The hypothetical classic setup goes like this: On a Tuesday Snappy Cappy got word from friend urchin-diver, Kenny, that the night before Kenny was sitting in the anchorage, just minding his own business when the squid floated so thick that they plugged his cooling water intake. Then he got mugged by huge seabass and threw on 25 by himself in the two hours before daylight.
Snappy scheduled a trip and goes to work at 1600 hours, calling everyone he could think of, the welder buddy who makes all the bits and pieces at no charge for him, the plumber friend who comes down at a moment’s notice to fix the boat’s jacked-up head plumbing between trips at midnight, the carpet guy who saves all the best remnants for the boat and installs them for free, all his trade-out guys that help keep the operation afloat.
These guys didn’t hem and haw, they got their gear and left notes that basically said, “Gone fish’n, sorry Charlie, won’t be there in the morning when you get this.”
Wednesday evening the count got posted, 11 anglers, 33 seabass, 14 halibut to 45 pounds. Snappy scheduled a trip for Wed. night too but had to cancel, no resos. His Thursday night departure for fishing Friday, goes with 8 paid, and 4 more ‘deadheads’ that have more than paid their way over the many years. Another huge score posts. Word is that some wind chased them home though.
Friday evening comes and here you are rods in hand and ready to go. The word isn’t good on the weather though, all the boats are maxed on resos, a hundred-some-odd excited anglers, on three boats are about to learn what the term “cattle boat” means. This, after Snappy’s boat ran at a loss on wide-open fishing for two days and had to cancel one. You are going fishing!
Out on ‘the zone’ the wind is hooting. After a night of slamming out to the spot the boats will each be swinging on the hook, lines will be zigging and zagging all over the place. How can grouchy old Snappy make it work? How can the Saturday angler make it work?
Let’s take it from Snappy’s perspective first. This is the same as for a private boater. The first key is having the boat geared in such a way that you, as Capt. Snappy now, stand a chance. This primarily has to do with anchoring gear, or ‘ground tackle.’
The maritime literature of legend like “Bowditch” and “Crawford’s” have lots to say about this, but their objectives are considerably different than yours, as a fisher. They are training newbies to be safe at sea globally, using general ‘rules-of-thumb.’ What I have here is about fishing successfully while maintaining safety.
Basically the best type of hook, or anchor for fishing is the “Bruce” design. Past its patent expiration date, knockoffs like “The Claw” work great both in soft and hard bottom. You will need at least a pound of ‘Claw’ per-foot of boat length. For bridling in the wind you will need 1.5 times that.
It’s really the chain that does most of the job, and you need a boat-length and a quarter of that. It should be thick enough so that it weighs at least twice what the anchor does.
With that gear you should be able to hold and swing without having the hundred fathoms (600 feet) of line out that old Capt. Crawford would recommend, but swinging is a drag. It’s not quite as much of one as dragging is though.
It’s hard to make bait except by jigging while swinging. The fish are wont to bite with the lights flashing back and forth, making a night-bite unlikely, and the lines get tangled and swept under the boat and up the side.
Boats swing in the wind for the same reason that ‘the iron’ ‘kicks’ when you grind it. Ever notice that when the hook snags your line the jig no longer kicks and instead pulls hard off to one side? That’s the essence of bridling.
Bridling takes a lot of work and time to tune properly, plus it makes half of one side of the boat nearly unfishable, but it does hold the boat still in the wind. It also makes the down-wind side of the boat fish just like the stern, and for this reason I would bridle to fish oil platforms and tight spots in heavy kelp, even in nice weather.
Here’s how to safely do it on a bigger boat, where the tension on the lines can be enough to break a man’s arm. On a smaller boat the technique is essentially the same but you can be a lot less careful and get away with it.
First you must be aware that bridling sends the boat off to one side and nearly doubles the load on your ground-tackle. After the anchor is set, choose which side you want the boat to go toward. Then take a heavy line about the length of the boat and tie a ‘taut-line hitch’ to the anchor line just past the fairlead. Stretch this line down the side of the boat that is opposite the side that you want the boat to go to. Tie the other end to your mid-ships cleat, which needs to be at least half-way down the side of the boat from the bow. (The fairlead is that thingy that the anchor sits in when it’s not in use, up on the pointy-end of the boat.)
Wait for the boat to just start swinging so that this bridle line is on the up-wind side and carefully let out anchor line, a little more than half the length of the bridle line. You will need to keep a wrap of anchor-line on something while you do this, and let the line slip out gradually. That’s it, no more swinging!
It’s easier said than done though. And, be sure to take several turns on your cleat or post before you hitch the line off, or you will need a knife to undo it later, just like Samson.
Two types of fishing that just are not going to happen in the wind are: fishing in fully exposed locations with big wind-swell, and fishing bird schools where you run up, throw and drift. You can still make anchor fishing in semi-protected waters work though.
On deck, when fishing from a swinging boat, the technique is simple. Just wait for the side you are fishing from to swing as far up wind as it is going to and for the bow to start to turn, then cast away from the boat. Once the boat has reached the opposite side of its swing and your line starts to go slack as the boat swings back toward it, you have to wind in and start over.
If you are fishing a dropper-loop rig, this is called the “cast and drag” method. You use the swing of the boat to allow your bait to cover much more area than otherwise. The biggest halibut that I have ever seen come over the rail was caught this way. It held the IGFA all-tackle record for a while. I distinctly remember being disappointed to see another 20- pound class croaker on my line that windy day, as the halibut being caught were much bigger, and I wanted one.
Next week: Iron Man, fishing the plug, going the extra mile and why the longer cast is the better cast.
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Merit McCrea is the saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. He is a veteran Southern California partyboat captain and marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.