Most cruisers attempt to fish however, their success is usually disappointing. The crew of Ultra shared their dismal fishing experiences with Cap’n Ron, a former professional fisherman, and from that conversation a plan was hatched to share Cap’n Ron’s sage advice with other cruisers.
So, the call went out and approximately 90 cruisers signed up for Cap’n Ron’s seminar. Evidently, Ultra and Motivator are not the only two boats struggling to catch fish.
Cap’n Ron, who is a manager at the Grenada branch of Island Water World (IWW) put together an impressive array of equipment from his catamaran, the Molly Bloom, and stock from IWW. He stated however there is, “No large selection for fishing stuff in the islands.” A situation he is in the process of rectifying at IWW.
Motivator’s Rod and Reel
Item one was selection of a rod and reel for what cruisers do most which is trolling. The speed cruisers move at, 6.5 to 7.5 knots, is perfect for trolling. A sturdy rod and reel designed for trolling is best. When trolling, do not tighten the reel’s drag down too much, you want it where it just doesn’t let line out with the weight of the lure or bait.
Motivator’s Hand Line
If you can’t afford a trolling rod and reel, plenty of fish can be caught on a 60lb test hand line on a yo-yo rigged with a shock cord.
But, make sure you are wearing a pair of gloves when you are hauling in that big fish.
Cap’n Ron likes to use 60lb test monofilament line on his trolling reels. With 60lb line you can get a lot of line on the reel and it will be strong enough to land anything you want to fight onto the boat. Spider wire or Power Pro can also be used and it will allow you to get more line on the reel, but at a higher price.
Leader choice is a tradeoff. You can fool more fish with monofilament leader, but you won’t lose as many lures to sharp teeth with steel line leaders. Crimps and crimping pliers are available to make fast secure connections, but you can also learn how to tie connections also. There are premade leaders, and materials to construct your own. Swivels are always a must and according to Cap’n Ron, once you get a line twist you will insist on the more expensive ball bearing ones.
One of the best lures available for trolling is the simple cedar plug. Motivator having had several hits on a cedar plug can attest to this recommendation.
Motivator has the proper rod and reel, uses 60lb test line, monofilament leaders when possible, steel leaders when there might be barracuda around, and the cedar plug along with other lures “guaranteed” to catch fish. So, why isn’t our freezer full of fish?
One reason is that we have not been using teasers to attract fish to our lures.
A string of teasers are plugs, plugs with wings that dance in the water, and/or bubble lures that make a commotion and attract fish. Cap’n Ron recommended stringing them on ¼” line so that they are easier to retrieve. You can also attach a leader and then a lure with a hook to the end of your teaser string.
The idea is to make it look like a school of fish behind your boat. The predators, mahi-mahi, tuna, and Wahoo, will be attracted by the commotion of the “school” and will start feeding by picking off the stragglers (your lures or bait) first.
A spinning rod and reel are not for trolling. They use lighter tackle and are for catching dinner off the back of your boat while at anchor or from your dinghy.
Cap’n Ron also showed us his Sabiki rod. The Sabiki rod and Sibiki rig are for catching bait fish. For a good explanation of a Sibiki rod and rig watch this YouTube video. Sibiki rods are not available in the islands, but there are some YouTube videos on how to make your own Sibiki rods out of PVC.
Live bait is always best and can be obtained by light tackle and a #6 gold hook, the Sibiki rod and rig, or by using a casting net. Live bait is a problem for cruisers because most of our boats do not come equipped with a live well.
In Florida we saw a group of boats in the Intracoastal Waterway using casting nets to catch shrimp. Pollie insist she is going to learn how to use a casting net; see YouTube video on how to throw a casting net. Maybe she will be able to catch Motivator’s live bait fish.
The next best bait is fresh dead bait or frozen bait. Again, this is problematic for the cruiser with limited or in the case of Motivator, restricted freezer space. In Grenada there currently is not a supplier for frozen bait other than the grocery stores that have squid, shrimp or small fish.
So cruisers are usually left to choose from a dazzling array of lures. Some look like bait fish, some have feathers (pink is preferred in Grenada), some are rigged to swim while others are simply metal spoons. The novice should start with a reasonable selection and ask successful fishermen what works for them.
Most of the time cruisers only troll with their lure or bait on the surface trying to catch pelagic fish. But, sometimes it may be necessary to troll a little deeper where your fish finders says the bait fish are, and that will require a trolling weight or a planer. The planer gets your lure down without having the weight.
Fishing belts and other such accessories are nice, but most cruisers find ways to improvise. On Motivator I usually sit at the stairs leading down to the cockpit with the rod resting on a towel on the top step and my body. Gaffs however are a necessary item if you hope to get the fish on the boat.
Once you have the fish gaffed, it is a good idea to incapacitate it so that you do not have a forty to fifty pound fish angrily thrashing about your boat. Most cruisers carry some sort of club (bottom right) either made of metal or wood to bonk the fish on the head. Other cruisers have been known to squirt cheap vodka or rum in their gills to knock them out. Cap’n Eric (pictured on the left), on the sailing vessel Amarula, built the wicked looking gaff/club pictured on the upper right. I guess the fish are meaner down under. He also told me that when there are not sharks around, he likes to bleed the fish out in the water thus saving a mess on the deck. Unlike the rest of us, Cap’n Eric is one of those successful fishermen.
Other necessary equipment includes a tackle box, knife, heavy duty pliers, reel oil, a hook remover to avoid sharp teeth, and a hook sharpening stone. “Sharp hooks - more fish,” according to Cap’n Ron.
Q: What is the biggest reason cruisers don’t catch fish?
A: Weeds. They throw their line in the water and never check it for weeds.
Q: When is the best time to fish?
A: Early morning and late afternoon.
Q: How should I set the drag when reeling a fish in?
A: As light as possible and still retrieve the fish; mahi mahi have a soft mouth.
Q: How do I know where the fish are?
A: Look for the birds, the birds are saying, “come over here.”
Q: What are some other things to look for?
A: Weed lines and current line around islands.
Q: But you said weeds were bad for your lure?
A: True, but that is where the bait fish are hiding.
Q: Any other tips?
A: When you catch a mahi-mahi, leave it in the water about 20’ behind the boat. His buddies will come to investigate.
Q: What about sharks eating your mahi-mahi?
A: Haven’t seen any sharks down here.
Q: This seems like a lot of work and equipment?
A: Fish don’t jump into the boat.
For more information, both Cap’n Ron and Cap’n Eric recommended The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing.
A special thanks to Bill and JoAnne for hosting yet another great event on J-dock!
Also, thanks to Island Water World for sponsoring the seminar and to Cap’n Ron for giving us hope.