My first glimpse into long range fishing came when I was nine years old. I was with my dad walking up on the docks above Fisherman’s Landing getting ready for a morning of calico bass fishing when we passed a long line of guys with these giant carts absolutely filled to the brim with bags, boxes, and these huge bundles of rods. I asked what kind of crazy trip these guys were going on and my dad pointed out to the gleaming Royal Polaris and said these are long rangers heading out for a week. This random memory stayed with me because I distinctly remember being both impressed and overwhelmed at the amount of gear it took to embark on a trip like that, and hoped I could do it one day.
Since then, I’ve become experienced in the long range fishing scene and have figured out that creating checklists that I can run through before I even leave for the landing is the best way to stay organized and ensure nothing important is forgotten. Through this article I’m going to be covering my personal gear list and tackle box to prepare for a trip anywhere from 3-6 days. Hopefully this will make prepping for your own trip a little less daunting.
- Large Duffel Bag
This will be to carry all your clothes and other personal gear on and off the boat. To help the crew with loading, condensing all your gear into one large duffel helps the process move along faster.
- Separate Bag for Dirty Clothes
Staying organized can be difficult in small staterooms, and keeping an extra plastic bag dedicated to dirty clothes keeps them out of the way and in one place.
- Tackle Box
Typically I bring my largest tackle box which can hold six trays in the main compartment and two up top. However, the size and type of box depends on your personal fishing style and how much gear you plan on using. There are lots of different manufacturers that make large tackle boxes at a range of different price points, but a few high quality names worth mentioning are SKB, and Calcutta.
- One set of clothing per day (at minimum)
A good rule of thumb is to bring a separate set of clothes for each day of the trip, plus one or two extras. Weather varies out there so make sure to pack plenty of t-shirts and shorts, but also some long pants for cold mornings and nights. Long-sleeve sun shirts can be fantastic for protecting your skin from the elements and their water-resistant material makes them great for fishing. Fishworks, Aftco, and Pelagic all have quality fishing apparel that make the long days in the sun much more enjoyable.
These anglers came prepared for the hot weather and got their reward: A trophy Guadalupe Yellowtail.
Image courtesy of OCT jigs.
- Extra socks
The first thing to get wet will be your socks, and I always make sure to have plenty of pairs in my bag.
Bad weather at Alijos didn’t stop author Nate Winicki and his dad from cashing in on quality wahoo!
- Quality Jacket
In case of cold weather or nighttime fishing, a good jacket is a must for any trip. Stay away from down as it does not insulate while wet and is prone to ripping.
- Waterproof pants and jacket
Very rarely do wet conditions and rain occur but a good pair of waterproof fishing pants and a jacket are always on the list when prepping for a long trip. During a wide open bite, the pants especially help afterward when a simple rinse with the hose will have you looking fresh and clean. Grundens is the favorite brand amongst the crew members and for good reason. Their quality products have withstood the test of time and will keep you warm and dry in tough conditions.
Living in boots for days on end is not pleasant, and having a separate pair of comfortable sandals or slippers make for great after-dinner footwear to hang out in the galley and air out the toes.
Can you count all the Xtratuff boots in this photo? Hint: It’s more than three.
Courtesy OCT jigs.
- Deck Boots
A pair of quality deck boots is a must for these trips and can vastly improve the comfort in all-day fishing situations. Xtratuff boots are universally known as the best. A personal tip is to add an extra insole to your boots if preparing for a long trip. The additional support will have your feet thanking you after standing 12 hours a day.
- Baseball Cap
I usually bring two of my old lucky fishing hats in case one gets blown over in the wind.
- Wide Brim Hat
Keep in mind that you’re fishing southern Baja and the weather gets very warm. A wide brim hat keeps you out of the sun during the heat of the day.
Wide-brim hats on full display during this hot afternoon on the Ridge.
Courtesy OCT Jigs
A beanie comes in handy for nighttime bait making or tuna fishing. It can also be helpful in rough weather situations when a normal hat would get blown off.
A good pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare and allow better visibility in the water. I always bring an extra in case something happens to my first pair and they go over the side. Nothing’s worse than staring into the glare all day without glasses.
The sun can be very harsh out there, and sometimes fishing for hours on end is the only way to get a bite. A quality sunblock will keep you from getting cooked and will help you have a good time throughout the whole trip.
- Sleeping Bag
While not necessary by any means, a personal sleeping bag is something I bring on every multi-day trip so that my quality of sleep isn’t dependent upon the single blanket provided by the boat.
As night fishing becomes more and more common, a quality headlamp is a huge help for keeping track of your line and avoiding tangles when fighting tuna in the dark.
- Toiletry Kit
Basics like soap, toothbrush, and toothpaste should be in there, but also don’t forget some more specific items to fishing such as motion sickness medication (if needed), ibuprofen, finger tape, and some bandages in case something happens.
Don’t forget it!! I usually bring two light towels which pack easily and dry fast, so I never have to use a damp towel.
During travel days, having podcasts, books, magazines, and music downloaded can make the trip more enjoyable during the quiet times of the voyage. Some boats are starting to offer wifi coverage but don’t count on it.
- Photo ID and Passport
This is a must for any trip leaving out of San Diego and fishing Mexican waters. Don’t forget it. I usually have a separate case for all my personal documents so that they’re all kept together.
Organizing your box for a long trip may seem like a daunting task at first, but breaking it down to the essentials will show you it’s not too difficult. My box is broken down into six individual trays which I will go over.
Tray 1: Sinkers
Though it’s often overlooked and rarely discussed, the sinker tray is one of the most important pieces of gear to be fully stocked on. So many times the difference between success and failure can come down to a simple sliding sinker or a properly sized torpedo weight. Having your lead box stocked and organized is the first and most essential piece to building a solid foundation to your gear. To start, egg sinkers in a variety of sizes are always in my box. No matter the trip. Say you’re fishing the Cortez Bank for yellows that are suspended 100 feet below the boat and they’re keyed in on sardine. Any bait sent out on the surface is either getting picked by the birds or the cruising schools of bonito. Adding a 1/2oz egg sinker above the hook will send that bait down to mid column without messing up the presentation. The next day offshore, the bluefin are foaming everywhere but it’s all on micro-sized bait. A tiny 1/4oz sliding sinker with a #4 hook allows you to cast even the smallest of baits and get it out way behind the boat to get that finesse bite. Rubbercore weights are considered old-school but I still carry a good assortment of them. Especially fishing bluefin on the slide, a small rubbercore can be the reason why you get bit and nobody else does. Don’t undervalue the importance of these small and inexpensive weights. Torpedo weights make up the majority of my sinker tray, and the size and amount ranges on your particular trip and the targeted species. Usually a range from 4-16oz is standard, but if there’s a chance to fish deep for rockfish, large ball sinkers either in 16 or 24oz are my favorite as they roll on the bottom rather than getting lodged in cracks like torpedoes. Just don’t let them roll around on the deck. It’s every deckhand’s biggest pet-peeve.
Tray 2: Hooks
Similar to sinkers, hook selection and organization is not a popular topic of discussion yet it’s one of equal importance which needs to be addressed. The standard hook I use for just about everything is the Mustad O’Shaughnessy live bait hook in sizes 4-3/0. They’re cheap, sharp, and strong which makes them the perfect option for wide-open bites when every bait is getting slammed as soon as it hits the water. When fishing bigger tuna, ringed Owner Mutu circle hooks have been my go-to and I haven’t had any issues yet. Hook size depends on the bait, but usually I bring a selection of hooks from #1-2/0 and then a single pack of 6/0 circles for fishing mackerel.
Tray 3: Heavy Jigs
Heavy jigs largely fall into two categories: yo-yo jigs for yellowtail and knife jigs for nighttime bluefin fishing. Starting with yo-yo lures, the three top producers for me have been the tady 4/0, Salas 6x jr, and more recently the JRI brass jigs. The size and weight of the lure largely depend on depth and current that you’re fishing in, and color is almost always either dorado, scrambled egg, or straight red. Turning to nighttime bluefin jigs, the market has exploded in the past few years with the different kinds of lures that vary with fluttering and sinking actions. All of them work, but there seem to be a few top producers. Mustad Riprollers, Diawa SK Jigs, and the classic Shimano Flat Fall have continued to produce big fish, and the most popular sizes have been between 200 and 350 grams. However, the limits of what will work as a bluefin jig was thoroughly tested last year, with some surprising results. Something as simple as a 12oz torpedo sinker with a quality pair of assist hooks will get you a bite. It all comes down to conditions and trust in your own gear. Also keep in mind that having your jig glow in the dark is not at all necessary and is starting to show minimal advantages over non-glowing lures. Metallic blue and pink is my personal favorite color combo.
Tray 4: Light Jigs
I plug this box full of all of my favorite surface irons and colt snipers that I’m going to use for yellowtail and tuna. I am not alone when I say that catching yellowtail on the iron is one of the most exciting and sought-after parts of the San Diego fishing scene, and for good reason. There’s nothing like seeing your iron get smoked by a big yellow right next to the boat. Having a variety is important because often a certain type of swimming jig or even a particular color can be the key to success. My top three favorite lures are the JRI Stinger, Tady Starman, and the Salas 7x. Another hot jig that I’ve been using lately is the OCT-10. They’re unique in that each one is CNC machined to be an exact copy of the original to ensure a quality kick. Every surface iron will have a unique action based on how fast your retrieve is, and knowing whether the fish wants the lure fast or slow can help determine which iron will work best. Colors can be overwhelming so I stick to a few known producers. Mint is universally known as one of the top surface iron colors for yellowtail. However, when everyone’s throwing mint, I choose either a green sardine 7x or a dorado-colored Tady and the difference can separate me from the crowd.
The new OCT-10 produces yet another good yellow. Courtesy OCT Jigs.
Tray 5: Trolling Lures
Trolling is by far the easiest and most effective way to cover large amounts of water looking for schools of fish, and having a few basic plugs will have you covered in most applications. It’s important to note that I’m talking specifically about trolling behind sport boats, which travel on average between 8-12 knots. At this speed, the Halco Giant Trembler is my first choice when tuna are in the area. Extremely durable and relatively inexpensive, the GT always goes out first when searching through an open area offshore. The color that I’ve used for years is called “chrome pink” and I’ve never had a reason to try any other. Next I’ll always have an unpainted cedar plug which seems like such a simple lure that it can’t work that well… but it does. The unique waving action this lure throws behind a sport boat can be irresistible to anything offshore, from dorado to bluefin.
Tray 6: Backup/Experimental Box
When the small tuna are around, nothing is more fun than watching them crash on the clear popper.
When I know that I’m going on a long trip that is going to be focused around yellowtail fishing, I’ll fill this box with some extra surface irons and yo-yo’s that I might not have room for in the other dedicated boxes. However, I always leave some room for some more unusual lures that just might turn out to be the hot ticket. Soft plastics are a great example. I leave one section of this tray open for 5in plastics and a few 1oz leadheads that, if conditions allow, can result in wide open calico fishing while the rest of the boat struggles to get a bite from a yellow. Poppers can be extremely fun lures to use, but I wouldn’t recommend stocking up on them when going on a sport boat. It’s rare when a big boat is able to run up on the fish and get into the position to throw poppers but when it does happen, it’s a sight to behold. Lastly, I’ve been experimenting with slow-pitch jigging, and this tray gives me some room for some of these more specialized flutter jigs.
Extras / Miscellaneous
Aside from the main tackle compartments, there are a few things in my box in the side pouches that are just as important. First is a quality set of pliers for my belt with a basic tool kit that stays in the box. This includes an extra set of cutters, a screwdriver, and multi-tools given with reels that pair up with the specific reel clamps. Sabiki rigs usually in size four are often used on long trips to make mackerel during the night. Make sure you have a few packs. Extra line and fluorocarbon is another essential aspect to the tackle box that should not be forgotten. Especially on longer trips, changing out your line at the end of the day can prevent heartbreak and frustration in the coming days of fishing. Another common addition to tackle boxes on long trips is a freshwater spray bottle. Guys fill these up with water either from the bathroom sink or their stateroom and periodically spray off their reels and rods throughout the trip. This is a great way to prevent salt buildup which happens much quicker than you might think when the setups are sitting outside in the salty air for days on end.
You could almost bring half your house with you on a long range trip, but my advice to you is to prioritize. Make lists going over what you absolutely need, and when you get back, write down what worked for you and what didn’t. Next time you’ll refine and be better.
The next article will go over the eight different outfits that I’ll bring on this same trip and why I chose each one.