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NY, NJ, CT, RI Edition
June 03, 2009
Volume 20 � Number 6


Offshore Basics - Getting Started
by Mike Plaia
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So you finally got that bigger boat that is capable of clearing the inlet and heading for the horizon, and now you are starting to think about getting into the offshore big game fishing mode, so where do you start? The first place to start is with the boat itself. Let's take a quick look at the safety equipment you should have on board, it's a big ocean out there and if you do run into trouble you're probably going to be on your own. One of the first things you should check is to make sure that your lights work, both the navigational lights and any auxiliary lighting you may have. When you start running long distances the odds are that sooner or later you're going to be running in less than ideal lighting conditions and the Coast Guard regulations require that you use your navigational lights whenever visibility is impaired, so it's a good idea to make sure everything works before you need it.

Next on the list is your PFDs. An upgrade is probably in order here if you have anything less than Coast Guard approved type I Pads on board. The Type I PFDs will keep your head out of the water and allow you to breathe even if you are unconscious, and that's a good thing! Next check your ground tackle. You should have an adequate anchor on board attached to at least six feet of chain and several hundred feet of at least three-eighths of an inch anchor line. If anything goes seriously wrong you want to be able to anchor up long before you are in danger of drifting into a lee shore. I would also add an Emergency Position Indicating Beacon (EPIRB) with a built in GPS unit to the boat. These units are registered to your boat and put out an emergency signal when activated that can both identify your boat and lead rescuers directly to your location. Top of the shelf units can be purchased for less than $1,000 and considering how much you spent on the boat and how much you are about to spend on tackle I would consider an EPIRB cheap insurance.

While most folks wouldn't consider it "safety" gear, a good set of tools is a must-have on any boat venturing far from land. While you may have Sea Tow or a similar service, often they operate within specific distances from land, distances which you may exceed. In addition to saving you a couple of bucks, if you run into mechanical problems far from home, consider that if the weather conditions are deteriorating, any towing service may decline to come get you in poor weather, plus add in the waiting time that you'll spend drifting around out there and a fully equipped tool box can save you both time and money. At a minimum you should have a set of combination wrenches, a socket wrench set, screwdrivers (flat head, Phillips and torque) several pairs of pliers, a couple of vise grips, an assortment of electrical terminals and a spool or two of wire.

Consider adding a sea anchor, not that little thing you use fluke fishing just off the beach, but a real sea anchor that can hold your bow into the seas in the event that you get stuck in less than ideal weather. Sea anchors are easy to stow, even on a small boat and they can be worth their weight in gold if you run into mechanical problems in bad weather.

Also consider purchasing a life raft to have on board when you venture offshore. They come in various models from four man valise models to the big rafts that come packed in their own canister and cradle. Yes they are expensive, both to buy and to maintain. But there is no substitute if you need one. It's the kind of thing that you buy and hope you never use.

Speaking of things you hope you'll never use, buying survival suits for both you and your crew might also be a good idea. They are bulky and uncomfortable to wear, but if you go into the water anytime before mid-July or after mid-September they will save your life. Universal one-size-fits-all models are available at a relatively modest cost; very modest considering that they might save your life. If you do get one, make sure that you practice putting it on. They are not easy to get into in a hurry and if the boat is sinking under you, time will be of the essence.

Marlin are always fun when they show up in your spread.

Finally, one more piece of safety equipment and this one shouldn't be all that expensive. Put together a "ditch bag" that you can grab in an emergency before you head into the drink. You can buy pre-made ditch bags but it is easy enough to make one up yourself. Start with a waterproof bag about the size of a large gym bag. Add a couple of waterproof flash lights, a battery powered strobe light or two, some flares (preferably SOLAS type flares), a pair of orange smoke signals, a folding knife, a handheld, waterproof VHF radio, a couple of bottles of water and a few small plastic bags that you can stick your cell phone in before it gets wet. Feel free to add in anything else you think might be useful if you have to spend a day or so drifting around in the ocean.

So now you're ready to go fishing! The odds are that your first quarry will be either sharks or school bluefin tuna, so we'll talk about the gear you need to tackle them. Those fancy gold reels on the all roller guide stand-up rods are very nice to have, but they are not, strictly speaking, necessary. If you have a few star drag reels in 3/0 or 4/0 sizes you can probably get away with using them until you save up the money for the gold goodies. Penn 113Hs and bigger reels have been catching lots of sharks and bluefin tuna since well before those lever drag gold reels came on the scene. You should be able to get away with any rod that can hold fifteen to twenty pounds of drag, and the shorter the better if, like most beginners, you are going to fish stand-up style. Service the reels and install the new super drag washers, like HT-100, and then mount the reel to the rod. You will want to test out these outfits before you head out into the blue water and the only way to accurately set drag pressure is with a scale. Run the line through the guides of the rod and out the tip. Then put the rod in a rod holder and attach the scale to the end of the line. Pull on the scale and adjust the drag on the reel until you get the drag set at about twenty to twenty-five percent of the line's strength. If you are using one hundred pound test line you might want to set the drag at the lower end of that range, you'll see why in the next step. If you did spring for the gold lever drag reels, follow the same procedure but set the drags with the lever in the "strike" position.

Now that you have the rods and reels set up, you should test them. The first step is to get an empty one gallon container and fill it with sinkers so that it weighs somewhere between seventeen and twenty pounds. Then put on your newly acquired gimble belt and shoulder harness and attach the end of the line to the handle of the gallon jug. Now try to lean back into the harness while pulling up on the fore grip of the rod. How does it feel? Try keeping the bucket off the ground for a few minutes, because that's what it is going to feel like when you're fighting a big fish. Is it reasonably comfortable for you? If it's too much for you to bear, adjust the belt and harness, get a new harness, lighten the drag or start working out! Dennis Braid has a good video for sale which will show you the technique required to fight a big fish while standing up. There are also several other videos available both from the tackle shops and on the Internet. I strongly suggest thatyou watch one or more of these before you go out and buy a belt and harness. At least then you have a good idea of what you should have. Remember, the shorter the rod the less strain a fish can put on the angler. The rod basically acts like a lever with fish trying to lift the angler off the deck. Remember your high school physics class? The longer the lever the easier it is to move the weight, so a short rod (up to a point) deprives the fish of an unwarranted advantage. Most stand-up rods are in the five and half foot to six foot range for that very reason.


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