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June 21, 2010

15 Rough-Water Fishing Tips

High seas demand special tactics and teamwork - here are top tips from the pros' playbooks

Tip 10: Track the waves like a fish.

"Billfish use rough weather to travel, tailing down the seas," says Merritt of his home waters off North Carolina and fishing grounds throughout the Caribbean to Venezuela, noting the phenomenon McElveen cites above. "Tuna too. Any pelagic surface feeders will use the waves to cover as much ground as they can while expending less energy. School [dolphin] are looking for something to get on - grass, a board or whatever - but the bigger dolphin are just tooling along with the waves," Merritt says. "They're tracking all over, looking for that squid or fish to eat." Merritt, McCune and Sawley capitalize on this behavior, trolling with waves broad on the bow or quartering astern, working across them as much as comfort and safety allow, to cover wide areas. If not tight to a particular color line or the like, they'll start "up-sea" of a broad area then work through it by quartering down the waves.

Tip 11: Turn hard toward biting fish.

Anglers must be alert too. Strong wind that carries line off reels and away from rods can tangle outriggers. Crews need to pay attention to baits since captains are busy dealing with waves. Reels should be free-spooled while still in rod holders to avoid the risk that fumbled rods will be felt by the fish. Sawley helps his anglers by turning sharply toward biting fish. "That hard turn drops the bait back to the fish and gives the angler more time to get to the rod." Once a fish is hooked, his crew clears lines on the inside of the turn, hoping for another bite on the other side, and Sawley continues his turn until the bow is pointing into the waves, prepared to chase hooked fish whichever way they go. "We get as close as we can [to the fish] with the bow into the sea. Sometimes you get lucky and can pull right up to it," Sawley says, admitting this is easier on center-consoles where anglers can fish farther forward.

Tip 12: Stern into the sea demands extra caution.

At some point the boat may have to turn stern to the sea, but rough days demand more caution. "During some of our [light-tackle] world-record stuff, I had so much water in the stern that it felt like I'd lost an engine," Sawley says. "I wasn't getting any response out of it." That water not only settles the stern, but may slosh to one side, pushing one corner of the cockpit below the waves, potentially sinking the boat. "[If it should] get that close, throttle up and pull away," Sawley warns. With enough horsepower and the transom door open, a full cockpit usually clears in about 30 seconds, and the fight resumes safely. "Make sure everybody knows how to work that handle," Sawley adds, since the weight of the water against the door may require two people.

Diagram by Dave Underwood