Fact or Superstition?
Can certain hard-to-define intangibles really attract fish—or not?
Fishermen can be a superstitious lot, putting credence in all sorts of odd notions they believe will enhance their luck. The best-known belief involves bringing bananas on the boat. Some say it’s the kiss of death, while others say that’s nonsense and freely invite the forbidden fruit aboard.
Other old saws have firm opinions about the way to ascend and descend a tower. Some old-timers say you absolutely must come down the same side of the tower you went up, or terrible consequences will befall you. Woe unto him that ascends the starboard side and descends the port.
Then there’s the concept of why certain boats “raise” more billfish than others. The pragmatic among us would say it’s because the successful boats are better prepared, put out a better spread, or have better intel/intuition about where the fish are.
“I have definitely seen certain boats do well in a pack, but can’t say I know enough about why,” says Capt. Ray Rosher of the Miami-based charter boat Miss Britt. “I always thought it had more to do with what was being towed behind it.”
Others seem more intrigued by the possibility that certain intangibles play a role that’s hard to define. “Most captains believe that harmonics play a big part in raising fish while trolling,” says Capt. Jason Brice, skipper of the classic 42-foot Rybovich Makaira. “I do as well, most days. I believe I have an advantage in my 55-year-old, wood-planked-hull Rybovich, over the guy next to me in his outboard boat.”
This is a common belief, the idea that in conventional trolling scenarios, inboards have an inherent advantage over outboards because inboards produce a hum that inquisitive billfish come to check out. But we all know of dozens of new, modern glass boats with outboards that catch a lot of fish, so an explanation that simplistic doesn’t hold water. And even the outboard versus inboard argument gets sketchy upon closer examination.
Some captains will tell you that adjustments to a particular boat can enhance its fish-raising prowess. Propeller selection is a widely debated topic among sportfish fans, both in terms of performance and whether certain props attract more fish.
“Last year, while backing in to weigh a marlin, I smoked my four-blade props on an object in the slip,” says Capt. Fin Gaddy of the Qualifier. “My spare set were five-blade wheels. We were fortunate enough to catch a large blue marlin with those five-blades and saw several others, but the fish seemed skittish, not following up on the teasers and fading back into the spread. With not enough time and the Travelift broken down, I decided to fish a couple tournaments with the five-blades.
“I felt as though the boat wasn’t seeing her share of fish,” Gaddy says. “When we finally changed back to the repaired four-blades, 22 out of 27 billfish came to the flat lines and teasers and we won the next tournament.”
A boater I knew years ago changed the well-worn wheels on his classic sportfisher on the advice of the yard crew that did annual maintenance on the boat.
For years, this boat had been high-hook trolling in the Bahamas, but only a few weeks into ownership of the new props, he returned to the boatyard, dug up his old wheels, and had them reinstalled. He hadn’t seen a fish since changing props. Those new wheels were history before their shine even began to fade.
Perhaps that’s the best advice of all: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And, of course, continually refine your spread until you find the combination that consistently produces for you. Superstition will always have its place in the fishing world, but nothing beats preparation.
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.