|Fishing for your dinner
from your sailboat.
This page updated: March 2008
Give a man a fish ...
and he'll eat for a day.
Teach a man to fish ...
and he'll buy a boat,
drink beer, and
SailNet - Sue and Larry's "Fishing Gear Selection"
SailNet - Mark Matthews' "Fishing for Sailors"
Letter about fishing from the boat, by Dick deGrasse in Nov/Dec 2000 issue of Ocean Navigator magazine
SailNet - Sue and Larry's "Fishing Woes"
SailNet - Don Casey's "Fishing Under Sail"
Book (I haven't read it): "The Cruiser's Handbook of Fishing" by Scott and Wendy Bannerot
"Fishing: a jerk on one end of a line waiting for a
jerk on the other end of the line."
Trolling gear, from fishing article by Scott and Wendy Bannerot
in Feb 1999 issue of Cruising World magazine:
- Hand line with shock cord.
Simple, cheap, easy to store, but line and hook must
be heavy and thus visible to fish, and can catch only
- Rail-mounted reel.
Penn Senator 12/0 with 200-pound monofilament.
- Stand-up harness and rod (50-pound).
- Wire line, short rod with swivel tip, reel.
Penn Senator 9/0 with 100-pound Monel wire.
From CraigB on Cruising World message board:
... look for short stout rods with black
carbon guides, on the rod it will state the pound class it is,
go for 50 to 80 class about $60 to $100 then
get a Penn 6/0 only the red body
for about $100. This setup will last for years with abuse ...
From Roy Miles on Cruising World message board:
Regardless of where you are located, there are several ways to fish.
If you have absolutely no interest in giving the fish an even chance
and want food on the table, it's hard to beat a trolling line with
an artificial lure. Use a heavy cord or high-test line (greater
than 50# test), attached to the boat with a heavy rubber bungee cord,
to absorb the shock of a heavy hit. A trip to a fishing tackle store
will provide you with lures for local fish. Another route is to purchase
a bag of large double-hooks (make a fist, curl the index and middle
finger, to understand what I am describing). Ask the tackle shop to
sell you some feathers, then ask them to show you how to make a
serviceable jig. Try different colors for different times of the day.
When the fish hits, refrain from hauling it in immediately.
Let it drown while being towed behind the boat.
It's not sporting, but it eliminates a lot of equipment (that
follows in the next description).
The next kind of fishing uses rods and reels.
If you want to catch fish that swim offshore (tuna, dorado,
yellowtail, white seabass, etc), purchase a medium duty rod and reel.
West Marine's catalog can be used as a guide. Or buy used gear.
Talk to the tackleshop folks about the correct test line for your gear.
Add to this a greater variety of lures (plastic jigs, more feathers,
Rapala lures, etc). Install a rod holder to your stern pulpit.
Let the lure into the water, let it stream aft until it's about
two boat lengths astern, set the drag (the friendly tackleshop
guy will show you how), and place the rod in the holder.
WHAM!!! BZZZZZZZZZZ! Something hits the lure. Immediately turn the
boat onto the other tack WITHOUT LETTING THE SHEET GO.
The boat is now hove-to, the motion is calm, and you can focus
on bringing in the fish. The tackleshop folks will show you how
to "pump" the fish in, maximizing your mechanical advantage.
Let the fish pull against the drag to tire it out.
You DON'T want to bring an untired
fish aboard the boat. When alongside, DON'T lift it out directly,
you might lose the fish after all that work. Use a gaff
hook (another opportunity to buy additional gear) to bring
the fish to the boat. Before boating it, use a sharp knife
to cut beneath the gills to allow the fish to bleed overboard.
When it is drained of blood and no longer convulsing, immediately
place it on ice to preserve the fresh quality of the fish.
NEVER let it sit out in the sun.
Another form of popular fishing uses different equipment.
Bottom fishing seeks rock cod and other deep-dwelling bottom fish.
Here, you locate a deep (200' or so) reef on the charts, rig up
a bottom-fishing rod and reel (BIG storage of heavy line,
large cranking handle) with multiple hooks and a heavy weight (1-2#).
Bait it with squid or fish pieces. Drop all sails and drift over the area.
Drop the hooks and sinker to the bottom (you'll feel it hit),
then raise it up a couple feet. When you feel something hit,
tug upwards quickly and enthusiastically. Let the hooks remain
there to allow more fish to take the additional bait. After you
get bored or saturated with fish hits, begin cranking up the catch.
At some point, you will feel the weight disappear.
This means that the swim bladders of the fish have expanded
and the fish are on their way to the surface like balloons.
A fourth form of fishing is with very light tackle, using bait or lures.
You can use this for catching bass near shallow rocks,
around floating weed, or over sand flats. You might even hook
up to something big. Ask the tackleshop guru what to do in this case.
From Irish Eyes on Cruising World message board:
I keep a large salt water conventional reel mounted to the cockpit pulpit.
You must get the type of reel that has a base that wraps around
the pole and is mounted on the pole with two bolts.
Instead of a rod you mount the reel directly to the ss tubing.
I always troll with a weighted jig because it does not tend to
spin and twist the line. When not in use I keep a winch cover
snugged over the reel to keep damaging sunlight off the line.
I troll with the drag loose and tighten it up when a fish is on.
Reel the fish in and swing it over by hand when it's close. ...
From Mike Toledano on Cruising World message board:
I troll in the Gulf Stream using a short heavy pole,
called a 'kite' rod (because they're used to fly kites
to get the bait up and out) and an old garcia mitchell
salt water reel with a couple hundred yards of 40 lb line.
Lure is nearly always just a plastic squid or a feather,
but a fishing/sailing buddy sometimes uses a large stainless spoon.
You can use live bait but then I think you become more
of a 'fisherman' than a 'sailor'.
You can use a short length of pvc pipe clamped to the stern
rail to hold the butt end of the rod in place.
Use a steel leader between the line and the lure.
Let it out a couple of boat lengths and troll at any
speed over about four knots.
So far I've caught dolphin, barracuda, tuna, and african pompano.
All that without really trying.
From RyanN on Cruising World message board:
[Re: catching grouper:]
We trolled at 5-6 knots over the reef in 30 feet of water with two lines out 300'.
The reels had wire on them with a strong monofilament leader.
The lure was a 6" feather with a 10" strip of bait on double hooks.
The weight of the wire and a weight on the end of the wire put the lure
about 10 feet below the surface. The rods were very stiff and never left the rod holders.
When we'd get a hit, we didn't slow the boat, just reeled in the fish.
This made it more work, but was necessary to keep the groupers from
diving down in to the reef.
In two hours we caught two 15-20 lb groupers and about four barracudas.
One of the smaller barracudas was used to make more bait. ...
From Felix U on Cruising World message board:
I've been experimenting lately with deeper-running lures, and they seem
to be a lot more productive than surface lures. Instead of using wire
line for weight, which requires special care and handling, I rigged one
rod with nylon braid line with a lead core. It's color coded every few feet,
so you can tell exactly how much you have out. The line comes with specs
for how far down it will go for each foot of line that you have out.
It goes pretty deep with a short bit of line out. And I was able to put
it on a regular rod and reel that used to have mono on it.
It's available at a lot of serious fishing shops and also through the
fishing equipment catalog companies.
From "The Voyager's Handbook" by Beth Leonard
- 100-pound-test line to a winch.
- Several large hooks.
- Brightly colored plastic for a lure.
- Large washers for sinkers.
(Adjust to keep hooks below surface, to avoid hooking seabirds.)
- A bell on the line to signal a strike.
From Procyon on Cruising World message board:
A Cuban reel is nothing more than a plastic reel about 4" round
with no other parts. A beer can will work just as well. Wrap it
with 100 lb test and stick a lure out as you troll.
Wrap the line backwards around a winch a few times so it clicks
when you get a hit. Rods just get in the way, unless you're
running a charter fishing boat.
About landing a big fish, from Ron on BoaterEd forum:
First, and important to how cooperative the catch is to coming aboard, is tiring him out.
Avoid getting too excited and reeling a large fish in too fast. If there are sharks around
you may have to decide against that, but under normal circumstances, using as light a rod/reel
combination as possible and letting him wear himself out will help immensely in the gaffing process.
A good hook set is also important and that is a function of your bait preparation, trolling speed,
and drag set. I keep my drags set as lightly as possible when trolling so that a fish will try
to swallow the bait before he feels any resistance. If he jumps a lot after hook-up, it is very
important to keep tension on the line and rod up. He will throw the hook if he gets any slack.
Adjust your drags so that when he decides to make a run, he can take some line off without
breaking it. Then after he slows a bit, start turning him around and work him toward the boat.
If he is really big and doesn't seem to want to stop, you may have to follow him with the
boat for a bit. Just make sure the driver can keep the line in sight. That's when you are
having the most fun anyway and a good fight is more memorable than a quick heavy tackle catch.
I prefer lever drag reels for this technique because you can quickly change the drag resistance.
Once he is alongside, try not to bump him into the hull. That will spook him and that is where most
are lost due to line breaks. Here, a low freeboard boat is preferable for larger fish. You have
surely noticed that the big sportfishers don't have high freeboard in the stern area around
the fishing cockpit. That is so you can lean over and with one clean jerk, gaff him and pull
him over the side and directly to the box. A transom door is nice, but I rarely use mine because
it just takes additional effort to steer a fish to it. If a fish is large enough to need the
transom door, chances are he is a tag and release variety that you don't want to handle anyway.
I don't think you are going to encounter any large bluefin tuna in the Gulf, so the rest
you can handle over the side. I try to avoid bringing fish up to the stern to lessen the
chance of a running gear foul.
I carry two gaffs: a long handle one and a short handle one. Most everything including
dolphin, wahoo, and tuna I pull in with the short handle gaff. It takes practice
and you are going to lose a few in the process. Try to slip the gaff under him in the
head area and quickly jerk up and with a single effort drive the point in and pull him
inside the boat. Once that point touches him, he's going to take off, so being quick and
smooth is important. If you can nail him in the head area, just behind the gills, you will
have the most leverage for pulling him aboard. The farther back you get him, the more the
advantage goes to him and he can thrash right off. If you hit him with the gaff and miss
and he takes off, let out line quickly and start over. If you don't lose him right away,
chances are you can still get him because he will be tired. If you have a dolphin on and
there are others around, it is common practice to leave one that is hooked up in the water.
The others will usually stay around and bite anything that you can cast at them.
I have seen people loop a line from the handle of a gaff around their wrist.
I don't advocate that because you never know when you are going to lose your balance
and fall over trying to gaff a fish, particularly if the seas are rough. Then you don't
want to be attached to him if that happens. It's better to lose a gaff.
Sharks are another matter. I don't know why you would want to gaff one. I don't
bring them aboard. I cut the line and hope they go away. Folks who used to target sharks
usually have a rope on their gaffs tied to a fixture on the boat.
It's good practice to spool your reels with fresh line every couple of years if you fish
frequently. The pros say change it every season. Large fish will stress mono and reduce
its elasticity, which is important for hard hitting and energetic fish. Sharp hooks are
necessary also because you want the fish to hook himself and a sharp hook will set and
reduce the possibility of him throwing it.
This is all pretty basic stuff and success just comes with experience. The best approach
is not to get too excited by a big fish and go through the process too quickly.
From John Dunsmoor:
Hand line, drag them till they're dead, never bring a live fish onboard.
It is the coward's way, but it beats cleaning fish guts and blood out of the cushions,
your hair, deck, ears, bimini top, etc. Also it is amazing how much damage can be
done to the fiberglass when someone tries to beat a fish to death with a boat hook,
weight belt, winch handle or some other implement of destruction.
From Roland Falkenstein on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
Did the circumnavigate the Atlantic in 1998 -1999. ... in the Azores I
managed to catch a lot of sardines for dinner from the rocky shores and
breakwaters. If you've never had them their great fresh. Didn't catch
anything on the northern crossing but when I came back west caught a lot
of Dorado, King fish and a couple of tuna.
Found out that I used the smallest lures I had, and managed to catch
fish about 18 - 28 inches long. Anything bigger and I would have been in
trouble. Forgot to buy a gaff, next time I will have one. Also found the
best time for me to fish was between 3 and 5 in the afternoon. Used a
hand line attached to winch and a bungee cord. When the fish took the
lure, winch started turning and caught my attention. Great if you're
napping. After the first week I always had fish in my refrig.
From Steve Strand on WorldCruising mailing list:
We plan on (and do) eating fish fairly often when we are on passages. We
troll one or two lines, about 1/4" nylon cord with 10-15 feet of metal or
monofilament leader (depends on the type of fish in the area). We use
relatively large surface plugs with plastic skirts. Each nylon cord has a
large shock cord built in to the boat-side to take up the initial strike.
We also tie a beer can with a couple of washers onto the shock cord so we
are alerted when we get strikes. We keep a pair of leather gloves near the
stern. Fish are simply dragged up the wake (usually skimming the surface)
and then either hoisted onto the stern or gaffed. We only use our rods and
reels when fishing from the dinghy. Fishing is highly variable, sometimes
we stop due to oversupply, other times we go for weeks without a strike. We
mostly catch large fish, have sashimi, cooked fish and freeze or can the rest.
From Judy Rouse on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
Re: Fishing Gear for Sailboat Trolling:
Depends on how much gear you want to haul around and what kind/size fish you
want to catch. Since we must fly to our boat at the present time, we don't
want to pack a lot of fishing gear. So we bought a little fishing kit that
was advertised in Latitudes and Attitudes for about $50. It fits into a FedEx envelope
so takes no room in packing.
It is a shock cord that we attach to the stern rail. Use about 100 yards of
line and a tandem 2-lure arrangement. First lure is a large brownish glob
that skips along the water surface, and the second lure hangs down about
3 feet and chases the brown one. The ad said "throw the line in the water and
light the grill." We thought that was a little arrogant, but the first time
we used it we were clipping along at 8+ kts and caught a 10-12 lb tuna
within 15 minutes. That is small for tuna, but perfect size for the two of
us without too much waste.
Would obviously not work for larger fish.
From Lew Hodgett on The Live-Aboard List:
A couple of 100-foot hanks of nylon clothesline, 25 feet of steel leader,
a 10-pound downrigger, and some surgical tubing along with a couple of large trolling lures.
Trail the above behind boat.
When fish hits, continue to sail for about an hour while you drown fish, then haul in.
Bring on board with gaff.
Keep baseball bat handy to finish job in case fish is not dead.
This is not about sport, it is about food.
Capt. Stephan Bent's "Downrigger Trolling Inshore"
From Chris of Creative Cruising Concepts:
We are in Australia ... The fishing has been GREAT ever since we went to multiple lures with some surface action.
Six might be a lot for some people but we run at least three (one teaser) even in our laziest mode!
The best trolling rig has been 200-250 lb mono of at least 10 feet for a leader if the tuna are being picky (they have the
best eyesight and will often pass up heavy leaders). Otherwise I run 400 lb leader on hand lines.
I use a stainless thimble located right behind the skirted lures head (with a simple triangle rigging bead in front).
Then I run single stainless hooks on stainless leader attached with a small stainless shackle to the thimble.
It makes it easier to keep a small number of hooksets sharp and ready to go with the various lures.
Once the single hooks are used up I cut them off and replace the single hooks with doubles which slide
onto the existing stainless leader loop if it is still in good shape!
From Doug on Cruising World message board:
- Fishing gear needs to be heavy (because of boat speed,
and strength of ocean fish).
- Get Shakespeare "Ugly Stick" rod.
- "Cuban Yo-Yo": circular plastic hand
reel about 11" in diameter.
- Use a wire leader to prevent fish (especially
bluefish) from biting through line.
- Use black/dull swivel instead of a shiny one; fish will strike a shiny one.
- Feel along fishing line for nicks and rough
spots; cut off damaged line.
- Store fishing line in cool and dark place. Keep it out of sunlight.
- Wash fishing gear in fresh water after
using it in salt water, spray metal with WD-40.
But Adam Chorley says no, fish can smell even traces of WD-40;
use molybdenum grease instead.
- Use pliers to take the hook out of the fish;
protects your fingers from the hook.
- If you get a fishhook stuck in your flesh,
cut off the shank and pull it through.
- Use gloves to protect your hands from the
hook, line and fish.
- Injured fish have red eyes; use a lure with red eyes.
What I gleaned from the many, many helpful responses was
1) after getting some sort of strong rod and a basic decent
reel with strong no-nonsense land that fish line
(40 lbs and PINK, one guy said for Key West sorts
of fish -- yes, I think he
WAS serious); 2) get the right LURE rather than live bait;
and 3) find out from successful locals at what depth the fish you
want like to hang out, and rig an appropriate sized weight
an appropriate distance from your lure, accordingly. Local tackle
shops know about 2) and 3).
From Jeff on Cruising World message board:
Each kind of fish likes a certain temperature, salinity, etc.
So, neglecting a current shift the fishy you want is at some depth
this week +/- 10 feet. Ask the locals to learn the right depth.
I've never officially been deep sea fishing, that is the paid for,
commercially done type, so maybe this is exactly how it is
done. But I helped pull aboard about 75 Lbs of
fish in barely over 15 minutes one morning.
Here is what this guy had. First there was a 2' long extra heavy
fishing rod bolted to the transom. Has maybe about 150
feet of fine steel cable, maybe 100 Lb test. Marked every 10 feet.
On the end of the cable is a big lead ball the size of a
softball which he called the cannon ball.
There is also a snap clip on about 1 foot
of cable where the ball attaches to the cable.
You use a lure, not live bait which gets pulled off by current.
The lure we used he called a "spoon". Fluorescent pink cup of
metal with fur and 3-triple barb NASTY hooks on it.
You take your regular rod and loosen the tension. You toss the lure
over the side with maybe 10 feet of line.
At this point the line is clipped to the snap clip next to the cannon ball.
The cannon ball is lowered to the depth the locals tell you,
and it pulls the lure down with it in trail. When the fish takes the
lure and pulls it frees your fishing line from the snap clip and
thus the cannon ball. Your reel spins like crazy. Now you bring
I have to be honest with y'all. The first day I did this,
we were late in the morning getting started. The females didn't want
to get up. Then they had to eat. Then we had to have coffee and chat.
The whole time this guy is sweating and fretting and
saying the fish are hungry NOW! Finally the men are released
from our social duties and we set up the rig as described.
After a couple hours nothing has happened and we packed it all up.
The women make comments about us wild hunters not
bringing anything home. This was my first time ever fishing and
I sure didn't understand the supposed thrill.
The next morning the guy wakes me up at O-dark-thirty and
we go on deck and ever so quietly we set this rig up again for
65 feet deep and moving dead slow. I sit down, bang! One on hook,
reel it in, spear it and pull it on board -- 22 Lb fish.
Reset the rig, sit down, bang! reel it in -- 25 Lb fishy.
Reset the rig, sit down, anticipation, anticipation, bang! Reel in a 18 Lb
fishy. At this point the sun is just lifting off the horizon.
From Brian Woloshin on Cruising World message board:
I used to use a handline and it was too hard to know when
a fish was on the hook. I tried several methods to detect
the load but they were all too unreliable. I got a
Penn 6/0 rod and reel and caught tons of fish. The clicker
on the drag tells me when I have something. Even if you
don't get a rod, which I recommend, get a reel and
clamp it to your stern rail.
From Brian Woloshin on Cruising World message board:
I've done great with a Penn 6/0 rod and reel
with 80 lb test line. Using 7/0 or 8/0 SS hooks (if I remember right)
and silicone lures or homemade lures I have caught so much fish that I
had to stop fishing to avoid wasting them.
Sailing along at seven or eight knots I've caught Dorado (Mahi Mahi, Dolphin fish),
many varieties of Tuna, and a seven foot sailfish that took three people nine days to eat!
The 6/0 rod is about 6 feet. You also need a gaff to bring the larger fish aboard.
A saltwater washdown pump really helps with cleanup after butchering the fish.
If you have one setup forward have a hose long enough to reach your cockpit.
From Don Boyd on Cruising World message board:
... Without a freezer (unless you like dried fish) you will
never make fish a regular weekly meal.
When it comes to fishing off the back
of a sailboat, it never rains it pours!
You may go weeks without a fish and then WHAM! Fish City!
Even the best guys I know couldn't live on what they catch. ...
From Steve Van Slyke on SSCA discussion boards:
My wife does all the fishing and she seems to be able to catch Mahi Mahi, Yellowfin,
and Albacore almost at will. We only fish when we don't have any left in the freezer.
She uses various colors of Hoochies (fake squid) with an egg sinker in the head and
two 3/0 or 4/0 (?) hooks hidden the skirt on downrigger wire about 8-10 feet long.
This is attached by snap swivel to 120 lb test nylon braided twine at least 60' in length.
At the boat end is a shock absorber of either surgical tubing or bungee cord.
A bell and a downrigger cable release combine for a "fish-on" alarm.
We rarely catch fish below 5 knots. Most have been caught when doing between 6-8 knots.
Lure should run on or immediately beneath the surface. Most fish are caught during
either morning or evening twilight. Most are fileted and on the way to the freezer
by the time I relieve the morning watch. All I have to do is eat them!
Nothing beats fresh tuna or Mahi.
From WahooSerious on Cruising World message board:
Lure selection is very important. Try and find a lure designed
for low trolling speeds, ie under 6 knots. Most of the big-game
lures are designed for higher troll speeds. That's why most
cruisers have more success with homemade lures like stainless
pipe, feathers and hooks, etc. I like to catch flying fish,
dry them with a heavy dose of sea salt and plant a hook in
that, its works well. Squid lures work well and don't forget
to carry some YoZuri squid lures: these work anywhere in
the world, even commercial boats use them for catching squid.
... Most fish species I catch are pelagic
and predatory in nature, so they will strike at anything.
One thing I will say: when deep offshore most cruisers use
a lure that is way too small. I have used lures that
are 18 inches or longer designed to catch Moby Dick the
whale. I am constantly surprised what tiddlers I pull
in, i.e. 4 to 10 lb fish. My current favourite lure
looks like something made in a chinese sweat shop,
bright orange, in the shape of a fish with a hook
so big you could almost use it as a a Gaff, it's
about as big as a shoebox. I get taunts about this
lure all the time, but boy deep offshore I would
say god blessed this lure.
The techniques of using attractors like most game
fishing boats work well, however few yachtsman are
willing to put up with the drag. Sailing across the
Southern Ocean these big attractors work well for
attracting fish. I like fishing and living on fish
so I don't take the casual approach like most yachtsmen.
In-harbour fishing: I don't recommend you use a rod; use a
long 6 meter telescopic pole with a float. Do not use
line bigger than 6 pounds. Fresh bait like prawn
or squid work in just about every harbour in the world.
A size 10 hook is all you need, any hook bigger than
this in a harbour and you are just dreaming!
I suggest you fish about 12 inches off the
bottom with the float. This method you will
see used in the Med because it's very successful
for pan-size fish typically found in harbours.
Species like Mullet, Whiting, Hada soul, Bream
etc. Forget fishing with lead in harbours.
It requires finesse rather than heavy-handed techniques.
You can chum or burley up the water with broken up
bread. You can fill buckets in the morning or
late afternoon. Study your fish guide and avoid
eating fish in harbours that scavenge on the
ocean floor. Especially where there are yachts
and commercial fishing boats around.
Heavy metals are not good for your system.
That's why I suggest float fishing, because
fish that take a suspended bait don't eat off
the floor. They are hunting smaller prey
that moves in the water.
From "Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia" by Steve and Linda Dashew
- Use large, stainless-steel hooks.
- Keep the tips of the hooks extremely sharp.
- Use about 10 feet of leader, to keep the big knot to the line (which
causes turbulence the fish might see) far from the hook. Also lets you
use very thick line (3/16" or 1/4" rope instead of monofilament).
- Hide the hook inside the lure.
- Good lures: green/yellow feather; double-hook Kona Head green/yellow; maybe red/blue.
- Use large clip to hold 10 feet of line in a loop, to be pulled out after
fish strikes the lure. Fish will swallow hook as the 10 feet slides out,
then the hook will get set.
- Troll the lure 30 to 50 feet behind sailing sailboat.
- When trolling, pass close by any driftwood or floating grass or circling birds.
From a guy in Benner Bay St Thomas:
Good homemade trolling lure: take a short length of some thick rope,
make a superglue cap at one end and a superglue ring around the middle,
unbraid from the other end to the middle, stick leader through it lengthwise,
leave hook just past middle.
From article by Laurie Pane in 11/2008 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes magazine:
- Most consistent fish catcher was a plastic squid lure, blue on top, white or silver
underneath, with large white eyes. Fitted with a round sinker in the head and a double hook.
- To work, a lure had to have eyes painted on it. Even our favorite blue and silver squid
wouldn't attract a fish if the eyes were scraped off.
- We never brought any fish on board before positively identifying it.
Particularly important when fishing from the dinghy at night.
From "Good Boatkeeping" by Zora and David Aiken
Best fishing is when approaching/leaving harbor/shore,
at shallow/deep transition, and just before dawn or from just before sunset to midnight.
From "Gentleman's Guide to Passages South" by Bruce Van Sant
Keep hooks in the water as often as possible.
Troll with multiple lines (2 or 4),
put them out as soon as you start moving (don't wait until open sea),
and tend them to keep them free of seaweed.
- Fish deep in daylight.
- Tuna are found in deep water. In tropics in winter, in north Atlantic in summer.
- Overcast days are better than bright days.
- Fish often gather over irregular ocean bottom,
such as sea mounts, banks, ridges.
- May seem obvious, but you'll probably forget in the excitement:
Stop the boat when a fish is hooked.
Turn downwind and away from fish, so line doesn't
foul the propeller.
- Use dull bronze hooks instead of shiny steel ones.
Use triple hooks, in place where body of lure won't get in the way.
From "Insider's Guide to Florida Keys and Key West":
Florida Keys fishing areas:
- Flats (continental shelf) - fish feed during low, incoming tide.
- Backcountry (SW coast, and Florida Bay).
- Bluewater (Gulf Stream / Florida Current) - best
at the humps (underwater hills).
- Bridges - outgoing tide funnels prey-fish through.
Best eating fish are found at the bluewater/reef boundary.
Look for birds diving / feeding, and troll through there.
Generally, colorful fish are not good to eat.
From "How Current Affects Fishing" by Mark Sosin in Eldridge 2003:
- Predator fish like to hover just out of the current,
waiting to catch prey fish that get swept along by the current.
They expect prey to be coming down with the current,
so don't move your bait against the current.
- Current diminishes near the bottom, so many fish hover in
depressions on the bottom.
If there's no visible cover above the surface, always
fish near the bottom.
- Rocks, wrecks, pilings and other obstructions create
calm places where predator fish hover to catch prey
coming down with the current. There is a big calm area
behind the obstruction, but also a bit of a calm area
in front of it too.
- Many predators wait where there is a "funnel" or narrow spot
with strong current.
- Canal banks and seawalls with even a slight current along
them tend to attract prey and predators.
- Offshore or coastal currents may have boundaries to the
sides or beneath them, where there is calmer water where predators
may wait, watching for prey swept along in the current.
From Jerry on "Persephone":
- Don't troll in less than 30 feet of water, or you'll catch nothing but barracuda.
[Others say not strictly true, and my limited experience agrees with them.]
- Use a big lure and keep speed up, to catch only big fish.
- Speed should be 5.5 knots; 4 knots is too slow, 6 knots is too fast.
- Lure should have eyes. Good lure for lots of fish is a pink squid.
- When you hook a fish, stop the boat, pull him alongside, lift him gently
aboard with a gaff (don't pierce him), and spray rum into his mouth (or gills ?).
- Spearfishing: use a pole spear, and 7 feet is a good length.
From summer 2004 issue of "Fishing the Florida Keys":
Fishing for dolphin (AKA dorado or mahi-mahi):
- Look for combination of baitfish (look for birds), floating debris, and
warm water (72-80 degrees).
- Approach the area gently so you don't spook the fish.
- Troll with small to medium lures, with green/yellow or orange/yellow
or chartreuse colors.
- If you locate a school, leave the first hooked fish on the line and
in the water, so the school stays around and you can catch more.
From Dave on "Miou" about trolling:
- Length of trolling line isn't critical; has caught fish with
lure 10 feet behind boat. Usually has 100 feet or so out.
- Attach trolling line low on the transom of the boat, to get lure well under surface of water.
- Tuna feed in the dark.
- Dolphin feed during the day.
- Others feed at sunrise/sunset.
- Troll with a dark lure in the morning, then an orange lure later.
- Dolphin like a lure with sparkles, and green, blue and purple streamers.
SailNet - Ralph Doolin's "Dangerous Seafood"
Reef fish can contain Ciguatera toxin (produced by
algae bloom / "red tide").
Ciguatera test kit
is expensive ($6 per test) and slow (30+ minutes).
"... it’s best to avoid
eating reef fish such as barracuda, jack,
grouper, snapper and parrot.
Stick to deep water fish such as swordfish,
dolphin, tuna and wahoo."
Ciguatera is more common in the northern Caribbean,
less so in the southern Caribbean.
And it is a big concern in the South Pacific.
Woodie on Too Lazy II says he's heard that ciguatera usually is
associated with a damaged reef (shipwreck, dredged, etc).
Ciguatera outbreaks are sporadic and localized,
so get local advice about which kinds of fish are safe to eat.
If in doubt, avoid larger/older (5 pounds or more) reef fish (parrot fish, etc) or
reef predator fish (barracuda, eel, grouper, snapper, jack, etc) and don't
eat the head, internal organs or roe.
Don't eat barracuda in the Florida Keys.
Tom and Mel Neale say: don't eat colorful fish, and don't
eat groupers over two feet long or so.
A whole reef fish should fit on your dinner plate.
Symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea; joint and muscle pain;
neurological symptoms: numbness, tingling, itching, dizziness, fatigue.
Reversal of hot/cold sensation: ice feels like fire.
Treatment: maybe induce vomiting, but avoid dehydration.
IV Mannitol can relieve some symptoms even days later.
Treat other symptoms: Benadryl for itching, Dramamine for vomiting/nausea,
Imodium for severe diarrhea.
Avoid certain foods for several weeks after onset, to avoid triggering relapse:
avoid alcohol, nuts, fish (even canned fish).
Ciguatera article by Alayne Main in July/Aug 2001 issue of Ocean Navigator magazine
Ciguatera Hot Line: 305-661-0774, Dr. Donna Blythe, Miami FL.
Tuna, dolphin fish, mackerel, bluefish must be chilled soon
after capture, or decomposition produces histamine.
Histamine is odorless and nearly tasteless, and isn't destroyed
by cooking or freezing.
Can cause hives, headache and other reactions when eaten.
Take an anti-histamine if sick after eating.
Swordfish, shark and other top predators may contain
high levels of methylmercury.
Especially dangerous to pregnant women and very young children.
E. Coli may be present in fish or shellfish from polluted waters. Destroyed by
thorough cooking, but easily spread by careless preparation.
Keep fish clean and cold. Fresh fish can be stored for 3-6 months at below
zero degrees F, a week at 32 degrees F,
only a couple of days at 42 degrees F. Keep it in coldest part
of refrigerator, and maybe in a bowl of ice.
Another "danger": violating fishing regulations and getting fined.
In Florida, the regulations are so complex that I gave up fishing (not that
I ever did much of it anyway). You'd better know exactly what you've
caught, and whether it is too small or too big or out of season or not
covered by the fishing permit you have. Fines can be over $100 per fish.
(On the other hand, I've met a lot of people fishing from sailboats in Florida who
have no fishing permit at all.)
eHow to Clean a Fish
Cleaning is a different issue if you catch a
Save the Bales ! The fishing trip was a big hit.
- Maybe pop the fish into a plastic bag as soon as it comes on board,
to make the killing operation cleaner.
- Kill and clean fish right away; don't let them
die and dry out on deck for 5 minutes before you get to them. Eat them
as soon as possible.
- Kill fish by bashing with a club, or
by spraying alcohol into the gills, or
by cutting along its throat and putting it in ice water to bleed,
or just put it on ice.
- Use pliers to take the hook out of the fish:
protects your fingers from the hook.
- Use gloves to protect your hands from the
hook, line and fish.
- Wet down the deck before cleaning fish on/above it:
makes cleanup easier.
- After cleaning or cutting fish, clean cutting
board with bleach, clean hands with vinegar
or lemon juice (or "Wonder Bar", 888-757-2800, to get rid of smell).
- After cleaning bluefish, put the meat in salty ice
water: improves the taste.
- Recommended by Missi on Too Lazy To: "Encyclopedia of Fish"; tells
how to clean and cook all kinds of fish.
- Hawaiian sling: like a slingshot, with a (loose)
spear instead of a stone.
- Pole spear: a spear with tubing attached to the end;
hold other end of tubing in your hand and stretch it.
Less range but less likely to lose the spear.
- Speargun: rifle-shaped equivalent of Hawaiian sling,
but bigger, more powerful, can cock it.
[Not sure of this; information is sketchy] Spearfishing is:
- Allowed in most of Florida Keys, in Turks and Caicos.
- Restricted in Bahamas (Hawaiian sling only,
without underwater breathing apparatus).
- Forbidden in Anguilla, Bonaire, Bermuda, BVI, Saba.
South Florida Spearfishing Club
From McRory's Logbook:
Our luck with fishing is mixed. With our heavy-duty
trolling gear we have only caught one
cero mackerel to eat and five barracudas.
Using hand lines we have caught quite a few
smaller fish, but most were reef fish and not edible.
But snorkeling with a Hawaiian sling
hand spear, I can fish up dinner three out of
four times. I think most of it has been sheer luck.
Using a Hawaiian sling is actually pretty easy.
The toughest part was finding one. I knew
from the guidebook that spearguns are prohibited
in the Bahamas and a few other
Caribbean countries. ... a Hawaiian sling is very
simple, like a slingshot that shoots a
spear. The spear slides through a hole in a
wooden handle and pushes into a holder that is
connected with surgical tubing to the handle.
The best are available at commercial fishing
supply stores. The range of a sling is about
five feet, which is just enough.
From Ilana Stern of Windom:
The only weapons legal for spearfishing in the Bahamas
are the Hawaiian sling and the pole spear. Spearguns are
not legal. Britt uses a pole spear and I have used a
borrowed Hawaiian sling and plan to make one for my own.
A pole spear is a 6' spear with a changeable tip which adds
another foot. It has a loop of surgical tubing at the end;
you put your thumb through it and draw back the spear so it
is cocked, and then release the spear (which stays attached
to your thumb). It has a short range but has the advantage
that it can be used with one hand and quickly recocked if
A Hawaiian sling is like a slingshot which shoots a
spear. It has a long range but you must use both hands,
plus it is possible to lose the spear.
The cost of a fishing license is included in the fixed $100
charge for checking into the Bahamas. You need to declare
all your fishing gear (poles, lines, spears). This information
is in most updated cruising guides to the Bahamas. It used
to be an optional additional charge, which some older guides
still quote. So far we have not been asked to show our
license, which makes sense since all foreign yachts get
them more or less automatically.
The only other country we know the regulations on is the
Turks and Caicos, which disallows all spearfishing by
foreigners but (according to my reading of the info in
our cruising guide) allows fishing (rod and reel) with
a permit required (presumably at a charge). Oh, our
friends on Odyssey spearfished a lot in Mexico with a
speargun, so presumably they are legal there. They reported
that lobsters are illegal for yachties to take there, but
most people ignore this regulation.
From Stuart James:
I use a Hawaiian sling. Spearguns are very illegal to possess in the
Bahamas and other places. Pole spears don't generally have enough range.
I couldn't recall the number of times I missed a fish because the spear
was a foot too short. The locals all use slings. Want to get fish? Use
what the people use whose livelihood depends on success. I get fish every
so often, but it would be unwise to count on it. The fish in some of the
more heavily cruised areas are getting pretty wary. Take extra spears.
Guy at dock in George Town Exumas: use pole spear to get lobster,
use hawaiian sling to get fish.
From Doug Barnard on The Live-Aboard List:
I prefer a pole spear to a Hawaiian sling, as you never really lose your
grip on the shaft. Makes for a good probe, too. Actually, I prefer my
Esclapez 120 single-band gun. My favorite trick is to chase a fish
around a rock, then wait on the other side of the rock for him to come
around. Requires more range than a hand-held. I hear tell that some
places (Bahamas) don't allow guns. An old kitchen rubber glove, with the
fingers cut out, makes for a good shooting glove. Lots of traction, so
you don't have to grab as hard. A day of holding a cocked pole spear can
leave a nasty sore spot on the lower part of the thumb without a glove.
Don't use that shooting hand to apply sunscreen!
If you have an old sleeping-bag stuff sack (preferably red or orange),
you can use that as a goodie bag. Easy to keep in your weight belt or
shorts - when you find dinner, put the end of the spear with fish into
the bag. Draw tight the drawstring, and extract the spear. No lost fish,
or painful punctures from the fins. If there's some air in the bag,
it'll float while you go down to look for more goodies. Much less drag,
and no bloody fish attached to you!
"Old fishermen never die ... they just smell that way"