Plan accordingly for the best possible odds when fishing in the deep.
With fuel prices breaking records, getting the most out of every gallon will be the theme of 2022. Whether it’s strictly catch and release, or you’re trying to take home dinner, some pre-trip planning will improve your odds of rod-bending action.
The fact that I’m a charter captain gives me a unique perspective since I am “paid to perform,” and it’s my job to find fish and bend rods. The best way for me to convey this is to explain how I prepare for ‘near offshore waters, it, step by step.
Weather & Water Temps
My planning starts two to three days before the trip with some advanced weather, wind and ocean condition forecasts. I’ll also look at the latest sea surface water temps. Which way are the waters flowing? Are there any warm-core eddy filaments in the area? If the weather is unfavorable, I won’t force it and will try to persuade my charter folks to wait for the next opportunity.
What’s on the Menu?
One of the key ingredients to your pre-trip planning is to decide which fish you want to target. As many readers have surmised, a general fishing calendar drives the comings and goings of most inshore and pelagic offshore gamefish. Sometimes it’s late, sometimes it’s early. Sharking season in the NY Bight usually runs June through November; tuna, June through December; white marlin and mahi, July through September; etc. An example of a new phenomenon in the fishing calendar (that used to be a big thing in the 20s and 30s) is the early season inshore bluefin tuna run. Now that the bunker are back in good numbers, the bluefins are right behind them, riding shepherd on the herd like a ravenous pack of sea wolves.
When I plan my trips, I try to avoid pursuing a singular option like jigging tuna or bust. I always prefer to have options where I can put my decades of experience to use doing something else to bend the rods. Pelagics have tails and can cover 100 miles in a day, so what happened yesterday might not be relevant tomorrow. When I plan my trips, I will usually put three to four options on the menu, including deepwater wreck/reef fishing, pot-hopping, snagging and dragging live bunker and/or trolling or jigging. I’ll prioritize each area of focus. Plan my travel distances and locations accordingly and spend two to three hours at each stop on the list, trying to determine what the ocean will be offering, always keeping a close ear to the VHF and checking in with my buddy boats.
What’s Happening and Where?
It might be the right time of the year, with the preferred water temps and a forecast of decent weather ahead. The only problem is that if the fish aren’t there, which can happen for a variety of reasons, poor water salinity, an east wind, etc. No fish typically translates into a busted trip and not-so-fond memories with that big fuel bill. I will usually check with some of my full-time charter buddies to get the latest intel. If they are not catching them as full-time professionals, I will not delude myself into thinking that I am any better than they are. If this is the case, I’ll try to convince my charters to do some wreck hopping and bottom fishing for steady action. If my buds are scoring well, I’ll try to get a summary of where they are doing it, when and how. If intel is scarce, I’ll study my collection of charts by Capt. Seagull and Maptech, re-familiarizing myself with the historical hotspots in the area of focus. I keep a few of these in my travel bag marked up with past shark and tuna scores, along with dozens of deepwater wrecks, which are all excellent places to start or finish your day’s fishing.
Range, Speed and Loiter Time?
Range and running time are not among my typical concerns when running my MarCeeJay. The Mercury 250 V8 burns about 11 gph (gallons per hour) at 4100 rpm, which is about 24 knots (in the bay), but for ocean travel, I usually figure it at a more conservative 2 nmpg (nautical miles per gallon). Fuel consumption is 2.5 gph at 1900 rpm at trolling speeds doing 7 knots. The EdgeWater’s 124-gallon fuel cell gives me 11 hours plus of cruising range using 90 percent of the tank’s capacity (roughly 111 gallons). If I keep the trip within 35 to 40 fathoms, running for six hours (11 x 6 = 66) and trolling for eight hours (8 x 2.5 = 20), I will not run out of fuel with a fuel burn of 86 gallons. This formula works for me, but what about you and your boat? You need to take a similar approach to understand your boat’s fuel burn, speed, and range dynamics, including how this changes under a load or in bumpy seas.
Speed and loiter time are interesting considerations when planning a trip. I’ll give a specific example of how they are both relevant. Last season, I did a mid-October “away charter” on a customer’s 36-foot Invincible CC, powered by triple Yamaha F300s. The waters were getting colder with correspondingly shorter amounts of daylight. The plan was a day trip to the Hudson Canyon to grab one more fleeting slice of summer and delay the winter doldrums. The weather was extremely cooperative and we headed south from Fire Island Inlet at a respectable 38 knots, which got us to the eastern section of the canyon in under two hours. We hit the Texas Tower and a few 40-fathom wrecks for some small cod and pollock and then trolled around with minimal action since most of the yellowfin and bluefin, were being caught on chunks behind draggers.
Since we weren’t set up for that, we trolled south along the east wall and then started pot-hopping north in the 69-degree waters and were doing reasonably well. The wind and waves began to pick up in the afternoon and I was anticipating a slower and bumpier ride back. The boat owner recommended that we leave around 3:30 p.m. to get back to Babylon by sunset, which was approximately 5:52 p.m. I did the speed and distance math in my head and determined that we could hit one more set of lobster pots and stay until 4 p.m. The results were prophetic and we scored a half-dozen big mahi from 10 to 15 pounds there using cut bait and SPRO Prime bucktails. After a quick cockpit cleanup, we headed north with the inlet a 73-nautical miles away. To make up time in the diminishing light, I nudged the throttles of the Invincible’s Michael Peters hull design to 45 knots, devouring big chunks of ocean in short order. The Invincible’s 36-foot overall length did a superb job of bridging the waves of the short chop that would have beaten me up if I were running my 228 EdgeWater, and I had trimmed the big Florida girl’s twin stepped hull where it felt like it was literally riding on air. We made it back to Babylon at 6:13 p.m. While the crew started doing the boat cleanup under the marina lights, I went to work cutting our fish.
The moral of the story? Big, fast boats with extreme range give you additional fishing time and let you fish more often, even in marginal weather conditions. Smaller and slower vessels can’t stay as late or tolerate rough seas like that big Invincible, which means more travel time and less fishing time.
Safety in Numbers
I’ll usually try to partner up with at least one or two other boats when heading offshore. Even if we’re not going to be in the same specific area, if we’re within the VHF range, we’ll talk and compare notes. It’s all about gathering good intel and making decisions based on what’s happening in real-time. There are only so many hours in a day. I have talked to reliable sources on the VHF, pulled up stakes in a heartbeat and ran 20 miles to catch fish. This strategy is a last-gasp measure but it works more often than not. Having friends is also a great fallback if you get stuck and need help. Although we detailed this in one of my earlier articles on safety kits, I will typically bring charts with me on my bluewater escapades, along with a backup handheld VHF marine band radio, a spare battery pack, a backup handheld GPS with extra batteries, a back-up portable VHF antenna and a few LED flashlights.
Since I operate a smallish EdgeWater 228 CC powered by a Mercury 250 V8 four-stroke outboard, a constant challenge of fishing this platform with a three to four passengers is having enough rods to perform a half-dozen or more disparate missions and to do it with max efficiency and comfort. These sub-menu missions can include snagging and dragging bunker or other live /dead baits for sharks and tuna; trolling spreader bars, ballyhoo and daisy chains; drifting chunks; drifting deepwater wrecks and reefs; jigging over sand eel schools; pot-hopping for mahi; run-and-gun sight-casting for tuna, among other proven methods.
When you consider that the successful trolling spread typically has six to eight rods in the flight pattern to create commotion, plus the individual rods required for each crew member for casting, jigging and bottom dropping, you could bring 20 outfits onboard and still not have enough. Plus, where do you put them all? The answer to this puzzle is to employ multi-mission outfits that can successfully do more than one job.
Tackle For The Task
The trolling reels/rods that I select include a few mighty-mite outfits like the Penn VISX12 and VSX16 two-speed lever drags with the drag power (30 to 38 pounds) to stop even a 400-pound thresher—trust me, it will do the job. These open-top frame reels are small and light enough to jig with or drift baits. Once you snag a bunker on a spinner, transferring the live bait over to one of these VSX 12/16 outfits reveals yet another of their multi-faceted specialties. The enhanced drag power, 550-yard line capacity (65-pound braid for VISX12 and 80-pound braid for VSX16) and two-speed gearing will be beneficial if a larger tuna or shark takes off for the horizon. An assortment of Penn VISX20 and VSX30 reels complete the trolling array, all of which can do double duty when chunking for tuna or drifting live/dead baits for sharks.
I’ll also bring a trio of wreck fishing outfits in either Avet SX or JX single-speed lever drag reels spooled with 30- or 40-pound super braid and/or a Maxel 09 lever drag spooled with 30-pound braid. These can also double as jigging rods should we encounter 50- to 75-pound class bluefin or yellowfin tuna. Although I usually don’t abuse these reels in the trolling spread, the larger Avet JX and the Maxel 09 reels have worked in a pinch on smaller tuna as the close-in transom outfits in a multi-rod trolling spread, usually with single jet lures or feathers.
My two personal outfits on the briny for all of my near-offshore trips include a trusty Penn 975 International baitcaster spooled with 30-pound braid attached to a Penn 6-foot, 6-inch 50- to 100-pound Torque trigger grip casting rod. I’ll also carry along one of my snap-jigging outfits, a Penn Battle III DX 4000 spinner spooled with 15- to 20-pound braid, mated with a Tsunami 6-foot, 3-inch Sapphire XT rod. These downsized combos are perfect for casting bucktails to mahi under lobster pots and my crews are frequently amazed at how I can generally outfish them using jigs compared to their squid and clam outfits when working the deep offshore wrecks and reefs.
I also bring aboard a trio of spinners meant for bigger game. One of these is an Okuma Azores Z-55S spooled with 300 yards of 40-pound braid attached to a Tsunami Carbon Shield 5-foot, 8-inch 40- to 80-pound jigging rod. My bunker-snagging outfit is a Penn Battle III DX 6000 spinner, spooled with 330 yards of high-vis yellow 50-pound 4orce Tuff Line and paired with a Penn 7-foot Carnage II rod rated for 30- to 65-pound braid. If this one gets picked up by a large coastal pelagic during inshore bunker maneuvers, the 25-pounds of max drag will give any angler a fighting chance after a “Nantucket sleigh ride.” The third outfit is my “big gun” of the group—a Shimano Stella 14000 (55-pounds of drag) spooled with 425-yards of 65-pound PowerPro Maxquatro.
Last season, I worked with the Daiwa folks at the 2022 Miami Boat Show to procure a fantastic lightweight Saltiga 70HS jigging rod. This SLTGJ70HS is rated for 65- to 120-pound braid and 100- to 250-gram jigs and has the backbone to lift a large tuna off the bottom in 35 fathoms and still casts well with its tangle-free Fuji K-guides. This 7-footer is long enough to sling surface plugs like the Shimano Orca 50 to 60 yards, but is short enough to avoid smacking into the T-Top or radio antennas on the backcast. I can’t wait to see what this can do out on some tough tuna later this season.
With spinning reel technology making a quantum leap over the past 6 to 8 years with the introduction of the Daiwa Saltiga, Penn Torque II, Shimano Stella, Van Staal VSB250 and others, not all Fisherman readers can afford the lofty $800 to $1,000 price tags of these high-end reels. For about one-third of the cost, spinners like the Shimano Saragosa, Daiwa BG MQ and Saltist, Penn Slammer IV, Tsunami Salt-X and Okuma Azores can all get 30-pound plus of drag on the larger models and get things done nicely, with a bit less glam and glitter.
Suppose I’m counting all of the outfits going offshore on my EdgeWater on a typical near-offshore dawn to dusk excursion. In that case, the group includes seven trolling rods, three wreck/jigging outfits, and my two personal lightweight rods/reels, plus a trio of heavy-duty spinners. That totals 15 rods and reels. With four going overhead in my T-Top’s rocket launcher, an additional quartet positioned in my leaning post’s aft rocket launcher, and a trio set in my forward vertical rod holders, with the remaining four loaded in the gunwale rod holders. All gunwale-mount rods/reels are rigged and ready, with jigs and/or top-water plugs, plus at least one bunker snagging outfit.
You’d be shocked how many times experienced offshore crews miss out on a fleeting opportunity due to the suitable rods not being ready for action. When it’s time to fish, the under-gunwale rod racks (three per side) come in handy in conjunction with the two rocket launchers to get the unused gear out of the way when working an active cockpit. Once again, the key ingredient with most of the outfits that I’ve mentioned here is their ability to perform more than one task.
Always Be A Student
It’s impossible to give you 50 years of experience in one article, but you get the gist of what I’m trying to teach you here. Your trip should start a few days before your departure, requiring thought, questions and research as to where to go, what the weather will be like, what’s running, plus the preferred baits, techniques or hot lures. If you take a flexible approach, give yourself some options and if you listen to the ocean when it talks, you should have a great day on the water. Be safe out there.