Rigging for the Gulf Stream can be an art form

info@islandpacket.comMarch 27, 2012 

Have you ever been to a tackle shop and looked at their selection of hand-tied flies? I am by no means a fly fishing purist, but I do marvel at some of these creations. Nowadays, with fly-fishing exploding, you can find flies that resemble everything from a tiny ant to a crab, and their detail is downright amazing.

I used to tie my own flies to match the foods certain fish were eating and often would spend an hour or more tying one fly. But the best part of this art form was catching a fish on my own creation. I can't really explain what it was about catching a fish on something I made, except maybe a feeling of pride and excitement when a fish takes my creation. The days of tying my own flies are over only because I upped my game to bigger creations meant for bigger fish that swim in the Gulf Stream.

The first time I attempted making my own big game lure was back in the late '70s when artificial lures became the rage for big pelagic fish like marlin. I was so intrigued with these gaudy hunks of plastic that I ordered hundreds of dollars worth of plastic and other components and started making my own molds. I would use molds I made out of silicone rubber or molds made out of everyday objects, such as pill bottles and Coke bottles.

It was fun, and every once in a while I would come up with something that actually worked. It was quite a rush catching a 100-pound fish on a lure I had made and from then on, I became hooked on keeping track of what color patterns and shapes certain fish prefer. Now, before each offshore season begins, I spend hours and hours making and modifying lures that I feel will catch not just wahoo (my favorite), but dolphin and tuna, too. Tying flies for what freshwater trout are eating is called "matching the hatch," which is precisely what I do but on a grander scale.

No matter what anyone says, rigging for the fish that roam the Gulf Stream is an art. If you go deep-sea fishing in the Caribbean, the fish there prefer different colors than the fish that swim here. You would think that since many of these same fish migrate north up the Gulf Stream in the spring, they would hit the same colors they hit when they were south, but they don't. I think it has a lot to do with what the food source is in the particular area where they are. For instance, red and black or orange and black lures are hot colors for marlin in the Bahamas, but up here green and black just seem to work better.

With this in mind, I go to great lengths looking for materials to put on my lures that "match the hatch" for the fish here. To illustrate the extremes I go to, I hit sign shops where I beg for strips of reflective materials to add to lures. I also spend hours in places such as Michaels looking for fake eyeballs, glitter and other things that will make my lures stand out as they are trolled through the blue water of the Gulf Stream.

Unfortunately, looks aren't everything when fishing for these big fish. Like football, offshore fishing is a game of inches. No matter how pretty a lure is, if it is not positioned correctly you might as well be dragging an old T-shirt. I spend as much time "tuning" the position of lures as I do making them.

It is amazing how dropping a lure a few feet further back or pulling it in just two cranks of the reel can change the way it swims through the water. A good mate never stops moving during a day of fishing the Gulf Stream. Personally, I don't give a hoot about reeling in a big fish, but stay out of my way when it comes to rigging and moving baits around. Subtle changes, such as trolling with the waves versus against the waves, mean changing the position of the lures. The same goes for every change of direction the boat might be going or change in the surface of the ocean. It truly is an art to get eight to 10 different lines positioned correctly so each individual lure swims perfectly.

So why am I telling you all this? All I can say is if you walked into my spare bedroom right now, the floor is covered with enough lures that an entire fleet of fishing boats would be set for an entire year. There are blue ones, green ones, black ones, purple ones and combinations of every known color. You name it, and I got it.

With the offshore fishing ready to explode, I, too, am ready to explode if I don't get out there soon. Weather permitting and with the right water temperature in the Gulf Stream, maybe I'll have a fish tale for you come next week. Hmm, what color should I use first? Decisions, decisions.

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