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June 23, 2009

Fishing the Dog Days of Summer

Summer days demand refined tactics: fish fine and far off

You've run offshore, the baits are out and your sights are set on sailfish, tuna, dolphin, wahoo or maybe even a shark. But after a couple of hours of telling everyone that any minute the fish will bite, you've caught nothing. Then one of the kids on board pipes up and asks if he can go back to catch more bait.

"That was fun - and this is really boring!" he explains.

You know now it's time to catch something - anything, even a schoolie dolphin or a skipjack tuna - just to get the skunk out of the box.

So it goes offshore all too often when trying to coax action from the dog days of summer. July and August can offer some really good action, but just as likely, you'll find days offshore that offer an agonizing challenge. Change your tactics and strategy to meet the conditions, and you just may be able to turn things around.

When the breeze dies and the weather sizzles, I won't leave the dock without two things: first, a downrigger or planer, and second, a couple of small trolling feathers for bonito and other tunas. These will get you bites even when you think there's nothing out there.

On the hottest, dead-calm summer days when the surface temperatures could be a little too warm, the downrigger can save a trip. Even when I'm targeting dolphin, most of the time I get my first bite on the downrigger bait. But it has to be set up right.

I usually let my bait out at least 100 feet before I attach it to the downrigger clip. When rigging this line, I use a two-part leader. To the main line I tie 80 feet of 60-pound mono and attach that with a blood knot to a length of 50-pound fluorocarbon tied directly to the lure or hook. If you must use a snap swivel, use the  smallest ball-bearing swivel you can. But be ready to abandon it if you're still not getting any bites, and just accept the fact that you are going to have to deal with a few twists in the leader.

The best all-around bait when conditions get tough is a small skirt in front of a very small bonito (little tunny) strip. Even experienced anglers commonly overlook this configuration. Forget about that double-hook-rigged ballyhoo. There's not much swimming action with bait like that, and it's the flickering of the bonito-strip tail that triggers strikes. Watch those bass commercials on TV: The worms sinking in that tank "swim" like crazy. The skirt-and-strip is the offshore version of that action.