Let’s Call It Catching
My fishing career began on a steamy
Fort Lauderdale morning, eons ago, when my wife Irene and I were scouring the aisles at West Marine buying gear for our 40-foot steel cutter Moose. I was feeling quite comfortable, if not smug, and added some fishing lures-some silver spoons, a day-glo Rapala, an Australian Runner and a set of sparkling blue
silicon ballyhoo-to the already groaning cart. As an afterthought I optimistically tossed in a fillet knife.
Many mornings later, Moose was running down a glassy sea from the Virgins to Saint Martin, and Irene said, “Why don’t you try fishing?”
Since that day shopping in Florida I’d stuffed a formidable-looking tackle box full of esoteric buggy-eyed feathery things. Continually buying more gear seemed to be a surrogate for actually fishing. I’d rigged up Moose with a hand line on a spool. In principle the lure would troll along about 100 feet back and a piece of bicycle tube would absorb the strike from my fantasy fish. But in fact I’d never put a lure in the water because I knew subconsciously this might begin an unpleasant train of events.
“Things are just a tad busy for fishing,” had been my mantra up until this point. But now we were motoring along in a flat calm with nothing in sight except fluffy, garden-variety cumulus clouds.
“OK,” I answered.
We were just passing over an offshore bank and small tuna were jumping and flashing in the early morning sunshine, clearing the water by a couple of feet. I attached a red-eyed silver spoon to the line and, admiring my handiwork, let it slip astern. Fine. That Rubicon crossed, I ducked below to get breakfast ready.
“Duncan! You’ve got a fish! A fish!”
And so there was. I ran aft and hauled in my line, creating a big birds nest of line around my feet. Indeed, at the end was a fish, carefully identified later as a Spanish mackerel. It was flapping and gasping about and it was now my duty to stick my shiny fillet knife between its eyes and twist. A thought flew through my mind: This is probably how war criminals start their careers.
The only type of fishing that we do on Moose is trolling: pulling a lure behind the moving boat. Sailboats are perfect for trolling because they usually travel at 4 to 7 knots which is the best range for trolling lures.
Trolling lures must tell a fish that something edible and interesting is going past and that striking it would be a good idea. For this reason lures often resemble baitfish; they are usually finger-sized, shiny and have wide eyes. Lures can be run on the water’s surface or well below it. Diving lures are pulled down by spoon-like protrusions under the “chin” that also make them vibrate wildly. Surface lures float and gurgle and pop along, imitating a small, perhaps injured fish.
The species that cruising sailors usually target are mahi-mahi, wahoo, mackerel and tuna. They are found worldwide in tropical waters and are high-speed, hard-hitting, opportunistic predators. When something moves in front of them it gets whacked. My two favorite lures for these fish are a plastic jet head with a silver and dark blue skirt for clear water and a Rapala with silver minnow coloring for cloudy water.
There is no species of fish that feeds on plastic bags. So if you’ve been dragging one around, hooked on a lure, your chances of catching a fish are extremely poor. The same is true of clumps of seaweed, which Kiwi fishermen call “ferrets,” I suppose because they resemble half-drowned weasels. Checking lures frequently to make sure they’re clean is a definite part of proactive fishing. Positioning lures is another.
The best place to troll a lure is between 50 and 100 feet behind the boat on the face of a following wave. I like to see a lure pop along the surface perhaps 20 percent of the time and leave a strong trail of bubbles when submerged. Jet-head lures do this well, as they have a number of tiny holes in their heads that aerate the passing water.
Most lures also have a trailing skirt made from brightly colored silicon. Part of the job of the skirt is to hide the hook, which should be positioned near the end of the skirt, but not so far back that it is visible. Hooks must be sharpened on fine sandpaper after every couple of uses and they must be really sharp, so sharp that they look for fingers. They stay sharp longer if you use a red waterproof marker and paint the points.
And so there was. I ran aft and hauled in my line, creating a big bird’s nest of line around my feet. Indeed, at the end was a fish, carefully identified later as a Spanish mackerel. It was flapping and gasping about and it was now my duty to stick my shiny fillet knife between its eyes and twist. A thought flew through my mind: This is probably how war criminals start their careers.