Always Be Ready
Albacore fishing often involves long bouts of trolling to locate schools of fish. When a jig strike stops the boat, scores of anglers rush out of the galley or stumble up from the bunk room to get live baits in the water.
The best fishermen on the boat will already be hooked up. The first few baits dropped back on the slide - when the boat drifts to a stop after the motors are taken out of gear - are sometimes the only ones bit. I don't care if it's been two hours since the last stop; you'll always find me standing by the bait tank, rod in hand and hook pinched between my thumb and forefinger. I've picked out the bait I want, and I usually have it in the water before the clickers on the trolling outfits stop screaming.
Have Backups Ready
The best anglers have multiple bait outfits rigged and ready to grab so they don't have to waste time retying during a hot bite. I always have at least two sardine rigs, one light anchovy stick, a heavy jig outfit and a sinker bait ready to deploy.
Listen to the Crew
Hooked-up anglers must follow their fish and the crew's instructions. When you get tangled with other anglers' lines, listen to the crew and you'll get out of it most of the time. One of the first instructions will be to step back from the rail and bring the two rod tips together. This seems counterintuitive, but it helps deckhands see how the fish are wrapped and keeps the lines parallel rather than pulling against each other.
Many times I've seen anglers fight the good fight only to tire or relax when the fish comes into sight. The result is often a pulled hook or bite-off. The best anglers keep up the pressure and short-pump the spiraling tuna to the surface. Small two-speed bait reels let you drop into low and winch stubborn fish to the gaff.
Handle Bait Carefully
Forming a cradle with your hand will allow you to lift and control a lively bait without damaging it. Keep the bait nestled in your wet palm, but never squeeze it. If you have to manhandle a live bait or drop it on the deck, toss it over and get a fresh one - no matter how good it was. It takes practice, but learning how to select, hook and get a bait into the water before 20 other anglers rush the bait tank is key to success.
Dare to Be Different
It's not unusual to go through a series of jig stops or sonar schools with no bait hookups. This is a good time to try something different. If everybody is fishing large sardines, put out an anchovy on 20-pound-test. Or try dropping a bait straight down with a chrome torpedo sinker tied in-line.
Sometimes you do everything right, but you just seem to be snakebit. If you're not getting bit or you dump a few fish, it's easy to get frustrated and go into a funk. Keep doing the right things and fish hard until the last bell, and you'll be surprised how often things turn around.
Gallery: Hooking a Sardine
What's the best way to hook a live bait?
That depends on what you're trying to accomplish.
Planning a Trip
Rods: 7-foot graphite conventional live-bait rods like the Calstar 700XL or 700L or the Super Seeker 870-7.
Reels: Conventional star/lever-drag casting reels like Avet JX Two Speed, Shimano Torium 20 or Okuma Cedros Star Drag 10.
Lines: 20-pound monofilament for casting small sardines or anchovies, 25- or 30-pound line for most sardine fishing.
Hooks: Live-bait hooks sized to match the bait; 1/0 to 3/0 for typical sardines, size 6 to size 1 for anchovies.
When: June through August.
Where: Southern California and northern Baja offshore waters.
Who: Numerous partyboats leaving from San Diego landings.
Point Loma Sportfishing