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October 12, 2001

The Word From the Mountain

Tips from the world's most accomplished seamen regarding baits, rigging, rods, teasers, wiring, hooks, and more.

Hey, magazine boy, what does your book say we should do now?"

Invariably, I hear that question as soon as the fish quit biting, or when it becomes clear that they're not going to bite at all. Usually it comes from a friend in a semi-joking manner and receives an appropriate answer, typically something to do with the asker's ability to read at a third-grade level.

However, I also get serious questions every now and then, from anglers genuinely interested in improving their skills. The fact that the serious questions rarely come from any of my buddies might say something about my choice of friends, but that is another issue. In any case, usually the answers I give to those sincere queries originate from my exposure to a select group of experts, individuals recognized by their peers as among the best at what they do.

The Skipper's Job
"There are two things that people could do to make themselves better captains overnight," says Australia's Capt. Peter B. Wright, arguably one of the best giant-fish skippers in the world. The first - which may come as a surprise to the guys who pride themselves on how fast they go in reverse - is simply spending more time facing the bow.

"A boat is made to go in the direction of the pointed end," Wright says. "When I see someone who spends a lot of time backing around at full speed, water up to the covering boards all of the time, I assume they don't know much. Getting around on the fish is very simply and absolutely the key to boat handling."

Wright feels another area where skippers need to give more attention is in chair setup. His technique requires keeping the legs straight, leaning over the reel and cranking oneself up off the seat, pivoting upward and dropping the rod tip, then rolling the body weight back into the bucket harness. The final part of this motion drops the angler back down into the seat, which lifts the rod tip and leverages the fish closer to the boat.

The Rod Man
Choosing appropriate tackle is obviously a key to successful fishing. In the stand-up arena, one of the most critical tackle choices comes in the selection of rods. And for rod advice, there's no better source than Kenny Carman of Biscayne Rods.

I asked Carman what he considered the most important factor in selecting a rod for stand-up fishing and he instinctively referred to rod length, but was quick to add that he does not follow the widely accepted "shorter is better" philosophy.

"You need to know what kind of fish you'll be catching," he says. "Billfish spend a lot of time on top, and you just don't get line recovery from a short rod in that situation. You are forced to use the boat as your line pickup mechanism. With a short rod in a rapid pump-and-wind situation, you cannot get a full revolution of line on the spool in one pump cycle. That's just no good for billfish. I would definitely recommend a 6-foot rod for billfish."

Baits and Rigging
While I am nowhere near proclaiming myself as one of the sport's best bait riggers, I have done it long enough and know enough about it to offer a pointer for guys using mackerel in a high-speed blue marlin trolling spread.

The deal with mackerel is to get them swimming, not flying. In order to do this, you need to keep the mackerel from riding on the hook and the loop. I achieve this with a waxed thread harness, by tying half-hitches in front of the crimp, pulling the thread through the eye socket and then retying the thread tightly in front of the crimp again.

This keeps the mackerel paddling instead of soaring, which is going to give you a much better hookup ratios.

Bait and Switch
Of all of the subjects that I talk about in my articles, bait-and-switch fishing receives the most derision from the rank-and-file of U.S. offshore crews. I hear more "you just can't do that here" and "you have to see a lot more fish than we see" for this technique than any other. To refute this and offer a U.S.-based perspective, we'll turn to Capt. Mitch McFrederick, skipper of the charter boat Chapin at Hatteras and Oregon Inlet. McFrederick started pulling a teaser spread for fly fishing but found fish responded to teasers faster than his standard trolling spread.

"What we do on Chapin, and what I think is the most important part of our bait-and-switch fishing, is to add belly strips to all of our teasers. I think this may be what separates what we need to do differently than in Central America, where they do have all of those fish. Bait-and-switch with belly strips really enhances the quality of the bites you get from skittish fish."

Pumping and Winding
"I got out of the chair because I wanted to be a better angler," says Skip Walton, board member of The Billfish Foundation and one of the sport's noted stand-up fishermen. "The first thing I had to learn when I started to catch big fish on 50-pound stand-up tackle was how to use the drag. A lot of things happen in the heat of battle, and the best thing you can do is to know on your reel where 10 pounds is, where 22 pounds is and where 35 pounds is. When the fish is really off and running with a lot of line out, you need to be on the 10-pound mark. Just as important, when the fish is up close, you really want to crank down the drag and put the spurs to it."

Wiring and Release
Other than writing the checks to support all of this fun, wiring a fish is the most dangerous aspect of big-game fishing.

One of the best moves I've made was to talk to Charles Perry a few years ago, at Hatteras. Perry is generally acknowledged as the sport's top wireman.

"Under no circumstances should you take more than two wraps with heavy mono," Perry says. "And under no circumstances should you take less than two wraps with heavy mono. Take two wraps at all times and make short pulls. If you wire enough big fish, you're going to have some trouble eventually, but if you get careless and take one wrap or more than two, trouble will find you a lot faster."