Red snapper are still being caught by anglers every day of the week in Orange Beach, Alabama even though the official red snapper season ended on June 9. A group of party boat captains agreed to participate in an experimental program where they were granted an exempted fishing permit, allowing them to catch as many red snapper this year and next year as they caught last year. In exchange for the permit, the captains must keep and report data on the numbers and sizes of all red snapper caught on their boats every day to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). With this additional data, NMFS can better assess the numbers and sizes of red snapper being caught in the Gulf of Mexico and better determine how to set seasons and bag limits.
Having the ability to catch red snapper from January to mid-August is only one reason that more saltwater anglers are choosing party boat fishing to go offshore. Often a party boat (called a head boat) can take 20 or more anglers offshore. They split the expenses and can fish for less money than a private charter costs, or even when fishing from their own boats. According to Captain Troy Frady of Distraction Family Fishing Charters, a private charter for six people for eight hours is $1,200 to $1,400, not including a tip for the captain and for the first mate and an additional expense to have your fish cleaned.
A party boat example
To take the Reel Surprise party boat with up to 20 people for an eight-hour trip is $3,300, but finding 20 close friends to help cover the expenses of the charter can be extremely difficult. However, if you can find a good group, an individual can pay as little as $125 to cover bait, tackle, license, and other equipment, get on the party boat with his or her lunch and cold drinks, and go 20 to 30 miles offshore catch a wide variety of snapper, grouper, amberjacks, and other fish.
“On a party boat, if someone wants to go on the trip and not fish but just wants to take pictures and be with family and friends, he or she is only charged half-price for the day,” Captain Randy Boggs of Reel Surprise Charters explains. “Currently, we’re seeing carpenters, plumbers, millworkers, doctors, lawyers, children, and seniors, who may not know each other, all going fishing together and having a good time.”
Often, anglers will meet new friends on these trips and schedule vacation time at the same time of year, every year, to fish together. Up until this year, the four- and six-hour deep sea fishing trip was what most offshore fishermen opted for, however, as Boggs explains, “On the eight-hour trip, we can go farther offshore—20 to 30 miles out—and fish bottom structure that doesn’t have nearly as much fishing pressure as the nearshore wrecks and reefs do. Currently, the average snapper being caught will weigh from five to six pounds. We also have quite a few red snapper weighing 10 pounds and more caught on these deep water trips.”
Advantages of party boat fishing
Party boat fishermen generally all have the same objectives: having fun, meeting new friends, catching fish, and having an exciting and unique experience. Occasionally, anglers will catch cobia, king mackerel, and even wahoo on these trips. Scamp grouper is another favorite target of party boat fishermen. When they’re in season, anglers can catch black grouper, red grouper, and triggerfish. Here’s the good news: after you’ve caught your limit, you can continue to fish, but you’ll have to catch and release. By sharing the expense of the charter with a larger number of people, the price per fisherman is considerably reduced.
You easily can book a spot on a party boat—perhaps even on the day you arrive. However, to ensure that you’ll be able to go out and fish on the day you choose, book your trip two or three days in advance, before this special red snapper season ends in mid-August.
To learn more about offshore fishing at Alabama’s Gulf Coast, get John E. Phillips’ Kindle eBook, Alabama’s Offshore Saltwater Fishing: A Year-Round Guide for Catching Over 15 Species of Fish.
Note added 8-1-2014: This article’s text has been corrected to accurately reflect the price of hiring a private boat fishing trip for a small number of people.
Images by John Phillips