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June 23, 2008

Weed-Line Wizards

Experts provide 13 great hints for fishing these floating blue-water buffets

8. Bushwack A Billfish
Don't be surprised if the man in the blue suit shows up, either. If little fish under a weed line attract big fish, well, can the biggest fish be far behind?
 
"A lot of weed-line dorado we catch have those conspicuous slash marks from marlin bills on their flanks. I know of at least four monster-size blues nailed off Long Island around weed lines - fish over 800 pounds!" says Raguso.
 
"Always be ready for blues," advises Desilva. "I have taken lots of marlin on weed lines, usually when we're into schools of mahi or wahoo." And that's the time to "look for large marlin," he adds. "It's quite common to have wahoo or dolphin ripped off by large blues" around Tobago weed lines. For just such occasions, Desilva likes to have a schoolie  dolphin ready to throw out as a pitch bait.

9. Try An End Run; Go Offsides
Either end of a long weed line can concentrate fish, so work the ends carefully, says Kostyo. He also recommends moving off the main weed line to any large mats of weeds that have broken off. "Many times that's where fish will be."
 
Some experts suggest keeping your distance while trolling (which may also make it easier to keep your lines clear of the salad). "If the weeds are really thick, I stay about 30 feet away on the clearer side while always watching from the tower for any sort of movement in the line," says Desilva.

10. Catch The Hatch
Quite a few pros keep handy sabiki rigs and long-handled, fine-mesh nets when sidling up to a weed line. This allows them to put some live baits in the boat that match the hatch, so whatever liveys their anglers then put over the side will be what predators are looking for.
 
Often, that will mean various small jacks since many species rely on sargassum for protection and food when they're young. "There's no dolphin in the world that will pass up a little jack!" Stanczyk proclaims. "That's the best live bait you can get."
 
Kennedy says he'll stop to pick up whatever's there; often his anglers end   up live-baiting with blue runners, bar jacks, rainbow runners and small bonitos, along with other species. Some of those "small baitfish" can be pretty large; Raguso commonly hooks runners from 8 to 10 pounds or more around weed lines.

11. Employ Some Weed-Watchers
One of the biggest issues for Kennedy "is keeping the weeds off the lines and baits. We slow-troll live baits almost exclusively on offshore weed lines, so we assign crew to each of the downriggers to 'steer' the cable and/or lines through the grass as pieces are encountered."

12. Both Sides Now
There are two sides to every story - and weed line. "Some anglers work only the blue-water side of a line or, with an inshore line, just the clean-green-water side," says Holmes. "But you're likely to find fish on either side since they're following the bait."
 
Raguso can offer numbers to support the both-sides approach - 74, to be exact. That's the number of bluefin and skipjack tuna his anglers brought to the boat one day (tagging some, releasing most) from a weed line dividing a 71- to 73-degree  temperature break. They caught the bluefin while trolling the "cold and dirty side of the weed line" and the skipjack on the clean, warmer southern side of the line. "We couldn't get more than three trolling lures in the water before all of them would go off!"

13. Size (And Form) Matter
Generally, larger weed lines evoke more excitement among anglers since they represent that much more habitat. But shape, as well as size, can be significant to skippers like Raguso. "I look for weed lines with a well-defined edge, where you can easily work one side or the other," he says. That shape also probably indicates a good current line or temperature break. "A large area of massive weed concentrations is harder to fish," Raguso says. "Where do you start?"
 
And there is - or should be - more to a line than meets the eye, says Kostyo. Especially worth working is a weed line that's "three-dimensional. By that I mean when you look below the surface, you see clumps of weed suspended up to several feet below the surface grass."
 

Add to a nice line of shrubbery some floating debris, such as logs, plywood or other flotsam, and it's most likely to be jackpot time. That describes just the scenario for Hensley one summer day when he chanced upon an aggregation of sargassum that had collected around a large piece of rubber oil-field mat. "That produced 23 of the biggest tripletail I've ever seen!"
 
Small weed lines can be worth fishing at times. Holmes says he's caught many good kings around small, sparse lines.
 
Ditto per Hensley: "Last summer I pulled up to a mat of grass no bigger than a section of plywood - and hooked the two biggest bull dolphin of the season, a big cobia and a wahoo!"
 
"As long as there's some semblance of a line, it's worth giving it some time," says Kostyo.
 
Along with all the words of advice comes a useful reminder: "Don't crowd a boat already working a line," admonishes Holmes. In the excitement of finding a compact, promising weed line on a generally slow day, some boaters lose sight of offshore etiquette. Unless it's a big line, two boats may be a crowd.
 
While it doesn't hurt to remember  that you may find nothing whatsoever around a nicely compacted line of sargassum weed on an otherwise featureless sea, it's also good to keep in mind that you never know what may be lurking in the shadow of the thick, golden-brown mat. Raguso will long remember the day he stopped on a weed line floating in 25 fathoms off New York the day after a mid-August hurricane. Awestruck, the skipper and his anglers watched an 18-foot white shark that had set up a patrol around the weed's perimeter.
 
Raguso says every weed line merits a look. If it's worth fishing, it's worth fishing the right way - with tactics that can work a little magic to make any angler a weed-line wizard.