1ANDREW FLETCHER, New York, NY – 1865 This 1865 painting of the "ANDREW FLETCHER" is a good representation of the earliest tow boats (now called tug boats) to operate on a part time basis from New York Harbor as what would later become known as the 'party boat' or 'head boat'. On Sundays during the 1860s and 1870s, there was very little towing business available and many New York harbor tow boats took parties of anglers to "The Fishing Banks" during their off days. And during the summer months, it was common to see as many as 30 tow vessels anchored on the fishing grounds east of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. At the time, she sailed from Manhattan's East River under the guidance of veteran fishing pilot Samuel 'Sam' Greenwood. An advertisement for her dated June 29, 1865 announced "The New and Splendid Steamer ANDREW FLETCHER for the Fishing Banks".
The "ANDREW FLETCHER" was built in 1864 at Athens, New York for the Fletcher Harrison & Co. who at the time manufactured marine steam engines. She was powered with a Fletcher Harrison & Co. engine and was named after Company Chairman, Andrew Fletcher. She was later owned by the Quarantine Commission of New York and on December 19, 1872, she caught fire while returning from Hoffman Island in Lower New York Bay and burned to the waterline. She was scrapped and her engine was salvaged and installed in a newly built vessel.
2SETH LOW, New York, NY – 1878 The "SETH LOW" was a 126-foot steam powered sidewheel tow boat (early tug boat) built in 1861 at Keyport, New Jersey. Shortly after the Civil War began, she was appropriated by the War Department and in 1862 she towed the Union Navy's ironclad warship "USS MONITOR" from Brooklyn, New York to the Chesapeake Bay.
The "SETH LOW" was one of the many tow boats to take fishing parties to the "Fishing Banks" on a part-time basis and she eventually abandoned the towing business completely for the "Deep Sea Fishing" trade. In 1869, she was sailing from Manhattan to the "Cholera Banks" on a regular schedule under the direction of Fishing Pilot Samuel 'Sam' Greenwood. The Following is from a newspaper advertisement in July of 1878 "FISHING BANKS EVERY DAY EXCEPT SATURDAYS – The Fastest Steamer "SETH LOW" with saloon, leaving Harrison St. North River 7 AM – East River Pier at 7:30 AM – 8th St. East River at 7:45 AM – Battery Wall next to Staten Island Ferry 8 AM – North River Pier at 8:10 AM – Gentlemen's Tickets 75 cents, Ladies 50 cents".
The "SETH LOW" returned to the towing business in the 1880s and worked along the St. Johns River in Florida. She caught fire on November 2, 1888 and was a total loss.
3ACCOMACK, New York, NY – 1889 The "ACCOMACK" was another excursion steamer to join the Deep Sea Fishing trade. She was a 137-foot steamboat built in 1877 at Brooklyn, New York and sailed on a regular daily schedule from New York's East River to the fishing banks.
A newspaper advertisement from September 1889 lists her as "Departing from the East 31st Street Pier at 6:35 AM and Beekman Street at 6:55 AM under the command of Fishing Pilot Henry Beebe. Fare for Gentlemen 75 cents, Ladies 50 Cents, Clubs of 5 for $3".
4JAMES B. SCHUYLER, New York, NY – 1890 The "JAMES B. SCHUYLER" from New York City circa 1890. Built in 1865 at Jersey City, NJ, this 'triple-decker' steamboat initially served as an excursion boat; she began party boat fishing in 1881. Captain Joseph Hancox owned and operated her and she was one of the premier steamboats to sail daily to the local fishing banks from Manhattan's East River. The "JAMES B. SCHUYLER" was 185 feet in length and carried as many as 700 passengers. Of note are the flags flying from the masts. The topmost flag says "FISHING BANKS DAILY" and the other flags advertise the fares of 65 cents for men and 35 cents for ladies and children. In 1897, the "JAMES B. SCHUYLER" caught fire while moored at the pier and burned to the waterline.
5MOUNT DESERT, New York City – 1890 The "MOUNT DESERT" side-wheel steamboat was built in 1879 at Bath, ME for the Boston and Bangor Steamship Company. The photo shows the "MOUNT DESSERT" at Bar Harbor Wharf where she originally sailed as an excursion vessel and carried passengers to Mount Desert and Rockland, ME. She relocated to New York City in 1904 and began making daily trips to the fishing banks under the command of her new owner, Captain and Fishing Pilot George Beebe.
6ANGLER, New York, NY – 1892 Now that's what we call being railed! The "ANGLER" (shown here during a 'non-fishing' trip) was a triple-decker steamboat that sailed on a regular schedule from Manhattan's East River to the fishing banks. This 166-foot sidewheeler was built in 1878 at Wilmington, DE as the excursion vessel "MARY MORGAN". She became the "ANGLER" in 1888 under the command of Captain Albert Foster. Captain Foster was one of the first true deep sea party boat captains and pilots. He was responsible for locating and naming several of the New York Bight's best fishing grounds including "Seventeen Fathoms".
7J.S. WARDEN, New York, NY – 1895 The "J.S. WARDEN" was another triple-decker sidewheeler steamboat that made regular trips from Manhattan to the local fishing banks. She was 172 feet in length and was built in 1863 at Jersey City, NJ as the "ELIZA HANCOX". Captain Henry Beebe, who was another pioneer party boat pilot, operated her as the "J.S. WARDEN". Like Captain Albert Foster, he too located and named several local fishing areas including the "Klondike Banks".
8AL FOSTER, New York, NY – 1897 Owned and operated by her namesake, Captain Al Foster, the "AL FOSTER" was built in 1892 at Wilmington, Delaware by Harlan & Hollingsworth. At 215 feet in length, a beam of 40–feet, a hull depth of 15 feet and weighing 824 tons, she was the largest vessel ever built exclusively for party boat fishing. In July of 1892 her ad in the New York Times boasted "A Day on the Ocean – Cholera or Fishing Banks, Just built for this route, New twin-screw steamer with triple expansion engine, Seven water-tight compartments, Deck and hull all iron or steel, Cannot sink or burn, Palace saloon, and the Pride of the River and Ocean". She sailed daily from Manhattan with departures from the 23rd Street Pier on the East river and from the Battery.
In 1898, Captain Foster sold the vessel and it continued sailing from New York to the fishing banks as the "FOSTER" and later as the "DOLPHIN". In April of 1900, the vessel was purchased by the Alaska Steamship Company of Seattle, Washington for $100,000 and became a light cargo and passenger ferry operating between Seattle and Cape Nome, Alaska.
In 1920, the vessel was sold to an owner in Chile, and in 1923, she was purchased by the Mexican Navy who converted the vessel into the gunboat "PLAN DE GUADELUPE". She was scrapped the following year.
9MISTLETOE, New York, NY – 1899 The "MISTLETOE" was a sidewheel steamboat built in 1872 at Chester, Pennsylvania. At the time of this photo, she was owned by the United States Light-House Establishment and operated as a Light House Tender bringing supplies to light houses. She was later sold and at some point began taking parties of anglers from Manhattan's Battery to the fishing grounds.
On May 5, 1924 she caught fire while underway to the fishing grounds off Far Rockaway, burned to the waterline and sank. Captain Dan Gully, who owned the "MISTLETOE", was in command of the vessel at the time with 74 passengers aboard, all of whom were safely transferred to other fishing vessels before she went down. Known by local fishermen as "The East Wreck", she still produces various types of bottom fish to this day.
10DOLPHIN, New York, NY – 1900 The "DOLPHIN" from New York City circa 1900. Built in 1892, she originally sailed as the "AL FOSTER" from Manhattan's West Side. At 215 feet in length and powered by two steam engines, she was the largest vessel ever built specifically for party boat fishing. She was known to sail to the local fishing banks with as many as 1,200 anglers! She became the "FOSTER" in 1898 and was later renamed the "DOLPHIN". She continued to sail from New York's East River until 1900, when she was sold and relocated to Alaska. (She became a light cargo and passenger ferry and made the run between southern Alaska and Seattle, WA.)
11NEW BRUNSWICK, New York, NY – 1900 In 1900, the steamer "NEW BRUNSWICK" sailed to the "Fishing Banks" every day during the summer season. This triple decked steamboat departed from piers along New York's East River under the command of Captain James Lynch. Unlike the fishing steamboats "ANGLER", "EDMUND BUTLER" and "ST. MICHAELS" whose fares were 75 cents for Gents and 50 cents for Ladies, the "NEW BRUNSWICK" was a bargain and advertised all fares at 50 cents and children accompanied by an adult were free.
12DOLPHIN, New York, NY / Juneau, Alaska – 1904 The steamer "DOLPHIN" is shown backing out of her berth at Juneau, Alaska in 1904. She was built in 1892 at Wilmington, Delaware by Harlan & Hollingsworth as the deep sea fishing steamboat "AL FOSTER". At 215 feet in length and weighing 824 tons, she was the largest vessel ever built exclusively for party boat fishing. She sailed to the 'Deep Sea Fishing Banks' from New York City under the command of her namesake, Captain Al Foster.
After Captain Foster sold the vessel a few years later, it continued sailing to the fishing banks as the "FOSTER". The vessel was later purchased by the Loewer Steamboat Co, of New York, NY and sailed as the "DOLPHIN". In April of 1900, the vessel was purchased by the Alaska Steamship Company of Seattle, Washington for $100,000 and became a light cargo and passenger ferry operating between Seattle and Cape Nome, Alaska.
In 1920, the vessel was sold to an owner in Chile and lastly in 1923, she was purchased by the Mexican Navy who converted the vessel into the gunboat "PLAN DE GUADELUPE". She was scrapped the following year.
13ANGLER, New York, NY – 1905 The "ANGLER" is seen here departing Manhattan's East River underway to the local fishing banks. This 166-foot side-wheeler was built in 1878 at Wilmington, DE as the excursion vessel "MARY MORGAN". She became the "ANGLER" in 1888 under the command of Captain Albert Foster. Captain Foster was one of the first true deep sea party boat captains and fishing pilots and is arguably the greatest party boat captain of all time. He was responsible for locating and naming several of the New York Bight's best fishing grounds including "Seventeen Fathoms".
14C.F. WAHL, Anglesea, NJ – 1905 "Leaving Mace's Wharf for the Fishing Banks". A large group of what appears to be cadets crowd the "C. F. WAHL" as she prepares to depart for a day of fishing in 1905. This sailing sloop was built in 1888 at Atlantic City, NJ and was one of nearly a hundred party fishing boats sailing from southern New Jersey at the time.
15ESTELLA F, Atlantic City, NJ – 1905 The "ESTELLA F" with a group of anglers showing off the day's catch. She was built at Atlantic City in 1900 and is a good example of the sailing sloops that made up much of the southern New Jersey party boat fishing fleet at the turn of the century. At the time, several ports between Atlantic City and Cape May were occupied by these small vessels that offered daily trips to the fishing banks.
Unlike the larger and faster steamboats of New York City that sailed year round, these small vessels did not fare well in the rough fall and winter weather and most of the boats only sailed during the spring and summer months. The vessels were very slow, but they did not have to travel far to the inshore fishing banks with their abundance of Fluke, Porgies, Weakfish and Sea Bass. On weekends, trains from Philadelphia, known as "excursion trains", would bring hundreds and sometimes thousands of anglers to these shore towns that were near to productive inshore fishing banks.
16TAURUS, New York, NY – 1905 The "TAURUS" was a triple-decker sidewheeler steamboat built in 1881 at Philadelphia, PA. The "TAURUS" began deep sea fishing in 1904 and sailed from 'The Battery' at the southern tip of Manhattan. Her 234-foot iron hull had a beam of 32 feet and weighed 916 tons, and her sidewheels were 31 feet in diameter. At the time, she was one of several vessels in the "Iron Steamboat Co." fleet, but the only boat to offer daily deep sea fishing excursions.
17YANKEE DOODLE, Brooklyn, NY – 1905 This 1905 advertising card for Captain David Beck's "YANKEE DOODLE" from Canarsie, Brooklyn, NY shows her in her original design. Built in 1900, the "YANKEE DOODLE" was one of the first 'open boat' fishing sloops (no engine) to sail from Canarsie, Brooklyn. Captain Beck later sold the boat to Captain Bill Allen, and he installed a gasoline engine and built a wheelhouse on her deck. In 1908, Captain Bill Stephens purchased the "YANKEE DOODLE", and continued to sail her from Messenger’s Pier in Canarsie until he sold her in 1914. She then relocated to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY.
18ALBERTA L., Anglesea, NJ – 1906 Built in 1903 at Vineland, NJ, the "ALBERTA L." sailed from Mace's Pier at Anglesea, NJ. She was one of the many steam-powered sloops to sail to the fishing banks on a daily schedule.
19EVELYN, Brooklyn, NY – 1906 The steam yacht "EVELYN" is seen in this postcard before she was converted to a party fishing boat. Built in 1892 at Nyack, NY and originally named the "LINTA", she later became the "EVELYN" and was purchased by Captains Jacob and Dave Martin in 1911. She was the first of many converted steam yachts to operate as a party fishing boat from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY.
20ISRAELLA, Angelsea, NJ – 1906 Captain Nelson Graves' "ISRAELLA" from Angelsea, NJ (now called Wildwood, NJ) circa 1906. The "ISRAELLA" was built in 1899 at Paulsboro, NJ.
21OCEAN CITY, Somers Point, NJ – 1907 Built in 1900 at Greenport, NY, the "OCEAN CITY" sailed from Somers Point, New Jersey. Besides offering daily trips to the 'Fishing Banks', she also served as a ferry, taking passengers between Somers Point and the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk. She was later sold to Captain Frank McAvoy and he relocated the "OCEAN CITY" to Canarsie, Brooklyn.
22SYLPH, Brooklyn, NY – 1909 This rare 1909 photo of the "SYLPH" depicts her during her tenure as the official United States Presidential Yacht for President Theodore Roosevelt. The US Navy originally purchased the "SYLPH" in June 1898 from her builder, John Roach & Co., Chester, PA, and they commissioned the vessel as a Presidential Yacht on August 18, 1898 at the Norfolk Navy Yard. The "SYLPH" served in this capacity for Presidents McKinley (1898-1901), Roosevelt (1901-1909), Taft (1909-1913) and Wilson (1913-1921).
In 1921, the Navy re-designated her as Patrol Yacht "PY-5" and she sailed on the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. In 1925, she was permanently moored at the Washington Navy Yard, where she remained until her decommissioning in April 1929. Frank B. Clair of Brooklyn, New York purchased her in November 1929 (Mr. Clair was reportedly an ex-bootlegger.) Mr. Clair and his partner Captain John Nugent converted her into a party fishing boat and operated her from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY.
In 1935, her boiler failed and she was re-powered with a 400 HP Worthington diesel engine. Also during 1935, Jeremiah 'Jerry' Driscoll purchased Mr. Clair's share of the business. She continued fishing from Sheepshead Bay until April 1939, when she changed her business and ran a ferry service from Sea Gate, Brooklyn to the Battery in Manhattan. Alas, in 1941, her owners defaulted on the mortgage held by the Worthington Diesel Company and they took possession of the vessel. The "SYLPH" is the only vessel in history to go from presidents to porgies.
23WHITBY, Brooklyn, NY – 1909 The original "WHITBY" from Canarsie, Brooklyn, NY circa 1909. J.M. Bayles & Son, Port Jefferson, NY built the "WHITBY" in1882 as a luxury two masted sailing sloop. She was converted to a party fishing boat and sailed from Canarsie from 1909 through 1913. In 1913, Captain Frank Hammer Sr. purchased the "WHITBY" and relocated her to Sheepshead Bay in 1914. She later sailed as the "MARY ANN" and she was finally dismantled in 1955. An interesting aside about the boat’s construction is that the builder used wooden fasteners to secure the hull planking to her hull frames.
24TAURUS, New York, NY – 1909 This vintage postcard depicts anglers aboard the top deck of the steamer "TAURUS" at the fishing banks in 1909. The top deck, also referred to as the 'Hurricane Deck', of these large fishing steamboats was reserved for rod and reel anglers. Handline fishermen were relegated to the middle 'Salon Deck' and the 'Lower Deck'.
25TAURUS, New York, NY – 1909 Anglers fishing from the top deck (also referred to as the 'Hurricane Deck') of the triple-decker fishing boat "TAURUS" circa 1909. The anglers are using wooden sidewinder reels ('knuckle-busters') and the mate in the foreground is cutting bait (skimmer clams). Only anglers with a rod and reel could use the top 'Hurricane Deck'. Hand-line fishermen were restricted to the middle 'Salon Deck' and the 'Lower Deck'. Oh yes, they had a saloon on the 'Salon Deck' that served up frothy mugs of tap beer. Yum!
26QUEEN CITY, Wildwood, NJ – 1910 Captain Samuel Buck's "QUEEN CITY" leaving Grassy Sound in Wildwood, NJ circa 1910. The "QUEEN CITY" was built in 1906 at Wildwood, NJ and was dismantled in 1950.
27M.J.R., Brooklyn, New York – 1911 The "M.J.R." is seen here at Cliffords & Evans Dock at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY in 1911. The "M.J.R." was built in 1909 at Brooklyn, NY for Martin J. Rouche, who operated the "MJR Restaurant" on nearby Emmons Avenue and it was one of the earliest party boats to sail from Sheepshead Bay. The photo portrays folks getting ready for a private charter, and given their nice clothing and expensive bowler hats, they are a well-heeled group. Four of them also have their own fishing rods (two-piece and carried in cloth bags.) Captain Henry Corson is jauntily posed in the bow.
28EVELYN, Brooklyn, NY – 1912 A 1912 advertising postcard for Captain 'Jake' Martin’s "EVELYN" from Martin Brothers Dock, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY. Built in 1892 at Nyack, NY as the private steam yacht “LINTA”, she was purchased by Captain Martin in 1911 and was the first converted steam yacht to fish as a party boat from Sheepshead Bay. The back of the postcard proclaims she was the "fastest steamer from Sheepshead Bay" and fished daily at 8:00 AM "For the Deep Sea Banks, Cholera Banks, Long Beach, Klondyke Banks, Long Branch, Farms, or 17 Fathoms – when in season." Postcard courtesy of Captain John Bogan Jr.
29TAURUS, New York, NY – 1912 This photo was taken on the top or 'hurricane' deck of the triple-decker fishing steamboat "TAURUS" while at the 'Fishing Banks' in May of 1912. The "TAURUS" was one of many New York City based fishing steamboats that sailed from the mid-1800s until the early part of the last century. Her 234-foot iron hull had a beam of 32 feet and weighed 916 tons, and her sidewheels were 31 feet in diameter.
'Fishing Banks' was a generic term of the day used to describe any of the many fishing grounds off the New York and New Jersey coasts. Notice the sidewinder 'knuckle buster' fishing reels and bamboo rods used during this era.
30TAURUS, New York, NY – 1912 This photo was also taken on the top or 'hurricane' deck of the triple-decker fishing steamboat "TAURUS" and is a view looking towards the stern on the same day in May 1912 as the previous photo. Wicker baskets, dress suits, fedora hats and canvas slickers are just a few of the details captured by this vintage image.
The light crowd of anglers was surely a sign of things to come. Fewer fares on this big vessel were the result of the increased popularity of the smaller party fishing boats that sailed from many local ports. Those smaller vessels would soon dominate the party boat industry and become its mainstay for the next 100 years.