Excerpt from "Sailing - Impressions, Ideas, Deeds

Fishing from a Sailboat by Capt. Frank Papy

They say fish is brain food. I try to eat it every chance I get, but I don't think it is doing any good. The older I get the less I know, but I do know that good fresh fish is about $6.00 a pound, so when I am sailing I always troll a couple of lines off the stern. We use a rod and reel whenever possible, but when flying into some foreign port in a tiny charter aircraft, I carry about 600 feet of 100-pound test line, hooks, leaders and a few lures, and a piece of shock cord rigged into the hand line so it won't be such a jolt when the fish hits. I make a gaff hook out of an old mop or broom handle, using two hose clamps and an extra large hook. A pair of white cotton gloves come in handy for pulling in the line. I use a squirt bottle full of rubbing alcohol to shoot down the fishes throat so they die instantly - I hope with a buzz on. This keeps us from blooding up the deck and lets you get the hook out and back into the water as soon as possible, especially when you are in a school of fish. I have gotten as many as a dozen mahi mahi in 30 minutes. Usually, we eat some, put some on ice, and have been known to swap eight nice fish for dockage or two nights eating and drinking at a local restaurant. But most of the time after the first night at the restaurant I'm limited to just eating, if you get my drift.

In my years of delivery work I have developed the reputation that: if you sail for Papy you will always have fresh fish. It helps nowadays with good crew hard to find.

I ran a flotilla charter a few years ago down in Tortola, I managed to feed seven boatloads of folks mostly fish for 5 out of the 8 days we were out, it turned out to be a great bonus, my wife and I got all of the leftover food.

Sometimes on a big ketch I will run a small block and line up to the top of the mizzen so I can haul a clothes pin up, I put the line from the rod into the clothes pin, run it up to the top of the mast so when the fish hits it pops out. The advantage of this is when the boat rolls under sail it makes the bait move from side to side. The fish seem to love it. I figure it increases your odds of catching fish about 20 percent.

Part of the reason I love my job is to pull in a couple of 3 foot mahi mahis, dolphin - not Flipper, to my charters amazement. I gaff them, give them the alcohol treatment, lay them out on the aft deck and have my pictures taken skinning and filleting these beauties while having a rum and coke on a sunny day with some Jimmy Buffet music on tape. I cook them up for lunch with some butter, lime and pepper sauce- all done by me on a rocking boat, unless I have the lucury of having a cook on board. The log book usually reads, two fish on board at 10:30, lunch at 12:00, six charterers and the captain ate 12 pounds of fish fillets and 12 more pounds are in the cooler.

Fishing from a sailing vessel is ideas as there's no prop wash or disturbance in the water so you can run your bait closer to the boat, and a good trolling speed is from 3 to 8 knots. You don't have to worry about the speed. Deep water fish don't eat with a knife and fork, they come in at 40 miles and hour.

Here is a story of catching a white marlin from my Morgan 41 charter boat which goes 11 knots - 7 knots forward and 4 knots side ways.

While sailing I always troll a couple of fishing lines off the stern to pick up some mackerel or dolphin. It breaks the routine for the charterers when we get a strike. I tell them, ride the wind adn get your food from the sea. But fishing from a sailboat is hard. The power boaters figure sailors are too lazy to fish so they come close off your stern and cut your lines. So, you must use economic methods. Becaus I lose so much gear, I god my rods and reels at Sailorman used marine store, and I get my line and lures at teh flea market. When I leave the States with a more affluent charter I can usually talk them into buying a half a dozen rigged ballyhoos for crossing the Gulf Stream.

Well, the fishing action on this particular charter was a family of four from mid-Florida. The mother was a real character. Sha had called me before the charter and asked about the boat hijacking and pirates. She said her husband was kind of a wimp and she didn't know what sort of gund she should bring. I assured her we had arms aboard and there was nothing to worry about Shw had a drinking problem and as getting ready to go into AA for treatment and the daughter had just gotten out of a drug rehabilitation clinic. The son was 14 years old, about six-two, and due to his size and age ration had a coordination problem. The father was about 50 and said he was prone to getting seasick. They were dead set for going to the Bahamas even though the weather looked a little sloppy. The mother and daughter had taken a half dozen Dramamine between them, chased down by a couple of glasses of gin, and went to sleep in the aft cabin double bunk.

We started about 8 in the morning, crossing the Gulf Stream, motor sailing in about a 10 to 12 knot wind and a lot of rain squalls around with Mr. P and I taking turns at the wheel. I was running a fishing line off the starboard rail with my biggest sea rig and my one and only ballyhoo left over from the last charter. We were about 15 miles west of Bimini when a white marlin struck. I raced back, grabbed the rod and set the hook. The marlin jumped for the second time and then I gave the rod to Mr. P who didn't reel in fast enough and the next time the fish jumped it looked like the line was wrapped all around him. I suggested the boy get the camera because I didn't think we were going to get him in now, but we could at least get a picture of him if he jumped again.

Well, it appeared that the fish went straight down, sounding I think they call it, and it must have straightened out all the line. Mr. P sat down on the dick with a cushion between his legs and after about 12 minutes was saying, "Hey bud, you said I couldn't get him in and how are you going to get him on this boat?"

I had never boated a billfish of any kind before but I had seen it done. I remember a gloved hand on his bill and a gaff in the other hand. The gaff hook I had on board was fairly small and the only glove I had was an electrician's hot wire glove I used for diving (it's heavy rubber and comes up almost to the elbow). Now, I figured if I got on deck there was no way I could put him in the cockpit; it is in the middle of the boat and we were rolling pretty good. To keep a slippery fish as heavy as that on a rounded deck was going to be a problem, so I told the boy to squat down with a slip knotted line, to loop it around the fish's tail if I got him on deck, and tie it up short on the stern cleat. I had left the mizzen up and sheeted in tight to reduce the rolling. I got the glove and the gaff and I stuck a heavy winch handle in my belt. I figured to gaff the marlin two or three times to take some of the fight out of him before I got that monster on the deck. Well, I did and he was red hot. Blood went everywhere on me, on the deck, even up on the mizzen sail. I got a hold of his bill and lifted him up with the gaff. The boat took a heavy roll and I managed to get him on the deck. I didn't realize that they had a bottom bill. I felt a sting and looked down and the lower jaw bill had cut right through my glove at the wrist. What then? Oh well, no time for that now. The fish made another lunge and we both went down on the deck with me on top. The boat took another roll and we started to slide but believe it or not the kid had gotten the line around the fish's tail and tied it up short to keep up on the deck. I braced myself and started using my worst language on the fish. I took that winch handle out and gave this 7 foot, 92 pound white marlin and rap on the head. As I raised up to give him another rap for good measure, something caught my eye.

All this had been going on right over the aft cabin and woke the mother and daughter. Hearing me cussing and swearing , not knowing we had a fish, they figured I was after her husband or son. Seeing all the blood around, and presuming she was next to be victimized by this pirate, she had armed herself with a Derringer - and that's what had caught my eye. Luckily the boat was rolling and the mother was too drugged to hold her balance. Mr. P grabbed the gun away from his wife and explained to her that it was a fish and fish blood. I apologized for my language, but I had gotten mad at the fish who had cut through my glove (luckily it wasn't a deep cut).

So, we hung the marlin from the mizzen and motored into the "Big Game" club at Bimini. We put him on the scales and Mr. P made arrangements to have it mounted. They'd just had a fishing tournament at the club and there were still a lot of boats that had not gone home yet, so we attracted quite a bit of attention.

That night we went out to the Compleat Angler Bar. I was sitting there talking to some friends when I noticed four or five powerboat types gathered around. You can recognize them easily: they wear khakis and a khaki hat with a bill on each end and a knife and pliers and all sorts of things on their belt. They all came over to me in a group and asked, "Are you the rag merchant (that's what powerboaters call us sailorboaters) that brought in the big white?" In their special jargon they wanted to know the method I used to get him up to bite. I tried to look as serious as I could and said, "I went 'Here fishy, fishy, fishy...'" which they took as a joke, and we all had a round of rum.

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Copyright 2005-2016 by Capt. Frank Papy

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Teach Your Baby To Swim in the Bathtub

In the Works:
History of the Low Country Sportsman

Gourmet Odyssey
by Capt. Al & Judy Plant

Following in the Wake of the Buccaneers
by Steve Grabowski

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Cruising Guide to the Florida Keys

and other writings by Capt. Frank Papy