Tips and Tricks to Save a Slow Day of Offshore Trolling

A light breeze, blue skies, gentle southern swells, and clear clean water – it's the type of day every angler dreams of after their head hits the pillow for a couple hours of restless sleep the night before a day of chasing bluefin tuna, or hunting for wahoo. But while gorgeous days like this are perfect for anglers, often the fish are not in agreement. Occasionally when the weather is perfect, fishing is at its worst. It's hard to say exactly why days like this occur, and difficult to blame the empty kill box on just one thing. The nagging thought many anglers have while watching trolling lines hour after hour is, “what am I doing wrong?” But there’s every chance that everything is being done correctly. The problem is pelagic lockjaw. My charter records show that fish often have their mouths closed tight when a high-pressure system sits directly overhead and is in control of the weather. On the other hand, a moving barometer produced better results for clients, with a falling barometer leading to bent rods. But keep in mind, a falling barometer is also a sign of bad weather on the horizon – and caution certainly needs to be heeded when heading offshore. Often a low-pressure system moves in earlier than forecast, producing wind and waves that few anglers wants to be caught in.

save a tough day of fishing
Can you save the day when fishing gets tough? These tips and tricks will help.

Lunar tables may be worth taking a look at as well. The gravitational pull of the moon in conjunction with position of the sun controls tides. When the moon and sun come into alignment “spring tides” occur, which cause those extreme high and low tides in the Bay that are often observed. But out on the ocean it’s a different story; anglers cannot see the height of water. Water current/movement is typically north to south or south to north (unless you’re fishing an eddy in which the current is spinning). During spring tides offshore currents seem stronger, which causes fish-attracting rips and upwellings to develop. Of course, wind affects water movement as well and is a big factor in current. And while I have no scientific evidence to back up the theory for using lunar tables offshore, they do seem to have value when it comes to predicting a decent day of fishing. Unfortunately, most offshore anglers do not have the luxury to fish on a whim, but instead fish when they have the time regardless of lunar tables or barometric pressure. So the question remains: how do you put fish in the kill box when they aren’t biting? There are days when, regardless of what you do, pelagic lockjaw is going to prevail. Nevertheless, trying these tips may just catch a fish or two for the dinner plate.

  • Number one – If what you’re doing isn’t working, change what you’re doing!
  • Number two – Pay attention!!! Sleeping is a sure way to not capitalize on one of the few bites that might occur on a slow day of trolling.
  • Number three – On slick calm days when boat movement doesn’t produce additional bait movement and the baits or lures are just dragging lifelessly through the water, use something that gives additional action. Putting a bird in front of a rigged bait or lures, for example, adds extra surface disturbance. Dragging extra daisy chains and spreader bars are also good options. Put out teasers to create additional surface disruption; they may be intended for billfishing but the added splashing and motion will help attract fish of all species. And jig flat lines by hand-jerking the line, to make baits appear erratic and entice strikes.
  • Number four – Run one or two baits down, deep using a planer. Fish seem to be hesitant to attack surface bait on slick-calm days (marlin seem to be the exception to this rule) but a deeper bait has saved many a charter trip on these sorts of days. A silver or white colored Drone spoon in size 5-1/2 is a good choice for planer lines, as is a rigged ballyhoo skirted in black/purple.
  • Number five – Change up that “old reliable” spread. Switch out a variety of different baits in different positions in the spread. Tighten the spread up, and then try sending baits farther back. Change the baits to naked ballyhoo, skirt the ballyhoo in different colors, pull small ballyhoo, pull large ballyhoo, and pull split tail mullet. Put in Green Machines, cedar plugs, and reach for the dust-covered lures you seldom try.
  • Number six – After changing the spread, change how you run the boat. Troll at four knots, troll at seven knots, and then troll at nine knots (just as long as your baits do not spin or start flying out of the water). Troll a zigzag pattern, troll in circles, troll against the current, troll with the current, and troll across the current.
  • Number seven – Relocate to your second-favorite fishing location and start over. Pay attention to the VHF, and if another location is producing fish, pull in the spread and run. Normally we’d never recommended chasing radio-fish unless the location is nearby, since the bite is invariably over at the exact moment you arrive. But this is not a normal day of fishing.
  • Number eight – Beat on the hull of the boat. Rub a dollar bill all over the rods and throw the bill into the water. Turn the radio up loud with your favorite music, then change the type of music to what you think the fish might prefer. Yell at the lifeless ocean at the top of your lungs. Blame the captain, blame the mate, blame the ex-spouse who put this curse on you (and is probably an ex-spouse because you fished too much).
fell asleep while fishing
Stay alert! The best way to miss an opportunity is to sleep right through it.

When it’s getting late in the day, you’re still bite-less and now have grown tired, hungry, aggravated, and disappointed, there’s only one move left to make: turn the bow towards the inlet, set auto pilot and say to heck with it. Open your beverage of choice, grab a sandwich, prop your feet up, and enjoy what’s left of a beautiful day on the ocean – because even when the fish have lockjaw it sure beats a day at the office!

- by John Unkart, author of “Offshore Pursuit” and “Saltwater Tales.”

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