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By Jason Hunter

 There are fishermen and then there are men, women and children who like to fish. If you don't know how to make a set up consisting of a 3/16 ounce weight set 10 inches below a 1/0 hook rigged with a 2- inch Riverside Wooly Hawg Tail or a finesse worm, or whether that even pertains to saltwater fishing (it doesn't), but you like to fish, this article is for you. This article is about how to book a party boat trip, what to bring and what you will likely catch. For some, it will be detailed and for others, not detailed enough. However, for the casual but serious fishermen (read "fisherpeople") the author hopes this article is at least informative.

 The best part of a party boat trip is the quantity of different species caught by all the passengers. The bad news is that not all fish caught are "keepers". If you want to see and catch a variety of fish, a party boat is the place to be. Most boats are rated to carry 40+ persons and with that many lines in the water, a lot of interesting fish show up. At the outset, most party boat trips are limited to bay fishing as opposed to Gulf fishing. This means the water is calmer and for the most part the wind is less strong. Because the author lives in deep south Texas, this article will concern itself more with South Padre Island and the Laguna Madre. However the number of fish caught, species and general concepts are the same along the Texas coast regardless of whether you are fishing Port Isabel or near Corpus Christi.

 A party boat is nothing more than a meduim size fishing boat that will carry a lot of passengers for a short destination to fish. The boats are not exceptionally spacious, meaning there is not enough room to lie on the deck and get a suntan, but there is room to bring a cooler and the boats usually have seats or benches where you may rest or eat snacks or drink your favorite beverages. There is usually a restroom (a must, since the boats are usually out for 3 to 4 hours at a time). The boats go out fishing two times a day and usually once a night and there must usually be seven or eight passengers on board for it to be profitable to the owner to fish.

 This means you can book a trip if you have a large family, vacation with friends or simply want to fish alone with a number of people who have a like interest. It is not necessary to call in advance for reservations but, it is nice to let the owner know in advance if you are interested in fishing so that he can give you some idea if the boat is, in fact, going out (i.e., they have the 7 or 8 people to make it profitable to the owner to go out).

 A party boat is equipped with life vests and meets ridged Coast Guard specifications as a passenger carrying vessel. The captains are trained, licensed and experienced. Most boats have a fish finder. There are usually one or more deckhands that will assist you in untangling lines, removing fish from hooks, supplying bait and making sure you have a good time. Tipping the deckhand is customary if you've been well served. After the trip, the deckhand will fillet your fish and bag it for you for a nominal price. You will need to bring a small cooler with ice to take the fish home with you. What does all this cost? Usually, about $25.00 per person if you don't have your own tackle, and $20.00 per person if you have your own tackle not including the tip. Specials are sometimes available in the off season that further reduces the price.

 You do not need to bring your own fishing tackle, but you may if you want and many do. The boat will have a rod and reel for you and the deckhand will provide you with a stringer for your fish. A stringer is a nylon "string" where the fish are attached and left in the water so as to keep fresh. Be careful, however, because your fish might get stolen by a porpoise or pelican, both of which been known to stay within striking distance and looking for an easy meal.

 The bait supplied is usually previously frozen shrimp, but you are not limited to the boat's bait. You may want to bring along a small bag of squid or you may want to use "cut bait" which is nothing more than undesirable fish cut up and used as bait. There is always plenty of bait so you don't have to worry about running out. If you have a hard time keeping the bait on the hook (i.e., the fish keep stealing your bait) you may want to try squid.

 Trolling is not usually allowed and fishing is only done once the engine to the boat is off and the boat anchored. Generally, it will take at least 30 minutes to get to your fishing destination. The deckhand will show you how to bait the hook and fish. You will be told to take the shrimp and bait the hook by starting at the shrimp's tail and sliding the hook through the body to the shrimp's head so that the shrimp wraps around the hook. The entire hook will be "lined" with the shrimp. The reel is then disengaged and the line dropped into the water. You will keep your thumb on the reel to gently release the line (so as to avoid getting a "bird's nest") and let the hook go to the bottom of the bay. The depth of the bay will vary but could be as shallow as six feet or as much as forty feet. You will probably use a baitcast reel with approximately 40 pound test line for fishing, but in reality, any good fishing rod, reel and line combination will work. When the hook has reached the bottom, you will engage the reel and rewind until the hook is 6 inches or so off the bottom of the bay. When the fish strikes, you set the hook by giving it a jerk and reel your fish in. The fish you will be fishing for are usually bottom feeders; hence, leaving your baited hook at the bottom of the bay will catch more fish.

 The type of fish expected is sand sea trout (sand trout) and kingfish (whiting) not to be confused with king mackerel. The fish are not large and usually are approximately 12 - 13 inches long. Some are bigger and some are smaller. There is no bag limit and there is no size limit. Keep what you want and throw back the rest. Both are good eating.

 There are four species of kingfish (whiting) that occupy the waters near the United States. Near Texas the two most prevalent species are southwestern kingfish, Menticirrus americanus, and the Gulf kingfish, Menticirris littoralis. These kingfishes have a subterminal mouth and a barb on the chin. These species have no air bladder, slender dorsal spines and an asymmetrical caudal fin. Both species feed off the bottom and their diet consists mainly of crabs, shrimp and mollusks. They, along with one other species, are fished commercially in the Chesapeake Bay. One species occupies the waters of the Pacific coast.

 The sand sea trout (sand trout), Cynoscion arenarius, is a resident of Texas waters. It also can be found along Mexico and as far south as the Gulf of Campeche. It's body is shimmering silver with a very light iridescent shine along the sides. The charateristics of the species include 11 soft anal rays and the gillrakers number 10 - 11. According to McClaine's Field Guide to Saltwater Fishes of North America, Henry Holt and Company, Inc. (Copyright 1978), the life history is not well known but, it is believed that the species may be migratory. They are found abundantly near South Padre Island, Texas and support part of the economy's sport fishery.

 Depending on the number of passengers and the number of those fishing there are a lot of different species caught. You may expect saltwater catfish, ribbon fish, rock fish, "piggy" perch, croaker, octopus, rays and an occasional snapper, sheepshead or black drum. Rarely, but it has been known to happen; you may land a black tip shark (usually a small one) or mackerel. However the vast majority of fish caught will be the sand trout or whiting. You do need a fishing license with a saltwater stamp. However, those under 17 are exempt if fishing with an adult.

  Items to bring are about the same as going to the beach. You should bring liquids because the summers in south Texas are awfully hot. Alcoholic beverages are usually allowed. In addition the sun gives you a double whammy. You get direct sunlight plus reflection off the water. You probably want to wear a shirt or bring sun tan lotion. The boats usually have a canopy to shade part of the boat, but for the most part you will be out in the sun. On the rare occasion the boat is out when it rains, you should have rain gear. While not really necassary, you may want to bring a pair of needle nose pliers. The boat goes in early if there is a unanimous vote by all passengers. Clothes should be loose, light weight and comfortable. A tee-shirt, shorts and sandals are ideal.

 As with all outdoor activities there are always responsibilities involved in having a good time. Children are always welcome but must be mindful inasmuch as the boats are medium size with a number of passengers. If you lose a rod and reel overboard you are responsible and must reimburse the owner. In addition, your money is not refunded if you get sea sick. If you are prone to motion sickness, you may want to try Dramamine two hours before the trip.

 After the trip and as a bonus, near the dock may be a restaurant which will cook your fish with several side dishes for a nominal price. For health reasons, the restaurant will not clean your fish. Thus, have the deckhand fillet the fish before taking to the restaurant. Plan on one and one-half fish per person.

 If you choose to cook at home, lime is probably the best ingredient with which to accompany sand trout and whiting fillets. In addition to being abundant in south Texas, it is slightly sweeter and a little more tart than the usual lemon. Try these two recipes:


 ~ 8 sand trout fillets
 ~ 1/4 stick butter
 ~ Pico de Gallo

     Pico de Gallo
 ~ 2 tomatoes, chopped
 ~ 1 small onion, chopped
 ~ 1 fresh jalapeno, chopped
 ~ 4 tbsp chopped cilantro
 ~ 2 tsp fresh lime juice
 ~ 1 tsp salt
 ~ 1 tsp sugar
 ~ 1 tsp Mexican beer (Corona, Tecate, etc.)

* Combine the tomato, onion and jalapeno in a mixing bowl. Add the salt, sugar, lime juice and beer. Mix until sugar is disolved. Fold in the cilantro. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

* Place the fillets in aluminum foil with the butter. Seal foil. Bake for 18 minutes at 350 degrees.

* Remove from foil. Top with the Pico de Gallo and serve with additional lime quarters. Enjoy! Serves 4


 ~ 8 whiting fillets
 ~ 1/2 stick butter
 ~ 1 tsp your favorite herb(s) (basil, tarragon, oregano, etc.)
 ~ 2 tbsp fresh lime juice

* Melt the butter in the microwave oven (30 seconds on medium high). Add the herbs and mix together.

* Place the fillets on aluminum foil and pour the butter over the fish. Seal and bake for 18 minutes at 350 degrees.

* Remove fish from foil. Squeeze lime juice over the top. Serve with additional lime quarters. Enjoy! Serves 4


About The Author: Jason D. Hunter is 43 years old. He practices immigration law in Harlingen, Texas with Rose Marie DeLeon and Thelma O. Garcia. He is married to Denise and has two children, Adam and Benjamin. Jason and Adam hunt between fifteen and twenty times a year for a variety of Texas game. Benjamin has a disability which precludes him from hunting but, has enjoyed in the feast. In addition to hunting, Jason enjoys bay fishing in the Laguna Madre. You may reach him on the web at jasonhunter1@aol.com.

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