Pushing the cursor across the C-Map I was amazed to see we were 47nm from the boat ramp. In the past this would have horrified me, but today I simply took it in my stride and focused on finding the fish. Having checked the weather I knew the forecast was perfect, but I was here at this specific spot because my new Sea Surface Temperature (SST) charts had pinned it as a potential hotspot.
A few hours later and with the cube trail well established we hit pay dirt, as a stomper yellowfin nailed a bait. This was followed up by another jumbo tuna, making for a hot session. What was really interesting was that back at the ramp we learnt that all the boats fishing the traditional grounds inside us had caught nothing and the only other boat to score was even wider than we were. Travelling wider certainly paid big dividends in this case.
Decades ago it was possible to catch monster yellowfin tuna just a few miles offshore at places like Montague Island off the NSW South Coast, but now they seem to reside well offshore. There’s no doubt things have changed and we now need to travel wider to find the action. Those awesome pelagics we love so much are nomadic by nature, always on the move and riding the currents of the open ocean, so if you want to catch one you need to be where the fish are – and you need to be prepared to travel further out to sea.
These days I find myself running further and further to sea and a 30nm run is the norm rather than the exception. As the hours stack up I’ve learnt through trial and error what needs to be done to minimise the chance of any mishaps on these far-flung adventures.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISK
What I need to make clear early in the piece is that the skipper must always understand the risk. There is always going to be an element of danger involved in offshore fishing and the further you run the greater the danger grows. A little mishap becomes a major issue when you’re 40nm out to sea.
Now most anglers run with the theory that the bigger the boat, the further it can go, but in reality this isn’t necessarily the case. Instead the key is the skipper knowing his own capabilities as well as that of his vessel. Pushing a boat beyond its limits is what gets you into trouble; understanding your own limits is what makes a good skipper.
In essence a good skipper can safely take a 5.5m boat well offshore while a novice shouldn’t take a 7m battlewagon past the heads. Know your limits as well as that of your boat and you’ll be right. At the end of the day, if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t go.
UNDERSTANDING THE WEATHER
With the preamble out of the way, let’s now look at how to become a better skipper, one who is capable of running wide. First and foremost, going wide is not a decision to be made on the spur of the moment. Instead you need to plan ahead and get things happening well in advance, and understanding the weather is paramount.
The weather is the single biggest influence for trailer boaters. I watch the weather religiously, looking at potential calm spells appearing on long-range forecasts. In the past we were limited to the Bureau of Meteorology, which is notorious for over estimating conditions. While obviously a safety measure ever since that fateful Sydney to Hobart yacht race, inaccurate forecasting actually makes it harder for skippers to correctly evaluate the conditions.
The beauty of the age of technology is that with the internet at our fingertips we are no longer restricted to the BoM – there are now many other website options. To get a clearer overall picture I recommend you look at a number of weather websites.
When it comes to weather there is really only one option – calm, and the flatter the better. With a boat loaded with fuel and gear you want the smoothest possible ride when venturing offshore. Obviously there are dangers associated with bigger seas, but also it simply comes down to comfort. Believe me, there are few things worse than getting smashed for hours on end before you even wet a line.
Whether you like it or not, technology is now an essential part of long-range trailer boating. Today’s SST charts are a huge asset. This has nothing to do with safety; instead it is all about knowing where you are going to fish. Ocean currents are like aquatic highways for all pelagics from marlin to makos. For the angler, using satellite imagery suddenly removes the guesswork from pinpointing those potential hotspots.
This is actually one of the biggest factors that encourages me to venture further to sea. The days of blindly driving around are gone; now we can see exactly where the productive water is and exactly how far we need to run. There is even a new service, Pelagic Predictions, which provides exact GPS marks of where the fish are!
Then there are all the new detailed offshore electronic mapping charts – suddenly we can see all the seamounts and offshore canyons we never knew existed. I recently found a new seamount off Sydney using the new C-Map charts and have been catching tuna off it on a regular basis. What is ironic is that when I overlaid my old GPS marks, this same spot was already marked as a spot for big tuna. Only once I had the technology revealing the structure did I understand why I had been catching tuna there!
The trailerboat sportfisher has certainly evolved in the last decade. While the structure of the boats themselves have seen minimal change, all the other elements have improved dramatically, with no aspect more obvious than the engine. Outboards are a whole new breed these days with increased performance, exceptional fuel economy and high reliability. I remember practically crapping myself as a kid whenever we went offshore in a stinky old two-stroke, but today I run miles to sea without hesitation. There’s no doubt the introduction of the four-stroke played a big role in this, suddenly opening the doors so anglers could venture offshore with confidence.
Electronics too have played a big role and here I think GPS is the stand-out performer. While largely taken for granted these days, being able to know precisely where you are is invaluable, not just for safety but also for the crew’s confidence. Prices for GPS, sounders and even radar have dropped considerably in recent years, meaning they’re now commonplace on trailerboats. However, the key to all these fancy electronics is the ability to use them effectively – so make sure you read the instructions!
Keeping in contact is vital. A VHF radio is standard aboard most boats as the 27MHz radio is being made redundant. VHF reception has greatly improved, with relay towers boosting your range. Off Sydney channel 21 is so powerful you can talk to boats some 40nm away.
The humble mobile is also getting better and I’m about to install a dedicated boat phone in my boat to increase my range. On top of this I will also run a computer for internet access – so I can check for weather updates or view the latest SST chart.
In areas that have poor coverage, the ever reliable satellite phone is a great back-up. The cost of sat phones has come down considerably in recent years – you can now pick one up for under $1000. In any case, the price is irrelevant when you’re in trouble and the sat phone is your only form of contact. The bottom line is that staying in contact is essential for offshore expeditions.
ENGINES: ONE OR TWO?
There has long been a debate about the importance of using twin engines offshore – doesn’t it make sense to have a back-up if one fails? But what about all those massive ocean liners – they spend a lifetime at sea with just one engine. And then there are all the single-engined commercial boats plying their trade, too. So why do recreational boats have to have two?
In places like South Africa it’s actually the law – you can’t travel more than a few miles offshore unless you have two outboards. However, things are changing and the modern outboard is now a far cry from those unreliable two-strokes of yesteryear.
I’ve run several Hondas now and I’ve only ever needed a single engine. I’ve looked into the option of running twins but the more I investigate the issue the less I’m convinced. The main cause of engine trouble at sea is related to fuel – dirty fuel or water in your fuel tank. Now most boats run off a single tank, so if you have problems then both your engines are going to suffer. Mechanical failures with new, well-maintained engines are extremely rare. However, if you’re not confident in heading to sea with just one four-stroke engine, I suppose there’s no harm in doubling up.
What you put in your tank is really important. On a mechanic’s advice I recently upgraded to Caltex Vortex. To be honest I doubted it would make a difference, but I was surprised to see it did in fact significantly improve performance. This may seem insignificant, but let’s face it – we naturally go the cheaper option at the bowser when in fact we should be spending a few more bucks to ensure the outboard runs at its best.
You also need to know your fuel consumption and understand exactly how much you are going to use. When running wide you really need to get a bit more technical about fuel consumption. When I first started running offshore I used to have to calculate how much fuel I was using at specific revs. The problem is that even at a specific speed the fuel consumption will vary according to load and the prevailing conditions. The more weight you carry or the rougher the weather, the heavier your consumption.
The good news is these days you don’t have to worry, thanks to the introduction of fuel management gauges. I have a set of Honda digital gauges but most manufacturers will supply them and you can even link up some sounders or GPS units, instantly taking the guesswork out of the equation. Now with precise fuel usage and total litres used I can accurately calculate my range and reduce my reserve.
GO WIDE, YOUNG MAN!
If you’ve never done it before, fishing wide is a whole new adventure. You just never know what you’re going to encounter, be it a huge tuna or maybe even a pod of whales. The beauty is that with today’s technology and a bit of planning and preparation, you can now head wide in safety and with confidence.
A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING …
The single biggest problem for trailer boat sport fishermen is space, and this aspect is only accentuated when you travel wide. You need a lot of gear for an offshore expedition and somehow you have to cram it all into the confines of your trailerboat. In essence, there’s never enough room, so anglers have to be ruthless when planning and packing.
Fishing outfits are a perfect example. It’s a common sight to see a trailerboat heading to sea with as many as a dozen shiny gold game reels. In reality, however, you rarely need more than four or possibly five outfits. Even if you troll lures, it’s impractical to run more than four in most cases.
When it comes to storage space it’s an unfortunate fact that most production boats don’t fully utilise their space effectively – so you really need to plan it out. Every item needs a home, from the esky to the tackle box, because it is essential to maintain a clutter-free deck so you’ve got space to fight the fish.
Anything not stowed securely instantly becomes a hazard, especially if it’s rough and you’ve hooked up. Even on calm days you’re going to pitch and roll and anything loose will cause trouble, so stow it all away.