How to Catch Fish During Passages
By Paul Kruse
In most of the deep waters of the Earth, you will not normally catch any fish. They tend
to stay where the food is, which is mostly near the coastal areas. You will find a number
of exceptions to that general rule, in places where upwelling currents bring the nutrients
from the deep to the surface, but what I said is generally true. Fishing will therefore
generally be much better near coastal waters than in deep water during passages.
If the fish are present, then you may chose any one of many thousands of different ways
of catching them. Most will work well. If the fish are not present, then you can drag
anything you like behind your boat, and you will not catch anything at all.
It would not hurt to check with the commercial fishermen or the bait shops in your area to
see if they know of an oceanographer who helps the commercial and the serious sport
fishermen determine where the fish are. For between 25 to 100 dollars, you can
generally get a report wired to your boat. FAX or Email with attachments are the
preferred modes of communications here. The place where the fish are generally
changes daily, so the serious folks will get a new report every morning. Some bait shops
will let you look at their copy for five or ten dollars. The same bait shops often post
yesterday's copy on the wall for all to see for free. If you are planning a passage, it might
be worth contacting the oceanographer to help plan your route, so as to have the
highest probability of being where the fish are. That is the first key in actually catching
fish. It also does not hurt to listen to the radio chatter between the commercial and the
serious sport fishermen.
As for the bait or lures, it really does not matter so much. Spend all the money you like
on the prettiest lures you can find or on fresh bait, or spend almost nothing and make or
catch your own. Both seem to work equally effectively. In general, I've found that
something with flashes of silver and red seem to work best for the type of fishing you are
talking about. Serious fishermen will be much more picky than that, and they will catch
more fish than you will; but the fish they eat can very well cost several hundred dollars
per pound if you consider all that they have invested in their hobbies. You are looking
for the minimum investment route, and you will catch nearly as many fish as they do, if
you are where the fish are. Remember that is the single most important thing in fishing,
to know where they are and to be there. The largest amounts of money for commercial
and serious recreational fishermen is spent on equipment and information on where the
fish are and the means to get there quickly. For most recreational trawlers, what will
work best is to simply drag a hook everywhere, and then you will catch a fish when you
happen to wonder through the areas where they are swimming.
You will find a simple hand line to work the best. I use about fifty yards of 1/8 inch
braided nylon cord, with a good ball bearing swivel at the end, attached to perhaps
twenty feet of 200 pound test line. Put another ball bearing swivel at the end, and attach
your favorite lure with a short light weight leader. This is the rig used by many
commercial fishermen. I know of one tuna troller that once brought in nearly two
thousand tuna in a 21 hour period of time with rigs exactly like this. The only difference
is that they had a hydraulic capstan to snatch the hand line in quickly, and they had paid
a lot of money to know where that school was that day.
Don't worry about getting the big fish on board. I've seen more than 200 pounds of fish
pulled in hand over hand on a line just like this. They will come in with no effort at all,
because the boat will have turned the fish so that their heads are pointed the same way
as your bow. They cannot fight that way. If the fish still has some fight left in it when you
get it to the boat, just drag it for a while. It will get tired and offer you little resistance
later. I know of one fish that weighed over half a ton. The fisherman dragged it through
the water for hours, and then put a rope on its tail. Dragging it backwards killed it
quickly, and then he used a small winch to bring it on board. I bring this up only as an
extreme example, so that you will not feel like your little fish of fifty pounds or so should
be a danger to get onto the boat. Just be patient, and let the fish get tired. If you get to
be in a hurry, that is when folks get hurt and equipment gets torn up.
Put a bit of slack in your hand line near your boat with a shock cord. When the cord is
pulled tight, then you know that you have a fish. Smaller fish, of perhaps 40 pounds and
less, can be pulled right onto the boat with no fuss or risk of much danger at all. Just
throw them into a container until they quit kicking around. If you don't want to make a
mess out of your boat, then you can club it to quiet it down. If that bothers you, then pour
a bit of cheap whisky into its gills. It will put him right on to sleep.
Never put a tuna on ice until you know that it is 100 percent dead. They have a chemical
mechanism in their body that releases an enzyme when they swim into cold water, which
will help keep them warm. This enzyme will make ten dollar per pound meat completely
unmarketable in short order. If you put a tuna on ice before it is completely dead, you will
ruin the meat. Let it die naturally, and then gut it as soon as possible. Then waste no
time either eating it or getting it into refrigeration. The meat will begin to degrade
immediately after the fish is dead. A twenty minute delay in chilling the meat will greatly
reduce the value of the fish.
Chilled brine is by far the best and quickest way to chill a fish. Commercial boats have
chilled brine tanks, but you can improvise the same with some ice and a bag of salt. If
you can get the fish meat down to 20 degrees F very quickly, then you will have the best
quality meat possible. Anything cooler than that meets the legal definition of "frozen."
You can freeze the meat if you like, but it will taste best if you don't.
A bridge gaff is a wonderful tool. It has a lead core that weights perhaps three to fifteen
pound, with three or four large gaff sized hooks attached to it. You put this onto your
hand line after you catch a fish, and let it slide down the line to the fish's head. The
hooks will hinge out and envelop the head. Once gaffed in this manner, the fish cannot
get away. You normally put a quarter or three-eighths nylon line onto the bridge gaff,
in order to secure the fish to the boat while you drag it, and then to hoist it on board.
Look for a commercial fishing tackle shop to find a bridge gaff. It is intended to be able to
fish from a bridge (either a land type or the one on your boat), and then to be able to
recover large fish easily and safely.
One more thing: My hand line always has five other swivels in the 200 pound test
section. That way, if I find a school of tuna, I can drag six lures at the same time by
simply clipping additional lures and leaders into the swivels. Once you get into the
school, every hook will have a fish nearly every time your pull it in. I've been on a 16 foot
boat with two of these hand lines in a school of Albacore, where a dozen 5-35 pound
fish literally stopped the boat and dragged it backwards. All those fish were recovered in
a few minutes and we were catching the next batch. You really do not need a reel to
catch fish. The commercial guys almost never use them, except for the hydraulic and
electric varieties. They are mostly a macho-sportfishing type of thing.
Watch your depth finder and learn to use it as a fish finder. If you find a reef loaded with
fish, and if you have time to stop and collect a few of them, the go for it. This is where
the commercial guys will use an electric winch for a reel and an automotive leaf spring
as a rod, but a common sport fishing rod would do just fine for you. Jig your bait a few
feet off the bottom, and see what you catch. If this sort of fishing appeals to you, then
get a few Cigar fish riggs. They will enable you to quickly pick up some live bait for the
bigger ones, once you find the reef with the fish on it.
Trolling with down riggers is a very excellent idea. You can buy the down riggers at any
bait and tackle shop, but you can improvise your own almost as well. The idea is to troll
at whatever depth the fish are at, and you learn that from your depth finder. A hand line
can be trolled deep with either a down rigger or a planer. If you are using flopper
stoppers on outriggers for roll stabilization, then the same outriggers can be used very
effectively for trolling additional lines.
Once you get to where you are going and intend to stay there for a while, investigate
whatever sorts of bait traps the locals are using. They are a great source of live bait. If
legal in the area, you might also carry a few fish traps to set. Lobster or crab traps are
also not a bad idea, if legal in your area. You can now buy commercial traps that fold
down into very little storage space. Cast nets are not a bad idea for the same sort of
fishing. They can catch both bait and eating fish. All the other ideas that have already
been posted are also very good ideas. This just adds information to them. Just develop
your own style, and have fun.