“The right preparations can improve your chances in a tournament. These pros show how to organize your crew and cockpit for maximum success.”
“A battle is won before it is fought,” is an old adage that could be applied to a tournament as well. Organization, communication, teamwork, strategy and good safety practices are the hallmarks of any well-run boat that has a consistent history of tournament success. In foreign tournaments such as in Baja where chartering a boat with perhaps an unfamiliar crew is a common practice, special attention needs to be paid to not only boat preparation and communication but to social etiquette in working with a captain and mate who may not be fluent in English. The epicenter of action is the cockpit where angler and crew can reap the benefits of preparation — or pay for their mistakes with lost fish or, worse, an injury. Whether you’re after tuna or grander marlin, these experts’ tips may help reduce mistakes and boost your catch rate.
Eliminating clutter is the most basic step in keeping your boat and crew battle ready and prepared to capitalize on every opportunity. Even the best cockpit layout can be compromised by haphazardly stowed items or “clutter.” A wise practice is to stow personal gear completely out of the cockpit; necessary equipment should be out of the way but easily accessible. Seldom used items can be stashed in forward compartments. Cameras, binoculars and small tackle boxes need to be handy, but often pose problems when placed on a slick gelcoat surface. Tackle manufacturer Dennis Braid of Braid Products, Inc., an international angler who has caught bigeye, bluefin and yellowfin tuna all in excess of 300 pounds, solves this problem by laying strips of “Safe Shelf’ drawer liner on flat surfaces to keep items from sliding. As the day goes on, line remnants, dead fish, trash and other items that accumulate should be disposed of quickly and properly. Good crews will wash down the deck soon after a fish is landed and restore the cockpit to its maximum efficiency.
On private boats, anything that you keep tripping over, banging your knee on, or hit your rod tip on while casting is a good candidate for removal or modification. The art of buying a boat is a different subject, but choosing wisely is critical to long term enjoyment. Before you visit the glittering boat show and slick-talking sales staffs, it’s important to first determine what your needs are. Most boats (at least in the larger sizes) feature some compromise between Spartan efficiency and comfort. In the extreme, comfort amenities such as raised aft staterooms, wide salons that eliminate catwalks to the bow, or patio furniture squeezed into a narrow cockpit will render an otherwise perfectly good hull useless for serious fishing. Sometimes, getting rid of clutter can mean getting rid of your boat. Billfishing luminary Capt. Tim Choate, president of Artmarina,S.A., with head- quarters inFlorida and charter fleets inGaladagos,Costa Rica andBrazil, is a strong believer that boat design can contribute to success. “Well-designed boats have neat, accessible places to stow gear, gaffs, boat lines and other items to get ‘em out of the way,” says Choate. “One of our headaches inSt. Thomas [U.S. Virgin Islands] was that we had to remove dive platforms that prevented us from backing down on fish. Also, if you have a situation where the captain on the bridge can’t see the cockpit because of built-in shade tops or poor location of the controls, you’ve got to do something because it will take about three guys to relay messages back and forth. You can’t get away with major handicaps like that when you’re working big fish, especially in a tournament.”
Clutter also can take the form of people. “Just knowing when to get the heck out of the way is important,” declares Braid, referring to situations when the cockpit gets too crowded at critical times. Going over your crew’s roles, assignments and fishing objectives before the action starts can eliminate a mob scene on the water. It’s important to develop a game plan to avoid confusion. Capt. Kit McNear, a winning marlin tournament captain and fishing seminar host from Dana Point, California, says that establishing and maintaining communication with everyone onboard is critical to tournament success or just having a fun, productive day with friends. The type of fishing plays a huge role on how you formulate a plan. If you’re driftfishing or anchoring for schooling species you really don’t need an elaborate strategy. Minimal team-work with anglers cooperating with gaffing, chumming and cleaning chores will make for an enjoyable outing. “With big fish such as marlin,” says Mc Near, “you need to have clear roles for everyone, as well as alternative roles to handle multiple hookups. I have an “A” plan for one hookup, and a “B” plan for two hookups. Each scenario has a designated angler, a mate clearing lines, someone helping with the chair (if used), and a general rule that ‘surplus’ people stay clear of the cockpit, at least until things settle down.” Sometimes a mate may advise spectators to go to the flying bridge, but skippers may not appreciate a crowd that can interfere with their job, either. McNear likes to see the head mate in control after a hookup and signaling boat moves to the captain. Choate likes to see his captains in control, but the mate needs to respond to situations. Coordination is the common objective. Boat design has much to do with onboard communication. A larger sportfisher with a flying bridge may require the mate to assume more control of the cockpit because he’s closer to the action. However, installing cockpit controls can bring the skipper down to the cockpit and virtually eliminate signal problems. Small boats already have this advantage. The “salon” or express style of boat whereby the traditional flybridge is eliminated and the controls are placed at the deck (or salon) level also helps with communication — although visibility is reduced. Tuna towers or half-towers often are added on express designs in an attempt to regain a high, panoramic view of the action, as well as to increase visibility when searching for signs of fish.
It is important to have your fishing plan worked out in detail, particularly when fishing offshore. “Misunderstandings can get real sticky on the water” says Braid. “Even if you have a chair rotation or fish rotation agreed to, it’s recommended that you define beforehand what will cause an angler to lose a turn. A fish that is hooked, jumps, takes drag and throws the hook is usually considered as a lost turn even though only a few seconds have elapsed. A fish in the spread or a short-biter wouldn’t mean a lost turn on most boats.” There is no maritime manual for such things; anglers can work out any system they want. The important thing is that everyone understands and abides by the consensus. McNear likes to organize the trolling rods to avoid confusion. “I number the reels with a felt tip marker on the reel’s crossbar or side- plate, and may use two colors to separate port from starboard. Then anyone can yell out ‘one blue’ or ‘two port’ and everyone will know right away where the fish is, or where a tangle or other situation is occurring,” says McNear. You also will know where to re- place each rod after a fish is landed. This strategy is especially helpful when fishing with “guest crews” who are not familiar with your boat’s normal routine. When going after big game, safety lines should be attached to each reel, especially with bent-butt outfits that pull out of rodholders fairly easily. Conversely, trolling rods with heavy reel drags may be difficult to remove after a hookup due to the pressure of the drag forcing the rod tight to the holder. Using natural baits or softhead lures that are typically trolled with light drag pressure either from outriggers or as flatlines allow for easier rod removal before setting the hook. The subjects of drag settings and new techniques are sensitive issues that can spark arguments even among friends. Anglers should approach the matter with diplomacy, with the goal of agreeing on a technique and strategy so everyone is on the same page when opportunity strikes. For example, in my opinion most anglers set the drag too tight when trolling with lures. I prefer MoldCraft lures softhead ™, and I like to use a lighter drag setting to allow a fish to turn with the lure before I strike with a heavier drag. However, you should not simply walk around the cockpit pulling drags and resetting them as you see fit unless you want to stir up some real animosity, especially in a foreign charter situation. The point is, compare your fishing style with your crew’s, then come to terms with the details that may differ. A compromise can also be reached by agreeing to use an “unfamiliar” lure or technique in a more limited way — say, by dropping only one lure back instead of the entire spread. McNear takes the guesswork out of drag settings by using a hand scale, such as a Chatillon, to calibrate each increment on the lever drag. “I set two marks in addition to the inscribed “Strike” level. On a typical 80-pound outfit, I’ll set the strike pressure at 22 to 24 pounds, and then use a felt tip to mark settings at 10 to 12 pounds and 6 to 8 pounds. You can troll at the middle position before striking. If a big fish gets more than half the line out, you can easily instruct the angler to back off the drag to the third setting while avoiding a “freespool” disaster. Remember that drag pressure automatically increases as line diminishes on the spool, so you have to back off or risk breaking the line or pulling hooks, especially when using lures,” McNear advises.
THE COCKPIT TWO-STEP
Top crews like to have as few people in the cockpit as possible when a fish is on. They reduce foot traffic and crew movement, as well. Choate prefers to have mates on both corners when a fish is close. “The mates’ duties change depending on where the fish is. If a wahoo, marlin or big tuna comes to the port corner, the port mate becomes the wireman and the starboard mate then follows up with tagging, releasing or gaffing. If the fish comes to starboard, the roles are reversed. This helps reduce movement when only one wireman is designated and he has to travel around the cockpit following the fish,” says Choate. In situations where two anglers are fighting fish with stand-up gear, Braid advises them to “get together.” “The worst thing,” notes Braid, “is for the anglers to stay far apart. With a double hookup the second guy needs to get over to the first guy so you or the mate can see where the lines are going and avoid a tangle. It’s much easier to see the line angles and direction when the rod tips are close together. When you’re at each corner the lines may look OK on top, but down below they may be crossing and you won’t be able to notice it until a fish is sawed off.” Human nature may tell you it’s better to stay apart to avoid a tangle, but you can’t argue against experience and logic on this one. The consensus among pros and top private-boat fishermen is that the end game is the most dangerous part of big game fishing. Wiring or leadering big fish is a skill that is not found on all boats. The growing use of wind-on leaders has reduced the need to have an expert wireman because the angler can often reel fish within release or gaffing range, yet it is still important to have a competent crew that can clear a fish from the props, signal the captain and release the quarry unharmed. If everyone onboard knows the game plan, works together and keeps clutter to a minimum you are likely to have a lot of success and fun on the water. If you have a cockpit disaster it can be a good teacher, but only if you heed the lesson. Sit down with everyone involved and in a constructive way discuss what should have been done to prevent cockpit chaos from striking in the first place — because the other adage that should be inscribed on every sportfisher is that an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.
The inability to speak Spanish can be a major handicap for anglers who want to fish in Baja. Miscommunication between angler and charter crew can create a bad experience whether the fishing is good or not. Throw in variables such as the pressure of a tournament, cultural differences, body language, attitude and tone of voice, and it’s easy to understand why frustration can set in. Learning a few basic words and phrases can help, however, nothing can replace a good attitude and the basic desire to communicate. Over the years I’ve witnessed many “stand-offs” when both parties are reluctant to speak the other’s language to avoid embarrassment or for some other personal reason. The point is, unless you are truly fluent, you need to accept the fact that you will sound uneducated while speaking at a grade-school level. This applies to your crew as well. I’ve known Baja skippers who have been takingU.S.clients fishing for over 20 years and still refuse to speak English, largely because they want to avoid any embarrassment. Even if you struggle with Spanish, your efforts will be appreciated which will lead to a better relationship with your crew. Also keep in mind that Spanish is not spoken equally among the Latin people. Spanish is not identical inPanama,Costa RicaorMexico, but it is similar enough to allow for a basic conversation. In Baja, there are challenges dealing with diverse levels of education, local slang, limited vocabulary and varying patterns of speech. Classic, Castilian Spanish, regularly taught in theU.S., may not readily be understood in all regions, but is a workable standard. It is also common to hear “Spanglish” terms joining both languages, such as “trolear” for troll. There are many ways to say generally the same thing in both languages, so language scholars may differ with the suggested phraseology that has been selected, which is a combination of formal and informal terminology and sentence structure.
This is a basic guide to words and phrases that you can use on your fishing trip to Baja or other Spanish-speaking venues. This is not a Spanish lesson, however, just a few simple rules will help you pronounce and understand the language.
Exclamation and question marks precede (displayed up-side down) as well as follow the sentence. Vowels are pronounced as follows: a (ah-father); e (eh-egg); i (eh-inch); o (ho-no); and u (ooh-rule). The consonant h is never pronounced (habla is pronounced ahblah) and ñ with a tilde (curved line) above is pronounced like ni in onion or ny in canyon. Generally, nouns ending in o are masculine and those ending in a are feminine (e.g. pescador: fisherman / pescadora: fisherwoman).
The most important word to start with is por favor (please), and showing respect with a smile goes a long way. The following phrases often help to create a relaxed relationship:
I do not speak Spanish very well. / No hablo español muy bien
Please excuse my poor Spanish. / Favor de perdonar mi español básico.
Please help me improve my Spanish. / Ayúdeme por favor mejorar mi español.
It is all right if your English is not good, mine is not either. / Está bien si usted no habla bien el inglés, yo tampoco lo hablo bien.
I need to go on more fishing trips to improve my Spanish. / Necesito viajar a pescar más para mejorar mi español.
Please speak slowly. / Hable despacio por favor.
ON THE DOCK
A good fishing experience starts well before you get on the boat. It’s important to select the right boat and crew and match your fishing style or any special interests to the ability of the crew. This can often be worked out through aU.S.booking agent. If not, speak to a local fleet manager or individual skipper before you start the fishing day.
How are you Captain? / ¿Cómo está usted capitán?
How are you Mate? / ¿Cómo está usted, ayudante?
What is your name? / ¿Cuál es su nombre?
My name is John. / Mi nombre es Juan.
This is my first trip to Baja. / Este es mi primer viaje a Baja.
I have been fishing in Baja for fifteen years. / Tengo quince años pescando en Baja.
I want to fish for yellowfin tuna. What are we going to fish for? / Quiero pescar el atún de aleta amarilla. ¿Para qué pescaremos nosotros?
I want to release all of the fish. / Quiero soltar todo el pez.
(If you sell the fish) I will give you more tip money to release. / (Si usted vende el pez) le daré más propina si los suelta.
How much is the charter cost? / ¿Cuánto cuesta alquilar el barco?
Do you fish a full day? / ¿Usted pesca todo el día?
What hours do you fish? / ¿Durante cuáles horas pesca usted?
Does your boat have a live baitwell? / ¿Tiene su barco un vivero?
Is live bait available? / ¿Hay carnada viva disponible?
Do you have safety equipment such as personal floatation devices? / ¿Hay equipo de seguridad,comochalecos salvavidas?
Do you accept credit cards, or personal checks? / ¿Usted acepta tarjetas de crédito, o un cheque personal?
Are you experienced fishing with flyfishermen? / ¿Tiene usted experiencia pescando con gente que pesca con mosca artificial?
Do you know how to tease fish for flyfishing? / ¿Sabe usted cómo atrear pez para la pesca de mosca?
Do you have ice and drinking water on the boat? / ¿Tiene usted hielo y agua potable en el barco?
Do you provide lunch? / ¿Proporciona usted el almuerzo?
Is there a head on the boat? / ¿Hay una letrina a bordo?
How fast is your boat? / ¿Qué tan rápido es su barco?
What type of fishing tackle is provided? / ¿Qué tipo de aparejo pesquero hay?
Is the fishing good right now? / ¿Está buena la pesca ahora?
What did you catch yesterday? / ¿Qué pescó usted ayer?
What has the weather been like? / ¿Cómo ha estado el tiempo?
Has the sea been rough or calm? / ¿Ha sido el mar marejado o calmo?
Do you have a fighting chair? / ¿Tiene usted una silla de pesca?
Do you use circle hooks? / ¿Utiliza usted anzuelos automáticos?
Does the captain or mate speak English? / ¿Hablan el capitán o el ayudante inglés?
ON THE BOAT
There is a world of difference between fishing on a large cruiser versus a panga or outboard skiff. Cruisers can be more formal since the captain is separated from the cockpit by the flybridge. This can lead to miscommunication problems unless everyone has a cooperative attitude. Pangas present a “work boat” environment, where the skipper and client often share duties such as gaffing fish, steering and rigging tackle. Communication is very important, and the best skippers will understand rudimentary Spanish spoken by their clients. Some captains and anglers have formed such a bond that they have fished together for years. Even the best of captains can’t help you unless you let them know what you want to do. Here are a few common phrases that come in handy while fishing:
I want to buy live bait. / Quiero comprar carnada viva.
We do not need live bait. / Nosotros no necesitamos carnada viva.
I only fish with lures. / Yo pesco solamente con señuelos artificiales.
I do not like this type of live bait. / No me gusta este tipo de carnada viva.
I want to catch my own live bait. / Quiero pescar mi propia carnada viva.
We need ladyfish (mullet, bigeye scad or green jack) to catch roosterfish. / Necesitamos sábalo (lisa, caballito o cocinero) para pescar el pez gallo.
Do you have a cast net? / ¿Tiene usted una atarraya?
We need sardines for chum. / Necesitamos sardinas para la carnada.
I will steer the boat while you throw the net. / Manejaré el barco mientras usted tira la red.
I brought my own lures. / Tengo mis propios señuelos artificiales.
What color of lure is best? / ¿Qué color de señuelo artificial es lo mejor?
I want to use my own rods and reels. / Quiero usar mis propias cañas y carretes.
May I check the drags? / ¿Puedo chequear los frenos?
The drag is too tight (too loose). / El freno es demasiado apretado (flojo)
Captain, may I sit on the flying bridge? / ¿Capitán, puedo sentarme en el puente volante?
Put the motor in reverse (forward). / Ponga el motor en revés (adelante).
Go faster (slower). / Vaya más rápido (despacio).
I want to hook the fish. / Quiero enganchar el pez.
Let me know when to set the hook. / Dime cuando debo enganchar el pez.
Do not touch the rod or line because I am trying to set a world record. / No toque la caña ni la línea porque quiero ganar el récord mundial.
Is there a lot of commercial fishing here? / ¿Hay mucha pesca commercial aquí?
I am tired of trolling. / Yo me canso de trolear.
Let’s stop and jig. / Paremos para jiguear.
I want to cast from the bow. / Quiero lanzar desde la proa.
Let’s anchor. / Anclamos.
How much does this fish weigh? / ¿Cuánto pesa este pescado?
What kind of fish is this? / ¿Qué clase de pez es esto?
Let’s go to a different place. / Vamos a un lugar diferente.
Let’s go further out for marlin. / Vamos aún más lejos para buscar el marlín.
Let’s go to the beach for roosterfish. / Vamos por la playa para buscar el pez gallo.
Let’s go home. / Vamos a casa.
Hold the fish up. / Mantenga el pez para arriba.
I want to take a photo. / Quiero tomar una foto.
Take a photo of me. / Tome una foto de mí.
Save all the skipjack for chunking. / Guarde todo el barrilete para la carnada.
Would you like some lunch? / ¿Quiere almorzar?
May I have a soda? / ¿Puedo tomar un refresco?
Is the water deep here?/ ¿Está el agua profunda aquí?
What is your favorite month to fish for (marlin, yellowtail, etc.) / ¿Cuál es su mes favorito para pescar (el marlín, jurel de aleta amarilla)?
Is the bottom rocky? / ¿El fondo está rocoso?
It’s fun to watch crews and anglers who’ve had a fun time together. At the end of the day there is laughter and animated voices whether the fishing was good or not. There are a few basic phrases to wrap up the day:
I (we) enjoyed fishing with you. / Me divertí/divertamos pescar con usted.
Thank you for a great day. / Gracias por un día excelente.
Here is a tip for you and your mate. / Esto es una propina para usted y su ayudante.
I will tip you on the last day. / Le daré una propina el último día.
Will you fillet the fish? / ¿Usted cortará en filetes el pescado?
Are the fish still cold? / ¿El pescado está todavía frío?
Do you need a knife sharpener? / ¿Usted necesita un afilador para su cuchillo?
We will see you again. / Nos veremos otra vez.
We will fish with you again. / Pescaremos otra vez con usted.
I will see you tomorrow morning at six in the morning. / No vemos mañana a las seis de la mañana.
Can you pick me up tomorrow morning? / ¿Me puede recoger mañana por la mañana?
Do you have plastic bags for the fish? / ¿Usted tiene bolsas plásticas para el pescado?
These are plastic bags for the fish. / Estos son bolsas plásticas para el pescado.
Can you take us to the hotel? / ¿Puede llevarnos al hotel?
You’ll bring the fish to the hotel? / ¿Usted llevará el pescado al hotel?
My room number is two hundred five. / Mi número de cuarto es doscientos cinco.
My hotel is the Hacienda. / Mi hotel es la Hacienda.
We will see you in the hotel bar at seven in the evening. / Nos vemos en el bardelhotel a las siete de la tarde.
I will buy a beer for you. / Compraré una cerveza para usted.
Will you come to supper with us? / ¿Usted vendrá a cenar con nosotros?
Bring your wife / family. / Traiga a tu esposa / la familia.
Bring your crew. / Traiga a tu tripulación.
All rights reserved
The Roving Angler