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  • Writer's pictureSailing Koinonia

How to catch fish offshore from a sailboat or trawler

Updated: Jun 10

trolling for mahi behind a sailboat
Photo by Madelyn Ward

The purpose of this post is to share the techniques I have learned that consistently help us catch fish nearly every time we go offshore.

Trolling a lure behind the boat in hopes of catching dinner is something nearly all cruisers attempt, at some point, while venturing offshore. But few of our fellow cruisers consistently catch fish, even though they may log thousands of offshore miles. This is because their attempts at fishing are generally haphazard and rely almost entirely on dumb luck. And we all know: luck isn't a strategy. But as a good friend used to say, "If they don't know no better, they can't do no better."

The good news is catching fish offshore is relatively easy, if you know the techniques. Seriously. You can keep your boat's freezer well stocked with healthy, delicious fish without black magic, voodoo, or the like. While I don't deny that luck plays a role in fishing success from one day to the next, consistently catching fish starts with study. It requires applying some basic know-how, keeping a close lookout, and gaining experience. Advanced planning, knowledge of target fish behavior, ability to spot signs of life on and even above the water (aka birds), knowing what zones attract and hold your target fish species, how to rig and run lures that will catch those fish, and what do once you hook a fish, all combine to tip the odds in your favor. This is the difference between skill and luck. If you apply easily learned skills consistently, you will be successful.

Sometimes I may catch ony one fish. Other times I catch a lot of fish. At times we catch several at a time. I have even caught so many, I had to stop fishing from exhaustion and/or lack of room in the freezer. But very rarely do I get skunked. Why? I promise, it's not because I'm just lucky. I am intentional. I am a student of offshore fishing and I apply the skills I have learned while we make offshore passages. Through trial and error, I have gained experience and have learned what works and what doesn't. I talk to other fisherman. I watch a lot of YouTube videos. I read books. As a result, I apply the learnings and fail less often.

My daughter Lizzy, 14, with a nice bull Mahi

One common misconception is that fish are are just out there everywhere, somewhat evenly distributed in the ocean. This is false. Palegic species like mahi-mahi, tuna, wahoo, mackerel, etc. that everyone wants to catch and eat are concentrated in very specific and relatively small zones that provide the fish with the greatest food supply while exerting the least amount of effort. If the food moves, so do the fish, which is why you can't rely on yesterday's reports to locate the fish today. Outside of these concentrated zones are what professional sport fisherman call, "no mans land." That's because there are very few, if any, fish in these dead zones. And it's no wonder. They have no structure, no protection, and no food. That is why you can troll hundreds of miles and not see or catch a single fish. Knowing which zones are likely to hold fish is essential and dramatically helps to improve your odds.

I have more good news. You don't need expensive equipment to catch fish. Even really big fish. You don't need expensive rods and reels, you don't need sonar, or downriggers, or outriggers, or a tackle box with hundreds of lures. Seriously. While some of that gear can be very helpful, none of it is truly essential. You can catch a lot of fish successfully right off the back of your own boat armed with some basic know-how and inexpensive tackle. Somewhat embarrassingly, I catch just as many fish on my cheap hand lines/Cuban Yo Yos as I do on my expensive rods and reels.

My wife Amber with a very nice wahoo

So, without further adieu, I have packaged the information you need to know to start catching more fish into a presentation that you can download, for FREE, right here in this post. Sounds like a cheesy infomercial, I know. But it's no sales pitch. Below, you will find a PDF file you can download with no strings attached. No Patreon, no GoFundMe, or any form of monetization. This is the same presentation I first gave in person (for free) to a group of fellow cruisers at Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart, FL. I have continued to update and refine this presentation, which is intended to cover the 101 level basics of how to troll successfully offshore from your own cruising boat. It doesn't matter if the boat is 24ft or 84ft, these techniques work!

Techniques for Offshore Trolling - Hosted by Ben Ward
Download PDF • 5.02MB

And there you have it. Yes, yes, you're welcome. Please bear in mind, this is a 101 level course. It will up your game dramatically and covers most of the basics, but there is much more to learn. That's part of the fun! Please feel free to distribute these materials but don't plagiarize or try to monetize on this content. My hope is these materials will help you catch a lot more fish and, when you do, I'd appreciate hearing from you and seeing pictures of your catch. That will be payment enough for me.

True story: I recently helped coach a fellow cruiser, whom I've not yet met in person, catch their first fish trolling offshore. And what did they catch, you might wonder? A big ol' yellowfin tuna. How's that for a first fish?!! I'm telling you, these techniques work.

As always, I enjoy hearing from you. I am still learning too, so if you have tips to add, please don't hesitate to send them my way or comment below. Don't forget to like and comment on this post and, for goodness sakes, don't be stingy -- share this post with your friends and boat neighbors so they can catch more fish too!

For more free content like this, subscribe to our blog. No hustles; just sailing.

Fair winds, tight lines, and God bless,

Ben Ward

S/V Koinonia

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