Tricks of the Trade

Eighteen of the world's top names in the sport-fishing business give us their inside advice on everything from sharpening a hook to guiding a president.

September 21, 2007

How to Fish a Bonefish Flat

Capt. Bob Branham

A top-rated Florida flats expert, Branham has guided from Key Biscayne to Key West for the past 23 years.

One of the first things you want to check is the depth of the flat. Look for any natural troughs or channels that cut through the flat. Bonefish will use these troughs as highways as they move on and off the flat with the tides. It’s also very important to determine the direction of the current, and realize that the fish will feed into the flow. Ideally, you want to work the flat in the same direction as the current, and also with the sun and wind at your back.


On the low, incoming tide, the fish will feed more actively. Expect to see tailing fish at this time, as they will be eager to feed in shallow water as the flat is first covered by water. At high tide you’ll obviously have more ground to cover, and the fish could be seeking shelter in the mangroves. On the falling tide, the fish will increase their feeding activity again, but they’ll generally be in deeper water. This is when you will often see them mudding.

It’s always encouraging to see life on a flat, such as stingrays and sharks, although it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll see fish. Temperature can play a role in where the fish will be, but not as much as some pundits claim. After all, the fish have to be somewhere, and they have to feed. In fact, I had my best day of bonefishing when the water temperature was 58 degrees. As long as there’s any kind of current, the fish will be able to tolerate greater extremes of temperature, both hot and cold. When it’s cool, work the deeper shoreline edges; don’t bother to hit the really shallow areas.

When it comes to fly selection, go with bright yellow or pink patterns when it’s dark and cloudy. If it’s sunny, use brown or tan patterns over darker bottom. If you’re fishing a white bottom, tie on a white or light-tan fly.


How to Set the Drag on a Big-Game Reel

Capt. Paul Ivey

Ivey is a perennial recipient of one or another IGFA Captain of the Year awards and specializes in catching billfish in Venezuela and the Caribbean.

In Venezuela, when trolling dead-bait, we fish 30-pound-test on stand-up gear. We set 7 1/2 pounds of strike drag, which is 11 pounds when the lever is on top of the button. On the other side of the button is 13 pounds. Midway to full is 14 1/2 pounds and when the lever is parked, it’s 18 to 19 pounds.


It is customary to have the mate and the captain set the drag. I don’t – I have the anglers do it. I like people to feel comfortable with the drag and I want them to have a feel for what 7 1/2 pounds of drag feels like. If I ask them, “Did you check your drag?” and they don’t know what seven pounds feels like, they won’t know if the drag is still set.

Setting the drag in the cockpit doesn’t teach you anything. Take turns walking down the dock, pulling line against different drag settings, and you’ll get a feel for what is happening to the fish, how it will react and how the drag works in your favor. Feeling the drag from both ends of the line helps you to use it properly.

Drag is your friend, and the way you use it determines whether you’ll catch fish or not.


How to Photograph a Jumping Billfish

Richard Gibson

A world-roving big-game photographer with over 100 cover shots to his credit, Gibson is considered the best in the business.

The whole key to photographing a billfish is simple: go where they get their mail. In other words, place yourself in a seasonal hot spot that will produce plenty of photographic opportunities. The more fish you see through your lens, the more chances to get that Salt Water Sportsman cover shot.

Of course, you’ll also need the right equipment. A 35mm camera equipped with a high-speed motor drives make a big difference. You only have a few seconds – if at all – to fill your frame and compose the shot. Burn a lot of film; it’s by far the cheapest part of the whole experience. If you can afford two camera bodies and motors, all the better.

Shutter speeds? Easy, always 1/1000 of a second or faster. You must be able to freeze the fish in the middle of its jump. Today’s zoom lenses are fast and of high quality. A 100-400mm zoom is great, as it often eliminates the need to change lenses. Same holds true for wide angle. A 20-85mm zoom is wonderful for cockpit shots. Try to buy “fast” lenses with at least an F2.8 or F4 maximum aperture.

Did I mention to fill your frame? Very important. If a giant blue is jumping 300 yards behind the boat, don’t even bother to shoot. Even a big fish will appear as a tiny dot at that distance. Wait till the fish is 100 feet or so behind the boat and hope it’ll come up jumping. And be ready when the mate grabs the wire. Zoom wide and get both the fish and mate in the same frame. Force yourself to shoot vertically, and remember that magazine covers require space on the top for the logo. All fishing magazines pretty much require slide film, such as Fujichrome or Kodachrome. 200-speed films are your best bet with “slow” lenses. However, if you can get away with 100 speed or less, go for it.

How to Become a Fishing Guide

Capt. Robert Trosset

A Key West charter captain for 25 years, Trosset has guided his clients to over 100 world records.

If you want to be a fishing guide, it has to be for all the wrong reasons. You can’t do it because you want to make money; you have to do it because you love to fish.

When I was in college I worked six days a week to fish one day. The day I graduated I knew I needed to fish six days a week. I drove to Key West with a thousand bucks and a 17-foot Mako. By the time I finally found a job at Oceanside Marina I was down to 78 cents in my pocket. But I was working around the thing I was passionate about.

You have to want to fish 25 days month. You have to want to be on the water. And you have to have someone bring you along. Bob Montgomery took me under his wing, and he was one of the best.

These days it’s even harder. You can’t make it on your own. If you want to be a fishing guide you’d better know a fishing guide. You really need somebody to back you up and you have to love what you are doing. You have to be a quality person. Sometimes you have to adapt to people who don’t know how to fish. Sometimes you have to bring the fish to the people. And you have to remember your roots, give back and help out somebody else.

How to Tell a Fishing Lie

Pat McManus

McManus, long-time columnist for Outdoor Life and author of many books of humerous essays, is perhaps the most widely read outdoor writer in the history of the world – or so we’re told.

The fishing lie is an art form, but one that’s easily mastered. Say you return from a fishing trip and one of your acquaintances asks, “Howja do?”

Persons accomplished in the art refer to that as “a rise.” The object now is to cast to the rise and see if you get a strike. You open your lie box and check the lures: Fib, Falsehood, Half-Truth, Little White, Bald Face, Fabrication and the deadly Prevarication. You go with a Half-Truth.

“Only fair,” you reply. “Shoot, I doubt I caught a single one that’d go over 20 pounds.” (Your lone 15-incher certainly wouldn’t.) The Half-Truth, of course, implies that you caught so many big fish you might have overlooked a 20-plus-pounder; suggests that you’re so accustomed to catching fish over 20 pounds that failing to do so results in only a “fair” day; and provides your inquisitor with nothing to challenge. What is he going to say? “You did, too!”

So he strikes. “Wow, man! What did you catch all of ’em on?” You smile, take in your line, and tie on a Prevarication.

How to Cast a Fly Line 100 Feet

Lefty Kreh

The world’s foremost casting coach and distance expert, Lefty has fly-fished his way around the world and written about it in newspapers, magazines and books for more than 45 years.

Two things will increase your casting distance. The first is a tight loop. Most people throw a wide loop, which disperses energy around the curve of the loop and robs the cast of distance. Countering the wide loop begins when the backcast is straight out behind you. Rather than visualizing a loop as you bring the line forward, imagine casting your line through the rod tip. As the tip “deflects” – or bends forward – at the end of the power stroke, the line passes just above the tip, directing the energy at a target and tightening your loop.

The second thing that will increase distance is to speed up the line. Not one in a thousand casters varies the speed of the hauls in their double haul, but they should. The haul is what accelerates the rod tip; acceleration of the tip is what makes the line go faster; and the faster the line, the longer the cast. You should use the double haul like a gear shift. When you need help – whether it’s dealing with wind or casting for distance – increase the speed of the haul.

Most casters will make two beautiful false casts and then try to throw into the next Zip Code on the third, which destroys the cast. Concentrate instead on making three identical false casts, but haul faster on the third one. You don’t get distance from your rod hand, you get it from your line hand by accelerating the haul to increase line speed.

How to Guide a President

Capt. George Hommel

Respected Florida Keys guide, founder and general manager of World Wide Sportsman, Hommel, left, is the personal guide for former president George Bush, right.

It may not be easy for some people to understand, but guiding a U.S. president is the same as guiding anyone else. Presidents are real people, too, and real people just like to fish. Former president Bush is a very enthusiastic fisherman and enjoys the whole experience, so that makes it easy for the guide. Besides, he can catch fish with the best of them. He is also very concerned about keeping the environment and the habitat protected, so that future generations can enjoy what he has over the years.

The biggest part of guiding the president is keeping the Secret Service and the press boat informed of our plans. They do shadow us, but they are also real pros and know that they have to keep their distance when we are on the flats. One benefit is that you never have anyone come steaming up and blow out the whole flat or cut you off when you’re working an area!

Simply put, fishermen are great people, and presidents can be fishermen. So that makes it easy on the guide.

How to Check Out a Used Boat

Capt. Tom Hill

A member of the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors (SAMS) and a licensed captain since 1970, Hill is the owner of Atlantic and Pacific, Inc., a surveying and consulting firm in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

The first thing to do is walk completely around the boat and look over the hull. You’ll be able to tell right away whether the owner treated it as a prized possession or a throw-away. Look for chalking of the fiberglass, which indicates neglect, and check for spider cracks below the waterline, which could be evidence of moisture damage to the laminates. Then inspect the running gear. Does the prop spin freely? Grab the rudder and shake it. If it’s not nice and tight, there could be trouble with the steering. Inside, check where the stringers and bulkheads are glassed into the hull. Fractures may indicate the boat was run hard in rough seas, or has been in an accident.

The engine can be a wild card. Does the dipstick oil have a burnt smell or feel gritty? These can be bad signs. Is the coolant up to level? If not, and there’s evidence of it in the bilge, you have a leak somewhere. If there’s rust where the exhaust risers meet the manifold, new risers will be needed. And check the hour meter. Fresh water-cooled gas engines have a useful life of about 1500 hours, so if the meter says 1200, plan on repowering soon. If you have any doubts about the engine, have a competent mechanic check it out.

The key is to assess the condition of everything – canvas, fuel tanks, carpets, upholstery, electronics – and figure out how much it’s going to cost to bring the boat into the condition you want. Take a photo of any substantial damage to a reputable boatyard and get a repair estimate. A hole in the hull doesn’t necessarily render a boat unseaworthy, but it will probably need professional attention. All these costs need to be factored into what the boat’s really worth.

Finally, when you go to sign the purchase and sales agreement, have it “pending a survey.” This way the price can be adjusted later if the surveyor finds things that you may have missed.

How to Create a TV Fishing Show

George Poveromo

A Contributing Senior Editor at SWS, George is the creator and host of “George Poveromo’s World of Salt Water Fishing,” the number-one-rated salt water fishing show on ESPN2.

If you want to create your own fishing show, the first thing you need to do is come up with a concept, a focus, preferably one that’s different from all the other shows out there. For example, rather than traveling to all kinds of exotic foreign destinations, I geared my show toward fishing opportunities here in the U.S. After you decide the concept part, the next step is to get a set of guidelines from the television network and create a pilot show. Put everything you’ve got into that pilot, because that’s what will get you noticed.

To make the pilot tape you’ve got to take a week out of your life, hire a camera and sound crew, travel to a location, arrange for two boats, and pay for hotel rooms, marina slips, fuel and food for everyone. Then pray for good weather and hope the fish show up. Once you’ve got your footage, you have to rent out time at an editing studio and hire an editor to put your pilot tape together. Also, you will want to rent a music library for background – you just can’t steal the theme from “Happy Days” off a jukebox.

When you’re through editing, spend some money on packaging. A professional look will reflect the quality of the tape’s contents. When you’ve got the pilot tape shining, inside and out, rub your lucky rabbit’s foot and drop it in the mail. If you haven’t received a response in two weeks, make a call to the program director to check on your tape’s status. Be persistent, but not pushy.If your tape is accepted, the real fun begins. Now you’ve got to figure out a budget for 13 shows (basically 13 times what it cost to produce the pilot) and drum up sponsors to cover production costs, plus the airtime, which you have to buy from the network! Once you have the funding, you have to deal with working out the logistics of traveling to the various locations with all your equipment and boats. And don’t forget that when you get there you will have to deal with all the elements that fishermen have to deal with every day: weather, finding the fish and getting them to eat. You better be ready to pull out every trick in your bag to catch fish or you could end up eating a good part of your budget!

How to Sharpen a Hook

Frank Johnson, III

An expert big-game angler, Johnson is general manager/vice president of Mold Craft Lures.

Most hooks are as sharp as you need them right out of the box. The exception is larger big-game hooks, which still need to be sharpened. The best thing to use is a six- or eight-inch mill smooth bastard file. Harder steel hooks or those with a hard finish can’t be cut with a file, so you have to use a stone. A 320-grit stone is sufficient.

The way to sharpen a hook point is to push or pull the file or the stone towards the point. I sharpen the outside edges of the hook point only. Sharpening the inside of the point creates an edge that widens the hole in the fish’s jaw and may allow the hook to fall out. There is already an edge forged on the inside of most big-game hooks, and it doesn’t need to be sharpened. All you want to do is sharpen 3/16″ to 1/4″ of the point at most.

Don’t modify the shape of the point. Instead, sharpen it just enough to allow the diameter of the hook wire to penetrate. This is the best approach for soft-mouthed fish such as dolphin, sailfish and mackerel. Hard-mouthed fish like tarpon need more of a cutting edge.

Keep in mind that when you sharpen plated hooks, you remove the protective plating. Paint the point with magic marker after sharpening – it prevents corrosion and lets you know you have already sharpened that hook.

How to Grill a Fish

Chef Donald Barickman

Barickman is the executive chef/vice president of Hospitality Management Group, operators of Magnolias, Blossom Caf¿ and Cypress restaurants on East Bay Street in Charleston, South Carolina.

It’s very important to have really fresh fish. Remember that certain fish – such as tuna, dolphin (mahi mahi), wahoo, salmon and many types of grouper – are better for grilling than others. Flaky white fish is not desirable for grilling because it may fall to pieces.

The fish should be properly filleted or steaked, from one to three inches thick, preferably without any bones. Be careful when handling or filleting the fish. Keep the fillet intact, with no rips or tears in the flesh. This will affect the way the fish cooks.

I also recommend seasoning the fish just before you grill it if you plan to serve it medium rare or rare. If the fillet is marinated too long or the marinade contains too much lemon juice or vinegar, it may pickle the fish. I like to give the fillets a sprinkle of dry spice or seasoning, sea salt and a light brush of oil.

Make sure you have a good, hot fire that will also add some flavor to the fish. I prefer to charcoal with hickory chips or just a bed of hickory coals. It’s good to have an area of the grill that is not directly over the coals in case you have to pull the fish off the fire.

Stay with the fish while you are cooking it. When it’s done, let it rest a little before serving. Grilled fish is always finished nicely with a dab of soft butter that has been flavored with minced shallots, garlic and various herbs, spices or citrus zest. Just a small pat that can slowly melt over the fillet or steak is just about all a grilled fish is asking for. Enjoy!

How to Write a Fishing Song

Captain Sam Crutchfield

America’s premier fishing singer/songwriter, wisened charter skipper Crutchfield has produced 92 songs on eight CDs and shows no signs of slowing down.

If you’re going to write songs about fishing, and be successful, you’ve got to love the fishing itself. You’ve got to think about all the different things you love about it – the sights, the smells, the emotions, the people. It’s easy to sell a song about something people love to do, like catchin’ a marlin or drinkin’ rum, or finding a frigate bird. What captain wouldn’t want to find a frigate bird offshore? People can relate to these things.

Ideas for songs come to me in different ways. Once I was driving down the road with a young lady to do some duck hunting. We were having a good time talking about fishing and laughing and all, and she said something about “drinkin’ fish and catchin’ beer.” And boom, that’s where the song “Sotally Tober” came from. Another time someone told me I should write a song about female anglers, so I thought about it and came up with “Down in the Islands.” You have to feed off what your fans like and want. I sit down at the keyboard and write the lyrics first, like you would a poem. They’ve got to be catchy. Then I fool around with the melody, tempo and the beat. Sooner or later the song comes together.

My best advice for someone getting started in this business would be to write about things you really care about. Try to imagine you have a purpose for a song. Some sort of musical background doesn’t hurt, either. My dad was a great fisherman, but I got all my musical ability from my mom.

How to Buy a Sportfisherman

Spider Andresen

A long-time SWS staffer and USCG-licensed captain, Spider has owned or operated some 25 boats to 48 feet in the past three decades and has worked with dealers and builders in the design and marketing of numerous models.

There’s never been a better time to buy a sportfishing boat. During the mid- to late ’90s the economy was rocking, fuel was cheap, and dealers ramped up for expected strong sales. They bought lots of boats, particularly those in the $500,000 range and up. Then when the bottom dropped out of the market late last year, they were stuck with lots of inventory. By the middle of this summer, 2003 boats will be in production but dealers will still have plenty of ’01 and ’02 boats to move. For instance, my friend Peter Maryott at Oyster Harbors Marine in Osterville, Massachusetts, who sells Bertram, Cabo, Ocean, Post, Regulator, Tiara and Viking, recently told me that he has a big inventory right now and that some of these boats will go out the door at great prices.

Another way to win at this game is to watch the market. If you have your eye on a 55-footer from a reputable builder that has a loyal following of customers, and that builder comes out with, say, a new 63-footer, expect owners of the 55s to move up. Within a few months some late-model 55s will come onto the used market. Come in with a low offer, but be prepared to sit it out, as prices will become more negotiable as additional 55s come up for sale. You’ll probably end up getting a really good deal.

The other thing you can do is find out if the factory has a demo boat in the model you want. If so, tell the dealer you’d like a shot at it when it comes up for sale. These boats are generally factory-maintained, run by professional captains and have the best electronics. The engines will have had top-notch service, and all the little bugs will have been worked out. It should make you a nice, hassle-free, turn-key boat for less than the cost of a new one.

One word of caution: You are in a great negotiating position at present, and you can probably make the dealer bleed a little. But at some point you may have to bring the boat back to the dealer for repair or warranty work, or you may want to buy another boat from him. If you leave something on the table for the dealer, you’ll find that future negotiations will go a lot easier.

How to Hook a Billfish

Capt. Skip Smith

A well-traveled skipper and captain of the famous Madam and Hooker big-game sport-fishing boats, Smith has been responsible for 48 IGFA world records, 90 percent of them for billfish.

We used to have a saying about billfish: “You can’t out-think something that doesn’t think.” But you can learn the fish’s behavior well enough to improve your chances of getting the lure or bait inside its mouth.

Watching a billfish hit a trolled ballyhoo, the first thing he wants to do when he catches it is to give it a good squeeze. He just finished chasing the bait at four to five knots, and he doesn’t want to let the bait go and have it taking off on him. Sailfish and marlin don’t bite off the bait’s tail like a kingfish or wahoo do, but they want to get a hold of the bait, and they do that by squeezing the tar out of it.

If you can drop the rod tip and drop back that bait – when the fish’s bill is up in the air and its mouth is open – you will put the bait right in its mouth, where your hook-up ratio is much better. When you’re ready to set up, reel as fast as you can until the fish begins pulling line against the drag. I don’t jerk the rod, because it can hurt my chances of getting another shot at the fish. If the fish lets go, the bait will look like it’s swimming away naturally, which should entice the fish into making another strike.

How to Paint a Perfect Boat Bottom

Bob Donat

Donat is the North American Marketing Manager for Interlux Yacht Finishes.The three steps to the perfect boat bottom are choosing your paint, prepping the bottom and applying the paint – but there are things to look for each step of the way.

When you’re choosing your paint, consider how often you use the boat, the conditions where it is kept and if the new paint is compatible with the existing paint. If your boat is in Maine and kept in cool salt water, it’s going to need a different bottom paint than a boat that’s kept in the warm, stagnant salt water of a Florida canal. If you spend the time choosing your paint carefully, your boat will be fast and run efficiently and be protected from fouling for the whole season. A paint that is compatible with the paint already on the boat saves you the time and expense of stripping the surface down to the gelcoat before applying the new paint.

To prepare the bottom for painting, look it over. If the existing paint is not cracking or peeling and looks as though it is adhering well, and you have selected a compatible paint, give the bottom a thorough sanding with 80-grit production paper. Be sure to wear all the appropriate safety gear to keep the dust from getting where it doesn’t belong.

When painting underwater running gear – such as shafts, struts and trim tabs – preparation is critical. Sandblast or grind all surfaces to a bright metal finish and apply four coats of Interprotect epoxy primer.

If the existing paint is in poor condition * and is cracking and peeling, the best plan is to strip it down to the gelcoat. You can strip it yourself with the appropriate chemicals (a stripper compatible with fiberglass) or youcan hire someone to grind it off or sandblast it. Once you get down to the gelcoat, that’s when you apply a blister-prevention system, such as Interprotect, before you put on your antifouling bottom paint.

Now you’re ready to apply your bottom paint. Antifouling paints should be applied at full strength – never thinned. A gallon of antifouling paint should cover roughly 400 square feet. Another key to this step is your tools: a good quality tape to mask the waterline and 3/8″ phenolic-core rollers. The element on these rollers is bonded to the cardboard tube in such a way that it won’t come apart while you’re using it. Also, mixing your paint is critical: put it on a paint shaker or use a power-drill attachment or even a paint stick, but make sure it’s mixed well. And always use the proper safety gear, including goggles and gloves.

How to Get a Fishing Story Published

Barry Gibson

Editor of Salt Water Sportsman for the past 20 years, Gibson has authored over 200 fishing articles for a variety of magazines nationwide.

First, get the editorial guidelines for the publication to which you plan to submit your story. This is absolutely mandatory, as they’ll indicate the preferred word length for an article, plus how to format and submit it. Then, become totally familiar with the magazine. Read at least a dozen stories in recent issues to get the flavor of what the editor appears to like.

Write or e-mail the editor (most don’t like phone calls for this) with a synopsis of the piece you have in mind, and briefly detail your qualifications or fishing experience. Explain why your story would be of interest to readers, and ask if he or she would like to take a no-obligation look-see.

Once you get the go-ahead, don’t reinvent the wheel. You won’t go wrong if you pattern your story after one you read in the magazine you’re submitting to. You might start out with on-the-scene fishing action, then dive into the meat of the piece, be it how-to, where-to or whatever. Sprinkle in a few anecdotes or examples, and end with a little more action and a conclusion. This is called “formula writing,” but editors buy it day in and day out because it gives readers the information they want.

What helps sell your story? Clear explanations of new or unusual techniques are hard for editors to resist. Quote guides, captains, biologists or well-known anglers whenever you can, as they have credibility with readers. Turn-offs? Don’t plagiarize reference books (e.g., “The plump dog-ear flounder (Flattus caninus) we were catching are indigenous to temperate intertidal waters from the Scotian Shelf to Brazil. . .”). Don’t describe catches of inappropriately large numbers of fish. And keep dialogue to a minimum.

Finally, if you just want to write a “from the heart” story about a memorable fishing experience or poignant lesson, all bets are off. Compose it however it feels best, send it in, and cross your fingers.

How to Win a Kingfish Tournament

Dave Workman, Jr.

Three-time Southern Kingfish Association (SKA) Angler-of-the-Year, Workman is also president of C&H; Lures and Billy Baits.

Always look at the past results of the area you’re going to be fishing, because kingfish historically show up in the same spots year after year. Also, check the recent water-temperature charts and make a few calls to local sources before you arrive to find out where the bait is holding. If you find the bait, you’ll usually find the fish. It’s also a good idea to pre-fish the area at least one day in advance of the tournament to


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