How (and why) to Become a Fishing Sailor

It is surprising to me that so few sailors are also fishermen. When joining a new boat for a passage, I often ask to see what kind of fishing gear the crew has on board. Almost always, I receive a puzzled look, or perhaps a mildly apologetic one, as my fellow sailors wonder where they last saw the jumbled mass of line, hooks and lead weights they call “gear.”
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“Bob…Bob!” bellowed the skipper from 65 feet above, “Look, Bob!”

“Look at what?” I yelled back, peering straight up the mast at him from the winch, where I was belaying the halyard to which the bosun’s chair, and my skipper, were attached.

“A fish! A jumping fish!”

I threw an extra turn ofline on the winch, kept the halyard in hand and peered aft just as what looked like a sailfish on my fishing line broke clear of the water 50 yards behind the boat and executed a magnificent leap into the sky. Of the four of us on board, only the skipper and I could see the performance. My wife was at the helm, trying to keep us on a steady course in light tricky winds while our fourth crewman was embroiled in a dodgy jib repair.

Every fiber of my being wanted to stop what we were doing and haul in that fish, but we were at a critical and delicate point in our repairs, so it would have to wait.

Three minutes felt like three hours, as it seemed that the magnificent beast was breaking the bonds of Earth every few heartbeats. Eventually, though, we reached a safe stopping point. “Get the fish!” the skipper yelled.

“What about you?” I returned.

“Tie me off, but get that damned fish!” (I should note that the boat, a sturdy ferrocement sloop, had steps all the way up the mast. The bosun’s chair and my belay were a double and triple precaution.) Leaping aft I gripped the taut fishing line and began hauling away as my skipper watched patiently from above. It was, indeed, a sailfish, which meant that although it looked incredible, it was a protected species and would be released after a few trophy photos. But that was beside the point. The fish was just so spectacular to behold.

It is surprising to me that so few sailors are also fishermen. When joining a new boat for a passage, I often ask to see what kind of fishing gear the crew has on board. Almost always, I receive a puzzled look, or perhaps a mildly apologetic one, as my fellow sailors wonder where they last saw the jumbled mass of line, hooks and lead weights they call “gear.”

It does not need to be this way. Everyone loves it when a fish is brought aboard—it’s fun, diverting and occasionally enlightening. For children and adults alike it can also be terrifically educational. It will supplement your provisions in a way that does not require much in the way of costs or effort. In fact, fishing from a sailboat may well be the laziest way to catch food that mankind has ever devised. 

FOUR WAYS TO TURN A SAILOR INTO A FISHERMAN

1. Patience. The primary purpose of your voyage is to sail, not necessarily to fish. Accordingly, you will pass right over ideal spots for different types of fish. Relax—you’ll have another chance, especially if you factor in some judicious course-shaping to pass over key fish stomping grounds.

2. The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing, by Scott and Wendy Bannerot. This is the Bible for all things fishy for sailors. It will pay for itself over and over in the money you’ll save provisioning with fresh fish.

3. Gear. There are all sorts of fishing—spear fishing, dinghy fishing, net fishing, fishing for big game, trolling, bottom fishing—and you only need to stock up on gear for one variety at a time. For trolling from a moving sailboat, bring along one handline (suited to the size of fish you are after), one spool, a few swivels and two or three lures.

4. The Internet. You won’t need this for the actual fishing, but rather for shopping beforehand. My favorite fishing supply site is Captain Harry’s Fishing Supply at captharry.com—it’s the amazon.com of the fishing world.

Check out Michael Robertson's article Preparing Sushi on Board for a tasty recipe and how to.

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