I always view boat fishing very much as a team effort and whilst we all like to succeed on a boat trip it should be very much a shared experience. To that end all parties need to work together to ensure its enjoyable for all on board.
The majority of boat trips most anglers will venture out on will be amongst a group of friends or a club who have chartered the boat for the day. On other occasions a trip might be taken as an individual amongst a group of total strangers.
A day out on a boat is very much an adventure that takes most of us away from routines of normal life and setting us upon a vast marine vista that is ever changing. There is something special at the start of a day’s fishing as the boat sets out to the fishing grounds. Anticipation is always high early in the day with hopes of a good day’s sport ahead.
It’s not always just the fishing of course that is the highlight of the day as the glimpse of a whale, a pod of dolphins or a magical sunset often lingers in the mind long after the memories of individual fish.
The key to a good day’s boat fishing as with most things in life will very much depend upon a bit of thought and preparation. The most important decision is undoubtedly which boat and skipper you choose to take you to the fishing grounds. Before making that decision of course you will need to decide what species and type of fishing you want to indulge in.
Remember that the best skippers will often be booked up well in advance so you will often need to plan ahead unless you have the opportunity to drop into vacant slots when others cancel. It’s often well worth joining your favourite skippers Facebook page to take advantage of last minute cancellations.
The differing seasons will of course offer different opportunities as species migrate around the coastline. These migrations are influenced by numerous factors including the weather, food sources and perhaps man-kinds interference into this. The tides are also a major factor in options available. In areas such as the Bristol Channel where there is a significant rise and fall in the tidal range the departure and return times may well be dictated by access to the harbour and moorings. A powerful tidal flow might also render some areas unfishable for significant parts of the day making some areas unviable at times.
So before booking make sure you know what you intend to catch, when that species are likely to be there and that the tides give you the best chance.
The species you are fishing for and the techniques required will determine what tackle baits and lures you require. If you are a beginner there is the possibility that tackle is available to hire for the day. This could be a good option if you are new to the sport and not willing to invest in expensive tackle only to find you’re not cut out to be a boat fisher. In many cases it pays for even experienced boat anglers to use the gear provided. I fish for shark a couple of times each year and feel happy using the excellent tackle provided as to purchase specialist tackle for the odd trip is really not viable.
It is not viable to go into the intricacies of tackle and tactics for each species in this short article so I will lay out a few guidelines to the approach needed and the etiquettes of boat fishing.
The number one factor in boat fishing is undoubtedly the weather and in particular the wind strength and direction. Always listen to the skipper and accept their advice. Whilst skippers make their living taking anglers out to sea good ones will always be reluctant to take anglers out if conditions will be uncomfortable. It might well be calm in the bay but twenty miles out in the ocean it’s a very different story!
Appropriate clothing is essential for a day on the boat and remember you can always take it off if it’s too hot. Wind and rain can conspire to make even summer days hostile so be prepared. Even if the forecast gives no precipitation remember that a bumpy ride to the fishing grounds can still mean a drenching from spray as the boat bounces across the water. At the other end of the spectrum hot sunny days can result in sunstroke and sunburn, so pack the sun-cream and water, whilst cool beers are appealing they are not generally a good idea. And whilst on the subject of beer ups it’s not good to over indulge the night before.
Mel de mer or sea sickness is a curse that inflicts misery upon many who go afloat and believe me it’s not a pleasant experience. On a bad day the inflicted feel like curling up in the bottom of the boat and dying! To avoid sea sickness a few precautions can help. Sea sickness tablets such as Stugeron or Kwells can keep it at bay along with travel bands. I also advise keeping out in the fresh air as cabins and fumes can sometimes trigger a bout.
Try and look at the horizon and ensure you are well prepared with ready tied traces etc as tying fiddly knots is a recipe for sending a stream of vomit into the briny. It is a good idea to have a good breakfast before sailing and to take along plenty of food. There’s nothing worse than vomiting on an empty stomach!
The Skipper is always the boss on the boat and his advice is generally sound when it comes to tactics for catching fish. When it comes to safety and boat operation the Skippers instructions should always be followed.
An important factor in any day’s fishing is handling the fish that are caught with catch and release now widely practiced this is vital in ensuring the survival of fish so that they can thrive and hopefully ensure the future is bright. The tackle used should always be strong enough to give a good chance of landing the fish we hook. There is nothing sporting in leaving a fish trailing tackle.
Fortunately, the trends of using ultralight tackle to set line class records has all but faded out of practice. I am not referring to the use of well balanced outfits that give the angler an exciting experience as the fish is played to the boat. In the seventies and early eighties there was a craze for attempting to land large specimens such as porbeagle shark on lines as low as 6lb b.s. If the fish did not break free trailing long leaders they were played to exhaustion.
Where possible most fish can be released at the side of the boat especially large fish such as sharks that can be damaged if removed from the water. If a photo is required on board then great care will need to be taken. The deck should be kept moist and the fish handled firmly to ensure it cannot thrash around injuring itself or indeed anglers on the boat. A skipper told me once that an injury to an angler on board can spell a ruined day, a serious injury to a skipper his season and livelihood.
The use of circle hooks and barbless hooks is well worth considering where catch and release is of paramount concern. The days of mass slaughter of fish are fortunately resigned to the history books.
A major factor in any form of angling is ensuring that you have quality bait and plenty of it to last the day. A cool box is essential to ensure baits remain fresh and can sometimes allow unused bait to be taken home to be used again. It is generally good practice to change baits on a regular basis especially in coloured water where scent is a key factor in fish locating the bait. Always match hook size to the bait used and the size of bait to the fish you intend to catch.
There are certain protocols that need to be followed to ensure harmony on board. Tangled lines are a recipe for frayed tempers and whilst the occasional tangle is inevitable many can be avoided. The use of different coloured lines can be an advantage when sorting out lines twisted together. The types of line used also need to be considered. Braided line is far thinner and stronger and requires less weight to reach the sea bed. This can be a major advantage but always consider what those around you are doing. If bottom fishing the anglers using the heaviest weights should fish closest to the bow (front) of the boat and those using lighter weights should fish nearer the stern.
When up-tiding warn others that you are casting and hang those hooks safely on the grip lead.
On the way back to port ensure all tackle is neatly stowed. It is often possible to ease the skippers work load by washing down the decks on the journey home. Whilst many may envy the skippers job it is bloody hard work. I have chatted with several top skippers and marvel at their dedication. Days are often long rising at the crack of dawn or before to prepare the boat, refuelling and checking the seaworthiness. At the end of the day cleaning down, securing and maintenance. Then there is taking bookings and administration duties. In addition, there are many hours spent preparing traces, tackles and perhaps rubby-dubby for sharking etc.
The weather is as always a factor. I remember enjoying a fantastic day off Penzance a couple of years back. I commented upon the fantastic long spell of settled weather that was I thought a blessing for the Charter boats. Another side to it was that the prolonged settled spell had resulted in weeks of days at sea without a break. A typical day for a skipper can involve twelve hours at sea with another three or four hours each side of this as set out above. That’s a 14 to 16 hour day seven days a week! Of course, you have to set sail whilst the sea is calm as you could lose weeks to bad weather cancellations.
To summarise; days on board a charter boat can be very enjoyable and rewarding with plenty of friendly banter and great sport. A little bit of thought and preparation can often make all the difference in making it all plain sailing with tight lines and broad smiles.