Fish often bite as the sea stirs. Steep waves and a stiff breeze also whet anticipation for some an­glers and en­liven ac­tion aboard. The down­sides are baits and lures that fly more than they swim, drifts ap­proach­ing trolling speed, and trolling spreads win

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS - By Capt. Vin­cent Daniello

Ad­just Tac­tics When Seas Are Heavy or Glassy Calm

“Wa­hoo def­i­nitely bite bet­ter when the breeze kicks up,” says Ber­muda char­ter and tour­na­ment cap­tain Allen DeSilva. In DeSilva’s wa­ters, that’s 15 knots and 6-foot seas. “Mar­lin are the op­po­site. The days we get five, six, seven fish are not rough,” he says.


One rea­son av­er­age or calm seas fa­vor mar­lin fish­ing is that it’s eas­ier to see trolled lures and fish in the spread. “When it gets rough, bring ev­ery­thing in closer,” DeSilva says, to over­come the de­creased vis­i­bil­ity.

He also sim­pli­fies his over­all pre­sen­ta­tion on bumpy days so that when a bite hap­pens, he can avoid tan­gles.

For in­stance, on most days, he runs two dredges and two teasers, fol­lowed by lures on his short-rig­ger and long-rig­ger po­si­tions, plus a cen­ter shot­gun far­ther back. “When it gets rough, I’ll elim­i­nate the shot­gun and the teaser on one side, but keep that dredge,” DeSilva says. “I’ll [re­move] the dredge on the other side and pull that teaser [closer], to where the dredge should be.”

This de­creases snarls be­tween the teasers and the short-rig­ger lures, he says, plus the mates have less to clear when you hook into a fish.


“You want lures deeper when it’s rough, so the fish can see them through the white­caps,” com­pared with a nor­mal day, when lure sur­face ac­tion at­tracts fish’s at­ten­tion, DeSilva says.

“In Brazil, the seas are al­most al­ways hec­tic,” says An­to­nio “Tuba” Amaral, a Brazil­ian char­ter cap­tain and maker of Amaral Lures. “When the sea sur­face is con­fused, lures stay hid­den in this tur­moil. Lures that dive deeper and longer be­come more vis­i­ble to the fish.”

Face an­gle is his key. “My Ta’aroa plunger, with a 12-de­gree face, works bet­ter in rough seas than the 20-de­gree face an­gle on my Di­a­mond­back,” Amaral says.

Amaral places heav­ier lures on the up­wind side when he can, and also closer to the boat so the wind sep­a­rates his spread. Heav­ier, bal­lasted lures also track bet­ter when speed fluc­tu­ates as boats surf down fol­low­ing seas.


Whether he’s fish­ing in­fa­mously rough Venezuela or placid Costa Rica, char­ter cap­tain Bubba Carter runs two dredges with teasers atop, plus swim­ming bal­ly­hoo on two flat lines clipped to the tran­som, and two long rig­ger baits.

“When you’re bait­fish­ing, that’s pretty much the spread, rough or calm,” Carter says. “As it gets rougher, you might want more lead.”

Weight helps hold baits more squarely be­hind the boat and also keeps them swim­ming in the wa­ter, not skip­ping on top. Just a quar­ter­ounce more makes a big dif­fer­ence. He also trolls out­rig­ger baits far­ther aft. That ex­tra bit of line in the wa­ter helps hold the bait down.

Carter oc­ca­sion­ally adds chug­gers in front of baits to in­crease re­sis­tance on their lines. This


also makes baits eas­ier to see from the boat, but he doesn’t believe it’s nec­es­sary for the fish. “Just be­cause you can’t see [the bait], doesn’t mean the fish can’t,” Carter says.

Whether he’s in the Caroli­nas, Costa Rica or the Caribbean, pri­vate and tour­na­ment cap­tain Ron­nie Fields typ­i­cally uses small scoop­faced Mold Craft Chug­gers ahead of his baits. He switches to flat-faced Mold Craft Hook­ers in rougher wa­ter so baits won’t som­er­sault when they pop out of the wa­ter on wave crests, which tends to foul cir­cle hooks.

“Pick the big­ger baits out of the pack,” Fields says. “They stay in the wa­ter bet­ter and are more durable. Go up to the next size lead. If we’re us­ing a quar­ter-ounce, we might go to three-eighths.”

Fields’ big­gest changes are in his teasers. “When it’s rough, flat lines blow into the squid chains, so I’ll take the squids off,” he says. “What­ever I would have put be­hind the squid chain, maybe a mack­erel with an Iland Ex­press, I’ll just run with­out the squids.”


“You can’t troll in the trough for your an­glers, but you can’t stay into a head sea for your baits. They’ll be fly­ing through the air,” says Carter. The com­pro­mise is tak­ing seas broad on the bow, or quar­ter­ing the stern, just enough to min­i­mize roll.

Ad­just speed in rough wa­ter too, al­though this means two dif­fer­ent things: slow en­gine rpm in fol­low­ing seas and in­crease rpm in head seas to main­tain the same boat speed, but also vary boat speed through the wa­ter.

Don’t fo­cus on speed over pre­sen­ta­tion, Fields says. “Look at the baits and make sure they’re not skip­ping and tum­bling.” That might mean in­creas­ing en­gine rpm in head seas yet ac­tu­ally trolling slower. De­creas­ing boat speed in fol­low­ing seas pre­vents baits and lures from skip­ping as boats surf faster down wave faces.

“When it’s rough, you want to turn quickly to get the boat [headed] up-sea or down-sea faster,” Carter says, “but you can’t turn that tight. You’ve got to watch the baits.” His con­cern is that, with lines al­ready blown off cen­ter in the wake, baits on the in­side of the turn will slow, which is bad for fish­ing and leaves baits even more vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing blown into tan­gles by the wind.


“Watch the baits,” says Fields. “If you see the windy side blow­ing over too far, ad­just that hal­yard down. Keep the lee­ward halyards high; that spreads the baits far­ther apart.” He says it’s par­tic­u­larly help­ful to play with hal­yard height lead­ing into and through each turn.

DeSilva runs his out­rig­ger tag lines through halyards to choke them down lower.


When the drift gets too fast while tu­nafish­ing in the Gulf of Mex­ico, live baits can’t swim fast enough, so they start to spin, says Capt. Da­mon McKnight, who owns Su­per Strike Char­ters out of Venice, Louisiana. “Free-line it. Just keep feed­ing line un­til you get a bite,” McKnight says. “You want zero pres­sure, with a coil or two of line in the wa­ter.”

McKnight also slows the drift by us­ing his mo­tors to hold the boat side­ways to the wind. When all else fails, he turns to chunk­ing — throw­ing over sev­eral large pieces of pogy or false al­ba­core with a hook buried deep into one.

“In strong wind, I’ll make the en­tire drift with an en­gine or two in re­verse,” says Capt. Scott Leonard, who runs Top Gun Sport­fish­ing Char­ters out of Baby­lon, New York.

“It slows you down to that per­fect 2½-knot drift.”

When he’s fish­ing spe­cific bot­tom struc­tures for striped bass, Leonard po­si­tions his boat with ex­tra lee­way. “Start your drift up­wind of the struc­ture you’re fish­ing,” Leonard says. “Watch the GPS and know where you want to be, and ma­neu­ver the boat to stay along that line. On your next drift, you’ll know whether you need to start longer or shorter, or this way or that, so your bait is on the bot­tom as you go past your spot.”

Off Mon­tauk, striped bass often con­gre­gate on rips formed where strong cur­rent crosses steep ledges. “Seas could be 3 to 4 [feet] off the rip but 6 to 8 right on the rip,” Leonard warns. “If the rip goes from 45 feet to 20 feet, when it’s rough, stay to­ward the edges of the struc­ture, where it maybe only goes from 45 feet to 30 feet.”

Leonard also uses en­gines to slow and po­si­tion the boat as he ap­proaches a rip. “As you get into the rip, be ready to go into for­ward and drive through it, but let out line at the same time, so as soon as you’re through the rip you can slow the boat and [have the baits] in the right po­si­tion,” he says.


Whether it’s for Mi­ami sail­fish or Cape Cod stripers and tuna, Capt. Brett Wil­son, who runs Cape Cod’s Hind­sight Sport Fish­ing and win­ters at the helm for Miss Britt char­ters in Co­conut Grove, often flies kites, even as winds top 30 knots. “Heavy-wind kites are smaller, so they have less drag. That makes them eas­ier to get in and out, but when the wind drops out you have to be ready to switch back to lighter-wind kites,” he warns.

Kite lines change too. Wil­son uses 80- or 60-pound braid to re­duce weight and drag in mod­er­ate wind, but in­creases to 100-pound monofil­a­ment for heavy weather. Monofil­a­ment is more re­silient than braid, and it won’t cut skin the way thin braid can.

“I pre­fer to nose-bri­dle my baits so I can move around, but in heavy wind I’m more in­clined to shoul­der-bri­dle [ahead of the dor­sal fin] to help keep baits in the wa­ter,” Wil­son ex­plains.

“If a kite hits the wa­ter, you don’t want to be in a race to get it. Fo­cus on bait pre­sen­ta­tion on that other kite.” A small bal­loon tied where spars cross keeps crashed kites afloat. Back the kitereel drag way off to keep from fold­ing the kite in the wa­ter, and let the wind ease you back to it.

The op­po­site — no wind — makes kite-fish­ing par­tic­u­larly tricky. He­lium bal­loons keep kites aloft, but they re­quire ei­ther a hint of breeze or

slow trolling to draw kites away from the boat.

“Use a smaller, lighter bait and no lead in wind­less con­di­tions. You’re only fish­ing two baits per kite, so you might even forgo the cork. Any­thing to lighten the load and max­i­mize what lit­tle wind you have,” Wil­son says. “You can even take kite clips off and use a 6-inch piece of tele­phone wire. Twist it tight to the floss [or swivel] so it doesn’t move around.”


Whether seas are smooth or rough, DeSilva con­nects his out­rig­ger tag lines to Dacron loops on his trolling lines with a loop of 12-pound monofil­a­ment. “That means, in rough seas, you know the line didn’t just pop out of a rig­ger clip,” he says. “That was a fish that snuck up on you.”

Says Fields: “When it’s rough, you can’t see the bite, so you need to feel it.” He di­rects an­glers to hold long-rig­ger rods, or at least keep a fin­ger on the line, be­cause they can feel that in­creased ten­sion be­fore the out­rig­ger clip pops.


“The pointy end goes into the sea a lot bet­ter,” Carter says, re­fer­ring to his boat’s bow. “Turn bow first, and run up in front of the hooked fish. When you get close, you might have to turn and back into one or two waves to get the leader, but you’re not do­ing it for 200 yards. Ev­ery­one is hap­pier when they’re not soak­ing wet, and it makes you look good.”

Once hooked up, DeSilva turns im­me­di­ately down-sea un­til lines are clear, and then he prefers to chase fish in re­verse. Spec­tra back­ing on his reels adds line ca­pac­ity and de­creases drag in the wa­ter. “Pay at­ten­tion to the waves as much as the fish,” he warns, gain­ing line only dur­ing smaller sets be­tween larger waves.

In Leonard’s 31-foot cen­ter con­sole, he wedges the an­gler into the cor­ner of the stern, where the boat doesn’t bounce as much com­pared with the bow, and then runs into the waves at an an­gle to chase the fish.

The bot­tom line, Wil­son says: “Whether the wind is re­ally blow­ing or re­ally calm, and whether you’re kite-fish­ing, drift­ing or trolling, you have to work hard to keep your pre­sen­ta­tion cor­rect for when a fish pops up.” Par­tic­u­larly in heavy seas, this comes down to ex­pe­ri­ence.

Don’t make your­self go out when it’s rough just to teach your­self about rough-wa­ter fish­ing, says Carter. “But if it blows up while you’re out, don’t go back home. You’re al­ready there; stay in it and learn.”

Above: It’s not un­com­mon for wa­ter­spouts to form near boats trolling calm seas in trop­i­cal cli­mates. Left: A cen­ter con­sole’s low cen­ter of grav­ity and the rel­a­tive ease of chas­ing fish bow-first can help enor­mously in heavy seas.

When back­ing into big swells, one mis­cal­cu­la­tion can flood the cock­pit — or worse. Keep an eye on the fish you’re chas­ing, but time move­ments to cor­re­spond to smaller sets of waves, or chase fish bow into the seas un­til the very end of the fight.

Above: When he­lium bal­loons keep kites aloft, Capt. Brett Wil­son’s crew aboard Miss Britt light­ens the load with 50-pound-braid kite lines and just one or two kite clips, and he keeps baits away from the boat by bump-trolling. Top right: For kite-fish­ing in heavy wind, switch to 100-pound-mono kite lines for smaller heavy-wind kites.

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