Fish On! Now What?!!!

I remember the first time we actually caught a fish trolling behind the boat.  We were in Belize and had little to no idea what we were doing.   But we had a good Shimano trolling pole with a Shimano TLD 25, from a Key West Bait & Tackle shop that came highly recommended by the charter fishing boats.  Amazingly enough, ten years later, you can still buy the same reel & pole according to the description it’s good for anglers that “value function, simplicity and reliability in the hunt for big fish. The TLD has changed little in design since its introduction, precisely because there is so little to improve.”   We subsequently added a “spinning” pole — also with a Shimano rod & reel before we left to go cruising.  It had seen almost no use other than me standing on the bow playing with it, learning to cast just for fun.

Sport Fish of the Gulf of Mexico along with our new Florida Fishing Regulations Rules book, telling us each fish and the rules — i.e. size and other regulations.

Luckily somewhere along the line, some sympathetic bait & tackle shop – perhaps intuitively realizing that these people know NOTHING – insisted we buy a little book called Sport Fish of the Gulf of Mexico.   Not only did it have good color fish ID photos, but it also told us about the food quality of the fish.  Our friends & buddy boat, s/v Kristiana, kindly marked up the book with what we might expect to catch.

We like this ID book because in addition to information on how to catch the fish and a description of what to look for to ID, it also contains “Food Quality” — the most important section!!!

Clearly we knew little about how to use our trolling pole, but we stuck it in the water as we crossed from Utila in the Bay Islands through Ranguana Cut to Placencia Belize.   Our buddy boat that caught the giant blackfin tuna we all dined on just the day before advised us to put a spoon lure with a skirt on and put the hook in the water.    We sailed in Ranguana Cut just as the sun was coming up the next morning after an overnight sail and about an hour later had a FISH on the hook!


Blackfin Tuna caught just outside Bocas Del Toro, Panama

I turned the boat into the wind to slow us down – we were making an incredible (for Winterlude) 6 – 6.5 knots.  Luckily we weren’t in tight quarters, so as I turned the boat into the wind, David fought the fish.  As soon as we could see the fish, I ran for the fish ID book.  A few minutes later, he gaffed a beautiful shiny silver wriggling fish that we had correctly identified as a Spanish Mackerel.   Some people don’t like to eat Spanish Mackerel, but we had learned from spearfishing that if you cut out the bloodline, the rest of the fillet is absolutely delicious.

In the years that followed, we didn’t put the trolling pole in the water often, but when we did, we sometimes caught cool fish – the best was probably a big blackfin tuna that we caught leaving Bocas Del Toro, Panama.  But since we’re random fisherpeople, we still had to run for the fish ID book every time we caught a fish.

David’s Spanish Mackerel with the “casting pole” dinghy fishing off Cayo Costa a week or so ago.


Since we’re not “going anywhere” exotic this winter, we decided our goal for this winter would be to learn to fish using the poles (not alot of spearfishing in SW FL).  The first time dinghy fishing we caught a crevalle jack — too small and he ate most of our lure.  On the way back to the boat, we identified the stuff we had forgotten — mainly more than one lure and our fish ID book.  Returning to the hunt, David landed a black sea bass, which we were able to identify as edible with our fish ID book.  The next morning, he landed two spanish mackerels, but we already recognize those from his spearfishing days.

But as we sail south, hopefully we’ll have many times I run for the fish ID book and we’ll have the adventure of tasting different types of fish than we’ve feasted on in our spearfishing days in the Western Caribbean!  YUM!

Anyone more experienced than us have pole fishing tips?   We bought a net, and already had a gaff and a good fillet knife.  Plus a few lures recommended by the local fishing shop and local guides.

Please leave comments and let us know how we can improve our chances to dine on fresh fish every night for the next few months!  Cheers!  Jan & David


  1. Gretchen says:

    The best tip we ever got was to keep a bottle of el-cheapo vodka or rum on board to kill fish with. Hold the fish down and pour a couple of tablespoons into its gills. The fish shudders and quickly dies. No more beating the poor things on the head, spraying scales and blood all over what is, in essence, your living room! We hope it’s more humane–it’s certainly a much quicker death.

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