Fishing While Cruising

The whole idea behind fishing from your floating home is to supplement your food stores with fresh protein or get in touch with your roots of human against nature as a hunter gatherer. These are the class notes from the fishing seminars that I have taught while in Puerto Escondido and in La Cruz, Mexico over the last few years. The seminars are focused towards the cruising lifestyle on a sailboat.

One of the best ways to do that is to drag some kind of fishing line behind your boat.

If your vessel is underway passing through a fish rich environment why not have the hook in the water. As a matter of fact, if your boat is moving why not have a drag or hand line in the water.

Fish rich environment: Where is that? Ridges, seamounts, prominent land points, floating objects, passes, temperature gradients, flocks of birds diving into the water, dolphins working bait and luck.

Many of us have had Mahi Mahi in restaurants and/or bought it from the fish market. But we are not really sure how fresh the fish really is.

I can relate an experience of passing over long lines in Mexico and seeing dead fish hooked to one of the bait lines. Not sure how long the fish has been in the 80+ degree water, but it ends up at the local fish market and sold as fresh.

The fish you will catch is far fresher than that.

So what does it take to flashback to your hunter gatherer roots?

Equipment Needed:

  • Your Boat, your platform from which you fish, retrieve, dress and eat your fish
  • Preparation and Preplanning
  • Rod and Reel
  • Hand line
  • Cord, Shock Cord, Snap Shackle, Heavy Leader and some kind of Lure
  • Fish retrieval equipment:
  • Gaff, Gloves, Hook removal tool, Fish stringer
  • Fish cleaning equipment:
  • Fillet table or deck area, fillet knife, saw, water supply (fresh or salt)

What else is needed?

Fishing license for the jurisdictional waters you are located in.

Fish apparatus, hand lines or the rod and reel. If you have a line in the water, you should have all of your tools in place and ready for action when you hear the words, “Fish On!” Hand line vs. Rod and reel.

  • Lure types. Top water, feather, diving, plastic, bone, aluminum can, safety pin, store bought or home made?
  • Fish identification knowledge. There is nothing worse than going through all the trouble of catching, gaffing, cleaning and then cooking a fish that doesn’t taste very good. A little education goes a long way.
  • Fish retrieval equipment. Have a gaff suitable for hoisting the fish up onto your deck. It goes without saying; if you can’t get the fish onto your deck you can’t eat it. If the fish is as big as your kayak, you might consider cutting the line.
  • Fish handling. Use some gloves! Most if not all of the fish you will catch have teeth, fins and sharp spines on their gills. Some of the fish you catch will be small and manageable by hoisting them up with your line. Many of them will need to be gaffed. Gaff the fish in the meaty portion just behind the head.
  • After you have the fish on deck, Put The Fish On The Stringer! IMG_0479You may be asking yourselves why? Once the fish is on the stringer remove the hook. If you remove the hook before your fish is on the stringer and it starts to flop around it more than likely will flop over the rail and back into the water…bye bye fishy! Fish stringer attachment location on the fish? Eye socket to eye socket is the strongest as your stringer passes through the skull of the fish and it is very difficult for the fish to shake off.
  • Use a substantial hook removal tool. Stout needle nosed pliars work well. There are some specialized tools for this task.
  • After the hook is removed, techniques for taming your catch…Bleeding, wasting alcohol on the fishes gills, bludgeoning the fish until it stops moving or letting it flop wildly all over your boat. I prefer cutting the gills and dropping the bleeding fish, On The Fish Stringer Attached to The Boat, into the water trailing behind the boat. I do this for several reasons: I like to try to keep the deck clean, I don’t much like alcohol abuse, my bludgeoning tool will slip off the fish and damage me or the boat, the fish can flop around in the water and most importantly there is a lot less blood that oozes out of the fish when you start to fillet it.
  • Note: For those of you that believe fish have feelings, go to the fish market to get your fish or bleed the fish and be done with it.
  • Fish cleaning. Find or dedicate a specific place on your vessel that you will clean your catch. A fillet table would be nice, but not necessary. The galley sink? Not a great idea unless you promise your significant other that you will clean up the mess. You will probably want some kind of water supply. Either fresh or salt water for keeping things tidy as you fillet. There are lots of techniques out there. If you didn’t have a childhood experience of cleaning your own fish, there are many YouTube videos out there to help you with the basics. I have included step by step filleting and cleaning instructions at the end of these notes.

Lures: ​

There are many lures, but this one is mine. Without my lure, I am Useless. My lure without me is useless….

Okay, you get the idea. Everyone that fishes has a selection of go to lures that work very well for them. The lures mentioned below are the ones that I have used repeatedly with great success.

Top water lures:

There are so many to choose from. There are web sites and catalogs that market to your wallet and not necessarily to catching fish. Sparkling Shinny Marketing! I have many lures that I will give you if you want shinny. But what I use is what I have found to work over and over again.

  1. Feathered Tuna jigs Mexican Flag color red, white and green or white and red, white and blue or purple and black. Have two or three of each as you will be upset when the fish breaks your line and swims away with your favorite lure.IMG_0475
  2. Cedar plugs with or without a jet head. The jet head produces a sonic stream of bubbles that aids in attracting fish.IMG_0464
  3. Crocodile or Spoon style. These come in different colors, but the silver ones seem to work better than the others. These need to be trolled at a slower speed as they tend to rise to the surface and thus lose their action.IMG_0466

Diving lures:

  1. Rapala diving lures. X-Rap magnum 20 and 30. These lures are floating type lures but dive deep on the troll. These lures should have the similar colors of small mackerel bait fish. Keep it simple and have a few extra for when you lose one.IMG_0465

So what do I do now that I have all of my gear ready to go? Remember that it is called fishing. Not catching. Your hand lines should be approximately 50 to 100 feet long and equipped with a shock cord attachment to help set the hook and indicate when you have a fish on. There should be a suitable sized snap shackle securely tied to the end of your line. Your lures should have an approximate 8-12 foot, 80-pound (or stronger) leader with your lure securely tied to the end. A loop at the other end of the leader will facilitate attaching to the snap shackle on your hand line. Or you can use a swivel attached to the top of the leader.

Deploying your handline:

  1. Locate a secure attachment point near the stern of your vessel. Feed out your hand line until it is completely deployed. That is it. No drag to set. No clicker to set or anything else.
  2. If you are using your rod and reel, drop your lure into the wake of your vessel, secure the rod to your vessel with a rod strap, set the drag and clicker.
  3. Most of the pelagic fish that I have hooked like the speed range of 5-7 knots. The flying Boobies also like the top water lures and continue diving on them until they get hooked as well.
  4. When “Fish On!” is shouted make sure that you had prepared your equipment for the interaction with the fish when you get it to the side of the boat. Find a place for everything close at hand.
  5. This will be easy if your reel starts singing out.

This is the time where I prefer the hand line to rod and reel. With the hand line you don’t have to slow down, drop your sails or alter course. If it is a fresh strike, let the fish tire a bit before retrieval. Just start a slow systematic retrieval of the fish. If you have other lines in the water you might want to pull them in first. Once you get the fish alongside have the gaff ready and use it. Put the stringer (attached to your boat) on the fish and remove the hook. I hang the fish over the side as I cut through its gills under the gill plates and drop it into the water to allow it to bleed out before processing it.

With your fishing reel singing away, the fish is getting farther away from your boat at 5-7 knots. It is probably understood that the fish has the hook imbedded in its jaw. So you have to slow the fish down and start getting it heading towards your vessel. While sailing this is a bit difficult, as you should slow your boat down in order to start gaining some line on the fish. Do you fall off the wind? Drop your sails? All of a sudden the thought of fresh fish doesn’t sound so good with all of the extra work. Anyway, you have gotten your boat slowed down and you have brought the fish up alongside your boat the rest is the same as above.

Tight Lines and Full Bellies to you All!

Captain Dan
SV Dazzler

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