How to

Preparing for Battle

TRAILOR BOAT – Game Fishing

Whether you gamefishjust for thrills or fish tournaments seriously, there’s a lot to be said for a well prepared crew sharing the same goal. Anthony Roco reports.   

Fish on the right!” came the yell from the helm. We immediately jumped up on the gunwales to get the best view of the black shadow following our skipping slimies. “He’s on it now … pick up the rod … pick up the rod!” The  angler nervously grabbed the rod and waited for that moment that we  live for – the strike.  Whack! The outrigger elastic band exploded as the marlin inhaled the bait. “Let it run … let it run …righto, slide up the drag!” The circle hook did its job. We were on!

Ten minutes later, the tag was in and the gorgeous 90kg striped marlin swam off into the depths.

The adrenaline rush of marlin fishing via trailer boat is nothing short of breathtaking. Your legs wobble, your hands start to shake as all that separates you and a rampaging beast that weighs just as much as you do is a length of line. There’s also the added complication of trying to stay on your feet as it all unfolds.

Mother Nature does all she can to defend her swimming descendents. All it takes is a small stumble by the angler and a fish can steal back 50 yards of line that had taken a lot of sweat to get back on the reel – no one says it’s easy, but it’s all worth it in the end. And with a little bit of practice and planning any crew can refine its techniques to give everyone the best chance at catching that fish, or trophy, of a lifetime.

The Best Person for the Job
As with any team sport, some people “play” better in certain positions than others. So if you’re serious about maximising your chances at catching billfish, you need to seriously consider who works best, where. Trailer boat fishing is like working in a confined space. It calls for lots of training and plenty of practice. You don’t have the luxuries of long, wide transoms, free from any hazards such as outboards, bait boards, eskies and anything else you’ll find at a trailer boat’s business end. Assess your work area, then allocate each job to the person who is most qualified. A typical trailer boat crew will consist of four persons – the skipper, trace man, the angler and tag man. 

Who calls the shots?
The skipper (captain) has a vital role in any gun crew. Usually this person owns the boat and has a good understanding of how it performs in varying sea conditions. He/she also understand the boat’s electronics and general set up. The skipper often has to deal with fogged clears, waterlogged windscreens, radios, an congested dash board and, somehow, also spot a free swimming marlin 300m away – while a sounder is vital for finding fish, it only covers a small area.

Skippers must do their homework; studying SST charts, naval maps, weather charts, tide and current graphs plays a vital role in fishing for pelagics. Setting up the helm with all of the required information at your fingertips is vital for ensuring efficiency.

The skipper must also know how to get a fish to the boat quickly. Understanding currents, wind waves and line angles, whilst keeping a watchful eye on any waves crossing the boat’s path, is essential. The sea is less forgiving on a trailer boat and it doesn’t take much to place you and your crew in an unsafe and compromising position.

Lastly, while the skipper often owns the boat, if you are all genuinely serious about your gamefishing, the person behind the wheel should be the best person for the job – not automatically the owner.

Deck hands (trace and tag men)
These roles are very important for any successful trailer boat team. Deckies assist the skipper in finding fish and ensuring everything is in place when one comes in. Clearing the deck, which can consist of 5-7 outfits, teasers and ’riggers is part of the job. Everything must be cleared in a quick, orderly fashion. The last thing you want is swinging hooks hanging off a rocket launcher as an angler dances around the deck in 3m seas.

An organised work station such as a bait board/prep table is critical. It should have components ready for use when required; bait rigging needles, rigging floss, spare traces, hooks, sinkers and a good set of sharp knives are just a few essentials.

Being a trace man can be very dangerous; fish don’t always “behave” close to the boat. The trace man has to ensure the safety of the angler and the crew at this point. Should a fish need to be cut free, a flying gaff rope cut off, a hook removed from the fish, a wire trace cut – whatever the task – a good trace man will have a fully equipped decky belt loaded with all the tools needed for rapid tasks. Some of these tools include: sharp filleting knife; wire cutters; braid/line cutters; small penetrating knife; and quality decky pliers.

When a fish is boatside, taking a wrap of the trace must be done very cautiously or it can end in disaster. This is not a job to be taken lightly. Instructional DVDs such as Peter Pakula’s Between The Lines and Revelations offer great examples of how to safely go about it.

The tag man should always have the tagpole ready and extended in a convenient location. The tag should be applied at the end of the pole, its tip razor sharp. It’s important to know how much water pressure is exerted on a tag pole in the water. Practice will give you the best chance at nailing first time tag shots.

Experience and practice will ultimately determine the best decky on your crew. A thorough knowledge of everything from pulling lures to live baits must be understood and experienced beforehand. Most brilliant skippers around the world were once brilliant deckhands.

The angler
The angler’s role is often underrated. For regular success the person on the rod needs to appreciate the concepts of fighting fish. The correct use of a harness, utilising leverage, pump and wind techniques, and understanding the limitations of any gear used is critical. Exerting extra pressure when the double is on the reel, loosening off the drag once the trace man takes a wrap, or taking the rod out of your harness as you guide the fish around an outboard are all small things that can be the difference between a tagging or a nagging!

A good angler will have experience and prior practice. They must have a will to learn and be able to take advice; as sweat drips from your forehead and line peels off to the horizon, your crew are usually the only ones with the level heads needed to guide you in the right direction. Stubborn know-all anglers have no place on a confined trailer boat.

Practice makes Perfect
It can’t be stressed enough how important it is that your team does some serious practice and preparation before you go fishing.  Nothing is worse than fishing with a disorganised crew. Just like any good soccer or football team, training during weeknights can improve your performance come “match day”. Our Band of Brothers crew gathers every week to go over all things fishing. Your crew, too, could meet at the boat owner’s house and spend time discussing tactics and defining each crew member’s role.

Once everything is in order, it’s time to jump on the boat and get to know your work place. First and foremost is safety. Get the skipper to point out where lifejackets, flares and first aid kits are located. The next important thing is knowing where all fishing equipment is stored. Your team can’t waste time looking for things when they need to be concentrating on landing a fish.

Once everyone’s comfortable with their role, run through some drills. Set up your lines and do a mock run so each person knows what to do when there’s a strike. Where do you store rods and lures so they are quickly out of the way. What does the skipper want cleared first? Are teasers in the water? Who was grabbing that harness? Who is putting it on the angler? Is the tag pole ready? Successful teams will work like a well oiled machine and understand entirely what is required of them.

Practice makes perfect so doing all of this can make your fishing trip a lot more enjoyable and, most of all, more successful. If fishing a tournament, your crew should fish socially at least once or twice beforehand to understand how you all work together before stepping up to the big stage. If only fishing socially, those weeknight training sessions will make you not just better fishermen, but a better team.

When the day comes, a high level of crew commitment is required for a successful outing. If that means waking up at 3:00am to make sure you are there for that early morning bite, or simply stocking up on bait for the 6:00am “start fishing” whistle, so be it. It will make your achievements as a team all the more rewarding in the end.

Have your fun, catch your fish, and enjoy it over a few (or a few too many?) cold ones that evening.

It will be well worth the wait!

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