The Art Of Becoming Fishermen
Ocean Navigator|March/April 2020
A voyaging couple's halting efforts learning to gather food from the sea.

Fishermen boat and boaters fish, that seems to be a given worldwide. Boating and fishing go hand in hand. People fish everywhere, and most cruisers have their own gear on board. Even our 35-foot catamaran Irie came with an old fishing rod when we bought her. How hard could it be? My husband, Mark, learned from another sailor how to open conch shells and remove and clean the ugly creatures inside to make delectable conch fritters, but our fishing success had been pathetic. We learned, however, like so many things, practice makes perfect.

Our first lesson about fishing techniques happened in the cute town of Solomons Island, somewhere in the Chesapeake Bay. Mark and I were walking our dogs along the boardwalk when we spotted a “Tackle and Bait” sign. After dodging a plethora of crab pots and hearing that the trapped animals thrived in these waters, we wanted to buy a tool and catch a few. Maybe a net? Wasn’t that what the kids used off the piers in Edgewater Marina where we prepped our boat for the journey south?

When Mark discovered the only good way to catch crabs is with one of those heavy cages, we gave up on the idea. How about catching fish? I remained outside with our pups, while Mark returned to the store to inquire about fishing.

“What did you find out?” I asked when he reappeared on the boardwalk.

“Nothing!” “What do you mean?” “Well, this guy rambled on about all kinds of things, like spoons and lures, pointing out colorful items on display. When to use what, and why, and where, and how. As if he was talking Chinese. I didn’t understand what he was trying to explain. Sorry.”

Oh well, there were plenty of grocery stores around, and meat hit the spot as well. Plus, on the Intracoastal Waterway, fishing didn’t seem appealing anyway. We forgot about catching our own food until Stuart, Fla., where we made the last preparations for our trip to the islands together with a bunch of other cruisers.

“So, you’re heading to the Bahamas, eh?” one of them asked. He must have been Canadian.

“Yep.” Wasn’t everybody?

“The fishing is awesome over there! You should get a spear or a Bahamian sling. And don’t forget a trolling line,” the old-timer recommended.

“Alright,” I said. What the heck is a Bahamian sling? How do you even use one?

“Let’s go online to check what those things look like and how they work,” Mark suggested. A visit to Walmart later, we were the proud owners of colorful lures, a small fishing kit, a flimsy blue net, a cheap rod and two spools of line — no Bahamian sling. Too advanced. Mark bought extra hooks at a hardware store, and I ordered the Fishing for Dummies book on Amazon. We also obtained a funky green light to attract our victims, or study them, at night. We were ready.

Trolling in Bahamian waters

Once in the Bahamas, we trolled one line during slow sailing trips. At anchor, Mark used the rod or hung a thicker handline from a cleat. Nothing ever happened.

Sailing between Marsh Harbour and Great Guana Cay in the Abaco Islands, we trolled the heavier line and tied the fishing rod to the stern of the catamaran on the other side, doubling our chances. Michael and Sabine, friends from a previous RV trip, were visiting from Germany. Wouldn’t it be great to serve these world travelers freshly caught fish for dinner?

“Oh no! Liesbet, slow the boat down. We have a problem!” Mark’s voice bellowed from the stern.

“Michael, can you grab the Lifesling? Yeah, that yellow thing in the bag over there. Take it out and throw it overboard. Don’t worry, it’s attached.” Mark gave us rapid commands. Should I turn the engines on?

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