"Pelagics & Heavy Metal Magic"
Ever had one of those days where you couldn't raise a pelagic dorsal to save yourself despite doing everything right according to the book?... I know I have!
Checked the weather forecast in advance, oat all prepared, tackle in pristine working order and enough lures and tackle to sink a battle ship. Bait tank motor pumping enough water to irrigate the best crops in half their normal time and a new strap for those Polaroids to just round of the preparation properly.
Fishing buddies fired up, pelagic game plan set, up early and down to the boat. Glassy water, boat starts first time and out you go planing at 15 -18 knots with the salt breeze in your nostrils and a quiet thump of anticipation in your heart.
Out comes the magic book of secret GPS markings, then a serious and further reference to the other secret cognitive book (of previous angling experience) and it all begins. The big plan is put into action ..... Trolling, chumming, high speed trolling, changing lures, adjusting depths, changing of trolling patterns - diagonals, zig zags, erratic, out rigging, down rigging and so unfolds the day.
Yet the fish are elusive and patience is no longing becoming a virtue as the old cliche goes. In fact the very opposite.
Quiet cussing begins and tensions on the deck, along with friendship temperatures, begin to rise at an alarming rate. Constant beeping from your sounder in the back ground also starts to drive you nuts. Time is slowly ticking by and not much is happening (at all!). The sun has risen higher and hardly a decent strike to excite even the newest of novices on any boat.
Drag fiddling begins, and doubts creep into the well-being of the knots you tied, or if you have chosen the wrong sized breaking strain line. How is old is that line by the way, 2 years, three years old? Is it 10 kg or 15 kg? Looks like 8 kg , a voice from back of your mind says.. Also looks a bit light on to me!
Maybe I should be fishing heavier? Maybe I am in the wrong current line? Maybe I should put my hat on backwards, while examining the tide book (again) upside down, when steering the boat with my nose or left big toe. That might help as well!
A mile or so away you see bait busting up on the surface everywhere. Pelagics frolicking and feeding with a myriad or birds overhead, and then suddenly disappearing as fast as they came. Off in hot pursuit only to find that they are no longer their on your arrival . You do this maybe another dozen or so times over the space of a couple of hours with same result time and time again.
Your fuel tank is much lower as the motor gets works to it's max and so are the spirits of the crew who now start examining the deck, at their feet, for hidden answers in the many grooves and crevices. Some desperately seeking solace and divine guidance from their cracked toe nails or that blister which has started as a result of standing in the one place for too long.
One buddy heads for a ly down and the others, who have glazed over some by now, peer aimlessly at the horizon and begin secretly wishing that has stayed home instead to watch the big game on TV while having a few quiet beers.
And why are they not on the fish you may ask? Well, when it comes to pelagics the answer is short, and not so sweet, more often than not.
They don't care about you, me, or anything else that remotely looks like a boat, lure, jig or flesh bait. They also don't care if your millionaire or a plumber, have the best up market Riviera 43, a Black Watch, or a 10 foot rubber zodiac. They are not interested in your on-board ice-making machine and certainly don't care about the multi-layered, eight draw, metallic glitter Plano tackle box that has a emergency positioning beacon, and an inflatable life raft, all built into the back of it for those unforeseen and desperate moments.
To them all that those factors are irrelevant. What's relevant to them is food, food and food. Then moving, shifting and feeding while trying to avoiding other bigger fish that can mince them up in an instant .
In my experience they are high speed, freight train, opportunists who essentially seize the moment and then take off. They do not gather in seriously tight numbers for long periods unless it's feed. There are a few exceptions to that rule (like Giant Trevally) and yet generally this rule pretty much applies.
And so the repetitive behaviour of these magnificent fish continues on pretty much regardless of what pelagic species we are referring to. And what does it all mean? Well, keep the secretive cognitive diary, and those magnificent GPS markings, by all means and but do not adhere to it like it is the only holy script in the book.
Add a few other pages to that book which can include contingency plans named b through z and maybe, just maybe, some of the following suggestions might just save you some time, effort, depression and money.
Rule number 1: Know all the following general rules (of thumb) like the back of your hand.
- Know your territory
- Know your species
- Know your tackle
- Know your tolerances
- Know all useful angling techniques
And then comes the second most important rule of them all. Rule number 361 is assume absolutely nothing religious about all the rules above. That's means keep them all close at hand, stay tuned to what is happening in the water around you, and it if not's working on the day then go to the biggest angling rule of all, in my opinion.
That final rule, bearing all of the above in mind , is "trust your instincts". If nothing else, at the end of the day an angler can avoid having to say to themselves secretly in the toilet, or out on the back lawn, "I wish I had tried this, I should have known better, I know that spot and should have used the "X technique", and so on.
If you "trust your instincts" and avoid these echo's as much as possible, then at least they have been tried, and did your utmost. From there it can only get better and here are few suggestions that might improve that equation up an increment or two..
Know your Territory (where possible).
Tune into current lines, how they change seasonally, bait fish types that run at different times of the year. What kind of structures or reefs are closer inshore and out-wide? Are there in fact "grounds' where pelagics sometimes gather briefly or over a seasonal window in time?
Can I get to them from a land based position? Ask questions of yourself and talk to fishing veterans of the area to see what they will tell you. They may not be too keen to give away much. Even so, it's worth a try especially if your genuinely interested in what they have to say.
Get some hydrographic naval or under water survey maps and look at significant contours for deep line scars on the bottom and so on. Get the full picture on where you are and what is there. Then keep building that picture it over time with the bits and pieces of other information that you pick up along the way.
If you do not have a boat of your own then find a Captain who does and will put you on the fish using their understanding of accumulated local knowledge. " Local angling knowledge is dame near everything" when it comes to catching fish in my opinion. I also think this applies the world over.
These, and some other important issues to follow, have become a part of I what I have named the " 5 K angling baseline".
Know your Species.
Know your species and I mean really know them. Think like those fish do and half the battle is over. Who are they, what are they, how do they behave and why? Separate them by species if necessary and sit over the winter with that secret book and dedicate a separate page to each pelagic species and make some notes. How shallow or deep do they run, what speeds, colour preferences and so on.
Tease it all out and then sit back and let all that sink in. Get out again and talk to other anglers, Fisheries Department and whoever else you think may be relevant. Sit and watch the water and most of all remember what you have learnt that is useful so far. . Then and only then, can the issue of appropriate tackle be thought about.
Know your Tackle & Tolerances.
Tackle choices are a very personal thing and yet they must, in my view, have the following:
A good match between lure style and targeted species is critical. Cast your mind back to the notes you made over the winter and all the reading you did. Keep your notes close by and bear those in mind when thinking about buying tackle. . Chosen tackle, and separate lures, must have a good action while being able to work deep, medium or shallow as needed on any given day. . Durability is the other "big" critical factor.
Would you buy a pick up truck to pull a Jumbo Jet? Not me!... Choose lures that have a reasonable life and do not give up the ghost (e.g. puncture or break in half) after one decent hit from a pelagic.
That then brings me to one of my pet hates and that's issue of tackle in-tolerance. Many great lures are made and some, unfortunately, have split rings on them that can be pulled apart by a two year old kid. By all means buy your chosen or favourite lures that can deliver the goods and then check the "under-carriage carefully".
I try to avoid all split rings and yet that is not always possible. Why? Because they are the weakest and most vulnerable point on any lure assuming the hook loops are bedded down well inside the lure body.
Get a solid pair of pliers and given those split rings a serious test by putting the treble in your workshop vice, then grip the lure body and give it the big test. Pull as hard (and as carefully) as you can. If either the split ring or hook shafts falter, then take them off, curse them severely, and stick em in the bin. The same applies to the front end of your lures as well. Test them with the force of a gorilla and your happy with their tolerance then put them away into the tackle box.
Who want's to loose their fish to a $1-00 component? Not me and I cannot imagine any angler that does!. Last of all, look for tackle that fits with your notes and then consider how versatile is that piece of tackle. Can this lure, jig, or rig allow you to change techniques in an instant if need be?
Why is this important? Because not every day fishing for pelagics is the like the one at the beginning of this article. In fact some are the perfect and thankful inverse. Days where you are trolling, casting and jigging all within a space of minutes of each other are also more than possible as those hard hitter's feed up, stall, disappear and still don't care who you are, even though they are not on the fast track train to Mt. Fuji.
There are not many tackle items that will let you do all three. Some will allow you to cast and troll, some to cast and jig... Raider lures can do a couple, heavier lures like wise. Rapala CD 18's have the weight to be cast off at a reasonable speed and distance. Both also troll well depending on the desired depth and techniques used. .
There are also a Pan-technic of jigs that can do the same in terms of casting and jigging like Whip Tail's, Diamond Heads and others... Even so, not many troll too well with the kind of requirements needed for pelagics in terms of action or overall performance profiles.
A couple of examples of all three techniques come in the form of Demon "Head Hunter Tournament Lures" which are purpose built for pelagics and it is here than we declare our bias freely..
They have a host of specialist design features including rear set and trailing, single "fan-tail" forged hooks, an up front single forged hook with dressings and finishes that match the species.
The rear blade provides a number of tail action possibilities as well. They can be cast a mile given that the head is made from composite alloys, jigged to seventy feet or so, and trolled at 6 knots or faster depending on your favourite technique all with movement, depth action and heavy duty construction.
They also come in a number of species specific colours for Striper Bass, Bluefish and tropical pelagics.
Knots and Rigs:
There is nothing better that the KISS principle when it comes to knots and rigs [ Keep It Simple Steve] ... Personally I favour a really simple set up like a quality line [ braids or limited stretch mono's] of no more than 10 kg's for general purpose pelagic fishing. Then a double, tying it off with a quality bimini twist and then onto that your leader of choice using a special Four Turn F_Nose knot or other knot of choice. I cannot tell you what the F stands other than to say it's best to leave it out for editorial reasons.
One of those hot, simple, fast and strong knots that all guides love, and many client's appreciate, in the heat of a pelagic battle. Tough as nuts and will tolerate fish up to 80 pound (or more) depending on your principle line class. On 22 lb line this tolerance is fairly accurate. The alternative is to use an improved Albright knot and while not as quick to tie, it is well known and well proven.
Where possible, split rings and swivels in line set ups are to be avoided from my experience and are often not needed unless your use spinning gear [instead of overhead reels] and want to avoid line twist. . Wire can be used on the end of the leader if big toothy bugger's are emptying your tackle box in a hurry. In that case it's light coloured, multi-strand wire and with the least breaking strain you can get away with given the fish present on the day.
Tying off your lures involves a simple loop knot for fish up to 50 lb which keeps the whole train, from single line to lure or jig, both continuous and uncomplicated. Just the way fishing should be. By all means use other knots and rigs of your choice. This is just one example if interested. Having waded through all that, it's then down to the last of the big "K"s.
Know your Techniques:
Techniques are the final and critical step in the hunt for pelagics (and many other fish for that matter ) in conjunction with the others that have already been mentioned above and may also include para-veins, sewn baits, high speed trolling and other well known and proven methods.
At the end day though, and after you have chummed your socks off with an oil trail 800 yards long and been left wondering if a piston has not in fact gone through the side of your engine block, there remains one technique that is often forgotten.
A technique that is simple, versatile and highly effective all over the world. It's called "jigging" and is one of the most under rated, yet highly effective, secret weapons in the desire to having a big pelagic day.
Many well known angling author's have spoken at length, and waxed lyrical over the virtues of the "Jig" and none more so, in my view, than when it comes to pelagics. Of course many people may say, well I know jigs and that's true. But how many people actively use them when fishing for pelagics?
This dynamite technique, using the most under-rated and humble of all fishing tackle, appears absent from the technical almanac of many global angler's and begs the question of why?. I am not sure.
Maybe it seems too uncool, too simple or maybe just has not been thought about... Either way and under the right conditions, it's cheap to do, relatively static, consumes little or less fuel -personal or otherwise - and has a myriad of sub technique categories that can be applied like:
"High Rise Jigging" , "The Short Sharp Stick", "Oblique Drag & Shoot" and the "Sling Shot". All are very usable and highly effective under different conditions. In the tropics, on the flats, out wide, or somewhere in between, all these techniques, and more, can be used in combination with "pin point" or "random opportunistic" approaches with great effectiveness and results. Not only that, you can often hook up a lot sooner using your sounder and the above mentioned principles.
It can also be a lot of "fiery" fun and generate some serious heat in the boat.
It also needs to be said that this is not just the case in relation to medium sized pelagics either. If your into Bill fish then we have an up and coming technique using purpose designed jigs called the "drop, shoot & run" technique that will create a bit of fire in the belly as well (more on that in a dedicated future article).
Cast you mind back to the five big "K" principles. On any given day, jigging must be one of those techniques to be used when angling for pelagics. It can be spontaneous or it can be highly intentional
Either way it does not matter. For example:
Off in the distance you see a School of Tuna, or other surface feeders, busy at work. Rev the motor, hit the throttle and let's go get those suckers! ... Wrong! ... Wait, pause and implement the "K strategy" which says know your territory ... Look at what the species are doing, which way is current heading, are there other tight bait balls around, which way are those balls heading, and so on?
Are the pelagics staying up, or elevating (moving up and down quickly)? Make all of these mental notes and then decide how to approach them. From the side or or well ahead. Either way, get into position and wait for them to come to you where possible. The other silent golden rule is "never chase pelagics over big distances".
They will out gun you and win the chase 9 times out of ten I guarantee it and then more than likely appear half a mile away, with their dorsal fins inverted rudely in your general direction, simply because all they only are interested in is chasing their next meal.
By all means troll your way into position slowly if you want and then stop and do another snap evaluation. Watch and wait, watch and wait. Position again if needed. Also note what you sounder is telling you. Look for fish, deep water grooves, or channels under you were sub currents may be running as opposed to surface currents. What's the depth, how does that influence my tackle choices, positioning etc.?
And if they break within casting distance? ... Get onto vertical-jigging straight away by casting out long and hard. Use a jig made for the job and with a decent sized head on it (2-3 oz's) and forged hook like a Demon Blue-water Bait-fish Jig or something similar that is durable, well made, and has plenty of grunt . Slug it out try and overshoot the school by 20-30 feet. You want it to sink fast and have plenty of feel to it. Let you jig sink rapidly say down to 25 ft and then hit the reel handle using the some of technique mentioned above e.g. "the Short Sharp Stick". Either is perfect.
The aim is to work fast towards yourself and up through the school at the same time. Short sharp lifts with a long pause of 3-5 seconds, then repeat several times. if no joy wind in several turns and repeat from the top again. You don't have long as a general rule so this has to be well practiced and all done fairly quickly. The "Demon sling shot technique (DSST)" involves the same principle method of approaching the school and yet has a very different rig set up.
Use a 1-3 oz cone shaped head with a centre hole through the middle. Pass your leader through the centre and crimp on a solid, fast revolving swivel that is smooth in action. Another short leader of 3-6 inches, or wire if needed, and then onto that a four to six inch saltwater fly. That's right a big solid salt water fly Like a Deceiver or a Demon Midnight Special. Hit the water and watch for the sparks & fins!
Comments from those who have had great success with DSST in Long Island Sound and other places can be found at the Fishfinder Jig Forum.
If you in a shallow sided vessel then a great option is the "oblique drag & shoot ". That means rod action sideways once down deep, reel in slowly (3 ft of line) and then pull hard or shoot the head of your jig forward fast and then let it fall back again. Reel in and repeat with a slightly upwards rod motion at the same time. This will help keep your rod tip and line down lower when necessary, keeps you in the water longer, and yet still allows you to work your jig properly.
If the fish have just disappeared off the surface by now and you know, or suspect, they are still under the boat then don't think about moving off ...Stay right where you are! Just drop straight down and get right into it using a straight vertical technique called the "high rise". Hit the bottom and then lift you rod tip high (4-6 feet) and at medium speed, then let the jig fall back. Repeat several times and then wind in 3/4 feet ...
What you want to achieve is working your way up through the layers and cover the entire depth field at the same time. Believe me it works time and again and the more you do it the better the results.....
Also don't assume that the action will only start once you get to the bottom. This is a dangerous assumption that has bought many fine jigging exponents unstuck in a big hurry. Loose line, loose thumb and a mind out of angling gear. Often jigs will be hit just as much on the way down as they are on the way up ... so be ready.
A number of other species are also highly susceptible to this approach. Similarly, don't confine yourself to just out wide either. Get closer to shore and have a good look around at other deep gutters, currents and structures. Plenty of great fish like to be inside and run a muck in the medium to shallow water. The same can be done land based with a pocket full of light purpose built jig heads, tails of choice and a good pair of Polaroids..
The perfect place for the "oblique, drag and shoot" technique, or just slow retrieves, as you make your way along the shoreline while flicking and casting at pin point locations. ... Bluefish & Taylor are real suckers for this approach on the right day.
Stay with it and you may be pleasantly surprised at what turns up on then end of your jigs.
The final technique to be mentioned is called "Slow Drop Angling" and is highly suited to jigs that are purpose designed for the job. That means a small jig head (1/2 to 3/4 oz) and into that is molded a large hook of choice. Onto that you place a large 6-8" soft bait, or feed on a flesh strip of a similar length and weight, in a vertical position. Either way, make sure it has plenty of trailing tail and therefore action.
The example below is a Demon"Half Back Jig". 5/8 oz head, large -thick top eye loop, dark head, big molded eyes and a HD stainless 7/0 hook insert.
Drop it over the side and watch it's fall rate. If it's too slow then just tune the bait by down sizing it. Cut a small piece of flesh off the rear or change down a soft bait size. Alternatively, slice a little off the belly of the soft bait instead and take another look. Then, when it set just right, cast it out into that oil slick left by the chumming and let it fall real slow.
Stand by because you now have the advantage of full strike zone coverage as the jig and bait take the slow elevator to the basement. This same method can be used in a whole range of locations and for different saltwater species.
Casting into snags using these heads and tropical estuary systems can produce some dynamite action as well and is perfect in locations where Fisheries have a "single hook ruling" zone (as is the case here in some places). Or you can do the same when you head inshore as mentioned above.
Whatever you cast out jig wise has to be tough and ready for anything given that other big species often travel with, and/or underneath of, those same feeding schools as well..... So be prepared for a few surprises like BIG Spaniards, Cobia, or Giant Trevally and make sure your tackle is up to the job otherwise it's hasta la vista baby!
Hook types, hook strength and eye loop tolerance are the other three big factors to consider. Make sure they have been well and truly covered in your selection of the right tackle for pelagics (or other species for that matter). This is especially true for heads that are made for a particular technique (e.g slow drop angling) which have to be cast in special composite alloys based on their metal mix and binding toughness.
In this situation, lead is not a good choice for exactly the opposite reasons because it's way too soft. Jigs with head mounted blades, and/or special custom made dressings, are the other big secret jig weapon especially when jigging (or trolling) in deeper water (40+).
Tandem combinations: Another secret weapon.. When one angler has hooked up (either trolling, casting or jigging) and has there fish under control and near the boat, slug our your jig because London to a brick their scaly mates won't be far away. Some may know this technique as "fishing the slide"... Pelagics are often curious creatures and will come up for a look to see what all the fuss is about.... One angler out one side and the other in the opposite direction of the angler with the fish on already.
If your with a competent guide or Boat Captain , then wait for their call as they know when the moment is right. Do not go before their call otherwise disaster awaits.... Finally, the same jigging techniques I've mentioned can also be applied using what I call "Pin Point" strategies.. Meaning you intentionally decide to target a given structure, drop off, or deep water current line using jigs. It's a premeditated plan of action based on the information at hand. This may be sounder readings, previous experience in that spot or simply a strong gut feeling.
Either way, by all means troll around, and near to, that location you have decided to head for prior to getting their. When your done, get static on the drift or drop the anchor, and then jig up a storm!
Why, because the days of conventional jigs are well and truly over even though they maintain a very important, ongoing, and legitimate place in the tackle box. At the same time, we are now moving into the next millennium with a whole range of new "species specific" jig type designs which bring with it some much needed, cost saving and timely, "heavy metal magic"..
Steve Badman (Master Jig Builder)
© 2000 Demon Jigs & Deep Water Lures .... All Rights Reserved.
No part of the article may be copied or reproduced in any way without written consent of the author.