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Cruising for Dinner

Countless times we have met cruisers who have either island-hopped their way to the Caribbean or have sailed hundreds of miles offshore.  I am always curious to know if they caught any fish, and more often than not the response goes something like this: “Well, we thought about fishing but didn’t.” or “The thought of landing and then filleting a fish underway is too much effort.” 

I know fishing from your sailboat while underway isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy a fresh fish dinner and some protein once in awhile, you may find it’s not such a difficult task.  You don’t even need expensive and elaborate fishing gear. 

My wife Kylie and I run two hand lines every time we sail unless conditions are extremely rough.  There are a few different ways of rigging your lines, however a lot depends upon the height of your freeboard and the gear at the aft of your boat (such as davits, wind vane and spray skirts).  The simplest approach to avoiding a snarling mess of line may be the one we use. 

First, spool up two Hawaiian yo yo’s (a plastic spool available in most fishing shops) with 80 or 100 lb test line, putting approximately 50 yards on one and 60 yards on the other.  At the inboard end, attach a 5’ length of ¼’’ Dacron line, which can be nicely secured to the spool by drilling a ¼” hole in the lip and tying a stopper knot.  The ¼” rope makes it easy to attach it to a point on the boat, such as your toe rail scupper, or possibly a stanchion base, just as long as you keep it clear of your sheets. 

Once the lines are set, simply attach a clothes peg to the lifeline somewhere aft, set the line upon it and when the line snaps off, the dinner bell is ringing.  Simple.

As for lures, I like to make my own which are very simple and inexpensive.  For tuna and mackerel, buy pink or orange rubber skirts, which are usually 4”-6” long and in two pieces.  Slip the skirts on the line first, followed by a ½ oz. ball sinker.  Then add a #6 hook using a figure eight knot leaving a 1” loop which will stop the sinker and keep the hook within striking range. 

Tuna are generally leader shy, but for any other fish you should use a steel leader.  Using two sets of pliers, make your own loop ends from a 2’ piece of stainless steel seizing wire. 

For mahi mahi, choose green and yellow, adding a piece of red string which simulates an injured fish, and for wahoo use red and black.  Any of these colors will work. 

When you bring a fish along side, have gloves ready.  Flake the line in the cockpit, but don’t touch it as it will foul the line.  Once the fish is landed either by hand, gaff, or net, you can spray some alcohol into its mouth to finish it off, however I don’t recommend using your best scotch. 
With a tuna I like to put a rolling hitch  on the tail, slit under the gills and hang it from the aft rail for about 15 minutes to allow it to bleed.  The fish will taste better and will make filleting less messy. 

You will find, with a little practice and patience, that preparing a fish for the galley is easy.  You need a sharp, thin-bladed and flexible fillet knife and, with the back towards you, start from the tail and work forward taking care to follow the bone pattern closely.  Once the fillets are removed you can cut a V shape lengthwise removing the remaining Y bones and the dark section.  Carefully draw the knife along a flat surface to remove the skin from each fillet.

NOW, it’s time to dig out your recipe book, drop the hook in a peaceful anchorage, open a bottle of wine and enjoy a wonderful fresh fish dinner!  You will be glad you put your lines out.

Mike Shaw has been living aboard Meggie, a teak Cheoy Lee Bermuda 30, for two years with his wife, Kylie Deacon.  They have sailed their boat from the Great Lakes in Canada and are currently enjoying Venezuela.

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