I’m just back from sailing adventure for a few months in the eastern Caribbean and it was suggested that I post something about a “Fishing Gadget” of sorts. My inspiration for this is a young man named Cayden Wittrock. He is a very good fisherman and I learned things from this 13 year old. He is sailing with his parents, Jon and Christy and his sister, Makenna, aboard their boat, a Beneteau 50 “Unscripted”.
Catching fish while cruising is exciting, fun, and usually delicious! But it can be challenging, especially if you are using the typical fishing pole off the back of an aft cockpit boat. While there are some advantages to a rod and reel, I prefer a hand line, or what is sometimes called a Cuban Yo-yo.
If you are using a standard rod and reel with 30 lb test line, it can be awkward to maneuver around the boat. The lighter line and a drag allow the fish to run which means more work on your part. You usually end up stopping the boat or slowing it down while you land the fish. And it takes time to fight the fish, and get it aboard. Fishing poles can work well if you use heavy line and have an aft deck to fight the fish. Look, if you’re fishing while underway, it’s not about the “sport”, that is, giving the fish a fighting chance, it’s about dinner!
With a hand line, you simply haul the sucker in when he gets tired of being dragged along behind the boat at 6 knots. This can be done from the cockpit in the back of the boat. Because of the heavier line, you’ll seldom feel the need for a gaff. Once the fish is up to the stern, you grab the leader, and pull him over the gunnel.
You can find the hand line reels or a Yo-yo at just about any marine store for under $5. I suggest 100 lb test line. You’ll need about 200 feet per hand line or Yo-yo. I use a bungee cord as a shock absorber as you’ll see in the photos. You may also want to buy some good swivels, and snap swivels. Make sure they match up in strength to the 100 lb line you are using. Another advantage of the hand line is that it is much easier to store on the boat. It’s about the size of a hat.
Now for some tips on using the hand lines. The first question that comes up is how far back to trail the lines? This really is not that important but I’d suggest 3-5 boat lengths. ( if you are an engineer, that means 4 boat lengths). If you are using two lines, run the lengths pretty close to the same length. The next question is how fast do I need to go? Once again, it’s not really that important, but I’d suggest between 5 and 7 knots. I’ve had fish hit while the boat was practically at a standstill, and I’ve had fish hit at over 8 knots. If you are towing a dinghy, let the fishing lines way back. I think the sound of the dinghy going through the water will hurt your chances.
What is really important is luck. And what is luck? It’s when preparation meets opportunity! The more persistent you are, the more opportunities you’ll come across. The more prepared you are, the more fish you’ll land. That sounds like it’s from some marketing course at the university. Well, here’s something to lower the science. You also need to have a female spit on the lure. That’s right; a woman needs to spit on the lure for you. If you don’t have a woman aboard, get one. That’s the ying and yang of luck wouldn’t you say?
OK, next, what lures work well? You’ll get tired of me saying this, but it really doesn’t matter that much. There are lots and lots of opinions on this subject. We are talking about lures, not baits here. Bait would be something like ballyhoo. Baits can be expensive, and then there’s the issue of storing them. Lures are easy and they typically last through catching many fish. You can even make your own from scrap materials. I prefer lures that spend about half or more of their time skipping across the surface of the water. I really have my best luck with the ones that look like a squid. A red and white cedar plug has worked well for me too, especially for tuna. Keep the lures free of sea weed or you won’t catch anything but bad luck.
I do not allow any lures on my boat that have a series of “treble hooks” on them. In my opinion they are just too hazardous. If you fish with these long enough, you will end up with a hook buried in your hand. I know several people who will attest to this. Ok …., I’m one of them.
One of the fish you’ll hope to catch is the Mahi Mahi, Dorado, or Dolphin Fish. (All the same fish, just different names.) The way I land one of these is to wait until the fish has lost it’s fight. This is when he begins to skip or ride on top of the water. When this happens, he’s also much easier to haul in, actually, very easy to haul in. When I get him to the boat, I grab the leader, and pull him in over the rail to the cockpit floor. I then put a rag over his eyes which calms him down and keeps him from thrashing about. Then, I just let him expire. With a mahi, you’ll know this when he loses his color. By doing it this way, you don’t have an excited fish thrashing around the cockpit, nor will you have any blood if you don’t gaff him. Some people drop the fish into a garbage bag to let him expire. There is no need to club the fish to death.
One down side to letting the fish swim and eventually drag behind the boat is that you are now trolling with live bait for something even bigger. Bigger is not always better. Sometimes these big guys can break the line and you lose your lure. Take a look at these pictures of Dirk aboard RENEGADE. That’s one big King fish and can you just imagine what tried to eat it!
Another neat idea I’ve seen is to permanently attach a big fishing reel to your stern rail and equip it with 100 lb test line. This makes bringing in the fish pretty easy, and it’s a good way to keep the fishing line out of the way when hauling in a fish.
Back to my friend Cayden. Here’s an email I received from him the day after we talked about fishing;
“Thank you for teaching me that yo-yo trick. I tried it with a homemade lure of mine sailing over to Martinique. A little bit after I put it out, I had a fish! It looked like a mahi mahi but it was a 5ft Blue Marlin! We were going to let him go but he spit the lure out. About 5 minutes later, my rod started screaming, but it stopped. The fish pulled the line through the crimp. As we were coming in to port, my dad saw a huge mouth full of teeth on the end of my yoyo line. We thought it was a Barracuda but it was a nice 45 in. Wahoo! We cleaned him up and had about 13 LB. of fish meat! We had some on the grill that night and it tasted amazing.“
OK Cayden, go to it, but remember, your boat only has so much room in the freezer!