Fishing with Mick: what you need to cruise and fish

If you are reading this magazine chances are you own a cruising yacht and spend as much time as possible on board your vessel of pride.

While out on the water you will probably experience the best and worst of sea conditions that can either make your passage between ports exciting, challenging, even boring. But when you have left land far behind and there is nothing but the horizon to pique your interest, why not turn your hand, and your boat to a spot of fishing? Fresh fish for lunch or dinner awaits you!

Built for cruising, not fishing

The first thing to consider, when trying to fish from a cruising yacht, is just that: you are on board a cruising vessel, not a fishing boat and this provides limitations.

That said, just because it might not be as easy to fish from a yacht as on a purpose-built fishing boat does not mean it is not worth doing. Far from it. The challenge can make it more exciting and rewarding.

So, back to the boat: probably the major difference between a cruising yacht and a purpose-built fishing boat is manouevrability. Most fishing boats are propelled by a reasonably powerful inboard or outboard engine, which can greatly aid your fishing efforts. Firstly, being able to quickly react via the throttle when a powerful fish changes tack and pulls most of your fishing line in the opposite direction is a key to landing it or just chalking up another “one that got away”.

That said, not many cruising boats will be able to quickly slow their travel or turn and chase a powerful hooked fish. Doing the maths, if a hooked speedster like a wahoo runs south flat out: they are capable of travelling at up to 100 kilometres an hour (54 knots), while your boat is moving north at four to five knots, you will likely lose your line in quick time; unless you are using gear that gives you a fighting chance.

It does not matter what sort of craft you are on, in general the fishing often gets better the further away from land you are. Many species you are likely to encounter follow ocean currents such as the East Australian Current that carries warm water south along with the nutrients that attract a variety of fish species.

The main advantage you have when cruising is that you will often find yourself in the thick of this bountiful water and it is just a matter of putting a line out. Whether under power or sail, the main techniques remain the same. Use whatever you have to your advantage and you are sure to catch fish.

Trolling – not restricted to the internet

Trolling is an ideal form of fishing for cruisers and can be simple or specialised. While there are plenty of different proven fishing methods you can try on board your boat when anchored or moored, the bulk of this article will focus on trolling as it is an effective and fun way to fish between ports.

In basic terms, trolling is the technique of using the vessel’s forward motion to apply action to lures or natural baits. Depending on the type of lure, or bait, being trolled will dictate the required speed for effective fish attracting action.

Popular trolling lures such as bibbed minnows from proven makers such as Rapala (e.g. X-Rap, Magnum), Halco (e.g. Laser Pro) and others will generally require a speed of around five to six knots. At this rate the lure dives to its operating depth, which can be ten metres plus depending on the lure and will typically produce a side-to-side kicking motion designed to attract most predatory fish.

Depending on the size of the lure used they can catch all manner of species including: tailor, salmon, kingfish, bonito, trevally, mackerel, wahoo, dolphinfish (mahi mahi), various tunas, marlin, sailfish and more.

While minnow lures are generally durable they can also be expensive if lost on a regular basis. Basic inexpensive lures such as plastic squid or ‘Christmas trees’ might not be as durable but they will not break the bank either.

These soft skirted lures are basically just threaded on to your line and rigged with lead weight in the head to help them sink and then tied to a suitable saltwater hook. As they do not have any inherent ‘action’, these lures tend to work better at faster speeds that get them regularly breaking the surface and leaving attractive bubble trails. Natural fish baits such as pilchards, garfish or mullet can be added to skirted lures for extra effectiveness.

Alternatively, trolled baits on their own catch plenty of fish. Hardier fleshed fish such as garfish, slimy mackerel and mullet, rigged with appropriate-sized single or ganged hooks, can do the trick. Make sure to use anti-twist swivels above your lures to prevent line twist. More on this later.

Whatever you choose to troll, the main asset you have is your boat which acts as a big mobile fish attracting device (FAD). Running your lures in its wake wash often gets more bites than those running back 50m to 60m.

Depending on how many crew you have on board should dictate how many lines you run out. If there are only two of you aboard hooking more than two fish at once, which can happen if you encounter a school, can cause mayhem meaning lost fish and gear. Keep it simple and stick with a couple of lines at most.

A good tip is to be on the lookout for working seabirds that signpost the presence of feeding fish. If need be, it can pay to alter your course to get amongst the action.

Gearing up

You do not need expensive gear to set your boat up for fishing. Start with one or two fishing outfits and some terminal tackle such as hooks, swivels and lures.

As far as outfits go there are probably two that are the most practical. The most popular type consists of a spin or threadline reel fitted to a suitable length boat rod. This type of reel features a pivoting bail arm that, when opened, allows line to flow from the spool during a cast or when a trolled lure is towed in your wake. The quality of spin reels has come a long way in recent years and many are capable of catching virtually any fish that swims. As a result quality and price can vary considerably.

For general purpose fishing, a spin reel in the 8000 to 10,000 size range, capable of storing 300m of 12 to 15 kilogram mono line, makes a good starting point for cruising fishing. Matched to a suitable boat length rod, generally under two metres, this outfit is capable of catching most average-sized fish you are likely to encounter on your voyages. Landing bigger fish like tuna or marlin might be another story though!

Another big advantage of spin tackle is versatility. With spin gear and some relatively inexpensive metal lures (e.g. Spanyid Raiders) some good fishing can be had by casting and retrieving from a more open position such as the boat’s bow. Speed is the name of the game here as the metal lures are meant to be wound in quickly to resemble fast fleeing baitfish.

The other practical option is an overhead game outfit of which a 15kg class set-up makes a good all-rounder. As its name suggests an overhead reel sits atop the rod, unlike a spin reel which is mounted below.

Overhead reels also vary widely in price and quality. They start from basic star drag reels and go up to sophisticated two-speed gearbox models with heavy duty drags designed for big marlin and the like.

For those unfamiliar with what a reel’s drag system does, in basic terms it adjusts the amount of pressure applied to the reel spool so a fish can ‘run’ with the line well before its breaking strain is reached.

Many tackle stores offer quality durable overhead outfits in the 10kg to 15kg range for a few hundred dollars that will do the job admirably for many years. Star drag reels usually cost less but may not be as durable as higher priced lever drag models. Stick with proven quality brands such as Shimano, Daiwa, Penn, ABU and Okuma.

You will probably find that a suitable rod, if bought separately, can be found for much less than the reel. Most these days feature carbonfibre blanks, while hybrid fiberglass and carbonfibre combination rods are also a good alternative, often found at budget prices. Many tackle retailers also offer quality combo outfits at reasonable prices.

On the line

Anyone who has ever fished will be familiar with traditional nylon monofilament or ‘mono’ lines. While mono tends to have gone out of favour with modern anglers, it offers advantages over more specialised braided superlines.

Firstly, mono lines are much cheaper than braids, especially when bought in bulk spools. Braid lines also tend to require more specialised fiddly knots that can be time consuming. Braids also have minimal stretch characteristics, which can be an advantage for some forms of sportfishing and a disadvantage in others. Having a degree of stretch in your line, as mono does, can mean the difference between losing or landing a fish. Applying too much pressure with braid often results in something giving, usually a knot. With mono its stretch factor provides some leeway.

Braids too are more prone to abrasion damage than quality monos. The latter though have more of a tendency for line twist, avoided with the use of anti-twist swivels, especially when lure fishing and trolling. Go with better quality ball bearing swivels that can be easily used by attaching on the end of the main line and to a short length of heavier leader around twice the breaking strain of the mainline, of around 2m to 3m. The leader will give you more abrasion resistance and breaking strain needed when dealing with bigger fish.

In tropical waters where toothy pelagics like mackerel and wahoo are encountered, using a short wire leader of around 30cm can prevent costly lure losses. Quality wire leaders can be bought ready made with swivels already fitted, or easily made up using a spool of single strand or multi-strand wire, alloy crimps and crimping pliers. For easy to follow instructions on rigging your fishing tackle for trolling, how to tie knots, make wire leaders and more, grab a copy of Geoff Wilson’s ‘Complete book of fishing knots and rigs’, available through AFN:

Other essentials

Trolling can be very productive at times and slow at others. To that end it pays to set your boat up with quality rod holders that will house fishing outfits safely between strikes.

There are many variations available. Go for quality stainless or alloy construction that will take the knocks and ensure you do not lose a rod and reel overboard. While cruising yachts will not have gunwales to install flush mount holders, rail mount versions that clamp on securely will do the job and are readily available at chandlery stores. For extra security attach your fishing outfits via carabiner clips and cords to rails and rod holders.

Once you hook a fish, the next obvious thing to do is land it. Depending on the size of fish the job can often be done efficiently with a sturdy long-handled net or gaff. A net is preferable for landing any fish that will be released unharmed. A gaff is generally a better tool for landing larger fish, especially ones with big sharp teeth.

As a gaff is a dangerous item to have laying around the deck ensure it is stored safely, preferably with a short length of garden hose shielding its sharp hook point.

Once aboard, toothy fish such as mackerel and wahoo can deliver a nasty bite and are best dispatched quickly to prevent safety issues. This is best done via a few swift dongs with a ‘priest’ such as a baseball bat or short solid piece of timber.

While not possessing razor sharp teeth, dolphinfish often go berserk when brought on board so keep well clear of attached lures and hooks until the fish can be safely and effectively pacified.

A basic tackle box for storing terminal gear such as lures, hooks, swivels and the like will keep everything together in one place and help prevent failure due to the elements. Rigging scissors, long nose pliers and a general use knife and filleter are also essential bits of kit.

As with any items stored on board, corrosion is the enemy of your fishing gear. Regularly rinse all fishing gear in freshwater after use, including rods and reels, lures and hooks. Occasional coatings with rust preventative sprays will also ensure longer trouble-free service from your fishing tackle.

Lastly, when fishing in NSW and Victorian ocean waters you are required to pay for a recreational fishing licence which is easily done via tackle retailers, service stations and online.

Tight lines!

Mick Fletoridis
JPK August 2023
NAV at Home
Jeanneau SF30 OD
M.O.S.S Australia