Tuna 101: A Primer for Voyaging Sailors
Ocean Navigator|November - December 2020
Catching, cleaning and eating tuna at sea
Jayme Okma Lee

I grew up spending my summers fishing the waters of Lake Huron. When my family and I moved onto Sargo, our 46-foot Garcia Passoa, I had plenty of enthusiasm for fishing, but close to no actual saltwater fishing skills. Over the past 12 months, I have taken every opportunity to talk to (interrogate) experienced saltwater fishermen. I’ve also learned from many mistakes. As we have caught more fish, my enthusiasm for fishing has gradually spread to the entire Sargo crew. Aboard a cruising sailboat, catching and landing fish takes a full team effort. On our recent passage from the U.S. Virgin Islands to St. Augustine, Fla., we landed five tuna and two mahi-mahi. For sailors who would like to catch more fish, here are some basic tips to catch, land and eat fresh tuna while voyaging!

Gear

You don’t need a lot of fancy, expensive gear to be a successful voyaging fisherman. Our “go-to” tuna lure is the basic cedar plug. You can find these in the fishing section of nearly any saltwater fishing store. I like the ones that come rigged with a heavy-duty monofilament leader. They don’t look like much, but I’ve been told their spiraling action mimics a distressed or injured baitfish. Whatever the reason, they do seem to catch fish!

We typically fish two lines while under way. The first is a 100-foot handline of 200-pound line with a shock-absorbing bungee cord attached. The second is on a short fishing rod with at least 30- to 50-pound line that we send “way back” at least 100 yards behind the boat. Once you have your gear in the water, make sure to check it frequently for weeds. Sometimes it seems like we have to clear weeds on a near-constant basis.

Finding tuna

Even with the right gear, you’re not going to catch any fish if there are none to catch. The best and simplest piece of advice I have received was from my friend Kevin Ferrie of @ FearKnot_Fishing. Kevin and his family are the most successful voyaging fishermen I’ve ever met. Kevin’s advice to cruisers is to “fish where the fish are.” Although we typically don’t alter our course significantly to increase our chances of catching fish, we definitely follow Kevin’s advice. Routing is sometimes a point of contention aboard Sargo. Our kids, Alice and Toren, favor the shortest, quickest route; my husband Bjorn favors the best sailing route and I favor the optimal fishing route.

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