ALTHOUGH IT’S BEEN legal to ice fish earlier in the season, the ice conditions locally and even in most of the far North are not that good.

But luckily, living on the Seacoast, we have other opportunities to fish much of the late fall and early winter.

Some of the more aggressive party boats are still in business and will stretch their luck as long as they can. We personally love to fish on these boats for several reasons, the most important one is the “leaving the driving to us” benefits!

Another benefit that has endeared us to the party boat fleet is that many of them have heated cabins that allow us to thaw out a bit during slow fishing times.

Our first suggestion to newcomers to party boat fishing is that if you have your own deep-sea-fishing-capable fishing gear, bring it! Although the boat’s fishing gear will catch fish, it’s usually built more for surviving the beating that their inexperienced anglers can put on it. Your catch will improve considerably if you have good and sensitive deep-sea gear and, if you do not and plan on doing much offshore groundfishing, it’s a good idea to let your friendly fishing gear sales person help you choose a setup that will fit your needs.

We like to go as light as we can with gear that’s still capable of landing a fish that could weigh 50 pounds or more! But if you stick with heavy gear that is not sensitive to light bites, you will no doubt miss the chance to hook those light-hitting but very desirable cod, haddock, flounder, pollock and other species that are great to eat but are not aggressive with their bait taking!

A good many times when we’re out on a party boat, the first thing we’ll try is our jigging rig that we’ll have armed with a “diamond” jig that is as light as we can get away with and still keep contact with the bottom. If you go too heavy with your gear, you’ll miss picking up the light takes by some species such as the very desirable haddock and flounder. Also note that some of the deep-sea species will not take a bare (no-natural-bait attached) jig and others will just pound the “heck” out of a shiny jig with no bait.

If you’re a novice, the best advice is to see what kind of rig most of the other successful people are using and be a “copy-cat”! Don’t be afraid to ask as most of them will be glad to help you out as long as you DON’T try to squeeze into a close space between two anglers who chose their spaces earlier!

If you can’t match what those veteran “old-timers” are whacking the fish with, a good bet is to use a single- or double-hook rig baited with either fresh clam, sea worms or cut bait such as herring (which a majority of the fish you are after will be searching for.) But some species will pass up a chunk of cut bait but will attack a shiny diamond jig.

Don’t be a hero and stick to the railing pounding away at those hard-to-catch late- season fish! Give yourself a warming-up break inside the heated cabin until you can feel the circulation coming back!

We’re not kidding here as we used to fish even when our hands went numb until we smartened up. We don’t like to use gloves or mittens when fishing but after a while we found that a warm pair of mittens and a dry towel to dry your hands with after handling a fish work better than just wiping your hands on your pant legs!

We’re really not kidding here as Jane has tossed those fish gut-wiped pants out the door where we’d try to take some of the scummy stuff off with our garden hose!

Don’t be a hero! There are many late fall or winter days when Mother Nature should win out. A warm car heater will get you back into some kind of sanity! But don’t just take for granted that every late fall or mid-winter day will not be “fishable.” Most party boat captains will not venture out to sea if the conditions are too tough. But for some of us older-folk or people that can’t do well in cold weather, taking the chances of a too-cold-to- fish trip is not worth it. We’d rather be sucking up a nice warm cut of coffee, tea or soup while watching that boat leave the dock without this old but not foolish angler aboard. There’s always tomorrow!

Drop us an email at and get out there and get you some!

Dick Pinney’s column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at