy fish during the day and dinner at night." You're a lot less likely to catch fish during the day but if you do it's probably going to be a big fish whereas at night you're more likely to catch fish they'll just be meat fish such as snapper, grouper and other reef fish. (My English professor would give me an F for using the word 'fish' so many times in one sentence). Also, you have to consider what time of year it is. The fishing is much better during the day during the winter time but once the sun warming up Miami you'll have much better luck at night.
We'll start off with day-time fishing. I'm a night-time mate but I've been the first mate on several day-time trips so I'm not completely ignorant to how it works. Assuming you're coming aboard with absolutely no tackle the mate is going to hand you a conventional reel and rod and teach you how it works without getting a birds nest. This rod is rigged with a 3 hook rig (Called a kingfish rig) and a lead weight above the rig that will vary in size depending on the offshore current/wind/drift. He'll get you seated on the starboard side of the boat and put your rods in the rodholder to mark your spot. From here you can pal around with whom ever you've brought till it's time to leave.
If you've brought your own rod/reel and have no idea what you're doing. Talk to the mate. He'll help you out with how you should rig your set up. This all depends on how you want to fish and what kind of rod you've got. If you've come with a spinning reel, chances are you're going to need to go with a kingfish rig as the line capacity on a spinning reel really won't allow you to bottom fish effectively.
On the other hand however, if you know what you're doing hopefully you've brought some quality gear. If you're drifting like the rest of the crowd you don't really need anything specialized. However if you want to fish the bottom for muttons, here's where it gets fun. I'd suggest nothing smaller than a Penn 4/0 or similar sized conventional reel. You're going to need all the line capacity you can get. Talk to the mate and ask if he has any weight suggestions. If you're on the 9AM trip, chances are he's not going to know as the current/drift can change quickly. However 4-6oz is a good size lead to start with. You're going to want to 'long leader'. Put the 6oz weight above a swivel and add about 10-15' of flouro or mono leader attached to a sharp, large circle or J hook. As for bait you're going to want a ballyhoo plug.. a big one. If you don't know what I'm talking about ask the mate to cut you up some, he'll even help you bait it the first time to show you how it's done. From here you're going to want to drop the bait all the way to the bottom. You'll feel it hit bottom and depending on the drift it will slowly start t peel more line off the reel. Let it go. In fact, dump almost the entire spool. Some people do it by hand and other people leave the bail open, rod in the rod holder and clicker on. When the fish starts chewing, let him run with it for about 2-3 seconds before you try getting tight on him. You should know what to do from here on out.
If you've come to vertical jig I hope you've come with the necessary gear. I don't know MUCH about vertical jigging but what I do know is you're going to want a heavy braid (60-80lb), a VERY stout jigging rod and a good reel to match. Technically you can jig anywhere on the windward side of the boat but it's always suggested to either jig at the bow or the stern. I prefer jigging the stern. Pitch/cast your jig in the direction of the drift and wait till it hits bottom. You can either yo-yo it up quickly and back down for the muttons and groupers or you can jig like a mad man all the way up for the AJ's, Bonita, almacos and Blackfin tunas and an assortment of other fish.
If you've come to chicken rig you can do so as well. I honestly don't know much about day-time chicken rigging but I assume it's pretty similar to the idea above with the bottom fishing just without letting out so much line. Chicken rigs use a whole lot more weight and I guess instead of letting the bait sit they drag it on/near the bottom. Can't help you too much with this as I've never been much of a chicken rigger.
Live baiting is kind of frowned upon as personal livewells are bulky for the most part and if your bait is a strong swimmer.. he can really make a mess of everyones line. Go out one time with a gameplan and talk to the captain and see if you may bring a well with you on your next trip.
It also might be worth mentioning that if you bring a spare 4/0 or 6/0 you can try your luck at trolling on the way to the wrecks/reefs from the marina. Talk to the mate about how much room is on the back available for your rod. Some days NO one will be trolling, other days there's a whole squad of people trying to troll.
Also, if you've got a big fish on don't wait till the last second to tell the mate to get the gaff ready. He might be preoccupied and didn't notice you've got the monster on. Call for it BEFORE you need it. Worst thing in the world is to watch a king on the top of the water splashing around and cut the line/spit the hook before the mate/captain can get the gaff in him.
Night time fishing is a whole different ballpark, obviously. Here cash is key. Tipping the captain ($10-20 depending on the load) will get you a stern spot in which you can free-line for the tails or bottom fish in the chum slick for grovers/muttons. Get to the boat 30-45 minutes before departing and talk to the captain. If there is room for you and you've tipped him he will procure you a spot on the stern. Also, be sure to bring only mono. Braid is disastrous on a night-time party boat, especially if you're not really up on the way it works. Better to leave it at home, but if ALL of your reels are spooled with braid I understand. Kelley Fleet doesn't condemn braid but, the mates don't like it. Makes our job a hassle!
Freelining is a yellowtail snapper killer and takes some getting used to but after you get your second bite you'll really get the hang of it. You're going to want a spinner in the 10-15lb class and jigheads ranging from 1/32 to 1/2oz depending on the current. You can also substitute jigheads with small (similar sized egg/bullet weights) leads and 1/0 or 2/0 hooks. I'm not sure color REALLY matters but most use chartreuse and white with some people using pink. If the current is really strong you're going to want to use a heavier jig and conversely if the current is slow, a lighter jig. Bait of choice is normally 1 or 2 silversides hooked through the eyes. Pitch your bait 5-10' away from the boat and keep the bail open. Frequently cupping the spool to see if a fish took the jig and you didn't notice. I've had more fish attack while cupping then while completely freespooling, but... That's just me. Once the yellowtail hits close the bail, set the hook and bring him in!
Bottom fishing is pretty self explanatory. You're going to want something in the 12-20lb class spinning or conventional. You want to use the least amount of weight that will hold the bottom as possible. I usually start with 1oz go up or down from there depending on the current/swing. Bait of choice here is ballyhoo plugs. 1 1/2" to 3".
I usually start by bottom fishing and when the first signs of yellowtail show I start freelining. If the yellowtail bite is still slow I go back to bottom fishing.
On a completely different note... Please don't forget to tip the crew. That's how we make our living. We make a small percentage of what the boat makes but that MAY cover gas to get to work. The money really comes from the tips. We work hard for you guys, that's how you can show us you appreciate it. We can't take handshakes and thank you's to the landlord, even if they are appreciated. The captain and mate split the tips in half. So even if you think a $5 tip is good, each crew member is only really getting $2.50.
If you guys have any questions let me know. I may not have covered everything as I typed all this up in one go and may have forgot to put something in. Thanks for reading!