ence, the distance you may want or need
to run, seasonal weather predictability,
and the size and age of your vessel. All
must be taken into account.
Someone living in Florida who wants
to try to catch mahi-mahi, for example,
may be able to stay relatively close to the
inlet and keep a close eye on the weather
with a smartphone and VHF. In this case,
fishing from an 18-foot center-console in
good mechanical condition may be perfectly reasonable. Someone living in the
Mid-Atlantic, however, may have to run
30 or 40 miles from shore to target that
same fish, which are only present during
the summer, when afternoon thunderstorms are a good possibility. Attempting
this in an 18-footer would be exceedingly poor judgment, to say the least. The
bottom line? A significant amount of
good decision-making is called for before
deciding to fish offshore on your own
boat. If you question your own judgment
or captaining ability, don’t attempt this
endeavor. You may want to learn from a
good professional charter captain first, for
a learning experience and a treat.
No matter what sort of boat you
own or where you run it, there are some
items you need to add to your U.S. Coast
Guard-required basic safety gear prior to
leaving the inlet:
■ A VHF radio in good working order
with active digital selective calling
(DSC) and properly registered with
the Coast Guard
■ A backup fully charged handheld
VHF radio, preferably waterproof
■ Some form of electronic distress signaling device, such as an EPIRB, PLB,
or satellite messenger
■ A backup handheld GPS
■ Backup batteries for all of your handheld safety devices
■ Extra flares and visual distress signals
■ Consider Type I offshore life jackets
for everyone on board
■ A first-aid kit
■ Especially if you’re out alone, a PLB
attached to you is a must
Those who plan to venture dozens of
miles from land would be smart to add a
satellite phone, life raft, and ditch kit to
the list. And there are some additional
safety measures you should always take
before venturing offshore. Filing a float
plan is critical. The Coast Guard won’t
know anything’s amiss unless a reliable
friend or relative knows if you’re overdue.
Fishing on weekends can be considered something of a safety measure, too,
as good fishing spots anywhere near populated areas are generally well-trafficked
on sunny weekends. And obviously, if
you’re running into the ocean, mechanical maintenance becomes an even bigger
safety issue. If your boat isn’t operating at
100 percent, don’t attempt the trip.
With safety taken care of, your next big
priority is making the trip a success.
Unless you’re thoroughly experienced
from fishing offshore on other people’s
boats, your best approach is to use the
KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) method.
What that means varies from region to
region and season to season, and you’ll
have to monitor local fishing reports and
internet fishing chat sites to get an idea
of what’s biting in your area at any given
time. Keep things as basic and simple as
possible when choosing which tactics
Let’s take yellowfin tuna fishing off
the New Jersey coast, as an example.
Lately, you may have heard that trolling
rigged ballyhoo has been the most effective way to hook into the fish, and that
some people are getting them by chunking. Those reports may be 100-percent
true, but if a relatively inexperienced
angler tries a relatively complex technique
like rigging and trolling ballyhoo, he or
she isn’t likely to have a heck of a lot of
success. Chunking, on the other hand, is
a much more straightforward and simple
technique, the basics of which just about
anyone can learn within an hour or two
and a little help from Google. So an inexperienced angler has a much better shot
at hooking up by choosing chunking.
A similar example can be found with
mahi-mahi during the summer months
in North Carolina’s waters. Sharpies may
prefer to troll from weedline to weedline,
constantly searching for new territory
and bigger fish. But choosing the best
lures and trolling speeds for the given
conditions takes serious knowledge.
Anglers taking their own boats offshore
for the first time will have a much better
chance at success if, instead of trolling,
they give bailing a shot. You say you don’t
If you’ve never used a gaff before, tie a line to a plastic milk
jug, fill the jug a quarter of the way with water, then put the
cap back on and tow it next to the boat at 5 or 6 mph. As it
zigs and zags, gaff it a few times for practice.
Offshore fishing tips
Use fluorocarbon leaders instead of regular monofilament. It’s less visible to the fish,
especially in clear ocean waters.
Use circle hooks when possible. They usually lodge in the corner of the fish’s jaw, so
the metal hook shank is the only thing touching the sharp teeth many pelagic species
have, so line chafing becomes much less of a problem.
When running offshore in the early morning hours, remove frozen baits from the
cooler and let them sit on the deck. Otherwise, when you arrive at your destination
they won’t be thawed. You can speed thawing with a spritz from the washdown hose.
Always choose ball-bearing swivels over the less expensive barrel-swivel variety.
They’re better at preventing line twist, a common problem when fishing offshore
with cut baits.
Always check your bait before you leave the tackle shop. Yellowing indicates freezer
burn, and fish don’t like rotten bait.
When fishing for large species in deep water, conventional gear usually is a better
choice than spinning gear because the reels have significantly more line capacity.
YOUR BEST APPROACH IS
TO USE THE KISS (KEEP IT
SIMPLE, STUPID!) METHOD