St. Croix



Click here for Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Fine fall fishing indeed!
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
A story that must be told

Shifting gears
One of the seldom-mentioned tenets of party boat ethos is “fish the absolute heaviest line that the fish will bite.” The basic idea is the goal is to be as successful as one can at catching fish. Heavier line means a higher chance of success. Heavier line means a quicker catch and better chances at getting a second or third fish before the bite is over.

No hot bites come and go as quickly as bites fishing offshore pelagics. Sometimes the hot bite is only on the slide, as the boat coasts to a stop after a trolling jig strike, mere seconds. Others, it rips full-bore until the scuppers run red and anglers are too tired to toss back out.

But there is one basic pattern that seldom varies. That’s this. Generally speaking, the fish are as gullible and eager as they will ever be during a given stop within the first few minutes or so. Then, over time, the bite usually softens.

Sometimes the fish flat seem to go down — no more boils, no more bites. Others, the show seems to continue, splashes and boils, but they just won’t bite anything with a hook in it.

Every once in a long, long while, a new school will find the boat, after the bite has basically faded. All of a sudden you’re in the middle of an epic re-bite. But this is rare.

More commonly, a bite that lasts will go into “plunker” mode. Every few minutes another fish will get hooked. As the boat drifts, there always seems to be one or more fish “going,” sometimes a handful, and others, perhaps dry for few minutes.

How does one know which stick to grab when? Go in with 20-pound? Stand by fishing 40- or bust? Run for the 60-pound outfit? For starters, the best bet is to follow the advice of the captain and crew, for they have seen what’s been in the waters in recent days given the area being fished.

If crew says 40-pound fluoro, that will be your best bet going in on a stop. From there, though, you’ll have to pay close attention to what’s going on around you. Boils? Other hook-ups? Guys getting cleaned out on lighter line?

The basic deal is, given standard issue offshore fishing with abundant 10- to 40-pound fish, and decent-sized, healthy sardines as bait, the crew will probably suggest 25- to 30-pound line, perhaps 40 if the fish have been mostly winning on the lighter line. Occasionally, it will be 60- or more, on those big bluefin of recent seasons, fishing the Flat-Fall, or deep dropping with rubber banded sinkers at dawn or dusk.

So say, you drop in with 30-, hook up instantly, lose your fish into a massive snarl, and it’s wide open in the corner. Fish are foaming, eating the chum as soon as it hits, right next to the boat. It’s time to grab the heavy stuff. Go back in with 60-pound and a larger hook, and if you’re bit instantly, game on!

In this kind of bite, you’ll want the standard fly-liner-style hook, not a circle. Save the circle hooks for fishing plunker stops for bluefin on the long soak.

If you don’t get bit on the heavy stuff in seconds — like 20 seconds max on any bait that books it down and out — wind it in and step down to the next lightest in your armory. Same deal, lots of boils but no bites? Drop back right away to the next lightest. You’ll be running around the deck. Any bait you toss that swims back under the boat doesn’t count, so shake it off right away and try again with the same gear.

So long as there is lots of “show fish” boiling on the chum, just keep dropping back in line and hook size until you’re bit inside 20 seconds. That’s where it’s at! In this kind of fishing, butt hooking the bait is the best bet, and under-handing the bait out usually works better than a high launch and big splash-down, even if you’re only able to get the bait out a rod-length from the rail. Let that fat sardine do the work of swimming your line out into the bite zone.

Be aware, after a few minutes in a ripper stop, the fish often congregate both at the stern and just off the bow, so you’ll want to watch both zones for show. In kelp paddy bites with dorado and yellowtail, the best sector to drop in at is actually part-way up the windward rail instead, right in the middle.

However, if there is little show, perhaps only the occasional splash way upswell, simply soaking with the recommended line size is what you’ll have to do. Just keep letting that bait out upswell to where the fish are showing. No matter what, once in the water, follow your line as it drifts up the rail. Keep it in front of you and not across others.

Pay attention to what happens on deck. Are others getting bit? If so, how heavy is their line? Are they successful in landing the fish, or does the battle go on forever until ultimately something bad happens? Perhaps they get bit but are spooled in seconds.

Fluorocarbon leaders are almost always an advantage, outweighing the risk of a bad connection knot. In the long-soak bite, especially with bluefin tuna in play, is where circle hooks come in. Ringed circle hooks offer an advantage in hooking fish well, especially when fishing smaller hooks or heavy line.

With circle hooks, there’s definitely a relationship be­tween how hard you can pull on the fish without ripping out and the size of the fish. If you use them fishing wide-open bites on smaller fish with heavy line, you’ll be ripping a lot of hooks out.

In fishing the long soak, you’ll just have to sweat it out and keep your fingers crossed. Try to fish the way those who are successful are. If that’s you, keep it going!

* * *

Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California party boat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at:

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