If you’re not wary of the water, be it sea, lake or river, then you don’t have enough experience to be on it. Casual, novice attitudes towards boating safety, especially coupled with a distracting activity such as fishing, can ruin a trip or lead to tragedy for all. Organization, communication, teamwork, strategy and good safety practices are the hallmarks of well-run private and charter boats. Here are some suggestions to improve safety for the angler.
1. Get rid of clutter. Avoid trip hazards and “man overboard” situations by keeping the decks clear and all surfaces in non-slip condition. Washdown the deck after each fish is brought aboard. All sharp or pointed objects such as gaffs need to be stowed carefully and points capped.
2. Big game fighting chairs need to be through bolted to the deck. Chairs have been ripped out by heavy drag pressure with both angler and chair going overboard creating a life or death situation.
3. Big game anglers and crews must wear sheathed knives accessible at all times to cut lines if there is an overboard incident. The anglers must either cut the line or carefully back off on the drag so as not to create a line-stopping backlash in order to swim to the surface unencumbered. If a wireman goes over cut the line rather than trying to hold on as this will only tighten the wraps. A cut line will allow the wireman to untangle more easily.
4. Use an open, half-hook style of clip for both stand-up and chair harness for quick removal in an emergency.
5. No bare feet. Wear non-skid deck shoes or sandals.
6. Keep safety lines to rods short (about 18 inches) but long enough so that both ends can be clipped together when not in use. This reduces trip hazards.
7. Separate rod safety lines should be attached to chair. Safety lines strung between gunwale and chair are a common trip hazard.
8. Keep crowds out of the cockpit, especially during the "wiring" or gaffing stage with big gamefish..
9. Rough sea conditions magnify problems and safety awareness should increase accordingly. Make sure equipment such as ice chests are secured.
10. Sharp screw points that are exposed should have safety caps or be removed.
11. Keep washdown hoses and buckets off the deck and out of the way of foot traffic.
12. Reduce the hazard of going overboard by selecting a boat with high gunwales or “freeboard”. Add railing if necessary to a low gunwale to increase safety.
13. When running, keep at least two people above deck as “spotters” for each other especially at night. Keep safety lines and engine kill switches attached.
14. Eliminate the male practice of relieving oneself over the transom, always use the marine head to avoid a too-common cause of overboard tragedies, especially at night.
15. Do not bring “green”, thrashing fish into the cockpit.
16. Don’t rely on one source of electronic navigation, use a “system to create checks and balances”. When anchored, utilize depthfinder and GPS alarms to warn of changing boat position.
17. When fishing close to a coastline, always have one person looking seaward for a rogue wave. Keep the engine running with the bow to the sea for a quick run to safety if a hazardous wave approaches.
18. Never lift or hold a fish by the leader. The hook can pull free with enough force to cause injury.
19. Backing down on big gamefish can get tricky in rough seas. Avoid taking a wave over the transom. Transom doors should open outward to facilitate easy opening in order to dump water from cockpit. Door must be safety latched for security of personnel.
20. Weather. Small boaters especially need to stay updated on weather conditions. Cancel or delay a trip if a storm or other hazardous situation is forecast. If you’re already on the water get off. Don’t push it even if the fish are biting.
The warm summer months may bring peak fishing close-by but don’t overlook more distant destinations for added excitement and variety. Here are two places that always seem to provide top sportfishing action:
1. Sitka, Alaska. If you like to fill a freezer from a fishing trip this is the place to go. King salmon, silver salmon, Pacific halibut, lingcod and yelloweye rockfish are there for the taking. In fact, the fish are so plentiful and the local fishing techniques are so effective I sometimes think this should be considered “harvesting” rather than “fishing”. I recommend bringing your favorite light to medium tackle to add more challenge and fun to the mix. Most operators, such as Kingfisher Charters atSitka located inSoutheast Alaska, provide spinning or conventional reels in the 12-to 20-pound class combined with long parabolic rods for both king and silver salmon. Halibut which can exceed 300 pounds here, are a different story. Usually 80-pound class gear and cut bait is used for these big boys and it is very effective. However, try dropping a metal jig to the bottom from, say, a Shimano Trinidad 20 spooled with 50-pound Spectra and the sport begins. In just one afternoon I landed 22 halibut (most released) from 40- to 100-pounds on jigs as well as numerous lingcod and other great-tasting bottomfish, outfishing the bait guys in the process and having a lot more fun.
June to September, is prime time. Alaskahas many resorts and operators to choose from. Sitkais a top choice because it has relatively good summer sea conditions including minimal current that can pose problems along much of the Alaskan coastline, especially if you want to fish with lighter tackle. Seth Bone, owner of Kingfisher Lodge, provides a fleet of 26-foot Parkers, comfortable rooms, great food (and lots of it) and your personal catch is cut to your specification, vacuum sealed, flash-frozen and packed in special lock boxes for your flight home. For more information call Kingfisher Charters at (800) 727-6136 or visit their website: www.kingfishercharters.com.
2. Marshall Islands. This surface-popping paradise has 29 coral atolls and five islands located about a five-hour flight fromHawaii. Bikini, Rongelap,Kwajalein, Enewetak and Majuro (the capitol and international travel hub) are famous for everything from atom bomb testing to world-class diving. Don’t worry, however, as all of the islands, especially Bikini Atoll that was the epicenter for bomb tests over 50 years ago, have been studied for years and are safe to visit. Most of the atolls are uninhabited or populated with a handful of people which means the gamefish are untouched, numerous and big. They aren’t too bright either. Casting poppers such as Hab’s, Braid, Yo-Zuri and Gibbs to the edge of a reef will attract explosive surface strikes from giant trevally, ban (red snapper), coral trout (grouper), dogtooth tuna, bluefin trevally, great barracuda, green jobfish, grey reef sharks and more. Since they haven’t been hammered by overfishing they are not boat-shy and are very competitive for a meal. A splashing popper is an easy meal to them and many times I’ve hooked two fish on one lure.
Offshore, blue and black marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, mahi-mahi and rainbow runner provide good opportunities. “Offshore” can mean only 50 yards from the reef where the water can plunge to a thousand or more feet. We have hooked big tuna and marlin within casting distance of shore. In fact, one of the “mistakes” we’ve made here while popping the reef is to turn around and cast away from the green coral into open, deep blue water when birds started to dive nearby. This can easily result in a tackle mis-match as a 150-pound tuna takes your popper and heads south. We’ve lost a lot of line and drag washers doing that. You’re better off remembering to “pop the green — troll the blue” with the right size tackle because there are no tackle shops out here to replace gear.
Fishing here is a bargain. For example, a full day charter on a center console skiff is $60 at Jaluit Atoll and $120 to $280 at Likiep Atoll for larger boats. One of the best deals is a 7-day Adventure Fishing Package offered by Rongelap Expeditions where you stay on the 132-foot “Oleanda” mothership. During the day, anglers fish from center console outboards with an experienced guide such as Capt. Leigh Tobin among some of the most idyllic tropical island scenery to be found anywhere.
The Marshallese people are friendly and the lifestyle is casual. This is an easy place to visit with English widely spoken, the U.S. dollar and U.S. Postal Service are used and visas are not required for U.S.citizens. Although some charters provide tackle I suggest you bring your own light to medium outfits and plenty of lures as you will need replacements. Gamefish are available year-round but summer brings calm seas and peak fishing. To get started, contact Julie Hodson at Rongelap (692) 625-7872 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.rongelapexpeditions.com; Robert Reimers Enterprises (692) 625-647 or email: email@example.com; or website; www.rreinc.com; and the Marshall Islands Visitors Authority at (692) 625-6482 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.visitmarshallislands.com.
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The Roving Angler