Follow the Signs
by Peter Pakula
It is upsetting the way things get categorised, such as the how game and sports fishing are separated from all the other forms of angling. Bluewater fishing is certainly very exciting, and no other form of angling can shoot as much adrenaline through your brain and there are of course differences in the size, and in some instances the type of tackle used but the rest is all incredibly similar, regardless of whether your targeting Rainbow Trout, estuary Bream, or monster Marlin on the Continental Shelf.
There should be no surprise that an angler proficient at Trout on Fly is a good at trolling lures for Marlin, as many aspects of using artificials are the same. For example, the more you realise the importance and the better you are at "matching the hatch" in both instances, the luckier you get.
It is also no surprise that a top estuary angler who uses live bait makes a good bait fisherman for Yellowfin Tuna and Marlin, as he understands the important aspects of the presentation. The list goes on infinitum as to the similarities between different forms, indeed all forms of fishing including Blue Water angling Sports and Game Fishing.
One of the most important aspects of all successful fishing is the understanding of where to fish. Indeed it is as simple as "Fish where the fish are, at least where they will probably be." Rivers, lakes, bays and oceans are not uniform puddles of water. They are full of movement and differences in current, eddies, changing depth, wind, oxygen levels, tides and very importantly, temperature breaks. Fish react to all these things and are not at all randomly spread throughout the ocean. They are quite easily found if you understand the basics of reading the signs.
It is well known that visual signs such as splashing feeding fish and bait, diving birds and such things as flotsam are all well-known signs to show you where to fish. By understanding how to interpret the signs of the oceans in respect of finding fish you will automatically end up where all these well known visual signs occur. To do this it is best to imagine the ocean currents as a system of rivers endlessly flowing around the surface of the earth, interacting with coastlines, drop-offs, islands, canyons etc. These are the rivers of life through which the ocean inhabitants migrate and in which they feed.
Hereabouts is a diagram of a coastline with river entrance, island, reefs and contours. It’s a basic diagram, it could just as well be a diagram of a creek entrance to a river or lake. The island could just as easily be a boulder in the middle of a river. Regardless, as all water systems work in similar manners. If you know where to find trout in rivers and lakes and scale it up you will understand the oceanic systems and how to find sports and game fish.
All non-human and non-domesticated adult predators, from geckos to Polar Bears, Tigers, Makos, Lions, Marlin, Snakes, Spiders, Frogs and Tuna must all feed efficiently to survive, they must use less energy to feed than they use to catch it. If they don’t they die, simple as that. No sick pay, no social security, no long weekends, no friends or family to support them by offering a needy meal in hard times. Even pack animals such as Wolves and Killer Whales will not support an injured pack member for long, in fact, they will more likely turn on it and eat it.
Oceanic predators have learned to use the systems to enable them to reliably find food and feed using relatively little energy so they not only survive but also gain rather large mass and grow very quickly relative to land predators.
Most anglers imagine Bait Species as any type vacuum-sealed bag that is available from a Tackle Shop freezer. The reality is that all living creatures in water systems are bait, from mosquito larvae in a lake, even Marlin in the oceans are a bait species to Sharks which may become food for other Sharks. It’s pretty nasty out there, certainly the bigger you get the safer you are, but never totally safe. The basic rule to work on as an angler is that most predators are capable of swallowing other creatures at least 20% of their own weight. A 100lb Marlin would be quite happy about catching and enthusiastic about swallowing a 20lb Tuna. The largest lures commonly available are really quite small compared to much of the food actually swallowed by these creatures. The problem with food in these large sizes is that it is usually not worth the predators' energy to try very hard to catch. There's a much easier and effective way for large animals to feed.
The way this works is simple to understand. If you go to a Pet Shop and buy a little aquarium fish, you would be told to leave the fish in the bag you took it home in and float it in your aquarium for some period of time. This is to allow the temperature in the bag to adjust to that of your aquarium. If you tipped the fish straight into the aquarium it would drop stone cold dead from temperature shock. This simple example is the secret key that unlocks much of the world of oceanic predatory feeding habits. Many of the larger species of predators are designed to enable them to cross major temperature changes with immunity. For example species such as Yellowfin Tuna are warm-blooded, Billfish species have brain, eye and muscle heaters.
Predators are able to feed easily by forcing schools of fish against a temperature change, almost the same thing as forcing them up against a brick wall. The smaller the baitfish the less able it is to put up with temperature changes. Though it is often believed that the predators are found out on the warmer side of a temperature change, this is not necessarily the case, as predators can use both sides of a temperature change as a barrier to the bait.
The way predators feed on these smaller bait fish, can make it difficult for anglers to catch them. They quite often ball bait tightly against these temperature walls and then feed on them by charging through them with their mouths open gulping many individuals with each pass. In these cases, it’s very difficult to make your offering stand out as being worth the effort to catch and eat when it’s so easy for them to charge through the bait schools with their mouths wide open.
Temperature changes occur in many places throughout the ocean system, all of these areas are hunting grounds for predators and therefore, logically, should be the main hunting areas for sports and game fishermen.
Using the diagram as a reference we'll have a look at how the different waters and how their currents interact to form these temperature changes. Let me point out that none of the following has any scientific basis as I have a limited education on this subject or any other. These notes are based on observation and experience and of course a little "Pakula Logic", so you may have lots to argue about.
The inshore systems of rivers and their deltas or estuaries are the breeding and feeding grounds for many species of fish. Their entrances to the sea are incredibly busy bottlenecks of species coming and going with the tides, seasons and moon phases. Many species remain at these waiting for certain conditions such as rain or a change in barometric pressure before running into the rivers from the sea or to the sea from the river. Predators such as Sharks and Billfish know these shoals of fish will be present under these specific conditions and will come into these shallow and often murky waters for a relatively easy feed. The waters of the run out tides are often very different in temperature from the coastal waters. Any small fish that are forced to cross over from the tidal to the coastal waters are somewhat stunned and easy prey.
As we venture past the coast through the inshore tidal waters to what I've called offshore water the changes are worth noting. The water colour changes from green to a pale blue and the nature of the baitfish change as well. In the tidal waters, the bait species are often quite stubby and quite plain in colour, generally with olive, brown or grey backs and silvery white bellies. As we move out into the offshore water the baitfish have brighter backs that are more bluish and green also becoming more streamlined plus they often have spots on their sides. As we move through to oceanic waters the colour of the water becomes much bluer to almost being dark cobalt violet. The markings of the baitfish have more stripes mixed in with darker larger spots. Their colours turn to very dark backs of blue, green and purple and their shapes become very streamlined. Interestingly and rather obviously using lures and baits that match these colours and profiles increases results. In fact, even matching their relative speeds also increases results, for example, trolling inshore waters at 6 knots and around the continental shelf at 8.5 to 9 knots makes sense.
The currents that run through this system interact with each other and every obstacle in their way such as coastlines, islands, reefs, and drop-offs, canyons and ocean floor contours. The results are up-wellings, eddies and current lines all of which have temperature breaks. The faster the current the greater the temperature difference over a short distance should occur. The shorter the distance and the greater the temperature change the more solid the wall becomes to bait fish and the more likely hunting predators will be along with them. Indeed on the other hand when there is little or no current there is little change in temperature over distance and the fishing is generally poor.
By looking at the diagram you can now start to recognise several areas that will have temperature changes and thus worth fishing. Lets finally do some basic research by looking at the chart in detail.
Where the inshore tidal waters meet the offshore water is worth looking at. These currents generally move at different speeds and often in opposite directions. By looking south of the estuary there is an area that funnels the inshore and offshore water between the mainland and the continental shelf. The current here would be raging and if the weather is not perfect, quite likely to be very rough.
The reef looks perfect for finding sports and game fish. At the northern end, there would be up-welling from the canyon and eddies around the top of the Island. The island itself would be a refuge for baitfish around which predators would be lurking. The eastern side of the island would be worth trying as it very close to the shelf. Fish it by trolling, zigzagging between the island and the shelf from north to south, assuming that the current is coming from the north.
Trolling down current will generally result in more fish being raised and will also result in a better hook-up rate, as billfish naturally feed on bait coming down current. By zigzagging down current you will cover more temperature and depth ranges plus you will stay in a given area much longer than you would by steaming with the current. Once you have completed the run, return to the top of the troll by going straight into the current to get you back into position as quickly as possible. Of course, if you find action or get a strike you should stay in that area. If you're fishing for bream, you don't pull up the anchor and go to a different spot every time you get a bite or a hookup. It's the same when trolling lures if you get a bite you've found the fish! Stay there! All predatory fish are pack animals if you've found one you've more than likely found more.
It would certainly be worth concentrating on the eddies and up-welling formed by the canyons, however, they may not be easy to find as they be quite some distance down current before they reach the surface and in some instances, they may even be up current.
The island looks like it should be worth fishing but under the prevailing conditions, it has neither meeting of currents around it nor any major contours. It is unlikely that the area would be worth concentrating on. If the oceanic current moved closer to it then possibly it would be worth a look.
There's lots more to being a successful sports and game fisherman than temperature breaks, but understanding them and their importance is an important piece in putting the great and exciting jigsaw puzzle of Blue Water Fishing altogether. There are signs everywhere, all you have to do is learn how to read and understand them.