Quit Wishin' and Go Fishin'
by Bob Stewart
My old friend Captain Butch, a Naples, Florida native and professional fishing guide, used that slogan on all his bumper stickers, ballpoint pens and yellow-page ads. He was saying the same thing you'll find in any of your cruising guides that touch on fishing: If you don't have a line in the water you won't catch any fish. The Caribbean is full of fish. Not just the ones you can catch by trolling between the islands, but those you can get while at anchor - and most of us spend much more time at anchor than on the move.
A light spinning outfit is the key to catching fish when you have the hook down in a comfortable anchorage. You can use a handline very successfully for bottom fish, but a spinning rod will provide more versatility and perhaps more pleasure. A spinning reel capable of holding 200 to 250 yards/metres of 10-pound (4.5 kg) test monofilament line and a medium-to-stiff 6.5-foot (2m) rod will keep you eating fish just about anywhere you go in the Caribbean. I'm partial to the Penn Spinfisher Z, Classic Series, model 712Z, a very sturdy reel at a good price, but the important thing is to not go too cheap or you'll end up with a lump of corrosion - or worse, you'll lose the first large fish you get when the drag freezes up.
Along with your light rod and reel you'll need to add some basic items to your tackle box. A spool of 30- to 50-pound (15 to 25 kg) test monofilament is needed for leaders, and a large box of 2/0 or 3/0 hooks for bait fishing. For trolling or casting from the dinghy you should have some quarter-ounce bucktails or small spoons, and a couple of small floating plugs such as those made by Rapalla.
The easiest way to add fish to your diet is to fish from your cockpit in the evening while at anchor. The first step is to acquire some bait, preferably of marine origin but if nothing else is available try chicken skin or other meat you have on board. Usually bait can be acquired right off the boat using a sabiki bait rig. A bait rig is a string of very small lures which are lowered to the bottom and raised with short jerky movements. You can buy them ready made or make them up yourself. They will catch a large variety of small fish which gather under a boat, such as blue runner, jacks and pilchards. Simply cut your bait into a couple of chunks and you're ready to go. You can also use small fish live. Trolling around your anchorage in the dinghy with a jig or plug is another way to get small fish for bait.
Rigging for fishing is simple. Tie about 3 feet (1 m) of monofilament leader to the line on your spinning rod and add a 2/0 hook to the leader. No swivels or weights are needed. Hook a chunk of bait on, cast it out as the sun sets, place the rod in a rod holder and sit back and enjoy your evening. Don't mess with the rod, just let it sit. The fish you're looking for will swallow the bait and hook themselves. Nibblers are just a nuisance so ignore them and hope a larger fish runs them off before they destroy the bait. The target fish are mostly in the snapper family: yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, lane snapper, and the prize of the group, mutton snapper. The first three are good eating pan fish but the mutton snapper commonly runs from pan fish size to over 20 pounds. There are a variety of other edible pan fish that may show up, such as grunts and porgies. You may have to deal with a shark or stingray occasionally. The shark usually takes care of himself by severing the leader, but the stingray will require you to cut the leader.
The other way to utilize your light tackle is fishing from your dinghy. Many of the Caribbean anchorages are in deep bays which hold bait and attract schools of tuna deep into the bay, especially in the early morning. If you see fish splashing or birds feeding, be ready to grab your rod, which should already be rigged with a jig or plug, and head for the action. You can either troll the perimeter of the feeding fish or maneuver upwind and drift down on the fish casting your lure into the activity. Any anchorage with a mangrove shoreline is likely to produce mangrove snapper and, if you are in the Greater Antilles or along the South American coast, snook. Both fish will be found up against the roots in creeks and on the edges of grass flats. Use a floating plug in shallow areas and a plug or jig in deeper waters.
An excellent reference book to have onboard has recently been published by International Marine, The Cruiser's Handbook of Fishing, by Scott and Wendy Bannerot. It covers all aspects of fishing, from rigging to cooking, and includes good sections on avoiding various fish-related dangers and treating injuries if it's too late to avoid them.
Bob Stewart is cruising the Caribbean with his wife Pam on S/V Pamela.
Copyright© 2002 Compass Publishing