Do you want a shot at a big fish? No, I mean a big fish, fish that weigh more than you do. Do you want to catch more fish? So many that by the end of the day you are worn out, you have run the tank to empty and you feel it in every muscle in your body. That feeling that tells you that not only have you had a great day but you are going to sleep well tonight.
That is exactly why guys sign up for ocean long range charters, it is called opportunity. The prospects for big fish and more fish. The occasion is also here for you to join me on a saltwater long range Pacific Ocean trip. When it comes to long range fishing San Diego California has an awesome fleet. We are about to board the Independence one of if not the finest sport fishing boat you can sign up for.
So pack your bags, grab your gear, bring your drink, everything else is prepared and it is almost time to cast off. They tell me we are headed to where the big boys play, I am excited. I am outside my usual realm but I love to test myself so let's see if a freshwater bass angler can keep up with these guys.
Of course as with everything I do I have some inside info and I happen to be a guest of the Charter Master, my friend Dick Schaffer. Dick is the owner of Purfield's Pro Tackle in Los Angeles. He charters between 2 and 3 long range trips each year. This trip is a 5 day adventure headed south to the blue waters of Mexico.
Ok perhaps you have been on a boat or two, an overnight headed to the Channel Islands. Those stuffy bunk rooms and greasy grilles can make you think twice about heading out to sea for 5 days or more. So before we leave the dock let's take a look around and see if we are willing to make this commitment.
You sleep in a stateroom.
There are 13 two and three man staterooms. Each with air conditioning, hot and cold wash basin and a satellite TV with a DVD player. The rooms have ample storage and each bunk has a reading light. There are 4 separate private toilets and hot shower rooms located throughout the boat. They are cleaned twice daily.
In the salon there is a seat for everyone, this is where you eat your meals.
In addition to dinning instructional seminars are held here. Pay attention in class, the crew is going to give you important information on the bite and techniques. The details will make the difference, isn't that always the case?
Want to take a break from the fishing? The salon has a 50" plasma big screen with satellite television.
That's right I said cuisine not food.
Your meals are prepared by a world class chef in a restaurant quality kitchen next to a walk in refrigerator.
Look at this meal, is Wolfgang on board?
Dinner is served by Paul Strasser. Paul is the owner, builder, and one of three captains on board the Independence.
Three excellent meals are served each day.
There is always something to snack on and help yourself to the coffee, ice and soda fountain.
Staterooms, salon, chefs, cuisine and service. WHAT! This is starting to sound like a fine hotel with a fishing deck and propellers.
Wow, pretty impressive so far but this a fishing trip right? So in that regard what else can the Indy offer?
Carrying 18,000 gallons of fuel feeding twin engines she has a 6,000 mile range. With 1,500 horsepower she cruises at 11 to 12 knots.
At 112 feet in length and a 32 foot wide stern there is plenty of room along the rail for fishing.
She has the largest bait capacity (700 scoops) and fish holds in the fleet.
There is even an on board tackle shop complete with a line spooling station.
Need fresh line, leave your reel in the drop off box at the end of the day. Place a tag on your reel with your line choice. It will be re-spooled waiting for you to it pick up first thing next morning.
The bridge is the center of operations.
Equipment and electronics she has the latest.
There is constant communication between other boats providing fish reports. These reports not only give information on the conditions and the bite but they keep boats from stacking up on one spot. A typical move from one location to another can take up to 4 hours. If you make that move and arrive at the destination to find 3 or 4 boats already working the area you have just wasted run time and blown the day. The Indy has the range, the equipment, the experience and knowledge to place you over the bite.
Captain Jeff DeBuys watching over the action
The Independence is a fishing catching machine.
Paul Strasser scouting.
This boat has unique construction.
She is the only long range vessel to incorporate a modern steel hull with an all aluminum super structure. This produces a very stable ride and drift with increased speed.
A Kodak Moment
This was my first long range trip. Being a bit new to this type of fishing I was happy to see there was a professional photographer aboard. That allowed me to put my camera away and focus on these new techniques. Shooting pictures or catching fish you are doing one or the other. The man with the camera is Barry Wiggins, most of the shots shown in this article were taken by him. Barry puts together digital images and a DVD slide show of the trip. I wonder if I can get Barry to join me on the FLW tour, I need to cash checks instead of showing you guys photos, LOL.
I am sold, how about you? This is not an average charter boat. I can tell these guys are pros, sign me up I am ready to go.
Time to Fish
A 5 day trip between travel time is going to provide 4 full days of fishing. A 5 day is also a good starter trip for a 1st time long ranger. It would be unfortunate to be on a longer trip to find out you do not like it. You are not going to run into any taxis along the way. But I can't imagine that anyone who would come near this boat and likes to wet a line would find something not to like.
Depending on location and season there is a wide range of fish species that you will have a shot at. The prime goal for most long range boats is Tuna; Albacore, Yellow Fin and Blue Fin. Other species include but are not limited to Yellow Tail, Dorado, Calico Bass, Rockfish, Grouper, Wahoo, Sheepshead sometimes Halibut and even White Sea Bass.
Cow Tuna, remember I said big fish!
Dick with a nice Calico
Awesome Yellow Fin
First day on the rail and it was a slow start for me. I only hooked up one time and landed a small Yellow Tail. That gave me something to think about that night in my bunk. Next day I was a man on a mission. I got in the Big Baja Zone and figured it out boating 13 Yellowtail weighing up to 30 pounds.
Equipment and Techniques
Just like freshwater bass angling when fishing the salt the equipment is extremely technique specific. In fact on a trip like this the rod, reel, and line types will have a broad spectrum. I had line rigged from 30 to 80 pound test. As with all fishing techniques, regardless of where and what, the proper equipment is going to have a direct impact on execution and success. This in turn will translate into enjoyment.
Let's take a look at the main techniques you can expect on this type of trip. As with just about all methods there are variations and advanced details. As a long range rookie I am going to illustrate the basics.
Techniques and Equipment Review
One of my favorite ways to fish the salt. Surface irons are a top water bite technique. Often it is a response to visual surface fish activity or birds working on the top. Just like the lake it usually occurs early morning and late in the day but can happen at any time. It is a good idea to have your surface iron rig ready and on standby.
I am using a Newell S338-5 spooled with 40 pound monofilament and a 9 foot Calstar GFDH 900M.
Surface irons are jigs, though relatively large they are made from light weight aluminum. Usually they feature a treble hook at the back of the iron. Often selected by size and color the best at this technique will tell you that the way a surface iron swims will out trump color. Sound familiar BBZers?
When retrieved irons have a side to side kick, similar to a walk the dog Spook. Irons are handmade so each one will be unique. It is the slight imperfections and subtle miss-alignments that make a surface iron swim just right. A steady retrieve will work fine but some guys mix it up with a fast then slow fast then slow pace. The fish should decide not the angler.
Another extremely important aspect to working the lures is the cast. On a rod 9 to 10 feet in length the angler who can present the iron the furthest from the boat generally will outperform the rest. Most fish are boat shy. It also takes a certain type of cast, not only from a mechanical stand point but also for safety. Typically someone is very close to being right behind you or the boats super structure is a couple of feet away. When done well it is a beautiful thing to watch. The iron hangs directly behind the caster around four feet down from the rod tip. On the back cast the iron never gets more than a foot or two behind the angler. It reminds me of the action of a medieval catapult, lifts off straight up and then arcs out launching a considerable distance.
Mono is easy to cast, others choose braided line. Experienced anglers I spoke with selected 80 to 100 pound Power Pro braid. Their main reason for this braid size was simply that with 65 pound braid or less you cannot pick out a backlash.
It is a lot of fun when you see fish busting on the surface, you make a perfect cast just past the boil, work the iron into the funnel, a fish visually hits your lure and Fish On!
The Yoyo Iron
Another technique I favored was vertical jigging yoyo irons. Yoyo irons look very much like surface irons, except they are made from heavier metals. The iron is dropped vertically and allowed to free spool to the bottom. A typical technique , depending on depth, is to reel the lure up about half way through the water column then disengage the reel and let it fall again. Usually after a few up and downs the current will move your iron off position. Repeat this 3 or 4 times and then wind all the way up and then drop back down.
I am rigged with 50 pound mono on a Avet HX 5/2 and a Calstar Grafighter 7400 H.
The reel is a two speed model. For bigger fish the two speed is the way to go. You present your lure and hook the fish in the higher gear. Wind until you can't wind anymore and then switch to the lower gear/speed. It is just like riding a bike up a hill, the lower gear makes it easier.
Like a surface iron this lures shape creates a flutter effect as it moves through the water column. Often a lure will be struck on the fall or right as it moves up from the bottom. Dick gave me a few tips for detecting strikes on the fall that really paid off. When fishing a spot count how long it takes the lure to fall to the bottom. Once you have the count to the bottom, when dropping the lure if it stops for any reason before you reach the end of the count engage the reel, wind down and set the hook. A fish has probably caught the lure on the fall. When free spooling the lure to the bottom feather the spool with your thumb and with the other hand let the line pass through your fingers. This will allow you to feel the "Tick" that your line transmits when you have been picked up on the fall.
I watched some anglers cast their irons farther out and hop the lure back to the boat. I was doing pretty well with the yoyo straight up and down. Just like anything mix it up and let the fish tell you what is best.
If you do not mind the work this method is a lot fun. It is very similar to vertical spooning for largemouth, except these fish are harder to bring up. Working the lure vertically through the water column, you hang a solid fish and there is an immediate load on the rod but your efforts have just begun. Hook into a few and you will be happy that you have a 2 speed reel.
The Dance at the Stern
Fly Lining Bait
Fishing live bait at the stern of the boat when done properly is a well choreographed dance. Go to the bait tank, get your live bait and rig up. Approach the line on each side of the boat near the transom. Once in line cast or pitch out to the side of the boat. In the water your bait will drift back past the stern. As your offering moves back, slowly side step and follow your bait. Keep moving back and turn across the rear rail. Once you reach the middle of the stern reel in, get a fresh bait and repeat the process.
When everyone follows the procedure it provides an equal opportunity for all to target the zone. Understand that the captain is positioning the boat relatively close to the structure and action. By the time your offering has moved from the side of the boat and then behind the boat if you stay in one place the following will most likely happen. Allowing your bait to continue to fly line back well beyond the boat and you are most likely out of range. Engage the reel to keep your bait near the transom and you are cheating the natural action of your live bait. But worse you are creating a situation that will promote your line to tangle up with others, and that is not good.
Learn the dance step, it works and is in your best interest. I wish the local sport fishing boats had a better "dance floor." In fact all boats should have a dance floor drill sergeant on board, because some guys just won't respond to anything less, hello! In fact I think the first guy who won't move should be tossed overboard. That's right, the issue will resolve itself quick, it is only around a 10 mile swim to the Mexican coast line and then a long walk home. Ok maybe that is a bit too harsh but you get my point.
Bait options, sardines are typical but you might be using anchovies, larger mackerel or small squid. A common live bait fly line set up is a 30 pound rig. A 30 pound fluorocarbon leader attached to a 30 pound monofilament main line with a 3 turn surgeons knot.
Leader lengths will vary from angler to angler. Many chose to keep the knot out of the rod's guides. So either they tie a leader slightly shorter than the rod length or a very long leader so the knot stays in the reel spool.
This is that end of the day worn out look I mentioned
For hook selection the bait size and technique will influence hook size. For a fly lined sardine on a 30/30 rig I am using an Owner ringed fly liner 2/0 live bait hook. I nose hook the sardine. The ringed hook acts as a pivot and allows better swimming action for live bait. If it is windy or the fish are deep add a weight to your line.
An Avet MXJ 6/4 reel spooled with 30 pound mono coupled with a Calstar GFGR 700M. This is a 7 foot medium action rod. When heaver line is needed I will switch to an Avet JX 6/3 spooled with 40 pound mono.
Note the ringed hooks
Bottom of the Bottom
When fishing the bottom a dropper loop rig on 40 to 50 pound mono is a good choice. The dropper loop is the saltwater version of the drop shot. The drop shot origin is purported to come from the saltwater dropper loop.
Dropper Loop Rig
The length of the drop and hook loop are important. Too short of a drop or a hook loop too long and you bait will be too close to the bottom where you will target bat rays and other undesirable species. This should give you something to consider based on the angle of your presentation. The further away the rig is from the boat the closer your bait is to the bottom .
The same rod and reel set up for the yoyo iron will work fine. I use torpedo weights when fishing the dropper loop. Weight selection will vary based on current speed, drift speed and water depth. Hook selection will change with bait options. A 7/0 to 9/0 hook with a nose hooked mackerel or a slab fillet of white fish is a nice selection.
You are generally fishing deep with mono. Monofilament line and deep water equates to stretch. When you feel a bite do not swing. Due to the line type and distance between you and the fish a swinging hook set will be ineffectual. You want to wind into the fish, a reeling hook set. Once the rod loads up then swing if you choose.
When searching for fish the Independence will use side scan and down scan technology. They have been doing this for many years and have had the technology long before it was available to us on a bass boat. The electronics on the Indy will scan to the side 500 feet in each direction. Side to side and under the boat that equates to a 1000 foot wide scouting lane. Either searching or while moving to a new spot it is time to troll.
Every angler is given a number. These numbers identify caught fish, rod storage, tackle storage and trolling teams. 5 anglers rotate for 30 minutes on the troll off the stern. A variety of lures are employed, with tuna feathers being most common.
I rigged my feathers to 80lb mono spooled onto a Avet Pro EX 30/2. The reel was matched with a Calstar BWG 6460 XH A/R.
A certain type of reel is required for this trolling method. The rail is wrapped with straps. Each end of the strap has a snap lock clip. The clips are attached to eye holes on the reel. The drag created on the lure and line holds the trolling rig horizontally under, out and away from the rail. It is a hands free technique. When a fish hits the lure the movement of the boat sets the hook.
At some point during the trip it will be time to make bait. Even though this boat has a 700 scoop bait capacity, largest in the fleet , it can be advantageous to have different bait types such as mackerel or squid. These items are not always available at the bait dock in San Diego. The captain will use electronics and lights to locate and attract bait schools.
A Sabiki rig is an easy to use pre-tied set up. It features up to 6 micro jigs. Bioluminescence is prevalent in the ocean and some rigs have glow in the dark fluorescent beads that attract bait. At one end there is a single swivel. Tie the swivel to the main line on your 30 pound live bait set up. On the other end of the Sabiki you will find a swivel with a snap attached. Place a sinker on the snap and you are ready.
The crew will recommend which size sinker to use. Current strength and depth of bait will influence weight size. You want the weight to keep your rig vertical. This avoids drifting and tangling other rigs.
Lightly vertically jig the Sabiki. You will feel small tugs as bait fish eat the micro jigs. It is not uncommon to catch 6 baits at once. Reel up and take the catch over to the bait tank, there a crew member will be waiting. The deck tech will have a special tool that easily removes the bait unharmed from the jig hooks. The tool provides hands free unhooking so you do not remove the fish's protective slime. This insures lively longer lasting bait. With everyone up on deck making bait it does not take long before you have a good supply.
In case you have not noticed I like Avet reels and Calstar rods. By the way this gear will change how you view your big bait swimbait equipment. It is so relative and a matter of conditioning. These reels make my Calcutta 400 feel like a low profile and my jig stick makes my big bait swimbait rod feel like a worm rod. Spend some time with larger gear and you may realize that what you thought was big is not. Exposure is a brilliant thing, misconceptions can stem from the lack of it.
With this type of angling and it's lessons I find many similarities to the things we talk about at the BBZ. I am not the first to point out that the lessons of the BBZ transcend all angling.
The killer and his bounty.
As you can clearly see the Independence is top rate and a fine operation. I had a great time on board. Spent time with my friend Dick and made new friends as well.
The journey, sights and these fishing memories will last a lifetime. I want to thank Dick for this opportunity. Barry Wiggins, the permission to use your photos is greatly appreciated. And finally, thank you to the crew of the Independence , awesome trip.
Purfield's Pro Tackle http://www.purfieldsprotackle.com/
Barry Wiggins Photography http://www.barrywiggins.net/
Independence Sport Fishing http://www.independencesportfishing.com/
Photo Credit: With the exception of the tackle images and the photo of the Independence as seen from the dock all photos are by Barry Wiggins Photography and are used for this article with permission, all rights are reserved.