My perfect day on White Dragon is fishing while I’m sailing to a dive spot.
Our crew of three left New Zealand on a three month, 13,000nm mile journey to Hong Kong, with a complement of 6 frozen chickens, 5 kg of steaks, 3 legs of lamb and 24 pork chops in our freezer and the expectation of needing more provisions while on the passage. We arrived in Hong Kong with 4 chickens and nearly all the other frozen meat still in the freezer and without further provisioning, such was the success of our fishing exploits on this passage.
The primary method I use when sailing is trolling with lures while under sail or motor. Although I use powerful carbon fibre rods twinned with heavy-duty game multipliers it is quite effective to clamp a hefty multiplier directly on the pushpit rail and simply crank in the fish. Big fish may shake free or break the line, but if all you want to do is supplement the provisions, you’ll still be very likely to have good success. The modus operandi is shown in figs 1-3.
How to fish under sail
The ideal fishing speed is 5-7kts, if you are sailing or motoring faster than that you’re likely to rip the hook out of the fish’s mouth.
You’ll find the best success fishing the lure in the second wave following the yacht, however in long ocean swells this can be quite a distance so make sure you have plenty of line on the reel.
Fig 1 shows two rods out, but if you’re shorthanded, just beginning, or sailing other than on a run or broad reach, you’ll be better to use one rod only.
Once the lure is paid out to the required distance behind the yacht set the ratchet of the reel to on and the clutch to stiff, so that the line will pull off but not too easily. When a fish hits the lure the first action must be to slow the yacht down quickly. If you’re under sail, ease the sheets and turn to allow the sails to luff. If you’re under power, go hard astern and turn the yacht to bring the fish on the beam, then grab the rod and bring the fish in. If you have two rods out try to keep the fish away from the other line.
If there are two or more crew, reel in the other line, furl the sails and start the engine. The helmsman now needs to try and manoeuvre the yacht to keep the fish on the beam on the side the crew member with the rod is standing. The objective here is to keep the fish and line away from the prop and keel, which otherwise will cut the line.
Types Of Lures
There are tens of thousands of lures you can use for trolling but the types that are of use for our purposes here can be divided into 3 main groups.
Depth: Subsurface 2-6m
To Catch: Spanish Mackerel, King Fish, Barracuda, Wahoo and Shark!
Generally, you want to use a lure that doesn’t spin if the yacht speeds up, so a small billed straight bodied lure will work best over varying conditions.
The red and white lure shown in fig 5 has always been the most successful for me by far.
I use quite big lures 6”-9” and I always take off the mid-body hook and replace the tail treble hook with a much bigger, stronger single hook. Size 8/0 or bigger according to the size of the lure. It will hold a big fish much better and, if the fish breaks off, it can shed the hook and lure much more easily than a treble hook.
Gold colour lures work well, especially in the early morning and evening.
Many of the weird shapes, colours and designs are much more successful in catching anglers than they are fish!
Depth: Surface Action
To Catch: Tuna, Dorado, Wahoo and Marlin
I use these lures a lot because it doesn’t matter how fast the yacht is moving.
Use relatively small poppers (6”- 8”) as bigger ones may be taken by Marlin, and although Marlin are a lot of sport, it’s unlikely you’ll land one and even then they are likely to be far too big for your freezer.
Depth: Surface Action
To Catch: Bonito Tuna, Skipjack Tuna, Mackerel
I use small 3”-5” muppets, two or three on a string when we are sailing fast, as they attract the smaller tuna which won’t be too challenging to reel in. Smaller fish can be landed without stopping the boat.
These lures will require making up. I suggest you use a single oversize strong hook, size 4/0-6/0.
You can buy luminous muppets that do work well into the night.
50-80lb Monofilament will be better than braided lines which have no stretch and tend to pull out if the yacht is going over 6kts.
It’s essential to load the reel with at least 200m of line as when a fish takes it, it will take you several minutes to slow the yacht down and grab the rod. A big fish can easily run 50m or more too.
You need a good strong multiplier 50-80lb class. Shimano Tiagra or the Shimano Tynos for bigger fish. I suggest opting for the two-speed version. Penn Squall is another good choice.
A good strong game fishing rod is essential. 6ft length. 50-80lb class. Something like the Shimano Tiagra TI-80ST or Ultra A is fine. For bigger fish, it’s better to have a rod with roller rod rings and a tip ring.
Extra Long Nose Pliars
For unhooking big fish without getting too close to the teeth.
Reverse Sheer Transom
A reverse sheer transom will enable you to ‘land’ (or ‘boat’ in our case) more and bigger fish as it will be a lot easier to gaff fish from the transom than over the rail.
Unless you’re only going to use small muppets for small tuna you will need a good strong gaff.
Ciguatera ( Ci-gua-tera )
Ciguatera poisoning can cause very serious illness in people that have consumed fish that are carrying the toxin.
The symptoms of Ciguatera poisoning are vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, sweating, dizziness, loss of consciousness and even death.
It is caused by Gamabierdiscus Toxicus, a microscopic marine organism that inhabits some coral reefs at certain times of the year. It can occur on, or around coral reefs, between the latitudes 35° north and 35° south. Reef fish ingest this dinoflagellate and larger fish that feed on the reef fish will take on the toxin.
It is retained in the body of the fish or mammal permanently and never passes through.
For some mysterious reason, it only affects some reefs in a given area and then again only at some non-forecastable times.
The best source of information will be gained by asking local fishermen who will certainly know which reefs/areas may be affected.
Fortunately, open ocean pelagic fish are not affected but, pelagic fish that have lived and fed on reef fish will sometimes be affected.
Please don’t take this as a definitive guide to fishing. All of the above is based on my own experience fishing under sail. Every angler will have a different preference and style as I’m sure you will too once you start catching your own dinner.