A good mate is an invaluable component in offshore fishing success.
This past season, with action on both the bluefin and yellowfin tuna being so good, I had many first-time clients on my boat seeking their first-ever tuna. And on all but one of our trips we were successful with clients not just catching their first tuna, but quite often they landed multiple fish on a single trip.
On my 28 Parker Sport Cabin I attribute much of my success to my son and mate, Tommy Freda. Tommy runs the cockpit while I stay at the helm and drive the boat. When I come outside to make a suggestion or assist with a task, I am quickly met with, “Dad, I got this, go back inside!”
A good mate is invaluable, both to the captain and to the clients. A good mate and captain team are a cohesive unit that work together like a well-oiled machine to put more fish on the deck. A mate is more than just someone who cleans fish, cleans the boat, sets up rods, and stows equipment.
I like to describe a good mate as someone who is “a friendly coach who can get clients pumped up about catching fish.” On the way out to the tuna grounds, a good mate teaches and explains to clients what to expect for on the coming day. For instance, Tommy often discusses the nature of the fish and their habitat, migration, feeding behaviors, fighting ability, and preparation for the table. He also explains all the signs of life that we look for to pinpoint where the tuna might be found. He explains the techniques that we plan to employ including trolling, jigging, casting, or popping, touching upon both the how and why of each.
Once on the fishing grounds, assuming we didn’t time things perfect and arrive in the midst of a blitz, a good mate takes the time to demonstrate jigging and casting techniques and then lets the clients practice as we search for active fish or signs of life on the sounder. It is especially important for clients to practice casting and retrieving the intended tackle to ensure familiarity for when the bite turns on so that they are as prepared as possible to maximize their time. Much of the gear we use to target tuna is quite specialized, and if a client isn’t familiar with it then there can be a bit of a learning curve.
When it comes to the end game this is where a mate should really shine, and Tommy does. With so many fish under his belt, Tommy can sense the tuna’s next move and have the client ready for what is going to happen. This all plays out by telling the client when to lift and reel, when to hold on and let the fish run, when to lift the head, how many more cranks to take, and when to give some slack in the line.
When it is time to gaff the fish the only person talking and giving instructions to the client should be the mate. This can be the most exciting time of a long and exhausting fight when you finally see color and think you have won the battle. Too many people yelling at the rod man telling him what to do will only become confusing for them and make them more nervous.
Your mate also needs to recognize when your client is spent and needs to pass the rod off to avoid losing the fish to angler fatigue or error. This is especially true if the tuna sounds several times after you see color. Tommy does this well and clients are usually amazed at how quickly he can finish a tuna when only moments ago they were in a virtual stalemate.
Your mate will also need to decide how to stick the tuna. Will it require only one gaff, or possibly two? Will they need throw the harpoon at a very large tuna? Everyone needs to listen to the mate’s call and be ready to give him what he needs so he doesn’t have to turn his back or walk away from the client. And finally, after the tuna hits the deck, your mate will assist in holding the fish up for a picture if necessary.