How to

Using your boat effectively to fight and land fish

Catching big fish from small boats is possible with the correct technique and boat driving skills.

A BOAT is one of your best tools for effectively landing big fish. David Green runs through various scenarios and shows you how to maximise your chances through proper boat driving.

LEARNING the correct boat driving techniques is very important if you want to maximise your chances of landing big fish. From flathead fishing, to barra and to billfish out on the blue water, it’s crucial to get your boat into the right spot at the right time to maximise your chances of landing good fish. The ability to place your angler in the most advantageous position does a lot to minimise breakages, pulled hooks and lost fish. This applies when both trolling and casting.

A good skipper can greatly reduce the fight time and minimise the chances of the angler getting “stitched up” in rocks and timber if he can quickly get the boat into the right position to put the fish in clear water. Knowing when to turn, at what angle and how fast can be very important. In crowded spots the aim may be to minimise the amount of line that the fish takes to avoid anchor ropes and getting run over by other boats.

The boat is one of the best fish fighting weapons you have. The following are typical scenarios where good boat driving helps get the fish. They are all adapted from experiences I have had over the last few years. If you develop a good game plan before you hook up, you can react quickly.

A nice jewie fought quickly with the boat over the fish.

Scenario 1

I am fishing by myself near the Jumpinpin Bar at the southern end of North Stradbroke Island. I’m holding station in a big back eddy on 
my I-Pilot and I hook up a big mulloway on a deep jigged jerk shad. Initially the fish stays in the back eddy, then runs hard towards the ocean. I know there are a lot of bull sharks around and have just lost a fish to one earlier. The fish rips off about 50-100 metres of 10 kilo braid in heavy current.

Game Plan: As I’m fishing on my own a lot of the movements are single handed. The aim is to get on top of the fish without having slack line at any stage, and avoid any sharp angle changes in the line that risk pulling the hook.

The following actions are required. Start main motor and get out of the back eddy into the main current body so the boat drifts in the direction of the fish, holding the rod high and watching the spool capacity. Take I-Pilot off spot lock. Only turn off electric once main motor is started, never be without a power source. Move to the front of the boat, make sure line is tight, lift up the electric and prepare the net.

Slowly motor towards the fish while retrieving line. The aim is to get above the fish quickly. When position ok, put main engine into neutral planning to net the fish mid ships. In this case it all goes to plan and I net a nice 114cm mulloway, but when they get into heavy current on small threadlines you have to follow them. The key is to not panic and maintain a tight line and put your “pre plan” into action.

Rocky Edwards’ 107cm barra hooked right on the edge before being driven mid-river and clear of snags.

Scenario 2

We are trolling a set of snags in the famous Barra Classic fishing tournament on the Daly River. It’s the last hour of the run out tide, and on side imaging there is a large clump of logs next to a pile of rock. The fish are holding tight in one cover and we are slowly trolling three Halco Poltergeists into the direction of current flow at a speed of 1.8km/hr when the angler on the inside line hooks a nice barra.

Game Plan: The main risk here is getting stitched up in the timber in the first few seconds of the fight, and the task of the skipper is to help get the fish away from the snags and into the middle of the river as quickly as possible.

Actions: The angler must immediately call the hook-up so the skipper can react. It’s much easier for the skipper to do this with a tiller controlled motor.

The skipper turns the boat into the middle of the river and accelerates slowly. It’s important that this is steady and smooth. The angle of turn is vital. Too sharp a turn can lead to loose line and lost fish. In general a steady 45 degree turn pulls the fish away from structure and gets it out into clean water. Getting this right is a bit of an art form, and none do it better than my mate, Peter Washington. By this stage the other lures are generally retrieved.

The angler maintains a constant rod angle throughout to avoid pulled hooks and the skipper settles the boat into good position to stay close to, or over the fish. We net a lot of our barra in the air. If you hold the boat over the fish and lead it up it will generally jump and most are pretty easy to catch with a good net.

Scenario 3

We are trolling a spread of five lures on 10kg tackle in summer on the inshore grounds targeting black marlin and dolphin fish. There’s a wild strike on the lure on the “short corner” just behind the teaser and a nice black marlin about 40 kilos takes to the air and is solidly hooked. There are three people on board and the fish pulls off about 100 metres of line.

Game Plan: Catching marlin from trailer boats has become increasingly popular in recent years and there are lots of keen skippers with little experience on the water. The following actions need to occur to catch the fish.

Action: Never stop the boat. When the fish hits maintain speed and watch the fish while the deckie starts to retrieve the lines and teaser. If the fish is heading away, maintain troll speed until the lines are cleared. If the fish turns and heads towards you, speed up and turn away from the fish so the line stays tight. When retrieving the other lines always start with the shortest lines first and the “shot gun” last. The skipper should not leave the wheel at any time in the initial take off of the marlin. They are commonly lost when they come jumping back towards the boat.

When the lines are cleared and the fish has settled work out the angle to drive so you keep the fish either to the side or rear of the boat. I never like fish to get ahead of the boat. In general a black marlin of this size on light tackle takes around 20 to 30 minutes to land but it does vary a lot. Once things have settled down the aim is to drive slowly to the fish and put the line back on the reel. If the fish goes deep and you are unable to lift it, drive off it and change the line angle, preferably driving the boat into the current. In general the fish will lift in the water column with the change in angle. If you are reversing down on a fish with an outboard motor trim the motor up to keep the stern high in the water.

When the fish is starting to tire and you are getting close to leadering it, it’s important to not let the fish get ahead of the boat when the deckie grabs the leader. Keep the boat speed the same or just faster than the fish, as if the fish gets ahead, it will jump and may end up in the boat with you. I’ve had this happen and it’s not fun in any way!

Netting a big flathead midship.

Scenario 4

We are trolling for flathead on a large shallow flat. It’s close to high tide and the depth is about a metre. There’s a spread of four lures, the two short lines are in the rod holders and the longer lines, about 50 metres back, are held by the anglers. There are two on board. I know this flat very well and have a well-marked troll line that has been worked out carefully by using the side imaging mode on the sounder. Half way into the run we have a double hook-up on reasonable 50 to 60cm fish. One is on the short line, the other is on the longest line.

Game Plan: The main problem here is avoiding tangles. The principle is to keep all the lines tight. I keep the boat idling forwards. The fish on the short line in the rod holder runs across the back of the stern across the other short line. The fish on the longer line is a good one and pulls about 10 metres of line off the reel on a light drag. The first thing to do is to let the fish move off a bit while retrieving the other short line, working out if the cross over is “over or under” and then quickly winding it in while holding my line with the other hooked fish high in the air while still motoring slowly forwards. The cleared rod is then placed on the casting platform out of the way.

We leave the other long line alone and put it in the rod holder. The angler nets the first fish and then retrieves it. By this stage, the second fish is under control and we net a bigger second fish shortly after as the net has quickly been cleared of fish number 1. The end result is no tangles and two nice flatties.

Trolling multiple lines is easy with a bit of practice. The key is to keep going forwards, work out the risks before they happen and keep the boat straight. It takes a bit of practice but after a while is easy to do and will catch you more fish.

Leadering time!

Scenario 5 – 
Heavy tackle/small boat.

I spend a lot of time chasing blue marlin wide of the continental shelf in my 6-metre centre cabin with only two people on board. This is extremely challenging and no fish will find a weakness in your tackle like a blue marlin. These fish take a lot of line and are crazy in the initial stages of the fight. On this particular day we are having a quiet bite free day until there is an explosion like a depth charge on the short lure just off the stern followed by an absolute screaming run. Way out the back a solid blue marlin is carving the water to foam. There are four other lines and a teaser out the back and two on board.

Game Plan: Don’t leave the wheel! Work out the line the fish is taking and chase it. Try to work out the angle where you can separate the fish from the other lines and get after it. The risk is getting spooled, and it can happen very quickly if you are on the deck clearing gear. A blue in full flight can empty a 50w size reel in less than a minute, so you have to be quick.

Once the fish has settled it will generally go deep. If you’ve got a reasonable amount of line on the reel, and are happy with the direction, keep the motor in gear and start clearing the other lines, starting with the short lines first and the longest lure or “shotgun” last. Keep an eye on your angler and the direction of the fish. Sometimes you will have a cross over with the hooked fish but this is usually pretty easy to work out, and if you survive the first 3 to 5 minutes you are in with a good chance.

With the gear cleared steadily chase the fish down. It will usually go deep. With the reel in low gear you will steadily gain line. If you reach a stale mate, drive off the fish and head into the current. You can use the current to drag them up. This part of the fight is quite dour and tough and can go for hours. You will reach a point where the fish ‘breaks’, and you gain line more easily. Get your gloves, cutters and pliers ready. Once you get close the fish will usually be quite tired and most blues are pretty easy to handle at the boat. Keep the boat in gear, draw the fish alongside, remove the hooks and set him free. In general, blue marlin at the boat are much easier than black or striped marlin.

Learning to drive the boat effectively is very important in so many styles of fishing. The boat needs to be in the right spot at the right time and is the second best fish fighting weapon you have after rod and reel!

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