“If you wish happiness for an hour, get intoxicated. If you wish happiness for 3 days, get married. If you wish happiness for 8 days, kill a pig and eat it. If you wish happiness forever, then learn to fish…” –Unknown
“Truth is stranger than fishin’ ” Jimmy Buffett
When you think of New York City, fishing may not be the first thing the comes to mind. New York City is surrounded by 520 miles of saltwater shoreline and throughout the five boroughs, including Manhattan, fishing opportunities for recreational anglers abound.
In the past two decades or so, there has been a significant investment in waterfront access, with improved facilities and infrastructure. A vast improvement in water quality since 1972’s Clean Water Act changed the way we deal with pollution has meant the return of many species of fish to our local waters.
One chilly April morning in the mid ‘90’s, on a wide beamed party boat out of Sheepshead Bay on Brooklyn’s south shore, I decided that I would write about fishing in the New York City area, hoping to explain the primal joy I felt the moment when the boat revved up and turned the corner past Kingsborough College’s sandy campus and toward the possibility of the open sea.
Like so many trips before, I was eager to learn what new something would happen on this day. There were no blogs then. Just dusty journals with forgotten memories.
Before the day was done I would log tides, water condition, fish counts, techniques picked up, good stories and many lies, mine and those of other fishermen. But I wasn’t interested in writing a technical book on fishing. I was hoping to capture the ancient, wild, innocent pleasure of being a young city-dwelling man setting to sea in this day.
My brand of fishing rankles some fishing purists who were blessed with deep lakes, winding streams or blue water. I am from New York City. I have had to work with what was in front of me. I may never enjoy the execution of a perfect 10 to 2 fly cast over a moving stream that lands right in the sightline of a nasty, ol’ daddy trout sitting just behind that rock right there, but I do know a thing or two about putting fish in the bucket.
Spend enough time on the sea and you will see many strange things. I have had days on the water when fish sacrificed themselves on every cast. Bluefish, when feeding, are as voracious as any shark of your imaginations. Big ones go 17+ pounds and they will rip up your arms if you hook into one. I have been lost, in fog on rough seas. I have seen a man die standing to my right as I caught fish on a night trip on the Brooklyn III on a Friday in 1978. I have lost fish so big that they devour my soul with their silent, deep sea mocking. Be that as it may, I love being on the water.
Party boat fishing is the easiest way to go from landlubber to fisherman in a New York minute. Here are some tips to get you on your way.
Party Boat Fishing
“If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing rods.” -Doug Larson
Party Boats, sometimes known as Head Boats or Open Boats, are a category of commercial sport fishing boats that charges a fee per passenger for regularly scheduled trips.
Like a train or plane, the boat has posted departure and return times, holds a set number of passengers, and charges the same fixed fee for most voyagers. Kids and seniors get a discount on most boats. They will supply you with a rod, tackle and bait (some charge a small fee for the use of rods, some provide them free with your fare).
The number of anglers on a trip depends on the size of the boat, and the cost of the trip. The less the trip costs, and the bigger the boat, (also the shorter the trip), the more people will be on the boat. Skill levels of the fisherman vary greatly.
If the trip is taken during the local tourist season, and the trip is during the day, expect a number of ‘riders’ (people who go out just for the ride-not to fish) and extremely novice anglers. If you want to avoid the crowds take your trip during bad weather, off-season, long trips, or ‘limited party’ (costs more hence fewer folks).
You can find a good listing of these boats at the bottom of this page.
General Rules for Party Boats
Proper etiquette is a MUST for party boat fishing for all who sail. You may be with a group of friends; another group might have a family with kids; a third might be a group here from another country, everyone gets along.
I’ll give you a few tips on making it a fun day:
1) Always obey the Crew and Captain. Their goal is to keep you and all the other anglers happy, since without your money they will go broke. Most of the time, with a good professional crew, this is not a problem. They do this for a living and it is there business to put you on fish.
2) Always be aware of those around you (right, left, and when casting-behind). Watch out for kids. Most bad tangles can be avoided if you pay attention to your line. Otherwise, oh boy! “No pulling in the back!”
3) Be knowledgeable of local species, and local laws. Often a single illegal fish on a boat can result in very large fines for both boat Captain and the offending angler. When in doubt, ask the crew or release the fish. A few mates break the spines of nuisance species like dogfish. I am not down with this unnecessary killing and make a point of saying that when I hook one. Click for a current list of NYS DEC Fishing Regulations
4) Exercise patience, kindness, and courtesy. Cursing loudly, while common among most of us anglers when fishing alone, can offend others on a party boat. Never drink excessively. It is common respect not to get all banged up on a boat. “Don’t disrespect the Bing!”
5) Chill out. If your lines get tangled, don’t get frustrated or try to assess blame-it goes with fishing elbow to elbow, and can be a good way to make friends.
6) HAVE FUN! A party boat is a great place to meet other anglers and ‘trade lies’ as fishermen often do. There is more to fishing than just catching fish.
What should I bring on a party boat?
1) Food, Beverages. Hydration is key on hot days I recommend fruit juices and cold bottles of water. While I do occasionally indulge in a beer or two, I find that too much hurts my fishing abilities and makes me take too many trips to the ‘head’. Drinking a few beers is part of the experience for many anglers on a hot day, but remember it is a privilege afforded to you by the Captain. Some boats have decent galleys and sell food and drinks on board so call the boat’s Captain before your first trip for the low-down. I usually find it best to pack a couple of sandwiches for the trip.
2) A camera phone (sealing it in a Zip Lock Bag to prevent it from getting wet) for those special moments.
3) Extra Clothing. It can be much cooler on the water then on land. Dress in layers. Even on warm days, bring a layer or two.
4) Rain Gear, if there is even a chance of weather.
5) Sunscreen and Polarized Sunglasses. You will bake in the sun. SPF on ears, face, under chin and neck. The reflection of the sun off the water is strong and can burn too.
6) An old towel or t-shirt to wipe your hands on.
7) Warm, non-slip shoes that can get wet.
8) Bring a cooler to keep your food and beverages cold and to bring your fish home.
9) Tools: Pliers, Scissors, Folding Knife, extra line, and a tackle box or bag that can get wet.
10) Sturdy fishing tackle. Just about every boat will have decent rods for you to use. If you are going to fish a few times each years, you will soon want to invest in your own. It can get personal.
11) A waterproof bag or heavy plastic bag to put you non-fishing gear stuff in. You are on the water and things get wet.
12) Any specialized baits not provided by the boat (call the boat first and check reports online or in the papers).
13) Cash in small denominations (usually I bring some ones and fives, in addition to my fare). You will need it to tip the crew (ask regulars what is customary), to buy extra tackle, to pay for fish cleaning, to buy snacks and to enter the pool.
14) Aspirin (or equiv.) and/or Dramamine (for those sea-sick prone-take one BEFORE you leave the dock).
15) A GOOD ATTITUDE! It is a great day to forget your city strife and experience a bit of nature. Enjoy yourself on the high seas!
BROOKLYN/SHEEPSHEAD BAY PARTY BOATS
Pier6, 917-331-2671 or 718-743-8464. SAILING EVERYDAY 7AM BLUES AND BASS, MONDAY-SATURDAY 7PM-12AM
Full Day, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Evening 5-9 p.m., Pier 1
Night trips produce.
Full Day, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Night Stripers 7-12 p.m., Pier 4
Some call this the “lazy man’ special because he leaves at 9 a.m. Doesn’t matter, Captain Dave knows where the fish are. Friendly, helpful staff. Night trips produce, too.
MARILYN JEAN IV Pier 6 PORGYS BLUES BASS 7PM-12AM
Capt. Ryan 917.650.3212, Capt. Tony 917.560.8224
OCEAN EAGLE II
Full Day, 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Pier 5
(718) 981-9750 Captain Gregg spares no expense in trying to find the fish. Great crew, fine galley and usually good fishing. This boat is one of my favorites.
Pier 4, Phone: (917) 444-0135
SEA QUEEN VI
8AM – 12Noon, 1PM – 5:30PM, 7PM -12:00 Midnight, Pier 5,
(718) 646-6224 Half day boat that is great for kids and families. Courteous staff and clean accommodations make a trip on this boat a pleasure.
MANHATTAN PARTY BOATS
THE CAPITOL PRINCESS
Skyport Marina @ 23rd Street & FDR
2430 FDR Drive Service Road East, New York, NY, 10018
The Capitol Princess is an amazing boat that will live up to the snootiest of Manhattan standards. Clean facilities, pleasant staff, great food and a captain that knows where the fish are. Highly recommended.
QUEENS PARTY BOATS
Full Day, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-12 a.m.
Phone 917 747 4789
Dock 158-35 Crossbay Blvd. Howard Beach NY
BRONX/CITY ISLAND PARTY BOATS
551 City Island Ave
Bronx, NY 10464
Phone: (917) 417-7557
Email: info@IslandCurrent.com, Mon – Fri: 8am – 5pm, Saturday: 9am – 12pm
Sunday: By Appointment
701 Minnieford Ave, Bronx, NY 10464
Phone: (718) 885-0236