How to Fish (for Folks who don’t do it Often)

This easy primer will help you find and handle a fish.

Fishing qualifies as a very healthy sport psychologically. In this hurry-up life of high stress, fishing is a comparatively Zen pastime. It forces participants to slow down and take the measure of and connect with nature.

The type of boat one fishes from really isn’t important to this discussion. As my fellow fishing enthusiast Alan Jones writes in his review of the Princecraft Quorum 25 RL on page 38, “I’ve never been on a boat that absolutely couldn’t be fished.” With that in mind, the following tips are universal.

The concept of trolling is to tow a fish lookalike object in such a fashion as to make the predator think it’s a meal trying to escape. After all, that’s what prey does when confronted by a predator. Fishing is creating a phony happenstance of nature.

Set the boat’s throttle(s) or sails to produce a speed that makes baits or lures throw up a modest amount of spray and leave a trail of bubbles. The speed varies depending on the type of lure.

Baits are natural and organic, either a dead or live fish that predators normally eat in the course of their day. A lure, on the other hand, is a manmade approximation of one of these natural baits. And there are as many different types of lures as there are anglers. Artificial baits are much easier to fish than natural baits, because they require less skill and knowledge. They basically snag a curious fish. Then you just have to patiently winch it to the boat.

There isn’t a pelagic fish — freeswimming fish that live and feed in the open sea — that can’t be caught at trolling speeds between five and 15 knots. Anglers catch them on the surface, as a general rule, though with specialized equipment some people are lucky enough to catch them as deep as 200 feet. The most popular and edible of these pelagics include the various members of the tuna family, some sharks, mahi-mahi, some mackerels, marlins, swordfish and wahoo.

Obviously all the best fishing tackle in the world won’t help if it isn’t unleashed in the vicinity of fish.

Scan the depth contours along your course and mark any spots significantly shallower than the surrounding area (e.g., submarine mountain peaks, plateaus). Fish like structure and food sources. Odds are good that fish are congregating around these spots. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but you’re less likely to catch fish in deep water that has no bottom or surface structure.

Think of yourself crossing a vast deserted wasteland. If you see something in the middle that breaks up the monotony, you’re likely to focus on it. The same goes for fish. Add to that the fact that deep-ocean currents often produce upwellings when they confront such subsea structures and that these upwellings push the food chain upward and that the bigger fish follow it toward the surface — and that’s where you trick them into taking a lure.

Of course, the ocean itself qualifies as a large deserted wasteland, so anything floating on the surface attracts fish. Never, ever ignore stuff that is floating out there. Next time you come across a weedline, run along one side of it and look into the water. You’ll be amazed at the fish playing and feeding there. In fact, here’s an experiment that will bring this fact home. Stop alongside a weedline and scoop up a handful of weed. Quickly dump it on the boat’s deck and start looking through it. This weed constitutes the ocean’s nursery — dozens of species of crab, fish and shrimp. That’s what bigger fish eat.

When fishing, never pass up a floating palette, tires, boards, abandoned rafts or anything else floating on the surface. Fish are often lurking beneath floating debris just waiting to bite.

You’ve hooked a fish. Now what? First, determine if this fish is something you want to eat or not. If it isn’t, let it go, preferably unharmed. Until you get comfortable handling fish, it’s probably a better idea to cut the leader as close to the hook as you can and let it go with the hook in its mouth. I know, it sounds cruel, but enzymes in the fish’s mouth and saltwater combine to corrode the hook away remarkably quickly. Do learn how to safely remove a hook from a fish’s mouth, though.

If you plan to keep the fish, then gaff or net it, lift it quickly aboard and put it into a large box — cooler, in-deck fishbox, insulated blanket — with ice. If it’s a tuna, bleed it for best results. Cut it down to the spine just up from the tail and deeply pierce it behind each pectoral fin. This eliminates much of the bitter dark meat along the spine. Have a hose or bucket handy to wash the blood overboard, or your boat will quickly look like a coliseum in the movie “Gladiator.”

Find a book or YouTube video about cleaning fish. There are too many species and methods to get into here.

While this column has delivered several tips that will get you started on your next obsession, it didn’t cover equipment or tackle, which could both be their own column. In fact, they have been. Check them out:


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