Fish On!

So now you have the spread out and you’re fishing.  Hopefully the next thing that happens is someone yells out “Fish On!”  That is great, but somebody needs to get to that rod, make sure its hooked up and get it to the boat.  One nice piece of information to have to make that work would be which rod.  That’s not always easy to tell.  One extremely frustrating morning South of Destin we hooked up a Marlin.  The fish hooked up on the left flat and crossed the left long as she departed with our bait.  Now line is peeling off both reels and the angler is fighting the fish on the left long.  By the time the error is recognized the Marlin has shaken the hook on the left flat and is gone.  Shit!

So, if everyone on the boat knows the rod positions by name when that call comes out, Fish On! They can also help get the angler on the fish without delay by adding the appropriate rod position: “Fish On, Left Flat!”  Now everyone is on the same page and your chances of getting that fish to the boat just got a lot better.

Frustrating and funny, that morning when we lost that Marlin, the dead giveaway we were fighting the fish on the wrong rod was when she was tail walking around with a beautiful pink marlin lure hanging out of her mouth. I think, wow she is on the Moldcraft, wait, I run that on the flat, doh!

So call out those strikes, get to that rod, and catch em up!

Trolling Spread 101

Nothing fancy here, just the basics of how do I get a spread out and keep it fishing.  We will talk about bait selection, teasers, trolling speeds, rigging and other considerations in later blogs.

Composition of the Spread

A trolling spread is typically made up of 5 to 7 lines.  These are two “flat Lines”, two to four “rigger lines” and a “shotgun” as shown in the diagram below.

Trolling Spread High Res_0002


The basic construction of the spread is the two flat lines closest to the boat, with the short rigger baits staggered behind and outside, long rigger baits behind those and spread wider with the shotgun far back behind all the other baits in the center position.  The pattern is in the shape of an elongated baseball diamond.

Positioning of the Rods and Baits

Flat lines are run off the corners of the transom directly into the water behind the boat. Positioning these baits in the prop wash or just outside the prop wash is a good strategy and you will love seeing a big fish come virtually within arm’s length of the transom to grab one of these baits.

Standing in the boat facing aft the line on the transom to your left (actually the starboard side of the transom) is called the left flat.  The line on the transom to your right is the right flat.

I like to use a release clip on the flat lines to improve the angle of pull on the baits and to allow for a small drop back when a fish strikes.  These clips are the same clips used on a downrigger and are attached to a cleat or a small pad eye as shown in the photos below.

Flat line

Clip and flat line

clip close up

When a fish strikes the bait the line pulls out of the clip allowing a moment of slack before it comes tight again.  This brief bit of slack allows the bait to be positioned in the fish’s mouth and is more likely to result in a good hookup.

The rigger baits work on a similar principle.  The two short riggers (left short and right short) sit in the gunnel rod holders forward of the flat lines.  The baits are trolled behind and outside of the flat line baits, typically in the third or fourth wake of the boat.  The lines run to release clips on your outriggers.

When running four rigger baits, the short rigger lines go through clips positioned roughly half way out the outriggers.  Make sure the short rigger lines run under the long rigger lines or you will have a tangled mess when you get a strike.  The long riggers (left long and right long) are positioned in the rod holders forward of the short rigger rods.  The baits are positioned behind and outside the short riggers and the lines pass through clips that are positioned at the end of the outriggers.  The rigger clips provide a much more significant drop back when fish strike and allow anglers to get to the rod to release additional line to work a hook up, particularly with billfish.

Last, but not least, the shotgun rod is positioned dead center in the boat.  Typically you want to put it in a rod holder on the bridge or the rocket launcher at the center console so it is centered in the boat and higher than the other rods.   The bait is positioned far back behind other baits in the spread.  How far depends on your preference, the bait you are running, and the species your are seeking to hook up.  Some boats have a center rigger that allows you to run the shotgun through a release clip, but many vessels do not.

Deploying and Retrieving

This part is often overlooked and undervalued.  It’s a bit like boat ramp etiquette.  You know, that guy that puts the boat in the ramp and then goes to get a beer while seven other boats wait their turn! It’s basic blocking and tackling that if you don’t get right you just drive yourself and those around you nuts.

So, now you know where everything goes, but how do you get it there without tangles?  And just as importantly, how do you get it all back without it all coming in as acluster @&!K?  If you want to efficiently deploy the spread you need a crew that can work together.  Deploy the furthest out baits first working from the shotgun to the long riggers followed by short and then the flat lines.  This avoids the lines crossing and tangling as you work the baits into the spread. It also allows you to rig the short riggers to the outrigger clips with the lines under the lines for the long rigger rods so that when you get a hit on those lines they don’t pull the ling riggers with them and vice versa.  Bringing the spread back in, reverse the order bringing in the flat lines first then the short riggers followed by long and finally the shotgun. Again, this avoids havine to untangle a large ball of lines and baits when they get back to the boat.

I hope that helps with basic trolling spread design and management, but welcome comments and other perspectives.

Catch Em UP!


This is my first official blog on so lets start with what this blog is about and who I am.  This blog is dedicated to the how to of bluewater fishing.  Offshore fishing for Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi and other pelagics.  My goal here is to share what I know and what I learn about offshore fishing.  I am no expert.  If a Captain that has won multiple big game tournaments is a nine and the guy that likes to catch some croppie at the lake on his annual summer vacation is a one on the scale of bluewater fishing competency, I am probably a six. So, I hope that what I post here is helpful to some, makes a few people laugh or smile or think about their next fishing trip or inspires others to join the conversation and share their knowlege.

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