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Tackle Choices for Sportboat Fishing

My Tuesday articles are normally a recap on what is getting caught out there. Right now, because of this year’s El Nino conditions, it’s mostly about heading offshore in search of pelagic species like yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, yellowtail and dorado.

tackle choiceI got to go on an overnight trip on the Amigo this week out of Ventura Sportfishing. I chose six rod and reel combos for this trip.

Why do you need so many rods? You don’t!

Although I could argue that I used all six and was glad to have each one, here is a streamlined version of the basic setups you will need on a typical sportboat trip and when to deploy them.

Sportboat Tackle

tuna tackle

Bait Rods

For most people headed out on the boats, you just want to catch fish and aren’t worried about catching them a certain way. Even for those of us who do care about such things, many of us will start the trip by fishing bait. If I had to take one rod, I’d take a 40-pound setup knowing that I could be in a fight with fish up to and over 100-pounds. I could also lighten up my presentation by changing hook and leader size if I wasn’t getting bit.

On the aforementioned trip, I took 30, 40 and 60-pound setups. I prefer to have a braid backing of 65-pound line for about 2/3 of the spool, and then 100 yards of mono topshot. In a scenario where you are either trying to limit the number of rods you are taking, or you don’t have multiple rods to use, you can easily strip off the 100 yard topshot and go up/down as needed. The main reason I don’t rely on this method is because many offshore trips come down to small windows of opportunity. Having another rig ready to deploy at a moment’s notice is a distinct advantage.

copyright bd outdoors

Choosing a bait, handling them, and ways to hook them is a whole other article so I won’t get into those things here. Basically, I’ll just say you can use this rig any time…off a jig stop, drifting a paddy, bird schools, and porpoise; whatever the situation might be.

A sure way to give yourself some flexibility is to carry a variety of hooks sizes. A 2/0 is the most commonly used size but I like an assortment from 1 to 6/0. I also carry an assortment of fluorocarbon leader and 25-pound is the lowest I’d go given the grade of fish we’re seeing. Torpedo weights with rubber bands in the three to five ounce range will also be essential tackle.

terminal tackle

The reason for the rubber band and sinker is for when the captain sees sonar marks below the boat. They might say, “I’ve got marks 34-fathoms down. We’re going to drift.” A fathom equals 6-feet, so that’s about 200-feet down. In order to place your bait in that zone, you need some weight. Butt-hooking your bait isn’t going to do it. The reason you use the rubber band is to have less knots in your line (thus less potential for line failure). Simply loop the weight through the rubber band like you would attaching it to a dropper loop, and attach it to the main line 3-5 feet above the hook using the same method. Take advantage of the time on the way out to get setup. Ask the deckhands any questions you have or ask them to show you knots and check your drag. The ride out is the part of the trip when they have the most time to help you.

Jigging Tackle

jig tackleMost recently, the fish have been keyed in on small baits. There is a lot of 2-5 inch saury in the water. That’s great that they’re on fin bait, instead of the red pelagic crabs. The bad news is most of bait on the boat these days is comprised of very large sardines and larger mackerel. Having a jig setup is essential to try and “match the hatch”. Try using jigs like the Shimano Flatfall, Colt Snipers, and Mega Baits.

For my jig setup, I like to have the reel full of braid, and then a very short topshot of mono. I like to use 40-pound. When I say short, I mean where your connection knot is just outside the guides and you can hold the jig in your hand about where the reel is (about 3 to 5-feet depending on the length of your rod). The braid sinks better and having the connection outside the guides will keep it from getting hung up.

I use this setup most often immediately after a jig strike on the slide.

Let’s say the captain spots some porpoise and the boat is racing to catch up with them. Tuna will often be just below the porpoise and the boat will troll through them hoping for a jig strike. What I like to do is be ready with my jig setup and stand at the rail next to one of the outside trollers. As soon as the jig strike happens, drop in off the side. Hopefully, your falling jig finds the open mouth of a fish that was rising up on the trolling spread. If you don’t connect, put this setup away and go back to your bait stick. I feel like this strategy gives you a better shot than waiting by the bait tank to even get in the game.

Now let’s say the scenario is the boat is racing to catch up to birds working, or jumping fish. Grab your jig setup and go up to the bow. When you get in range, cast into the activity. Most often, these fish will sink out as soon as the boat gets there, but you give yourself an opportunity to score if you’re ready with the jig as soon as you get on them.

Going back to the sonar mark scenario, you can also use your jig setup in this instance as a change up presentation to the rubber band/sinker rig setup.

Tackle Choices

sportboat tackle

Three Rods Joe, Go!

If I had to narrow my tackle choice to three rods, I’d bring the 30 and 40-pound bait sticks and a jig setup. The 30 bait stick I’d rig with a 2/0 circle hook and that’d be that. The 40 stick, I’d rig with a 3/0 hook and have setup as a rubber band/sinker rig. Third stick would be the jig setup. With those 3 rigs, you’d be ready for just about anything.

Reviewing my ride this week aboard the Amigo (where I brought the 6 rods), I would’ve been fine with these 3 setups. We started fishing at 4:30am in the dark. I chose to go with the 60-pound setup, added the rubber band and a 4 oz sinker, a 6/0 ringed hook, and the biggest mackerel I could find in the handwells. That said, I could’ve fished 40 and been just fine. I scored a 55-pound yellowfin that ended up taking the jackpot. Then, when that morning bite was over, I switched to my 30-pound flyline setup with a 2/0-ringed circle. I caught a little paddy yellow off a jig stop trolling past a kelp. I deployed the jig setup at various points, but didn’t connect. At the end of the day, we drifted the kelp line near Santa Barbara Island, and I scored a sheephead and another yellow on the 30-pound rig again, but this time tied as a dropper loop setup using an 8-ounce weight, and tying a 2/0 hook at the end of the “longish” spider hitch loop.

Hopefully this information will help you organize in your mind what tackle you need to bring, and when to use it. Good luck out there. Let us know how you do.

Joe Sarmiento
Joe Sarmiento is the founder and primary writer of the So Cal Salty blog. The blog covers saltwater fishing, primarily aboard the many sportfishing b...