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New to Gulf party boats and need advice

Will be starting a 6 month assignment in Gainesville July 10th. I will be down for 2 weeks then home to NC for one weekend. I fish plenty of head boats up here on the NC coast so I am not a novice per se to the entire headboat scene, just to the gulf. So my question is what are some decent boats to fish during the weekends I am in Florida? Looking at it, Tampa is only about 2 hours or so from where I will be, which is about what I drive now for Saturday trips. so any advice on good boats, boats to avoid and any other tips would be greatly appreciated. I know there will be a bit of a learning curve so I will take a couple of trips to just listen and observe the regulars. Thanks for the assist guys!!!! I will bring my equipment down once we get settled in the project. so it will be probably late july or early august before I take my first trip.


  • Kokosing LoverKokosing Lover Posts: 1,181 Officer
    The best (and by far most expensive) in the Tampa Bay area is the Gulfstar out of Tarpon Springs. That boat does a lot of 2 day trips and private charters, so getting out on a single day trip on the weekend may be hard. The Two Georges out of Tarpon does daily 8 hour trips and has a good reputation for putting folks on more than grunts. Haven't been on it myself, but folks that I've talked to on other head boats (regulars who know head boats) says it's one of the better fish catching boats.

    Hubbard's Marina in Madeira Beach is pretty decent. Not perfect, but above average for service and performance in our area. I've only ever been on their overnight middle grounds trips, not their 12 hour day trips.

    Been on the Queen Fleet once and Double Eagle once, both out of Clearwater. One was an absolute nightmare (worried that the clientele would be knifing each other and the crew didn't give a $&#^), the other was decent and well run boat. Unfortunately, it was so long ago that I can't remember which trip was on which boat...

    If you've only got a few opportunities to get out there, you might get your best bang for your buck (and driving time) to do a two day trip on either the Gulfstar or Hubbard's. Gulfstar is more expensive, but EVERYTHING is included and it is a better boat. Hubbard's is solid (good enough that I will book a trip when the freezer is empty), and you decide on whether to pay for meal package and live bait separately (Get the live bait, skip the meal package).

    General Gulf Coast bottom fishing stuff:

    West Florida Shelf slopes very gradually; it takes 35 miles to hit 100' depth. Long hauls to the fishing grounds so learn to nap or talk to the regulars.
    Folks who fish braid on head boats on our coast are hated by their fellow anglers and loathed by the crew. Braid and mono don't mix on crowded head boats, and braided line makes life hard on the mates. Stick to mono main line.
    The lead you'll need is usually between 3-8 ounces, occasionally up to 16 in certain areas when the tide is ripping. But 3-8 is what you should absolutely have.
    Bring some jigs if you like jig fishing. But go to the bow of the boat and get the hell out of the way of everyone else if you want to jig on a head boat. Just courtesy.
    Grouper:50-80# main line, Snapper:30-40#. I go lighter than most other folks on the boat (especially for snapper), and I get more bites because of it.
    Nothing wrong with bringing a 20# spinning rod for knocker rigging snapper. Use it only if you're on the stern OR you are fishing the down current side of the boat. Ditto for free lining for kingfish.
  • bryguybryguy Posts: 31 Greenhorn
    Thanks for the info. I will be there every other weekend between July and the end of the year so I will have some time to fish and get up to speed. Rides here are generally 2 to 2.5 hours each way so I am used to that aspect. May just throw a couple of outfits together for fishing there, as all or most of our fishing here is done with Braid due to depth (anywhere from 130 ft to 325 feet, depending on area and target species) and we generally fish 12 to 20ozs regularly because of the combination of deeper water and being on the edge of the gulf stream most trips. I do have an 8 ft star and a 4/0 with 100 lb mono on it that would do as my grouper rod. May just be a front of the boat kind of guy to stay out of tangles and do some jigging till I get acclimated.
  • JohnABJohnAB Posts: 238 Deckhand
    I fish both Hubbard's and the Gulfstar and what KL said was pretty much spot on. I would add the Gulfstar's standard MG trip is 44hrs whereas Hubbard's is 39. The trip to the MG is approx 2 hrs shorter on the Gulfstar and max load is 19 - 23; Hubbard's max load I believe is 50 with a larger boat but you'll still feel crowded and will experience more tangles. If you include all the a la carte items for Hubbard's that are included with the Gulfstar (parking, fish cleaning, live bait, meal package, tackle, tips) the prices are pretty much the same and if you consider the greater fishing time, Gulfstar is a better deal IMO. I still go with Hubbard's from time to time as I don't have a boat of my own (that will get to the MG) and go when I am able. The crew on the Guldstar aren't spread so thin as with Hubbard's..but the Hubbard's crew are great too.
  • SmoothwaterSmoothwater Posts: 200 Deckhand
    Gulfstar Limited Load trip. Best I've been on in Florida for a head boat. Crew is great and the bunkroom is nice and cold!
    Everglades 243
  • cbcatchercbcatcher Posts: 35 Greenhorn
    The Gulfstar is far the best party boat we have on this coast.
  • VintageMabryVintageMabry Posts: 76 Deckhand
    Another for Gulfstar. I will be aboard Aug. 14th
    1998 Aquasport Osprey 225 2007 250hp Etec
  • bryguybryguy Posts: 31 Greenhorn
    So you guys bring your own outfits on the gulfstar or do you use the boats stuff?
  • JohnABJohnAB Posts: 238 Deckhand
    bryguy wrote: »
    So you guys bring your own outfits on the gulfstar or do you use the boats stuff?

    I bring my own because I prefer left hand retrieve plus I prefer lighter leaders than what they least for snapper.
  • bryguybryguy Posts: 31 Greenhorn
    Just a little over a couple of weeks out. Looked at the gulstar trips and thinking my first trip maybe the limited load middle ground trip they offer in late July. Given that it is limited load, could I bring my current setups with braid and fish the front of the boat to avoid tangles and just to get my feet wet per se and then regroup on my tackle and what I need to be more zeroed in?
  • cbcatchercbcatcher Posts: 35 Greenhorn
    Don't worry about the braid, must of the people use it on the gulfstar that i have seen. just make sure you use 30' or so of shock line.
  • boanroboanro Posts: 201 Officer
    Its all in the preference of what you want to catch and how long you want to be out catching. I sometime will go on Gulfstar half a day trip just because I want to wet a line. So plenty of grunts and a few sea bass. Two Georges gives you the same fish and possibilities of a little more. Most Hog fish ive seen caught from a head boat, also some shots at grouper and snapper. 12 hour trip on two georges have been doing very well. Limiting on red snappers and getting several groupers. For a little more thrill you got Hubbards. Don't bother with their 4,8 or 12 hour trips, unless the 12 hour is on the flying hub 2. Then its a good trip. 2 hours and they have you out on 200' of water. Hubbards also has other good trips on their bigger boats like 39 and 44 hour trips. Ive heard they do very well. Of course this is only a small review of the boats and the trips that are out there.
  • harbisonharbison Posts: 5,772 Admiral
    :fishing Saw the Gulfstar way off at a distance on the Middle Grounds last Saturday. Nice looking boat:


    Was on Hubbard's Florida Fisherman ll. Hope they did as well as we did:

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