Fishing From A Sailboat - Tuna Trolling

The Passage

Unlike most conventional fishing boats, our offshore fishing venture begins the afternoon prior to a day of fishing. Nested in Point Lookout, NY, Perigee, a Benetaeu 42s7, leaves in the late afternoon at mid-high tide to allow for a navigable passage through Jones Inlet. Once our sails are hoisted, we set course for our pre-determined waypoints and do our best to arrive at first light; barring wind direction and sea state. After watching the sun set over the New York City skyline, life jackets and harnesses are distributed and the shift schedule goes into effect. Ideally, we sail with a crew of 5-8 people, which allows for a night sailing rotation of 2 hours on watch, with a partner, and 3-4 hours of "rest." It can be very difficult to sleep underway with an upwind course or oncoming waves. Witnessing the high powered fishing boats fly by at 4am-6am can cause much anticipation, however we remind ourselves that we have conservatively burned about 10 gallons of diesel primarily to charge our refrigeration. Our peaceful sunrise seems to ease any anxieties.

The Spread

Before first light, the fishing operations begin. We use five Penn 30s with 80 lb test and 200 lb leaders. We troll five 6’ tsunami rods on holders that are fastened to the stern rail and side stations. Our spread usually consists of two 30" flexi bars with 6" bulb squids, two ballyhoo presentations: a Joe Schute and a hootie chigging ballyhoo head, and one deep diving plug. We also often use a 4 oz Tuna Harness Jig when the sand eels are present and we utilize a couple splasher birds in a variety of ways to draw attention to our small spread. We stagger the flexi bars 50-60 feet back and the diving plug ideally swims directly under these spreader bars but slightly in front to avoid tangles if it surfaces due to weeds. The ballyhoo rigs typically trail the spreader bars, one close and one far back, depending on which tack we are on. We have had a lot of success with the chigger in the shotgun position about 150-200 feet back. We try to keep the boat anywhere from 5.5-8.0 kts. This range allows the flexi bars to pulse and chigger to pop at consistent frequencies. In winds above 10 kts this can be achieved at any point of sail (close-hauled, reach or downwind). If we cannot manage to keep our speed above 5.5 kts, we will use the motor to assist the sails. We also like to fly the spinnaker, a large and fast but cumbersome headsail used downwind. This allows for faster trolling speeds, however chaos ensues when a rod goes off.

Sailboat Fishing Lures - Tuna Spreader Bars

The Strategy

I usually do some online research to locate warm water eddies and try to talk with local fisherman in our area to come up with a plan for our trips. Typically our sunrise waypoint will be in the vicinity of Texas Tower, Bacardi, or when the wind is favorable, Hudson Canyon or Tom's Canyon. We fish along the canyons during the daytime and try to turn back to hit another known hot spot at last light. We like to cover as much ground as possible because we have found great success trolling areas between popular destinations that most fisherman neglect. Also its very satisfying to catch fish with no other boats in sight.

Fish On!

When we hookup, its all hands on deck. Our first priority is to take the mainsail down in a controlled, safe manner. The jib can be furled with the pull of a line, however the mainsail requires the boat to be pointed directly into the wind. We have "lazy jacks" on our boom which allows for the sail to easily drop onto the boom. As we are dropping the mainsail, we turn the motor on and work to clear the other rods. Fighting the fish can be an awkward process without a fighting chair or flat surface to stand on. We try to stand inside the lifelines and do our best to keep the fish at a 45 degree angle off the stern. With bigger tuna, we usually grab a belt loop or whatever is available to keep our crew on board. It's very important for the driver to be attentive in these scenarios because if the fish goes under the boat, it can get rapped on the rudder or keel which would be game over in most cases.

Sailboat Trolling Lures

The Landing

As the fish tires and reaches the boat, we prepare the harpoon, which is 6 ft long pole with a detachable arrowhead. Instead of throwing the harpoon, we push it through the fish and pull it back out, leaving the detachable broad-head like a grappling hook on the backside. Once the fish is harpooned, it can still run so its important to make sure the harpoon line is clear of limbs and bodies. Our first time doing this, my dad and I got knocked over by the rope when the tuna bolted to the side. For smaller tuna, we stick to just a small gaff.

A Couple Classic Fish Stories

On one of our first “sail fishing” trips in 2014 when my friends and I were freshmen in college, I gaffed a bluefish too far back, under the dorsal fin, and I was pulled overboard when the fish turned hard. I was frantically scrambling in the water roughly 15-20 miles south of Block Island with a bloody bluefish that we had been fighting for about 25 minutes and my small gaff still in hand. The time in the water felt like an eternity because I had previously been explaining to my friends how fish often come up chomped in half by sharks when fishing offshore. Nevertheless, I kept yelling from the water to my friends to "Keep the fish on! Rod tip up!" because at this point, it was a matter of pride. Luckily my experienced crew were able to turn the boat around and toss me the life sling before I became a Mako's next meal. And shortly after I was pulled into the boat, we were able to successfully land the Goliath blue fish.

Last June, we were on our way back from a full day fish (two day sail) and about half hour after sunset our chigger with a ballyhoo in the shotgun position was hit and line began to sizzle off the reel. We were barely able to turn the fish without getting spooled. As we began to gain some of our line back on the fish it ran again and this time there was no way to stop it, so I shuffled to the bow of the boat and my dad drove towards the fish full throttle. This process repeated at least three times over the course of two hours. We were able to get the fish up to the boat and see color a few times, but each time the fish would peel off line. Eventually the fish began to tire and begin the "death circles". However, with one massive head shake about 15 feet under the boat it spit the hook. The fish was a giant bluefin in the 300-400 lb class. Even though we were devastated about losing the fish, this was an incredible fight that motivates us to keep on searching for another giant.

Charles Bocklet, 24-years-old, grew up fishing and sailing with his dad in Long Island Sound. Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin last spring, he has been working in Wisconsin as a Civil Engineer while fishing the lakes and rivers as much as possible. When he is not fishing, Bocklet enjoys skiing, sailing and planning his back East fishing trips.