As an offshore sailor and a saltwater angler, sailboat fishing is my passion. For any sailor on a long offshore passage, the ability to pull a few protein packed, omega 3 rich fish from the sea is a rather useful skill. So here Ill ignore the fishing-for-sport element and concentrate instead on fishing-for-food.
The other good news is that the fishing gear required is inexpensive just a simple trolling line and a few lures.
In fact, the market value of your first decent-sized fish is likely to exceed your investment in the fishing equipment used to catch it not that youll want to sell it, of course. Youll want to eat it and catch more, which presumably is why youre here.
So if its that easy, why do some yachtsmen tell you that sailboat fishing is a waste of time?
Well, its because they havent read the small print. So heres the small print
First, lets think about what happens if you dont use a snubber on your offshore trolling handline. So, youre sailing along nicely when a tuna hits your lure. Instantly realising hes made a serious error of judgement, the tuna sets off licketty spit in the other direction. Bang! Probably a broken line and no lure - definitely no tuna
But with a snubber theres no bang, just a satisfying boiiing as it does its thing, taking all the shock load out of the tunas instinctive reaction and alerting your crew to the tug of war to come. A vital part of any trolling handline, is the snubber.
It's made up from a length of bungee cord essentially a large elastic band between the handline and the boat. Alternatively, if you've got one handy, an old bicycle tyre inner tube will do the job just fine.
The safety line, made up from a length of 8mm braid rope (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.
Not you or your boat, just the business end of your handline.
Up until quite recently I used a 5m (16ft) long nylon monofilament leader at the end of my trolling line, and very happy with it I was too. After all, it was cheap and seemed to work.
Then I discovered fluorocarbon fishing line, a sort of hi-tech monofilament line on steroids. Its thinner, stronger than mono, and best of all its invisible! Underwater that is, a trick resulting from fluorocarbon line having almost the same refractive index as water. Im absolutely, 100 percent, hand-on-heart sure that its brought more good fish to Alacazams galley than would otherwise have been the case.
Most of the fish that youre likely to catch will be looking upwards, hoping to spot their prey silhouetted against the sunlit surface. So this is where your lure should be, close to the surface, and its no bad thing if it leaps out now and again like a paranoid flying fish.
A cheap and cheerful tuna clone should get results here, but a slightly more expensive skirted trolling lure may well get better results, particularly if it leaves astern a fish-attracting bubble train, and pops and fizzes down the face of a following sea.
But what about when youre sailing on the wind and a following sea is but the stuff of dreams? Here a lure that leaps out of the sea will not be so effective, the wave train and the motion of the boat causing it to crash through wave crests, rather than slaloming down the front face of the waves. You need a lure that will get down deeper, below all the unpleasantness on the surface.
Therere several ways of achieving this. One is to rig a trolling weight on your main line - not on the leader - to take the same lure down deeper. It that still doesnt work, you could replace the trolling weight with a planer - and, if your hull speed is not more than 3knots or so you could replace the lure with a stainless steel trolling spoon. These lures are particularly robust and should have a place in all sailboaters fishing kits.
Or you could forget about weights and planers and use a deep diving plug. Yup, theyre more pricey but they really do what it says on the box 6knots with the right deep-diver will get you down 15 to 30 feet.
These deep-diving trolling plugs are characterised by the long, broad beak at the head of the lure. The greater its surface area, and the closer it's angled to the horizontal the deeper it will dive.
In the other extreme where the wind is light, the sea almost flat and the boat just ambling slowly along, a topwater lure - like the Williamson 'Jet Popper' on the right - is well worth a try.
But only if youre off the wind and using a skirted lure of the type that swims along close to the surface. So whats a bird teaser? Its a decoy lure which you should attach at the end of your trolling line and ahead of your leader. The leader should be shorter now, around 3m (10ft) or so.
The bird is buoyant and skips smartly along astern, splashing noisily around ahead of the lure. The little winglets on either side of it shoot out an arc of spray either side increasing the area of disturbance on the surface.
To really maximise the effect of one of these, rig it ahead of a daisy chain as shown here.
Any predator within, er, earshot, will wonder what all the fuss is about, and is likely to amble over and take a look. What hell see is an unsuspecting prey your lure - in hot pursuit of a shoal of baitfish. The rest, as they say, will soon be history.
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 my use of the word reduce, not avoid), make the windward one shorter than the leeward one. Your boats 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 arch if youve got one.
If youve only got one bird, use it on the shorter of the two trolling lines. Multihull owners could easily find somewhere to add a couple more handlines to help feed the multitudinous crew.
Its often said in sailboat fishing circles, that to avoid making a crimson mess in your cockpit, you should leave your hooked fish attached and tow it astern until it drowns. The two obvious reasons for not doing this are
And theres another reason. When the fish is fighting for its life, lactic acid accumulates in the fishs muscles its flesh which will taint the taste. The longer and harder it has to fight, the greater the accumulation will be, and the greater the taste will be affected.
My advice? Get it aboard as soon as you can - using a gaff - and kill it quickly and humanely. Not by beating it to death with a heavy blunt instrument that will end in tears, most probably yours. Just pour some strong alcohol down its gills. Not your finest malt of course - a splash of the rot-gut firewater you give only to your most persistent guests will be fine. This will cause brain death very quickly and it will leave this world in a spirit of great contentment.
If you dont keep your hooks needle sharp you will lose fish. Touch them up with a hook file before and after each use.
Check the point before each use and touch it up with a Hook File as necessary.
The technique is to stroke the file towards the bend of the hook - not towards the point. Use the file on the two flats to ensure that the flats converge in a razor edge and a sharp point. After a few strokes, try the following thumbnail test ...
Drag the point of the hook lightly over your thumbnail. If it tends to dig in, leaving a white scratch, it's sharp. If it doesn't, it isn't.
Do it correctly and it'll soon be 'up to scratch'!
Forget about even the best fishing knots in lines of the diameters were talking about here - you'd never be able to pull them up tight. Crimped connections to hooks and swivels are your only option.
Use only top quality hooks and swivels by well known manufacturers. Forged bronzed mild-steel hooks and ball-bearing swivels are what you need.
There's a rather good book on the subject of sailboat fishing, having - as you may have guessed - my name and ugly mug on the cover.
So if you own a sailboat, or are thinking of getting one, and want to know how to catch fish when underway, becalmed or at anchor - this book is for you!
On the other hand, if you're a vegetarian butterfly collector with no sense of humour - it probably isn't!Buy It Here!
In the USA
In the UK
Downrigger ~ The cranelike device incorporating a line-counter reel often seen on the sterns of sport-fishing boats, which lowers a trolling weight on a wire line to a pre-determined depth. The trolling line is attached just above the weight, which gets the lure down to depths that would otherwise be unachievable.