If you think you see him, you probably do.
With today’s advancements in marine electronics the fish can’t hide. This does not always mean the fish will be easy to find or anxious to bite. Sometimes it takes more than a fast boat, freshly rigged bait, and the right conditions to score. The fact is there isn’t a day on the water when you don’t learn something new that eventually pays off handsomely. All you have to do is look and listen. I was once fishing the Pocket some 10 or so miles south and west of Chub Cay in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas. The wind was fresh out of the southeast and when it blows from this direction the deep blue water from the Tongue of the Ocean shoves into the Pocket and brings with it a pyramid of marine life.
We had caught several nice mahi-mahi and a wahoo, but I wanted to score my first Bahama blue or white marlin. Pacing back and forth in the cockpit and staring at the baits hour after hour I waited, half thinking I could talk a fish into our trolling array of mullet and balao. But when I blinked and noticed what I thought was a stick popping up out of the water near the daisy chain of plastic squid, I wiped the salt from my sunglasses and figured it was time to reel in the baits and check for weeds.
But this is fishing and as usual another epiphany was about to occur. I checked each bait carefully and replaced washed-out balao with new, limber recruits. When I reached for the daisy chain and realized it was missing the last squid I wondered what was wrong with the rig. Examining it more closely I saw the end of the monofilament was frayed. That stick I thought I saw earlier was actually the bill of a marlin whacking at the plastic squids. Had I been more alert I could have pulled the balao near the daisy chain, teased the fish to strike, and maybe caught it. Instead I returned to the dock with dinner and a lesson learned that has paid off ever since.
Grilling the mahi-mahi and wahoo behind the boat that night, I mentioned my experience to a friendly skipper in the next slip. He smiled at my story and offered words of encouragement I have never forgotten: “If you think you see him, you probably do. You always need to be ready because he who hesitates is a he who...” Thinking back I was so enthusiastic about fishing for marlin in a well-known spot and in the right circumstances, that I neglected to concentrate on what I was doing. I was watching the baits but also waiting for someone on the flying bridge to yell down, or hear the snap of the outrigger pin to get the ball rolling. Meanwhile, I was the closest person to the fish and the only one on the boat to see it. “You might see a flash, you might only see the shadow the fish creates as it swims in the wake, but learn to trust your eyes. Always be aware that a slick on the surface or a change in the way the water looks often means something is happening nearby. It’s better to call it out loud so everyone aboard hears what you see and wakes up, than to be asleep at the reel,” the skipper added.
Sage fishing wisdom comes from all points of the compass. From the smallest to the largest, all fish are opportunists. They will eat or be eaten at a moment’s notice. Fishermen need to be on a similar program. Many savvy skippers know what to look for but increase their visual opportunity by tuning their radar to spot flocks of birds that are miles away feeding on bait or smaller fish, which in turn attracts larger predators. While some high-power radar units have a built-in bird mode for this assistance, older sets can be effective too by reducing the sea clutter and cranking up the gain to increase sensitivity to small targets. It takes practice to learn how to use the radar for this trick, but it can pay off because birds don’t lie.
During the heyday of the infamous manufacturer shootout tournaments I was fishing with a top-notch crew. The captain gave me binoculars and the task of searching for frigate birds. These avian creatures soar overhead for hours seemingly remaining in place watching for small fish swimming near the surface. So we waited too and kept a pair of frigates in sight while we combed the water nearby. Twenty minutes later the frigate birds made a move as the surface splashed and small fish erupted from below. We eased over toward the commotion eager to take advantage of what they had found. Within minutes a 150-pound blue marlin tore through our bait pattern settling on a swimming mullet and resulted in a rewarding release and proving despite all the advanced electronics, the best fishfinders might just be your own two eyes.
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.