If you will vacation near water this year, there’s a good chance a headboat operates nearby.  These larger crafts will take you fishing and charge “by the head,” thus the name.  Headboats are excellent ways to enjoy fishing for a variety of reasons.  First, you rarely need gear as they provide bait, rods, tackle, and usually have a boat license, which means you don’t have to buy one. Also, they typically will clean your fish for a modest cost so that you go home with a fish dinner to offset the cost.

I fished last week on the “Marathon Lady” from Marathon Key in Florida, which was amazingly well-organized. Despite at least 50 anglers on board of all ages, I didn’t see a single tangle between anglers. The captain and two mates kept us supplied with bates and replaced rigs if we got snagged on the bottom.  Afterward, the mates cleaned fish “3-for-a-dollar”, and it was well worth the meager expense.

Although you will have a great time on the water, these seven hacks can maximize your experience:

Headboats target a variety of fish that are good to eat.

Catch the return: Before you book, visit the dock when the headboat returns and see what people have to say and share. Fishermen are great talkers and just by listening, you’ll get a feel of their experience. Watch the catch. You’ll see the kinds and numbers of fish you can expect.

Fish a weekday: When fish are biting, word travels fast, and you can expect a full house, especially Friday through Sunday. The fewer the number of passengers, the better the chance of catching fish, and the more room you will have on the boat.

Ask about nearby restaurants that will cook your catch.

Call ahead about tackle: If you are an experienced angler, you’ll probably catch more with your gear; however, it must be like that used on board. Light test lines and limber rods aren’t acceptable because you will tangle with other anglers. Ask what tackle is needed and at least bring a hook sharpener so you make the most of every bite.

Arrive early: Experienced anglers will know which position on the boat provides the best fishing depending on wind, sun angle, and tides. As you pay the captain or mate for your trip, ask which position they suggest. On bright sunny days, you may want the shady side to prevent sunburn.

Ask about bait: I once began a trip for sea trout and caught three huge fish where few others were getting a bite. The secret… I asked the captain what the fish were biting on and bought a couple of said lures before leaving the dock.

Be social: Most of the anglers on the boat will be tourists looking to catch some fish and enjoy time on the water. They will often discuss other headboats in the area and give you insightful reviews. They may also have fished nearby piers, bridges, or beaches that will broaden your fishing options.

This grouper was too small to keep, but still fun to catch.

Finally, prepare for the ocean: You want sunblock and proper clothing to protect against sunburn. I came from the North and knew I’d burn to a crisp without wearing jeans and a UV blocking shirt from Field & Stream. Motion sickness can be a problem, so visit a local drug store or bait shop to mediate against this issue. Take your favorite drinks and snacks. Stop at a sub shop on the way if you will be out all day. In other words, HAVE FUN! It’s easy on a headboat.