October 21, 2021
It’s been said a thousand times that the difference between weekenders and great fishermen is hidden in a thousand little things. They are learned through time on the water, and asking the right people the right questions, over the years. That’s why it drove me crazy when I looked over at Capt. Scott Fawcett on the Off the Chain when we were live baiting sailfish off Stuart. While I was slow-trolling with one of my Yamaha 200s in troll mode, and a sea anchor deployed to slow us down, Scott was sitting dead still for a few minutes, and then bumping one of his engines in gear with no sea anchor, traveling a hundred yards or so, and then stopping. Now, there’s nothing new about “bump trolling,” but I couldn’t help but notice that he had bright cigar-shaped corks on each line.
At first I assumed the corks were just to make it easier to switch to kite fishing once the wind picked up, but I was mistaken. Scott was making his baits work far more naturally than I was. I hadn’t fully accounted for the fact that pulling a nose-hooked pilchard (or pogy, threadfin, or sardine) straight through the water at a steady rate does not allow him to flee predators. If a predator approaches a bait that immediately begins to take evasive action, it will trigger a strike much more often than a predator approaching a bait that continues to swim in a straight line.
Here's how to do it:
Captain Scott was willing to share the setup with me and it’s as simple as can be. Based on his advice, I’ve modified my own rigs for this type of fishing. I use 15 feet of 40- to 60-pound fluorocarbon tied in with either a double uni knot or a blood knot. Then comes the bead, at the top of a kite float (I like the size and shape of the Bluewater Primo kite floats). I don’t want the cork to slide down to the bait while I’m on the move, so I wrap a #32 rubber band about 2 feet down the leader. When we get a fish alongside I can just slide the rubber band down to facilitate the release or make the gaff shot. I target sailfish whenever I think I stand a chance of catching one, so I tie my 7/0 #7385 VMC circle hook to the leader. If meat fish are the goal, add a 12-inch piece of No. 5 wire to the end of your mono, attaching a VMC 9299 5/0 by a haywire twist.
Hooking or bridling a live bait through the shoulder works best for slow- or bump-trolling. Whether or not the strikes come faster by letting the bait swim around naturally through every piece of water I don’t think is possible to know definitively. I am certain, however, that my baits are much livelier after a couple hours of pulling that cork around, than they are if I nose-hook them, and pull them straight. I also never have to worry about my baits forming their own school, tangling up every line.
Just remember to let them swim in one spot long enough to attract any predators in that piece of water, then “bump” your way into a new area, just far enough away to let your baits catch the glimpse of a fish that hasn’t seen them yet.
I’m also convinced that I get more bites on my deep bait using this stop-and-go method. My bait is pulled along for a short stretch while my 6-ounce egg sinker rises in the water column, then sinks when I go dead boat for a while. A word of caution here. The deep bait does occasionally get wrapped up in the sinker, so check it every few stops.
I always thought of sailfish as surface feeders until Capt. George LaBonte taught me the way to rig a removable egg sinker (FS Dec 2020). To this day it seems like just about every time we are attacked by more than one fish at a time, it starts with the bottom rod going off. FS
Florida Sportsman October 2021