If you've never been out "deep sea fishing" before, your only reference point may be popular TV shows like Deadliest Catch or Shark Men. For those of us that are "regulars" on the boats, part of the allure of going fishing in the ocean vs. freshwater fishing is you never know what might come up at the end of the line. More often than not though, your day on the water is going to be much more relaxing than what you see on those shows (and it should be!). Before you go, please review "What To Bring".
When you first get on the boat, find a spot to stow your gear. Avoid putting your things directly on the deck. The deck gets wet, and the crew and other anglers need room to pass. Go sign in on the ship's manifest. Introduce yourself to the crew and find out their names. You'll be asked if you want a bag for your fish (Answer is yes. It only costs $1 or $2) and you'll be provided a bag number. Remember your number. When you catch fish later, a deckhand will come get it off the hook for you and ask you what bag to put it in. You may also be asked if you want to enter the jackpot. It's up to you. It's normally $5 or $10 per person to enter. If you catch the big fish, you win the jackpot. Experienced anglers normally catch more fish, but ANYONE can get lucky and catch that one big fish. Each person entered in the jackpot must have their own bag (vs. sharing). If you are renting tackle, you'll get it later, so don't worry about it just yet.
Once the boat gets underway, the captain will either come out on deck or speak over the intercom. Pay attention to what he's saying. The captain will tell you where all the safety equipment is stored, give you an idea of what to expect for the day, and tell you how to rig up. If you don't catch all of it, don't hesitate to ask a crew member. On a one day trip or less, expect to ride 30 minutes to an hour to get to the fishing grounds. During this time, a deckhand will be setting up the rental gear and giving a quick Fishing 101 class on how to use it. Please pay attention. Each boat may have slightly different rules/norms, and this is where you will find out what they are. The crew wants you to catch fish and have fun, so it's in your best interest to listen and act accordingly.
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Once you get out to the fishing grounds, remain calm. Find an open spot on the rail and wait for the captain to say it's time to drop lines. If you drop early, more often than not, the boat is still settling into the spot and you'll either get tangled up or need to reel in and reset anyway. Be patient and wait for the greenlight. If the bait is squid, feel free to bait your hook early. If the bait is live fish (typically sardines or anchovies), don't take it out of the handwell until you are ready to fish. You want a lively fish at the end of your line to attract the target fish to bite. If you bait your hook early and let it dangle on the line, it's dying and won't be an attractive bait. Once you are fishing, if using squid (live or dead) you don't need to change your bait until it's gone. If the bait is live fish, try to feel it at the end of your line wiggling. If it isn't active, reel in and pin on a new bait.
When the fishing day is done and the ride home begins, a deckhand will say it's time to weigh in for jackpot. If you entered, get your biggest fish out of the sack and have them weigh it. The jackpot weigh in is a fun time to see what everyone else caught, and take pictures. Have that camera ready. Once the weigh in is done, the crew will start cutting fish. It's a good idea to let the crew cut your fish for you. It usually runs $1 per fish (maybe more if you catch a really big one) and sends you home with fresh fish, ready to cook and eat. You have some choices in how they can cut the fish for you. If you don't know what they are, read the end of this article "How to Filet Fish".
Those are the basics. Obviously, there is much more to learn, but if you listen to the crew and follow what they say, you'll do just fine. Enjoy!
- Listen to the captain and crew
- If fishing with live fish for bait, change your bait often
- Maintain the right attitude. Not every time out is going to result in catching the fish of a lifetime. Even experienced anglers get skunked. Enjoy your time on the water.
- If you have a good time, tip your crew appropriately. If you tip someone pouring you a cup of coffee, why wouldn't you tip someone who helped you enjoy a day on the ocean?