I started going deep sea fishing with my dad when I was 6. We lived in the NYC area, so finding a party boat (that’s, “a boat that takes paying passengers for a day or several hours of fishing, as in coastal waters or a bay, and usually rents fishing tackle and sells or provides bait”) was easy.
Every summer we did a full day of fishing for fluke and/or flounder on boats out of Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn), Captree (Long Island) or Great Kills (Staten Island – before it was privatized). I eventually stopped because by the time I was in my mid-teens, I didn’t want to have to wake up at 4 or 5am to get to the boat in time. So I quit.
Fast forward 30 or so years and I wound up re-discovering my love for fishing while on a salmon fishing excursion I signed up for while on an Alaska cruise.
I was (*cough*) hooked.
From that point on, I’ve been going deep sea fishing every 2-3 years. Joe hates fishing so I usually find a friend to go with, or I go by myself. I’ve gone on a few half day trips but really, it takes over an hour to get to the “good” fishing spots, which only leaves you a couple of hours to fish. So I almost always do full days (usually 8 or 9 hours).
Anyway, we were planning our recent trip to Key West and Joe suggested I go fishing. At first, I said no – I didn’t want to leave him for a whole day. Besides, I still don’t like waking up early, not even for a full day of fishing, so waking up at 5 or even 6 am while on vacation really didn’t sound exciting.
However when I discovered there was a party boat in Key West that was, essentially, 3/4 of a day, from 10 am to 4 pm, I changed my mind. Joe was still OK with my leaving him all day (“Trust me, I’ll figure out what to do”), so I decided to go.
According to their website, Gulfstream Fishing, Inc. has been around since 1947. “Our Key West party boat fishing charter is the longest-running deep sea fishing party boat in Key West, Florida. We’ve racked up the local knowledge to make this fishing experience one you can’t forget!” As it turned out, the owner is best friends with a Facebook friend of mine (which is also how I “discovered” them LOL).
Their website is easy to navigate when getting info and making a reservation, and they took most major credit cards. They were also excellent with their precise directions to where the boat was at the dock (the road it was on was one-way, so such specific directions were very helpful).
The boat is docked at Key West’s Historic Charter Boat Row. We were staying in Old Town and it would have been about a 30-minute walk. So Joe graciously drove me. The boat left at 10 am and I had to be there a half-hour beforehand to check-in, sign my life away, etc.
There were about 35 or 40 of us on the boat (they said on their website that they were limiting capacity to about half of what it would go up to, pre-COVID). I picked my spot and they asked that anything you brought with you (I had a cooler with a sandwich, snacks and drinks) stay inside.
Staff on the boat included the captain, two mates and the third party person at the grill. Obviously, I don’t know all of their responsibilities, but as someone “looking in,” this is what each of them did:
The captain’s main job was to drive the boat – figure out where the fish were, and get us there. If there aren’t fish in one spot, it’s up to the captain to decide it’s time to leave and try somewhere else.
The mates were there to help us with whatever we needed while fishing – dole out fishing poles and bait, put bait on hooks, take fish off hooks, unknot lines that get tangled on each other, replace hooks and sinkers that are lost, let you know if that grouper is too early to catch (not until after May 1), or that mangrove snapper was too small (10″ minimum), filet fish that had been caught, etc. (some fishing people can do all of that, some can’t do any. I’m somewhere in the middle – I have no issues baiting my hook [my dad would be so proud! There were years that I was too squeamish to do that!] but I’m not very talented with untangling or getting a fish off a hook).
Both mates were polite, helpful and timely. One was a little more fun to talk to than the other, but you get that anywhere. 😉
I didn’t have any interaction with Angela, the woman at the grill, since I had brought all my own food and drink. But it looked as if she took your order and called your name when your food (simple stuff – hot dogs, burgers, etc. Also soft drinks, beer, chips, etc.) was ready. She kept track and you [paid by cash or card] at the end of the trip.
Other people on the boat
The people fishing on the boat came from a large variety of demographics. Age ranged from a tween to a guy in his 80s. Some were native English speakers, some were not. Some came with their own fishing gear, others looked as if they had never fished in their lives.
The mates occasionally asked where people were from, which is what residents of tourist towns say when they tend to get a lot of tourists (I live in Orlando; I know these things LOL!). And let’s face it – it WAS Key West, which is indeed a tourist town.
As is the case with almost every fishing boat I’ve ever been on, everyone was friendly.
There were 2 restrooms (they’re actually called “heads”) – one for men, one for women (although that wasn’t always followed; if one was in use and you had to go, you used the other one). They were clean but if you’ve never been on a boat before, heads up – they’re VERY basic amenities.
COVID precautions (read: mask use) were officially recommended online (they go under Federal maritime rules) but not particularly enforced either way when on the boat. I only saw a small handful of people wearing masks. That being said, with only 35-40 people on a 58-foot boat, there was a decent amount of space between people. Plus we were outdoors. Even I, Mrs. #COVIDcareful, felt comfortable with the situation.
What I caught
As much as I enjoy fishing, I’ve tended to get skunked every time I’ve fished in Florida. On this trip, I caught 3 grunts (they’re small and apparently can be used for eating but I ask the mates to cut them up for bait), a grouper (too early), a mangrove snapper (too small), 2 other peoples’ lines (good times) and a piece of coral. So yeah, pretty typical “Sharon fishing in Florida” luck.
Was it worth it?
The 6-hour excursion cost $66, plus $5 for rod rental, plus taxes and fees (i.e. a 1-day fishing license). If you wanted to be in the “pool,” that was another $5 (person in the pool with the biggest fish wins all the money). Had I caught anything to bring back with me, I think there was a small charge for the mates to filet the fish for me at the end of the day. Plus, of course, gratuity for the mates (figure 20-25%). They supplied the bait and tackle (read: I lost 2 hooks and a sinker to the rough bottom). The cost of food would vary on the person – I didn’t have any charges but I saw one person with a bill for $42. Most bills were less than $15.
So minus the optional stuff, I paid about $75, plus $20 for a tip, for 6 hours of fishing. Definitely worth it for me. As the good blog says, Your Mileage May Vary.
Feature Photo: Gulfstream Fishing / Facebook
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary