Its Not How You Start, Its How You Finish!

This was the trip that might not have been, but for the determined efforts of our crew.  Saturday, Allen, Logan (aka “The Wrench”), and Dustin prepped the FN Pair-A-Dice for a two night run to the oil rigs south of Alabama.  I got a free pass to attend Niece Bella’s 3rd Birthday.  I definitely did not draw the short straw on that one. I arrived, hopped on and we were off with dreams of making the sunset bite.

While making bait outside the pass we got a line wrapped around a prop. Dustin donned the mask and over the side he went.  No problem, he made quick work of getting us untangled.  Unfortunately, when we tried to restart the engine, we got nada.  The Wrench says he thinks it’s the starter and if we give it a good rap with a hammer or a wrench, it may break loose.  OK, worth a try because we aren’t doing several hundred miles on one engine, that is for sure.  So, in the absence of a hammer (cannot imagine why we don’t keep one of those on the boat), we rap on it a few times with the channel locks, no luck.

The Wrench says we can arc it with a screw driver.  I do not volunteer for that  duty, but Allen steps up and and takes on the task.  Well it put on a good show, but it didn’t start the engine and I think the screw driver is screwed.

Screwwed Driver

The Wrench, undeterred, says we can pull the starter off, hit it harder and get it going.  Seemed scientific and having no better ideas, we all agree to that course of action.  Admittedly, I had already resigned myself to going home and drinking beer, and with the possible exception of The Wrench, I think everyone else had as well. So Allen and The Wrench proceeded to remove the starter.  No small feat with the limited tool kit we carry on board, but they got it off and proceeded to hit it much harder.  Well, that left a mark:

We need a hammer

But! Now when we turn the key, it engages.  That is progress.  So they bolt that baby back on, we all say a little prayer, turn the key and bam, she starts!  We are going fishing, woohoo!  Allen and The Wrench earn beers.

We’re late, but we are on the way.  Everything is going great until the sun goes down and we flip on the radar.  Are you kidding me?  No radar. System is not finding it attached.  So we stop, unplug everything, plug it all back in and try again.  Nothing.  Try finding bad cable connections, recycling etc… but all a no go.   So we put a two man watch out and start gingerly along through the dark.  The good news is the moon comes up bright and beautiful pretty early and we can see quite well so we just keep chugging along arriving at Petronius at about 10:30PM.

Word from the other boats there is that there are some Tuna, but tough to get.  So we set up jigging and grab a few blackfin tuna, but we are not feeling it.  We decide to check Marlin rig (1st image below) on the way to Horn Mountain (2nd image below).

Marlin RigHorn Mt

Neither showed much activity so we pushed off Horn Mountain to The Noble Tom Madden Drill ship (shown below) that is working just a mile or so away.

Noble Tom Madden

Here we are marking fish all over the place and there are blackfin tuna (BFT) busting on the surface.  So we get to the business of catching some tuna.  We caught fish jigging and on top water and set up a sunrise chunk line.  That paid with a nice 33 lb yellowfin tuna (YFT)wrangled by Allen:

Allen's Tuna

We kept at it and the chunk yielded another nice bite, but unfortunately the fish broke off after a short fight.  It was a clean cut through the leader, the price you pay for using light leaders.  Things slowed down so we moved east to Ensco 8505.  The Roff’s report showed a nice break in that area and it was right.  Water went from blended blue to cobalt blue on the way over and the water around the rig was alive.  BFT and Skip Jack Tuna were busting on the surface and the fish finder was lit up.   We caught one skippy, but these fish were tough customers.  We jigged every jig in the box and all the topwaters and they just were not interested.

We got the chunk line going again though and once again, Allen is hooked up.  Nice fish with a great gaff shot by Dustin and another 33# YFT in the boat.  We kept at it, but could not produce another bite.  Not even a skippy or a BFT.  So, we picked up and trolled over to Noble Globetrotter 1.  She is located further south down the same color change.

It is going off at Globetrotter.  There are BFT, Skippies and other baits all over the surface and showing all over the fish finder.  As with the bite at Ensco 8505, though, they all have lock jaw for everything in our arsenal. We try every jig, every topwater, trolling and live baits.  Nothing.  Then we start seeing big YFT rolling on the surface.  Not busting, not flying out of the water as usual, but lazily rolling on the surface.  We ease over to them and see something none of us had ever seen before.  A big YFT comes up and tries to eat a seagull sitting on the surface!  Lucky seagull manages to escape, but it was like something from a PBS nature special.  I wish I had that on tape.

Allen, going for the hat trick slings a topwater out there and boom, he is on.  He works the fish almost to the boat in about five minutes, but when it sees the FN Pair-A-Dice it has its own ideas and dumps about 3/4 of the 80# braid off is Saragosa 18000.  So Allen settles in for the fight:

Sea Monster

This was a big fish and she was not cooperating.  She drove straight down and  Allen almost got spooled.  He was working to get line back, but unfortunately he got cut off.  The cut off was on the braid above the double line so not sure if she hit it with her tail or what, but the result is the same, no fish this time.

We were pretty much out of chunk and frustratingly unable to catch any BFT or Skippies so we decided to head back to Ensco and give it another try there at sunset.  No luck at Ensco so back to Noble Tom Madden where Allen hooked up on a live bait.  This one was a mid 50# YFT.  So clearly Allen is the MVP of this trip and scores the hat trick.

Without any additional luck at the drill ship we started toward home and made a pit stop at Ram Powell (shown below).  The crew was running out of steam:

Hard at WorkRam

 

The only interest we found there was a big barracuda.  But we did find this on the way:

Plague Flag

Tried jigging it and checked for triple tail, but no luck.  Looks like it was perhaps a broken off FAD (Fish Attracting Device).  Anyone else have any thoughts what it might have been?  For sure home made and flying a plague flag 🙂

We made it back safely Monday afternoon, cleaned the boat and the fish and headed in to get some shut eye.

The haul

Saturday I was asking where the starter was, yesterday I pulled it off and took it in to be rebuilt.  The Wrench is a good teacher.  This was the reward.

Before:

Before

After:

After

Yum.

Hope you enjoyed the report.  Until next time, Catch Em Up!

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P.S.S. Tuna Burgers:

Tuna Burgers

Chunk for Chunky Tuna

There are lots of techniques for catching tuna in the northern Gulf of Mexico, but one of the most effective is to chunk.  We do this regularly when fishing out of Destin and it has been one of our best producers of Yellowwfin Tuna like this one:

Happy Allen and YFT 70Lb

The Rig

The rig is simple, in fact, the key to a good chunk rig is the simpler it is the better.  You want a low profile because those big tuna can see a mosquito floating on the surface from a hundred feet down.  They have those big eyes for a reason.

The terminal tackle consists solely of a small but heavy guage live bait or circle hook and a long shot of flourocarbon leader.  Tie a Bimini Twist into your mainline so that you have a double line connection from the reel.  We typically use a double Uni-Knot to connect the mainline to the flouro, but you could use other knots such as a blood knot.  The key here is using a straight line to leader connection with no swivels or other hardware. Any hardware in your setup will impair the presentation of the bait and create opportunities to discourage bites from keen eyed and warry fish.

Flourocarbon leader should be 8-12 feet long and typically 80 pound or less.  The competing objectives are use of enough leader strength to hold a larger fish and protect against break offs versus the lowest leader weight you can get away with to make a stealthier presentation.  Generally we start with 60 pound and adjust down if we are not getting bites, up if we are getting broken off.

We typically use small, but heavy guage circle hooks.  Something like an Owner 6/0 Tournament Circle Hook.  Again, we generally connect to the leader with a Uni-Knot, but snelling would be the better choice.

The Bait

The best chunk bait is fresh.  We typically jig up blackfin and then use them for bait, but you cn use bonita or other baits too.  Fresh is better.

Prep the bait by cutting off the bone and into chunks of about 2 inches square.  We try to make nice clean chunks without bone.  I take less care with what I feed myself.  Prep a bunch in a bucket or on the cutting board so you don’t have to keep cutting while you should be focused on fishing. We take turns on chunk cutting duty.  It’s a dirty job.  Here is my big tip, clean the boat frequently as you go.  That blood comes right off with salt water while it’s wet.  Tomorrow morning at the slip, not so much.

The Presentation

Start by setting the boat up to make the drift you want.  Then start dropping some chunks over the side to see how they are flowing away from the boat.  Keep a pretty steady stream going, but don’t dump a ton of chunks in all at once.  The idea is to create a long steady drift with enough chunk to keep the fish interested, but keep them working up the chunk line toward the boat.

Embed your hook completely in your tuna chunk so that it is essentially just a piece of flourocarbon sticking out of a chunk of tuna.  The tuna chunks are so soft you do not need to leave the hook point protruding from the bait.

Put the reel in freespool and drop the chunk in the water.  Start feeding line off the tip of the rod using your fingers.  The idea is for your hooked chunk bait to drift in the water at exactly the same rate as the unhooked chunks.  You want zero resistance on the line for a nice smooth drift.

You should be comfortable paying line out for a long time.  The more line off the reel the deeper your chunk is drifting (as long as there is no resistance).  When you get a strike, the fish will pick up the bait and start moving away pulling line off the reel.  Again, you want the reel in freespool with no resistance.  Give the fish a moment to turn with the bait and begin to move off before you engage the drag and start slowly reeling until the line comes tight.

Now you are on!  The rest is up to you and the gaff man, so catch em up!

Daisy Chains


Speaking of daisy chains, these look pretty cool. Here, they are not really being used as teasers. They are rigging with a hooked bait trailed behind. That’s pretty effective as some of the folks on THT note in their posts. http://www.thehulltruth.com/fishing-miscellaneous-items-commercial-sellers-only/452970-best-quality-custom-daisy-chains-birds-squid-lurem-9.html

Also a direct link to the mfg website:

http://www.luremin.com/index.php/lures/custom-daisy-chains

Don’t Tease Me!

Look, no matter what they say, fish do like to be teased.  So tease em up!

Now you know how to put out a basic bluewater spread and with seven rods it can be a lot to manage, but if you really want to add some bling, your going to need to add some teasers.

What is a Teaser?

Teasers are a key part of a complete spread here along the Florida panhandle and in all bluewater fishing hotspots elsewwhere around the world.  They come in a lot of different varieties we will discuss, but the basic concept is that these are hookless baits designed to bring fish into your spread.  Once the fish is interested you can get them to take a trolled bait or you can target them with a pitch bait.

By adding volume and commotion to your spread you are creating a more enticing target for predators.  Teasers basically mimic a small school of bait or bait ball and your trolled baits look like strays or larger fish chasing the school.

I put teasers into two basic groups:

  • Daisy Chains, and
  • Dredges

I’d suggest you start with daisy chains as they are much easier to manage than dredges.  A daisy chain teaser is a row of hookless baits rigged together in series with short shots of line in between.  These photos show a bowling pin daisy chain, a squid daisy chain, and a Boone Bird daisy chain:

Teasers2Teasers

Typically you can mix them up a bit with perhaps a Boone Bird at the start of the chain followed by four or five squid and then a natural bait at the end like a ballyhoo or bonita belly. Having a natural bait last in the chain is always good as that is the most likely bait in the chain to actually get hit and it’s good to keep the fish interested by letting it taste a real bait.

Generally you run these daisy chains off your outriggers just in front and slightly inside the short rigger bait.  Use a glass ring zip tied to the rigger and run the teaser line through the ring.

I have a pancake teaser reel mounted under the hard top on my 39 Sea Vee to deploy and retrieve the daisy chain.  You can see that below, but there are less expensive alternatives.

teaser reel

I have used inexpensive level wind reels clamped to the tubing on my tower/t-top and I have also used a short rod (actually a broken rod cut down to about two feet with a replacement tip) placed in a gunnel rod holder.  If you have limitless amounts of money you can get a double electric pancake teaser reel for about $3000.

Another way to run a daisy chain is simply tied to a cleat on the transom.  This is typical of heavier teasers like a bowling pin teaser (shown above) or a mud flap teaser.  I like the way the bowling pin teaser works but some people have told me they feel like they are so hard that if a fish hits them they will never return to the spread.  I’d be interested in other opinions on this so please leave comments.

Dredges

The other type of teaser is a dredge.  I am not going to spend much time here on these as I will write a separate blog on this topic at a later date.  That said, dredges are teasers that are rigged in series and side by side to give them three dimensions.  They look much like balling baits.  There are lots of types.  They can be made up of natural baits like ballyhoo or mullet naked or with skirts.  They can be soft plastics like squid or imitation ballyhoo.  They can be mud flaps cut to look like small tuna.  A type that has become very popular is the mylar strip dredge such as shown below.

DredgeDredge2

Dredges can be rigged off the outriggers of large boats, but create too much resistance to be deployed from outriggers on center consoles.  They are typically deployed in-line behind trolling weights or a planer.  On center consoles they can be pulled from the transom or from a downrigger.

So lets fancy up that spread, stick a daisy chain or two out there, and catch em up!

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Fishing is Easy, Catching is Hard Work

You know how to put that spread out.  You know how to get the angler on the right rod: “Fish On, Right Long!” That’s all great, but if you’re sitting around working on your tan or catching up on sleep, or reading a book your success rate is going to suffer.  If you want to catch fish two simple things that you can do to increase your chances are:

  • Watch your baits, and
  • Tend your spread.

Both of these activities sound simple, but they take patience, concentration, and sometimes, a lot of effort.  This is one of many places where crew teamwork pays.

Watch Your Baits

You need one or more crew members watching the baits at all times. This is frustratingly hard to do given that you may go long stretches of time with no activity, but if you are not watching, bad things happen.

Sometimes, life is simple.  A wahoo comes crashing into the spread at forty miles an hour, devours a bait and gets two hooks embedded to the hilt in its head.  Now all you need to do is reel it in.  Great, that was simple.

More frequently, it doesn’t come together that well.  A big mahi comes in and smashes a bait, but does not get hooked.  With a bit of luck, one of your crew is watching and yells out, “Left Long!”  You’re on the rod in a flash and have the reel in free spool dropping the bait back.  You watch as the mahi swings around, devours the bait and you engage the drag: Fish On!  That was sweet, but it would not have happened if eyes were not on the baits and the crew was not ready to jump into action.  When it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing.

Tending Your Spread

You also want to be constantly monitoring your baits because if your bait is not swimming correctly, you are far less likely to get a hit.  It may not be rigged correctly, it may have gotten fouled, or it may have washed out.

Any weed or trash stuck on your bait or the hook makes it a lot less likely to draw a strike.  Have you ever seen a bait fish swim by you with sargassum stuck to its nose?  I doubt you or that wahoo you missed ever have.

I can’t tell you how many times I have pulled in the baits to find several towing grass or trash when they seemed perfectly fine looking back from the cockpit. Natural baits will also washout if not rigged properly, trolled too long, or if they are poor quality.  A washout is when the bait starts to come apart and water tears the abdominal cavity open.

You cannot always see there is a problem, even when you are paying attention.  You need to take the time to rotate through the baits frequently, pulling them in to inspect and reset. The best way to do this is do all the right side baits at once and then all the left side baits.  This keeps you fishing at least half the spread all the time.  Start with the flat line, then the short, then the long (and with one side the shotgun) to avoid tangles.  Then redeploy in reverse order and repeat on the opposite side of the boat.

Another advantage of tending the baits is you will get hits while you are doing this.  Dropping baits back into the spread draws strikes from reluctant or opportunistic followers.  Try it.  Also remember, especially with braid lines, to watch your fingers.  That wahoo smashing the bait while your finger is in a loop of braid is going to leave a mark.

So watch those baits, keep them swimming clean and true, and catch em up!

P.S. I’d like to thank my lovely wife, Lisa, for proof reading my blog.  Those who are close to me know I was bourne 🙂 without the spelling gene.  Apparently, I have also forgotten all my grammar lessons.  Among Lisa’s many skills are good grammar and excellent spelling.  My thanks to her for lending those to my efforts.