Fishing: Trolling, Still Fishing, and Crabbing

The Rules
Yup, I've been stopped a number of times by MD DNREC. Always had my license, always knew the rules, never had undersized or out-of-season fish. Always courteous. But they can get very dirrect if you are out-of-bounds. Keep a copy of the Chesapeake rules on-board and get a Consolidated Bay & Coastal Sport Boat License ($50) for the boat; it covers up to 6 guests and the captain off the boat.

Yo-Yo Fishing
rev. 3/18/2011

If you hail from south Florida or the Caribbean, you should already know this one; the Cuban yo-yo. In it's basic form, it is fishing reduced to its origins; hand lining. Popular in Cuba, is has been brought to south Florida and is quite enjoyable for its shear simplicity. Toss a few yo-yos in a bucket and you can catch some fish. Perfect for a crowded cruising boat or a small day-sailer. Rigged as a simple trolling set-up, catching game fish under sail couldn't be simpler.

The Yo-Yo. There are 2 sizes: the 6-inch inside diameter size is best for hand lining and comes loaded with 300 feet of 40-pound test line, a 1-ounce sinker, and a hook; the 8-inch inside diameter size is typically sold empty and is well suited to the trolling set-up I will describe below. Both are simple spools designed with simple features that make a big difference:
  • Wide, deep, and smooth, for easy line pay-out and secure storage. 
  • Lower forward lip for better line pay-out. 
  • Finger grip inside spool for secure grip while casting or winding in a big fish.
Any Florida bait-and-tackle store will have these for a 3 to 5 dollars.

Handlining. Just bait up and lower over the side. To cast, let out about 3 feet of line, pinch the line against the side with your thumb, and whirl the bait and sinker over your head like a slingshot. Understandably, casting is a bad idea on the deck of a  sailboat, but solo in a tender or on the beach it works well. To reel in, simply wind the line back on the spool. If you hope to fight a large fish--and these can mange some big fish--sailing gloves are a good idea, though I almost always forget. You don't actually fight the fish with your hands--you use the reel. We keep two in our tender all summer. We loved "The Old Man and the Sea" and this takes us there.
Yo-yo demonstration

Trolling. Though not the original purpose of the yo-yo, this is where they shine. Although I do carry trolling rods, the yo-yos catch most of our fish, because they are fast to rig and consequently, we use them more often. They are compact, quick to rig because the line, leader, and lure can be stored assembled, and tangle-free.

Load the yo-yo with 150 to 200 feet of 60- to 100-pound test line. Attach the line to the yo-yo with a slip knot with a fishermans knot or improved clinch knot.

Add a trolling sinker, 2-6 ounces, to suit typical depths and speed. Some fish (mahi-mahi and other bluewater fish) prefer surface lures that incorporate all the weight that is needed. 

Add a 20 foot leader, to separate the lure from the sinker. 

Pick a lure. I like 6- to 8-inch Rapella diving minnows for bluefish and striped bass. I also use bunker spoons and hose eels. However, the best bet is to match what the local charter boats rig. Rubber fish, feather lures, and squid-types are popular for bluewater game fish. 
      Let out all of the line at a suitable speed; 3-4 knots for striped bass, 4-6 knots for blues, mackerel, and bluewater game fish, though these are just guidelines. 
      Attach the yo-yo to the stern rail with a sling and carabiner. Some suggest a bungee cord attachment, to help absorb the strike of a big fish. They haven't done the math; the stretch inherent in the 200 feet of line you have out is more than enough--it will easily stretch 10-20 feet with a big fish--and any difference is in the head. I've had a 36-inch rockfish strike while I had the yo-yo in my hand, adjusting something, and the strike was nothing more than a steady pull. I've only lost a few lures, but I believe they were crab pot snags, not big fish. I've caught rockfish up to 39 inches with little strain on the gear. 

Clip the line about 2 feet out to a flat line clip (a loop of line will give a cleaner release), removing the tension from the yo-yo and allowing it to hang down; in this way, you can see a hit. The pictures should make this clear: the top shows a yo-yo with a fish on, while the bottom is set with the line clipped to the trolling release (flat line clip).

The yo-yos are mounted center, port, and starboard, and 2 more on 7-foot outriggers (bamboo poles hidden behind the mainsheet). We tried a variety of lures. For us, large Rapella diving plugs work for rockfish, and yellow hose eels for blues. But I try other thing occasionally, since someone always swears by something different.

Our typical trolling set-up includes 3 yo-yos--one each corner and a trolling rod in the center, though the center line seldom hits. Sometimes we set 5--2 more on outriggers. But when not purposefully fishing, we may just set a single yo-yo on a corner railing. Our catamaran has a 16-foot beam and this gives adequate line separation; with a narrower transom, only two lines should be set. They it  store in a cockpit locker and can be set in a minute.

Where to fish? That is the trick, and local knowledge is best. But for a start, channel edges and off the beach in about 25-40 feet of water are good places to start.
It works!
 34-inches on a hand-line.


From our 2011 Delmarva Cruise

Just before dinner on our second day, Jessica netted seven keeper-size crabs within a 30 minute effort.  I've never cooked crabs before, but she wanted to give it a go. I walked to the local grocery store to look for some Old Bay Seasoning; as I expected, nobody buys Old Bay on Tangier and thus, they don't stock it. Every islander learns to season crabs from scratch, just after learning to walk, and it would be the height of embarrassment not to have a family recipe. They do, of course, stock the ingredients.
I could've asked what the ingredients were.  It would have been lubberly and embarrassing.  We had everything we needed anyway—I use similar spices and seasonings with fish—and so Jessica and I went down in the galley and started shaking some of this and some of that into a measuring cup, tasting it, and suggesting improvements until we agreed it was spot-on. We didn't have a steamer but we have a large pot. Our spur of the moment recipe:
  • Seven fresh crabs (males, hard shell, 5 1/4 inches or greater; females must be soft shell  3 1/2 inches or greater--we had both)
  • 8 quart pot with 1/2" of water, boiling hard.
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper
  • 1 sliced onion
I expected the buggers to scream or at least struggle furiously, leaping from the pot, but all was quiet within 2 seconds. After a few minutes I added the seasoning and onions and then steamed them for another 20 minutes. I don't think this is the standard seasoning mix or time, but the result was perfection. Best crabs I've ever had, less than an hour from Bay to table.

Hook and Line

Since I'm sure I can't add much to what has been written I won't try. Just a few thoughts:
  • A minnow trap is fun and will generally get some baitfish. Pretzels or bread crusts work.
  • 8-12 pound line is about right. Less, some big fish will get away, more is clumbsy with small bottom fish.
  • Either spinning of bass fishing gear. Watch out for corrosion.
  • Fishbites Fishin-Strips work. Other brands of bait-in-a-bag have not worked for me. Not as good as cut bait, but handy.
While there are certainly hundreds of cooking methods, this is a favorite:


Jamaican Stew Fish
Makes any fish island style.  Serves two very hungry sailors.
·                     1 pound fish (spot, croaker, flounder, or rockfish. Pork and chicken also work well).  If all you caught were little fish, add more vegetables!
·                     1/2 medium onion , sliced
·                     1–2 cups baby carrots, sliced in half lengthwise
·                     Salt & pepper
·                     0–1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper, according to taste
·                     1–2 tablespoon soy sauce
·                     1/2 teaspoon ginger, thinly sliced
·                     Several sprigs of thyme
·                     1 teaspoon butter
·                     1/4 teaspoon cumin, 1/4 teaspoon curry powder, according to taste
·                     Water
·                     Oil for frying
·                     1 lime
·                     1 cup rice
1.                  Clean the fish (fillet or whole), dry, and rub with lime.  I like it with the skin on.  Allow to soak for 10 minutes.  Butter both sides.
2.                  Brown fish lightly in preheated oil.   Need not be fully cooked at this time.  Set aside to drain.
3.                  Sauté sliced vegetables, ginger, and seasonings on a high flame for five minutes, using the oil from the fish.
4.                  Reduce heat. Add soy sauce and water to not quite cover.  Stew vegetables for 10 minutes until brown. Salt & pepper to taste.
5.                  Add fish, covering with stewed vegetables.  Stew covered for another 10 minutes, until fish flakes apart easily.
6.                  Prepare rice separately.  Serve over rice.


Jessica's first catfish, caught on croaker guts in the C & D Canal; catfish aren't fussy.


No comments:

Post a Comment

I'd be happy to add entire descriptions, if you have an idea that fits. Just give a hint here and we'll swap e-mails.