It’s nearly time for a summer-break…. well in the Southern hemisphere anyway. If you’re lucky enough to be on a cruising holiday this summer, fish will no doubt be on the menu. We make fishing, while cruising easy.
Fishing for your supper from the sea is a wonderful treat – whether it’s quickly turned into sushi, ceviche or some other delightful meal, you can’t beat the freshness, not to mention the satisfaction of being self-sufficient.
In order to catch your dinner as a daily staple, it is important to have the right gear that is also easy to use.
The good news is that the fishing gear required is inexpensive – really all that’s required is just a simple trolling line and a few lures.
You don’t need a rod and reel set-up to land a fish, but it does make your life easier, and the bigger and stronger the fishing equipment, the more it will cost, but the less work it will be to bring one in and the more ‘strikes’ you will land successfully. Try to buy the best rod and reel your budget allows.
If you’re going for a hand line, then it’s the thicker the better, without the clutch lessening the snatch, a bigger line is less likely to snap – it’s also much easier on the hands when pulling it in.
These are our top fishing tips for what works; they’re simple and you’ll rarely go hungry.
Tip #1 – Be invisible
By this we mean the business end of your line, not you or the boat. Try choosing fluorocarbon fishing line, a sort of hi-tech monofilament line. This is thinner, stronger than mono, and best of all is invisible underwater. This is due to the fluorocarbon line having almost the same refractive index as water.
Tip #2 – The right type of fishing lure
Fish usually look upwards when hunting as it’s easier to spot their prey silhouetted against the sunlit surface. It therefore makes sense that this is where your lure should be, close to the surface. It’s also not a bad thing if it leaps out of the water now and again. Make sure you have attached a swivel and leader before the lure.
An inexpensive Bulbhead Squid lure should get results here, but a slightly more expensive skirted trolling lure may well get better results, particularly if it leaves a fish-attracting bubble train astern down the face of a following sea.
Sometimes the motion of the boat may cause the lure to crash through wave crests, rather than slaloming down the front face of the waves. In this case you will need a lure that will get down deeper.
To achieve this, you can use one of several techniques: one is to rig a trolling weight on your main line – not on the leader – to take the same lure down deeper.
Another option is to replace the trolling weight with a planer – and, if your hull speed is not more than 3 knots or so you could replace the lure with a stainless-steel trolling spoon.
Alternatively, you could forget about weights and planers altogether and use a deep diving plug. These are quite expensive, but 6 knots with the right deep-diver will get you down 15 to 30 feet. In the other extreme where the wind is light, with the sea almost flat and the boat just ambling slowly along, a top water lure is well worth a try.
Tip #3 – The correct line length
After selecting the lure and tying it on, it then comes down to line length and you want the lure to be just beyond the effects of your wake. The boat’s wake causes a disturbance and intrigues the fish, they come up to look and, always peckish, they go for the lure. We usually go for around four boat lengths (60m), but the faster you are travelling the more line should go out.
If it’s too close to the boat the wake will hide the lure and too far out you may get fewer strikes. A good rule of thumb is 10x the boat speed to give meters – eg 5 knots = 50m, 6 knots = 60m.
If you’re not using a reel then you need something to take the ‘snatch’ – in this way the line doesn’t snap and the hook becomes more firmly embedded. A small piece of bungy works well.
Tip #4 – Use a snubber
A snubber takes all the shock load out of the fish’s instinctive reaction to turn and run and alerts you to the fact that there’s something big on the other end of the line. A snubber is a vital part of any trolling handline. If you don’t use a snubber you’ll probably end up with a broken line, no lure and no fish.
A snubber is made up from a length of bungee cord which is essentially a large elastic band between the handline and the boat. The safety line, made up from a length of 8mm nylon line (or similar) is attached to a cleat or some other strong-point on the boat. Make sure the loop in it is long enough for the snubber to fully extend, but not so long that the snubber can be stressed beyond its yield point.
Tip #5 – The right connections
Given the diameters of line that are needed for offshore sailboat fishing, you can forget about even the best fishing knots – you’ll never be able to pull them up tight. Crimped connections to hooks and swivels are your only option.
Tip #6 – Missing the point
Keep your hooks sharp by touching them up with a hook file before and after each use. This will greatly reduce your chances of losing your fish.
Tip #7 – Double your chances!
An easy way to do this is to play the numbers game. Use two trolling lines, one from each quarter.
To reduce the risk of them tangling together (note the use of the word reduce, not avoid), make the windward one shorter than the leeward one. Your boat’s leeway will help keep them apart, more so if you clip the leeward one to a higher point such as the backstay, or the stern gantry if you’ve got one.
Tip #8 – Reeling it in
It’s also useful to slow the boat down at this stage – consider bearing away or furling the headsail. To wind in, set the drag on the reel so that the line will wind in, but not so tight that the fish can’t take some more if it is feeling particularly energetic.
Once the fish is surfing on the surface, you can make good progress; if it gains purchase and dives deep, the work will become slow. Be patient and if necessary allow out more line. If you’re using a handline make sure that you have your gloves on at this point.
Don’t be afraid to cut the line if you end up with a fish much larger than you are happy to try to land.
Tip #9 – Getting your catch on board
The surest way of landing the fish is to gaff it. A gaff is a big sharp hook on a stick and allows you to hook into the meat before the fish is out of the water. Failing this, you can pull it up onto a sugar scoop or under a guardrail – but be mindful that during this stage a final flurry of rapid thrashing can set your meal free. A gaff is a good investment.
Tip #10 – Killing it kindly
Try and get your fish on board as quickly as possible and kill it quickly and humanely. There is a good reason for this as the lactic acid accumulating in the fish’s muscles when it’s under stress can very often affect the taste.
The most humane way to kill your catch is to hold the fish head first in a bucket of water and cut into the gills with a sharp knife. The fish will then pump its blood out into the bucket which means no mess and it is better for the meat.
Another option is to inebriate it with hard spirits, straight into the gills, which will cause brain death very quickly, or knife in the back of the head/spinal column.
Beating the fish to death with a blunt instrument usually just ends with a mess and possibly chipped gelcoat.
Tip #11 – Fishing safety
- Don’t take any risks with eating a fish that may have ciguatera – a toxin that can accumulate in fish that feed off the algae on coral reefs (or eat the fish that do) and while it is harmless to the fish it can be very unpleasant for humans. Check the local fishing reports and news to see if ciguatera has been listed as a warning.
- Don’t try to unhook a large fish when it’s leaping about the cockpit. Wait until it calms down – a dark wet cloth placed over the eyes may help.
- Take care with the hook as you bring the fish on board.
- Take care not to step in any coils of line that you’ve recovered
- Always have a sharp knife on hand, just in case you need to cut yourself free.
- With all the action going on at the stern, don’t neglect your legal obligation to keep a good lookout always.
- Reels can take a lot of punishment and it is worth buying some spare parts if you are away on a long trip.
For tasty ways to prepare your catch go to: https://www.fieldandstream.com/articles/fishing/2013/02/20-best-field-stream-fish-recipes
Feature image pic credit: Andy Hofmeyr