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Waterlines: For Whom The Bait Trolls

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There are some hardcore “veggie-lantes” I know who like to argue it is immoral to catch fish while sailing offshore. Theoretically, I might sympathize with this, but gastronomically it’s hard to argue with a plate of fresh-caught tuna or dorado while on passage. So I like to rationalize instead and look at it from the fish’s perspective. A fish that is bigger than you may well not hesitate to eat you if it is hungry, but it surely won’t kill you for sport and display your corpse in its home. I reckon all is fair so long as you eat what you catch.

As far as the process of catching fish goes, from their point of view, it must seem supernatural. There they are, minding their own business when along comes a free snack. They take a bite and next thing they know they are yanked into another spatial dimension and are butchered and eaten by ugly air-breathing aliens. It must be terrifying. Hence rule #2 in my handbook of ethical fishing: you should never “play” a fish on a line, but should land and kill it as quickly as possible.

People who kill fish for sport, besides driving boats that burn way too much fuel, are often obsessed with gear. The amount of money you can spend on rods, reels and lures is truly staggering. In truth, however, you don’t need much gear to catch fish while sailing. My kit consists of two handlines stored on plastic yo-yos. For lures, I use cheap rubber-skirt squids, two in series on each line. My lines are 200lb test monofilament. Using such heavy line allows you to land fish quickly (see rule #2 above), and the line is unlikely to break under load and saves you from having to put a steel leader in front of the hook.

I’ve installed bungee cords and metal snap-hooks at the bitter end of my fishing lines, and when deploying one I simply clip the end of the bungee cord to a lifeline or stanchion base. I then gather the bungee cord in a loose bight and fasten the end of the monofilament line to a lifeline with a clothespin. The clothespin popping off the lifeline alerts me that I may have a fish on, and the slack bight of bungee cord, combined with the cord’s great elasticity, is a great shock absorber and keeps the lure from being ripped out of the fish’s mouth.

One important thing I’ve learned is that it is best to keep your lines short. Mine probably isn’t more than 50ft. This keeps the lures skipping periodically on the surface while I’m sailing, which is attractive to fish. And when you do hook something, a short line prevents the fish from getting far enough under the water to get its tail working hard and put up a fight. Instead, it stays bouncing along at or near the surface, which allows you to haul it in quickly without stopping your boat.

I often meet bluewater sailors who complain they never catch fish on passage but using my technique I’ve never once been skunked. No, I don’t catch fish every time I trail lines, but I’ve never gone through a whole passage without catching fish if I had lines out.

I remember one time I went head-to-head against a serious gear freak fishing off a 47ft cutter on a passage to Bermuda—his fancy rod and reel and expensive lures versus my ratty old handline—and I totally smoked him.

We agreed we’d each have one corner of the transom to fish from, and while he fiddled with his fancy lures on an almost hourly basis, I just plunked my handline in the water and forgot about it. I soon caught two nice tuna, then put away my line for fear of snagging more than we could eat.

I urged my shipmate to do the same, but he refused, as his pride was now sorely offended. Fortunately, there was nothing for me—or the fish—to worry about. His pride remained offended, and the only thing he ever caught was a bird that persisted in diving on his lure.

May 2018

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