After boarding the boat at 3:00 am I got a bit of rest before we hit the fishing grounds. As we arrived, I grabbed a cup of hot coffee from the galley cook and my team was up to troll. The sun had cleared the horizon to the East and the air seemed warmer than I would have expected. As I looked into the deep blue sea I had a hard time believing I was 40 miles Southwest of Santa Cruz. Land was no where to be seen. The deckhand had placed my jig 40 feet from the corner of the boat and as it skipped through the foam filled water I thought “there is no way a fish can grab that thing.” My thoughts were interrupted by a dozen men screaming “HOOK UP!” The next thing I remember my 6/0 reel started hissing line off with an angry scream. The crew took to their positions like a fire drill as the live anchovies were flying over the side! Veteran albacore fishermen were already dropping hooked baits over the rail, the engines slowing to an idle. The albacore on the end of my line was starting to hurt me and I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest! I looked across the stern of the boat to watch the other anglers rods bending as they hooked these fish with wings. The tuna boiled on the live bait being thrown into the arena and I knew then, this would change my life!
There Is No Substitute For Live Bait.
Those are the words I so vividly remember being told to me as a young man. I had gotten the job I had dreamed of, deck handing on a long range sport fishing boat called the ROYAL STAR. I had no experience in these waters; I had grown up commercial salmon fishing. I was green and easy to teach, listened well, and worked hard. I got my Captain’s License and came back to my home in Santa Cruz. Now it is my turn to be the Captain! I was proud to be running my own boat. It took some time before I would get to use the information about tuna fishing with live bait that I had learned to the South.
In the mid ’90s we started to see a few fish come back after the banning of the high seas drift gill nets. I would make sabbaticals to Morro Bay as a second captain. I also got a good taste of these white meat tuna on board the Ranger 85 out of San Francisco as I crewed on some legendary trips as well. I started running the New Holiday II in ’96 as the “new era” began. By ’97 the North coast albacore had began to reach full steam. We took over the Wild Wave in ’99 after Tom Zizzo put her back on the map. In the past eight years I have had the privilege to help sport fishermen land over 15,000 albacore, most of which were caught on live bait. I don’t claim to be a great fisherman, but boy can I steal a trick. I am a copy cat. That’s right, if you are catching more fish than me I have no pride, I will duplicate your technique and if possible make it better. Most of the live bait fishing techniques I will share with you were taught to me.
There are many facets to live bait fishing, catching and curing the bait, running the boat, choosing your location, and learning to chum these fish to the boat are all entities of their own. My goal is to give a few tips to fellow fishermen and maybe we will learn something.
Hooks, This Is A Lot Simpler Than I Make It Sound
I am going to discuss some simple set ups for Charter boat fishing. I would like to say that 90% of the time if all you had was a # 2 bronze hook, a 7 foot glass rod and a Penn jigmaster loaded with 20 pound line, you would be just fine for a day of live bait fishing. Rule number one: match your hook to your bait. After the bait has been loaded, take a look at it. If it is small pinhead anchovies, 3 inches or smaller, you will have to go down in hook size. I would go to a # 4 or a #6. Beware once you go below a # 4 you will start to pull the hook on more fish, 1 in 4 fish may pull with a number 4 hook. You may pull the hook out even more. Pulling easier on them will prevent the loss of some fish. When using small baits and small hooks you will get bit more, with lighter line bump it down to 15 pound and use a longer rod. When finesse fishing with small baits, an 8 or 9 foot glass rod with 15 pound line and a small split shot or no weight, is a great set up. If the bait is more like 4 to 5 inch anchovies, then go with the # 2 hooks and 20 pound line. As your bait size increases you can increase your hook size. When fishing large anchovies (5 to 6 inch greenbacks), bump your gear up to a # 1 hook. If you peer into the tank and see a load of sardines go with the same scale as above if they are small. If they are big go up to a 2/0 hook. I prefer the standard bronze live bait hook; a Mustad or an Eagle Claw is fine. I have found the sharp ones hook fish in the roof of the mouth and in the throat and rip out more often. The standard hooks seem to pull into the corner of the mouth, like a circle hook. I have even seen some people dull their hook points. The sumo hooks are good also. If you would like to offset your bronze hooks a couple of degrees that will help your odds when pulling the hook into the fish. The offset trick is not necessary, you should hook 75 to 80% of your bites with live bait. If the Albacore come to the back of the boat like a pack of wild dogs, I would recommend using at least 40 pound line, and a circle hook. The fact that the circle hook is very effective at hooking tuna in the corner of the jaw helps hold the hook when you pull very hard with heavy line. The corner spot with a circle hook can withstand heavy pulling pressure. In this situation use a large circle hook even with medium bait. Abrasion of the line by their teeth is not an issue. Remember match your hook to the bait, a small hook would be a number 4 and a big hook would be a 2/0. Do not use a nickel-plated hook; they do not get bit as well. Again match your hook to your bait. And always pick the best bait.
When One Is Hunting Long Fin They Must Use Good String.
The only thing I hated more than getting sawed off was the sight of a fresh spool of bright blue kingfisher line that had been laid on the night before. Yes, we have all been there, in our early days, eye balling all those spools of line and thinking what’s the difference for a third of the price this stuff will work just fine, plus the label looks cool! Not here boys, I may begin to sound opinionated… I would suggest a few brands; P-line CXX, Berkley’s Big Game, Izore Line, Triple Fish, Genki, or even Maxima. And any other good brands our local tackle stores may suggest, remember use clear or light blue. If you use a braided line be sure to ask the crew first, I would recommend Power Pro. Keep in mind the thin diameter of this allows the bait to swim freely and increases your chance of a hook up dramatically. When choosing a line you want it all, abrasion resistant, limp and easy to cast. The best investment you could make in the line department is a spool of fluorocarbon. I have seen many types; one I can recommend is Seaguar. Get a spool of this for leaders, three feet of this will help 10 fold. Fluorocarbon is even more critical when it is flat calm and there is no refraction of light on the oceans surface. Change your line often if it feels rough, and never use last years line. Also, keep it out of the sun as much as possible. Your line is the only thing between you and that fish, don’t skimp. I would recommend the Palomar knot for your hooks and chrome weights. The Palomar tests out the strongest every year at the trade shows when I ask the reps, I take their word for it. It is not that the other knots come untied, but they weaken the line more in the knotted position. If you think you need a loop knot to give your live bait more action then you picked the wrong live bait! The best knot I have seen for connecting a fluorocarbon leader is the surgeon knot. This knot is amazing, it is compatible with different line stiffness and diameters. Both of these are easy to tie and for now the best I have seen for live bait albie fishing.
Shall We Talk About Weights?
Yes, I am going to cast my opinion on weights also. I know we all grew up using rubber core weights. That is not an excuse, we also listened to disco music and had mullet hair cuts! For the most part I would not recommend using rubber core weights especially for charter boat fishing. The rubber wings catch lines and tangle. The wings and open slot on the weight will pull another line in, and if two fish are wrapped it becomes impossible to untangle the lines at that point. When you cast them (and when they sink) they have a tendency to twist. When they twist, the line cuts its self off when the hook gets set and pulls tight on a fish. For fishing “the slide” (when the boat starts to slow from a troll and starts a bait stop), I highly recommend the chrommie weight. Rig the chrome weight with all Palomar knots and use a fluorocarbon leader on it. This trick will not only catch you a fish, it may feed your entire family. The 1 to 2 once chrome weights are the best bet for your tackle box. In calm conditions with fish boiling on top, no weight is a great way to go. If you have big bait or sardines, no weight is a good idea also. I have found split shot weights of all sizes work well too. Despite the looks of them crimped on your fresh line, they do not weaken your line as much as it looks. If you don’t believe me test it yourself. The most popular weight for me on the charter boats is a split shot three feet up the line from the hook and a one ounce egg weight above that to slide free. That set up works great, the weight slides, the bait swims free and it gives the angler a little tension to work with as their bait sinks. This is my all time favorite. I have found you need to apply the split shot tight because when the fish is hooked, the line stretches and the diameter gets smaller. If the split shot is not on tight it will slide down the line some times causing the egg weight to de-hook the fish. Keep in mind; always watch the people around you, if one is catching more fish than most, the amount of weight they are using can be very important.
Rods and Reels
I am not going to get into to much detail on this one, I will only say I like a 7 to 9 foot rod for live bait fishing. I like fiberglass, it is soft and doesn’t rip the bait off when you cast and is slower to load up when pulling the hook into the fish. There are a lot of great rods out there, my favorites for live bait are the Calstar 196 series and the Sabre line of rods that Penn makes. As far as reels go I would like to remind people that an anchovy is very light and the spool on the reel should spin easy and cast well. I also like a low gear ratio for live bait, but that is not as important as a reel that is capable of casting a pinhead far. You can’t go wrong with a Penn, Diawa, or a Shimono. There are many other rods and reels out there, I would recommend any of our local tackle stores to help you with your selection. They are all up on the best and latest gear.
A Few Ideas on Baiting and Setting The Hook
Hook placement can make all the difference in the world while Live bait albacore fishing. “Sliding” a bait or fishing over an ounce of weight, I prefer the hook coming up through the lower jaw and out the top of the nose, this keeps the mouth shut and makes a good presentation. The traditional technique is the collar hook. The “old timers” tend to place the hook from head to tail as they pin the hook through the collar. I like to pin the hook from the tail side of the collar and come out on the head side, the shank then lies flat against the bait and the line seems to trail nicely as the precious bait swims for its life. I like to go with the ventral fin hook on large baits; the ventral fin is just behind the anus. Place the hook above the fin and get a good bite of meat but beware, this hook tends to rip out so be gentle. Ventral fin hooked baits tend to swim straight down nicely. The easiest and best all around technique is to go sideways through the nose. This works well in all situations and bait sizes, remember, the best bait will always get bit. Change your bait every time you rotate. The rotation will start on the down wind corner of the stern and end at the bow on the windward side of the boat. Always watch where the bites are coming from. The stern will be the new baits, so if you see people in the stern hooking up, you know to rotate fast and don’t soak your bait too long. If the people on the bow are getting bit, soak your bait longer. As you drift your live bait, have your drag preset and keep your reel out of gear. Let the bait drift and swim out freely, you should always have a gentle bow in your line as it pedals off the spool. When you get bit point the rod at the fish and let it take the bait for 5 or 10 seconds, slowly add tension then put the reel into gear. Take your thumb off the spool and as the line pulls tight, lift up into a hook set. Let him take line, don’t worry they won’t spool you. Follow your fish either right or left, stay directly in front of the fish and simply go over or under the anglers next to you. Remember to dig in, the atmosphere may seem a little tense, but dig in and enjoy yourself. The learning curve on a good albacore boat with a good group of fishermen is fast. When a variety of fishermen get together you get a good opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t work. My crew and I always keep a watchful eye on new techniques and have found new styles of fishing every day. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to ask questions. All of the techniques I share with people were taught to me by others. No one of us knows more than all of us and this club has proven how much we can learn together.