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  • Writer's pictureSailing Koinonia

How to catch fish offshore from a sailboat or trawler

Updated: Feb 24

trolling for mahi behind a sailboat
Photo by Madelyn Ward

The purpose of this post is to share the techniques I have learned that consistently help us catch fish nearly every time we go offshore.

Trolling a lure behind the boat in hopes of catching dinner is something nearly all cruisers attempt, at some point, while venturing offshore. But few of our fellow cruisers consistently catch fish, even though they may log thousands of offshore miles. This is because their attempts at fishing are generally haphazard and rely almost entirely on dumb luck. And we all know: luck isn't a strategy. But as a good friend used to say, "If you don't know no better, you can't do no better."

The good news is catching fish offshore is relatively easy, if you know the techniques. Seriously. You can keep your boat's freezer well stocked with healthy, delicious fish without black magic, voodoo, or the like. While I don't deny that luck plays a role in fishing success from one day to the next, consistently catching fish starts with study. It requires applying some basic know-how, keeping a close lookout, and gaining experience. Advanced planning, knowledge of target fish behavior, ability to spot signs of life on and even signs above the water (e.g. birds), knowing what zones attract and hold your target fish species, how to rig and run lures that will catch those fish, and what do once you hook a fish, all combine to tip the odds in your favor. This is the difference between skill and luck. If you apply easily learned skills consistently, you will be successful.

Sometimes we may catch just one fish. Other times we catch a lot of fish. We have even caught so many, we had to stop fishing from exhaustion and/or lack of room in the freezer. But very rarely do we get skunked. Why? It's not because we're lucky. We are intentional. We study offshore fishing and apply these skills and techniques while on passage. Through trial and error, we have gained experience and have learned what works and what doesn't. We also talk to other fisherman to gather local knowledge. As a result, we rarely get skunked.

Ourdaughter Lizzy, 14, with a nice bull Mahi

One common misconception is that the fish are are just out there everywhere, somewhat evenly distributed in the ocean. This is false. Palegic species like mahi-mahi, tuna, wahoo, mackerel, etc. that you want to catch are going to be concentrated in very specific and relatively small zones that provide these fish with the greatest food supply while exerting the least amount of effort. If the food moves, so do the fish, which is why you can't always rely on yesterday's reports to locate fish today. Outside of these concentrated zones are what professional sport fisherman call, "no mans land." That's because there are very few, if any, fish in these dead zones. And it's no wonder. They offer no structure, no protection, and no food. That is why you can troll hundreds of miles and not see or catch even a single fish. Knowing which zones are likely to hold fish is essential and dramatically helps to improve your odds.

Something else we have learned is you don't need expensive equipment to catch fish offshore. Even really big fish. Seriously. While some of that gear is very helpful, none of it is truly essential. You can catch a lot of fish successfully right off the back of your own boat armed with some basic know-how and relatively inexpensive tackle. You can even make your own lures and teasers. Somewhat embarrassingly, I catch just as many fish on my cheap hand lines/Cuban Yo Yos as I do on my expensive rods and reels.

Amber with a nice wahoo

So, without further adieu, I have packaged the information you need to know to start catching more fish into a powerpoint that you can download, for FREE. Below, you will find a PDF you can download. No Patreon, no GoFundMe, or any form of monetization. This is intended to cover just the 101 level basics of how to troll successfully offshore from your own cruising boat. It doesn't matter if the boat is 24ft or 84ft, these techniques work!

Techniques for Offshore Trolling - Hosted by Ben Ward
Download PDF • 5.02MB're welcome. Please bear in mind, this is a 101 level course. It will up your game dramatically and covers a lot of the basics, but there is much more to learn. That's part of the fun! You have to experiment. Feel free to distribute these materials, but please don't plagiarize or try to monetize my content. My goal for putting this together was to help fellow cruisers catch a lot more fish. If and when you do, I'd appreciate hearing from you and seeing pictures of your catch. That is payment enough!

True story: I recently helped coach a fellow cruiser, whom I've not yet met in person, catch their first fish trolling offshore. And what did they catch? A 45lb yellowfin tuna. How's that for a first fish?!!

Finally, I am still learning too, so if you have tips to add, please don't hesitate to send them my way or comment below.

For more free content like this, subscribe to our blog. No hustles; just sailing.

Fair winds, tight lines, and God bless,

Ben Ward

S/V Koinonia

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