In the following paragraphs I will attempt to show you many tips, best practices and tricks that can help you catch more fish year after year. At issue is there are so many details to share that they must me separated by category like boat, surf or general. To start I will go through some changes and tips you can use for boat fishing including private, party and charter boats.
BRAID: A lot has changed over the years but nothing has been more significant than the introduction and eventual change to braid which for me started in the 1970’s when I went to 45 pound Dacron and then 50 pound Micron for casting rigged eels. When the “Superlines” started coming out in the early 1990’s it was very natural for me to change right over. Of course there were a few applications where I still used mono but for the most part, my change was almost complete.
Like me, many Fisherman Readers have been “trained” on party and charter boats on what to do and what not to do so here is the first “retraining” we need to absorb: “Don’t give slack”! Braid tends to fold into itself and compound a tangle if you allow it and I see many people react the opposite of what is necessary to minimize the tangle by giving the person working on the mess some slack. Instead, apply light and constant tension and only give slack if asked to.
The same goes for netting a fish: Keep a little tension on your line at all times unless the person working the net asks you to do otherwise. That should keep tangles from happening in the 1st place.
THE NET: While we are mentioning the net, note that many times it is a good thing to have but is totally unnecessary. Rather, a “safety net” held under the fish while it is swung aboard will be much quicker and will avoid tangling the sinker in the net so the net is available for someone who really needs it (like a poorly hooked good fish or a trophy). Note that while swinging a fish in, safety net or not, the second the fish’s head breaks the surface the critter needs to be swung into the boat in one easy, smooth motion. Any hesitation can allow the fish to do what the fish is supposed to do (from the fish’s standpoint) and that is escape. A quick shake of the head or a poorly hooked fish will gain advantage from a poor swing job.
Also, many “net tangles” can be quickly gotten out by removing the sinker first. The loop to sinker connection causes the least in the way of tangles in the net and those big sinker clips are “extra hardware” that compound many minor tangles and make them “epic tangles”!
HARDWARE: A lot can be said for (and against) hardware but all I have to say is that it is often necessary and sometimes it is very convenient. If everyone knows that “tying direct” is so much better (it usually is) then why is there such a big market for snaps? We all use them so just be sure yours are of great quality so your snap is as small as it can be and still be quite strong enough to do the job.
More can be said about swivels as they serve the purpose of helping reduce line twist, make rigging easier and good ones are far less likely to fail than “good snaps”. As always, get very high quality swivels that are small and strong. If you are going to stress them (like using 220 pound swivels on large tuna), do not expect them to last multiple seasons.
Also, a common error I see is that people reel the swivel into the rod tip. Never do that! You can easily destroy, or worse, “damage” (if your rod tip’s ceramic is damaged without your knowledge your line can be compromised and will fail when you have the fish of your dreams on!). Be aware of where your swivel is and make sure it doesn’t make contact with your rod tip!
SIMPLE LITTLE THINGS: When moving from spot to spot when fishing a boat, I see many people simply put their hook in a guide and tighten up on their reel. You may get away with this for awhile but eventually, something will get broken or worse, someone will get hurt! Never put your hook in the ceramic of a rod guide and if you “must” put it in the guide, put it in the frame for storage. For traveling from spot to spot you can also put the hook in the frame if you first remove the sinker from your rig. That will keep the sinker from swinging around and damaging someone or something. Better is to bring the sinker down just past the reel and then wrap it securely on the reel handle. That will insure that your rig and sinker will be safe and when the boat stops you are ready to go in less than 5 seconds by simply unwrapping the sinker from the reel.
I see a lot of people trying to bait their hook while their rod is in the rod holder with their sinker and hooks dangling a foot or two below their rod tips swaying with every motion of the boat. Don’t bother! “Option A” is to lean the rod (safely) against the gunnels and work on the hooks from that position or “Option B” would be to leave the rod in the rod holder and rest your sinker on the gunnels so the hook(s) is/are accessible.
CHUMMING: A lot can be said about where you come from and how you grew up. Growing up on Long Island, chumming was a common practice. Since I have moved to New England, I don’t see it so much. Even with many party and charter boats, they still don’t seem to get the concept. You don’t have to be a “for hire” to want to put more fish on the boat and chumming is often the ticket! That flounder like clams and stripers like bunker/pogies is no secret so why fight it? The idea is to get the fish “very interested” but not to “over feed” them. For bottom fish in an area with crabs it is a great idea to use a mesh lobster bait bag weighted to the bottom with a window sash on a clothes line/crab trap line type set up. A down rigger with a cannon ball is actually excellent for this and you might have such a thing on your boat already. Whole broken clams or mussels in the bag will serve well for chum while ground up, frozen clam chum in a wire mesh chum pot can be a better choice in some areas.
For bass and bluefish, ground up, fresh menhaden ladled overboard at regular intervals while simultaneously “chunking” small tidbits of menhaden, the size of a shelled almond is ideal. Scattering a half dozen such pieces every minute or two in addition to the ground chum should fire up any gamefish in your area.
For tuna (and sharks) simply increase the volume of chum and make the tidbits “chunks” about the size of a walnut in the shell.