Category Archives: Fishing

Finally Leaving the Grips of La Paz

While we understood why many cruisers claim that La Paz is where cruisers come and they never leave.  We had plans to meet up with Patrick’s parents in Mazatlan for Christmas holiday week so we weighed anchor and headed back down the coast to return to Ensenada de los Muertos, which is approximately a two-day sail to Mazatlan. Mazatlan is located in the state of Sinaloa on mainland Mexico.  It is approximately located just north across the Sea of Cortez from Cabo San Lucas on the border of the Tropic of Cancer.  It borders the southern end of the Sea of Cortez and has a more lush and tropical climate compared to the desert-like climate of the Baja Peninsula.  After having our share of Northers and cooler temperatures they brought to La Paz we were ready for warmer temps and tropical waters of the mainland.  After staying overnight at La Bonanaza anchorage on Isla Espiritu Santo with s/v Bella Star we headed out early to make Los Muertos before night fall.  The water was like glass leaving the anchorage with absolutely no wind so we needed to motor to make it through the Lorenzo Channel.  As we were motoring along, I noticed a ton of fish jumping out of the calm waters so I took that as a hint and dropped the hook.  I had a feeling we were going to land something good!  A few hours later just before heading into the anchorage we heard the wonderful sound of the line whizzing out of the reel.  Patrick grabbed the rod and I got my gaff and the “fish booze” ready, which is cheap vodka in a spray bottle used to knock out the fish after it lands on board.  This time we caught a Skipjack tuna!  This fish was soooo beautiful and strong!

Just as we were bleeding the tuna on deck a pod of dolphins showed up to greet us and check out our catch.  I threw the head overboard for them but they didn’t seem too interested in my measly scraps.

We quickly got on the radio to let Bella Star know that we would be hosting a tuna dinner onboard Deep Playa that night.  After quickly bleeding and fileting the fish I threw it into a marinade of soy sauce, fresh ginger, mustard and lemon juice for a couple hours.  It was a good fish but, like many say, Skipjack Tuna are the ones you throw back, and now Patrick and I agree.  It was a little too fishy for our tastes, so next time we will throw it back.

After spending some quality time hiking and enjoying nachos with Bella Star, they took off the next day for Mazatlan.  We decided to wait till the next day for the seas to settle a bit more.  The following evening we weighed anchor for Mazatlan about 7:30 in the evening.  After leaving the anchorage in a completely moon-less night we experienced rough swell (not forecasted of course) and after 45 minutes we decided to turn around and head back.

The next day we decided to leave about 4:30PM to avoid departing in the dark.  S/v Journey, who we met in La Paz and were fellow participants in the Baja Ha-Ha, buddy boated over to Isla La Piedra anchorage with us.  Everything was going great, we were even able to put up all the sails, including the mizzen, and sail along at 5 knots for about 6 hours!  Just as the sun was setting and Patrick decided to go below to take a nap the winds increased and the swells built to 6-7 feet on the beam.  Patrick came up to see what was going on and decided that perhaps this was not going to be a nice calm night of sailing.  We reduced sail to a double-reefed main.  Throughout the night the winds built up to 30 knot gusts with 8-9 foot swells with a very short period.  Due to the conditions, we decided to take short naps in the cockpit while the other was on watch.  The spray was coming over the dodger and combing making for a long, cold and damp sleepless night.  At one point, I opened my eyes to see the port side solar panel flap in the wind so we had to tie it down to ensure it didn’t flap off the boat.  Around 2:00 in the morning we chatted with Journey about our decision to turn up into the wind and the swell for a few hours to make for a more comfortable ride and they agreed and followed our lead.  Finally about 4:00AM we were able to turn down wind, which put the swell and wind on our stern and made for a MUCH more comfortable ride.  We were able to watch the sun rise just as Mazatlan came in to view.  Oh what a beautiful sunrise it was for such very tired eyes.

Sunrise 1

After weighing anchor in Isla La Piedra anchorage we crashed hard for many hours.  We didn’t even drop the dinghy in the water the next day.  At least we were in Mazatlan, in warmer weather and water!  Or at least we had hoped…but no mi amigo…it was only 68 degrees and the water was 65!!! AAAGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Fishing For Cruisers – How we do it

I love to do me some research and as I was figuring out what to do about our fishing setup, I read The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing by Scott and Wendy Bannerot. I even had a couple of one on one email exchanges with Scott about our setup. Some of the advice is a bit outside our budget the general advice in the book is awesome and I highly recommend it.

I did end up following some of his advice and bought a really big Penn 12/0 Senator  reel (used on EBAY). I originally had planned to mount this in a fixed fashion without a pole on the stern pulpit. I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen and others advised me I’d never be able to reel in any sizeable fishes that way. Now if you get an Alvey Deck Winch which is mentioned in the book (>$1000 not available in the US) then yes you can do this. We made a last minute purchase of a pole in West Marine in San Diego. And now that we’ve caught and landed two 15" bonitos and two 36"+ Dorado I can tell you yep, without being able to "pump the rod" to get slack line form the fish, there is no way we could reel in those suckers without the rod.

The rest of our gear includes several lures which were recommended by Outdoor Emporium in Seattle. I forget the guys name, but he was awesome! Our lures break down into the "Mexican flag" colored feather looking squid things, a purple and black cedar plug and a red\white cedar plug. We caught bonito with the Mexican flag and we caught the Dorado with the purple\black plug. My assumption was the Dorado eat the bonito and the purple\black looked more like a bonito. Throughout the Baja Fleet boats were fishing with similar gear and caught similar to us as well as a 67" Wahoo and some squid of various sizes. One boat was even using homemade lures made from Heineken cans with good success!

GOPR0073

In order to land the fish, you need a gaff to haul it on deck. The retail gaffs were too short to pull a fish onto our boat or too expensive so, we made our own. The gaff hook itself is the same as the commercial ones. We bought it at the chandlery in Newport, OR. For the pole, we used a broom handle.

When we bring the fish alongside the boat we gaff it, haul it on deck and hold it down and use cheap vodka to subdue the fish by spraying it on its gills and in the mouth. This makes the trashing stop pretty quick. We then bleed the fish and clean it on the side deck. The fillets are then soaked in salt water and taken below. Dawn does the final filleting and skin removal in the galley while I wash down the boat. The whole process can be a bit messy!

Our system has worked pretty well so far for fishing while on passage.

36.5 inch Dorado

Fishing Tackle

I’ve been reading The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing by Scott Bannerot and it’s very thorough if not too thorough. He does a great job for recommending specific gear for every open ocean and dinghy based kind of fishing a cruiser might want to do. In fact there are so many recommendations that it’s a lot to take in. There are several charts in the book with gear recommendations and prices (as of 2009) that I put into a spread sheet and the total was over $3500 !!

I don’t think it was Scott’s intention for someone to buy everything he recommends but instead to have the reader understand what kind of fishing they want to do, what kind of fish they want to target and then to pick from his recommendations. That’s a pretty tall order for a new fisherman who will be fishing in unfamiliar waters. However, narrow it down we must and make some educated guesses we will.

I am approaching these open ended “things” by trying to be aware and open about my assumptions, evaluating them as we learn more and trying to make the best decision we can. In this case, I believe that mostly we want to troll while we’re sailing with an unattended line and we want to do so in a reliable way that is likely to be most productive and with the least amount of lost gear and fish. I also do not want to have to deal with live bait on a regular basis and will limit it’s use as an occasional opportunistic endeavor. I’m now going to babble on a bit about these configurations and what I’ve learned thus far.

In my opinion that rules out handline fishing from yo-yo’s with snubbers and standup rigs. While underway a standup rig would require leaving the cockpit to get out from under the stainless steel structure of the bimini as well as the mizzen boom. Based on Bannerot’s recommendations it leaves us with the option of the Alvey 1225 Reef Master Deck Winch, a rail mounted reel such as the Penn Senator 116 or a wire-line rodreel setup like the Penn/Captain Harry’s Combo (Penn Senator 115).

The Alvey appears to be a very solid piece of gear with few moving parts to break or maintain. It’s manufactured in Australia and would be a special order item from Alvey USA, they are not stocked anywhere in the US.

The Penn Senator 116 seems like a reasonable alternative to the Alvey albeit with more parts and potentially maintenance issues. It has the added advantage of also being rod mountable and thus dual purpose. On the downside it also “looks valuable” as compared to the Alvey and in port would definitely need to be stowedhidden.

Bannerot gives rave reviews to wire-line rigs basically calling it his go-to setup

Wire line represents the simplest, most direct way to troll lures and baits deep, enabling you to wreak havoc on wahoo, tuna, mackerel, jack, grouper, snapper and many others offshore, inshore and near reefs, wrecks, and seamounts. It’s simple to use–no setting the hook, no removal from the rod holder, no belt and harness—all you do is crank the reel handle whenever the fish is not taking line off the spool until you get it boatside. … Shortcomings of trolling wire line are that it is generally not as effective for mahi mahi, and it may not handle the really big ones, especially larger bill fish. But when we need a good eating fish, particularly nearing port or some significant fish-producing area, we often deploy only the wire line because of its effectiveness. – Bannerot

Based on that alone I feel like the Penn/Captain Harry’s Combo (Penn Senator 115) upgraded to have monel wire might be the trolling rig I start with.

The Alvey and the wire line rig have the benefit of getting the line out away from the stern a bit before it leads down to the water. The windvane which will be on the stern may also pose issues here. That alone may require a release clip to get the wire over or around the windvane (more of an issue with the Monitor jungle gym than the Hydrovane). A release clip is basically a fairlead for the line which opens up when a fish strikes. Aftco seems to be the main manufacturer.

Still a lot to think on and more fun reading to do, luckily there is no time criticalness to these decisions we can get this gear whenever we feel like it. Let me know if you have any suggestions or additional thoughts in the comments.

We’re Goin’ Fishin’

I've done a little fly fishing on the Wylie's stocked pond when I'd visit my grandparents in Charlotte, NC when I was like 10 and you'd think I'd be a fishing expert since there's a fly fishing named after me and all, but sadly that is not the case. But Dawn and I are anything if not undaunted learners up to any challenge. So we marched down to Fred Meyer and bought ourselves some WA State fishing licenses. I feel like I’m one beer drinking weekend away from asking my oldest brother (and bow hunter) to take me hunting, but luckily he’s in Charlotte and that make impulse hunting very unlikely to happen, whew.

Of course the real reason we bought fishing licenses was so we could buy more books and more toys! Did I mention we don’t know anything?

So first of the licensing is a bit of a daunting process there’s a lot of questions about what kind of fishing you want to do, do you want to crab, collect seaweed, use live humans as bait, on and on so we just bought the combo package which allows us to fish or trap anything that is legal to catch in both the salt and fresh water environs of Washington State. I’m not sure if we’re going to harvesting much seaweed, but you never know and at least this way we have the option. BTW, when seaweed gets all over my anchor rode does that count?

Next step is to fill the void between my ears about crabbing, shrimping, clamming and trolling in Puget Sound without being sucked into watching fishing competitions on TV. I say trolling because I assume what we’re going to want to do is drop the line over the side, sail along and hope we catch something.

How to Catch Crabs                                                  How to Catch Shellfish 
How to Catch Crabs: A Pacific Coast Guide          How to Catch Shellfish: Along the Pacific Coast

The first two books by Charlie White are good light reads They explain the gear, what the different critters look and taste and like and how to catch ‘em. I especially like that he’s done some comparative analysis of different recreational traps and professional traps as well. The books are a little dated with cheesy cartoons from the mid 90’s, but the info you  need is in there. I read both of these in about an hour or so.

Saltwater Fishing Made Easy
Saltwater Fishing Made Easy

Saltwater Fishing Made Easy by Martin Pollizotto is much thicker and more in depth mostly because the options are more limitless and confusing when it comes to fishing gear. I’ve not finished the book yet, but the author is attempting to lean towards what is common, reliable and practical verses what is exotic or high-end and possibly unnecessary for the average fisher’s needs. That’s is always helpful because I either tend to be a buyer of the least or most expensive thing depending on my buzz thrill from it and this helps me reign that in a bit.

I’ll share more when I decide what kind of gear we’re going to get. In the mean time if you have any recommendations on fishing shops or gear feel free to post a comment.