Sonke has 80.000 nautical miles experience in the wake and from 2007 to 2010 together with his wife Judith sailed around the world. He organizes various seminars at boat shows (see under dates) and is the author of the books "Blauwassersegeln kompakt" (Blue water sailing compact), "1200 days Saturday" and "Time out under sail. Sonke is also the founder of BLAUWASSER.DE and regularly sailing with his wife Judith and his children on the Gib’Sea 106 – HIPPOPOTAMUS.
– 2. February 2022 – 29. January 2022 – 18. January 2022 – 7. January 2022 – 25. December 2021
Cover photo: ©️Sonke Roever
Different rules apply to fishing on the ocean than on the coast
If you leave offshore waters and sail out into the open water, it’s not uncommon to be at sea for a few days or even weeks. Catching fish is as much a part of everyday life on board as the wind is to sailing. In addition, landing a big fish is a welcome change in the blue water everyday life far from civilization. But how do you catch such a fish on the high seas?
What fish bite when ocean sailing on the high seas?
On the high seas, not too many different fish are usually fished from blue water yachts. The mahi mahi, also known as dorado or dolphinfish, bites most often. It is easily recognized by its characteristic head and shimmering yellow scales. A great fish that is absolutely tender and juicy. In our eyes it tastes best marinated and cooked on the tailgate grill.
Every now and then a tuna bites. In this case it is almost always a yellowfin tuna. Very rarely a bluefin tuna bites, which is very popular for sushi and sashimi because of its quality. However, the bluefin tuna has been overfished in many places and thus it is considered "endangered". But also the yellowfin tuna is perfectly suitable for eating raw.
As a general rule, raw fish should not be eaten until 24 hours after catching. Then rigor mortis has completely set in. Instead of the classics wasabi and soy sauce, it can alternatively be eaten the Polynesian way. For this, it is marinated raw with lime juice and coconut milk (just search for "poisson cru" on the net).
It is not uncommon for crews to fish for a bonito and mistake it for a bluefin tuna. The bonito is a relative of the tuna and can therefore be easily confused. Its meat also tastes good, but is of lower quality. By the way, the bonito is the fish that is often sold as canned tuna.
And then there are a few rare specimens, such as the wahoo, the king mackerel or the marlin. Catching such fish is always something special, as it is not too often successful.
And one more thing: dolphins do not bite when fishing on the ocean. They are too smart for that. Seagulls, on the other hand, occasionally try to chase the bait. But usually it remains. If this behavior is observed, the fishing rod should be reeled in to be on the safe side.
Be careful with the fish poisoning "Ciguatera"
If you approach an island or a reef, a barracuda will often bite you. This fish should be eaten with caution because they hunt on the reefs. Depending on the region, it may ingest a toxin that smaller reef fish carry. If you eat such a "contaminated" fish from time to time, the invisible poison is accumulated in the human body over time. If a certain threshold is exceeded, a fish poisoning occurs, which is called ciguatera.
Ciguatera irritates the nervous system (cold is perceived as hot, for example) and is occasionally fatal. Therefore, the barracuda and other reef fish should be eaten only when it is clarified that the catch region is not affected. It is best to ask the locals about it. Ciguatera occurs in tropical marine areas between 35° north and 35° south latitude.
The equipment for deep sea fishing
While different regulations apply everywhere for nearshore fishing and there are strong local differences in fishing techniques, deep-sea fishing is not witchcraft. On the contrary. As a rule, a bait and a fishing line of at least 1.0 millimeter thickness are sufficient for it.
Important: Please do not use a line that is too thin, otherwise it will break and the fish will have to live on with the hook in its mouth.
Tip: There is no need to buy an expensive fishing rod. In fact, it is quite sufficient to simply wind or unwind the line on a spool and place it on a cleat when fishing.
Besides the line, a bait is logically needed. And even if they come in all imaginable shapes and colors, in the ocean the same type is always used.
The bait has a head with eyes and consists behind it of many colored rubber fibers, under which a hook is hidden. Important: The hook should be made of stainless steel. Rusty hooks do not belong on a fishing rod, as injuries with them can lead to nasty infections. This applies to the fish when the line breaks and it has already bitten, but also to the person handling the fishing equipment.
In areas with lots of fish, we have also had success with a balloon that we had cut into fringes and under which we mounted a hook.
Some sailors swear by the fact that certain colors of bait attract certain fishes. We think this is more of a rumor. However, we have found that lures with blue color do not work well. Maybe this is because the water also seems blue and the bait is overlooked. In addition, we have noticed on board that tuna tend to bite on bait with the colors green, yellow and red, while mahi mahi bite on bait with the colors orange and brown. From this point of view, there might be something to this thesis – but I can’t really prove it. In addition, other sailors report different colors in certain fishes.
Features on the water surface when ocean fishing
Interesting is a method from Polynesia, which says: If birds circle over the water, they have usually discovered a school of fish – and then the big robbers are not far away either. It is important to observe the color of the plumage. According to this, tuna is fished where black-feathered birds circle. Mahi mahi, on the other hand, is more common among white-feathered birds.
The right time to fish at sea
The best time to fish is around sunrise and sunset. Then the fish are chasing and the probability of landing a hit is much higher than at other times of the day.
It becomes interesting when the bait is forgotten in the water in the evening, as there are baits that are fluorescent and therefore glow in the water at night. This in turn attracts deep-sea creatures to the surface and some of these specimens bite. However, these fish clearly signal to the angler by their appearance: "You better not eat me!". Therefore, I recommend to fish only in the daytime.
The technique of ocean fishing
The fishing technique itself is not complicated. The bait is simply dragged on the surface behind it on the open sea. The bigger the bait, the bigger the fish that will bite. The trick is that the yacht attracts the fish, so the bait must be close by. However, care must be taken to ensure that the bait is not overlooked by the fish in the swirls of the wake. In this regard, the following rule of thumb has proven effective: At four knots of speed, drag the bait behind you at 40 yards, at five knots of speed at 50 yards, at six knots at 60 yards, and so on and so forth.
Tip: If you drag an inflatable boat behind the yacht while fishing, you will find that no fish bites. We assume that the dinghy is mistaken by the potential prey for a big fish that could be dangerous to it, and thus it prefers to run away instead of biting.
So that the fish does not break off again immediately with proper drive, the fishing line should be provided with a jerk damper. To do this, the fishing line is stretched with a rubber band in a triangle. If you also attach a beverage can or plastic bottle here, you will be alerted when a fish bites and the rubber band is tightened. On board, the bottle or can hits the coaming and we are alerted. We used this technique a lot during our three and a half year circumnavigation of the world and it has resulted in us still shouting "fish" whenever a plastic bottle falls over somewhere.
Bringing the fish on board on the high seas
Once a fish has bitten, the vessel is usually sailed on, otherwise the line may come too loose and the catch may be lost.
The line is reeled in hand over hand with gloves until the fish is at the boat. If you are sure that the hook holds well, you can let the fish fight in the water for a while to tire it out. In the meantime, another crew member should wet the teak deck – if available – with a putz. That way it can’t pick up any more moisture like blood splatter and stays nice and clean when the fish hits the deck.
To bring the fish on board, a large landing net or gaff can help. The latter is a very pointed hook on a long shank. The weight and size of the fish should not be underestimated on the high seas. Specimens of one and a half meters are not uncommon and it is not always easy to land the prey on board. Sometimes, however, the fish can simply be pulled on board because the hook is so tight that the fish simply cannot be lost. In any case, sensible footwear should be worn during the process.
The following video shows how I bring a short-beaked spearfish on board. Against my own rule I do not wear shoes – it had to go fast&
Kill the fish
When killing the fish, the blue water community likes to resort to a controversial method with high percentage alcohol. This can be a very inexpensive hooch, but in any case it should have at least 40% by volume. It is given directly into the gills with a spray bottle (drill a small hole in the lid of a half-liter plastic bottle, fill the bottle with alcohol and squeeze it). The fish then dies within a few seconds without bloodshed.
Critics say that this method does not kill the fish, but shocks it with extreme pain. The meat quality would benefit from this, as the blood continues to flow. Better, of course, would be a strong blow to the head or a stab with a sharp knife below the head directly into the heart. The only problem is that it is anything but easy to subdue a big fish. It jumps wildly back and forth and you don’t just take it in your hand – especially not in a swell, where at least one hand is needed to secure yourself. In practice, it is more likely that the fish is pressed against and fixed somewhere with a lot of force. With that in mind, it may be understandable that the easiest method then is to put the alcohol in the gills.
Especially in tropical temperatures, the fresh catch should be gutted and filleted quickly – otherwise it will start to spoil and stink. If this is not immediately possible, you can cover it with a wet towel. When gutting, shoes and a thick glove should be worn for safety reasons. Nothing is more annoying than a deep cut in the middle of the ocean!
The fish waste can be given overboard. Under water wait several animals, which are looking forward to it. However, this also applies at the anchorage. We didn’t think about that once and were surprised while snorkeling next to the ship, how many reef sharks were waiting around us for supplies. &
Ideally, the filleted fish should be packed in suitable portions right away. So-called pressure-lock bags – also known as zip-locks – are ideal for this purpose. If you buy them in the supermarket, they are disproportionately expensive and often not strong enough or of very different quality.
For more than 40 years, we have been using.For example, these bags have proven their worth over the last 000 nautical miles and can also be used for all sorts of other purposes – for example, to store smelly waste or to protect food from bugs.
Finally, the catch is placed in the refrigerator or freezer as desired. It tastes best after 24 hours of storage – especially raw for sushi or sashimi.
Catching a fish in the ocean is something special and this resource should be treated with care. You don’t need a fishing license for this. However, nature reserves should be respected. Unfortunately, we also know sailors who fish fish just for fun. Afterwards they throw the fish back into the water and it usually dies from the consequences of the drill. We think nothing of this kind of waste of resources! There are already enough areas in the oceans where no fish are caught for days at a time.