Defining the World of Sport-fishing

sport·​fish·​ing

\ˈspȯrt-ˌfi-shiŋ  \

noun

  • fishing done with a rod and reel for sport or recreation

 

              Sport-fishing is any engagement in fishing that brings one pleasure, whether that be on a rowboat in a pond, a kayak on the river, or a trawler on the open ocean. It can be competitive or fun, enthralling or relaxing, complex or elementary. In each of these scenes, the creatures beneath the horizon vary immensely; from a 1 lb bass to a 1,000 lb marlin. You don’t need a traditional rod and reel to enjoy sport fishing, just a string and a chicken leg can land you a blue crab, just as a simple net can corral shrimp and minnows. Sport-fishing does not only encompass the sagas broadcast on TV with series such as National Geographic’s Wicked Tuna and Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, but describes a broad community that finds enjoyment in the sport. As Bubba Carter, lifelong fisherman and captain of the Tijereta in Los Sueños, Costa Rica, says, “sportfishing is the most skilled game in the world.”


bill·fish

/ˈbilfiSH/

noun

  • a large, fast-swimming fish of open seas, with a streamlined body and a long, pointed, spearlike snout. It occurs on the surface in warmer waters and is a popular sporting fish.

 

             Billfishing, a specific type of sport fishing, revolves around the sole pursuit of billfish. In order to find these elusive giants, one must venture 30-40 miles offshore. To do so, a sportfishing boat is needed. In the world, there are many boat building companies that specify in “sportfishers”, as they are referred to colloquially. The price tag on a boat like this ranges in the millions, depending on the length and build of the vessel.

              Billfish vary in genotype and phenotype depending on their geographical location. In the Atlantic ocean, there are blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, swordfish, and spearfish. If a boat can catch a blue, white, and sail in the same day, it is referred to as a Grand Slam. If they can catch an additional species, they would have achieved a Super Slam. Though it has never been done, if a boat were to catch all five billfish species in one day they would secure the first ever Fantasy Slam. But for now, it’s just a fantasy.

              In the Pacific ocean, there are slightly different species, billfish that evolved to adapt to their respective climate. While it is also home to Pacific blue marlin, sailfish, swordfish, and spearfish, there are no white marlin in western waters. Instead, if you were to venture off the coast of Mexico or Perú, you may be lucky enough to encounter a black or striped marlin in your baits.

             Black marlin are traditionally the largest species of billfish, the world record weighing in at 1,560 lbs. After black marlin, blue marlin are typically the second largest species, followed by swordfish, striped marlin, white marlin, and spearfish, respectively. Size largely depends on age, with female marlin living up to 27 years and males up to 18. Due to this discrepancy in life span, the female marlins generally grow to be bigger than the males. Besides size, the methods to differentiate between similar species are phenotypic. Blue marlin have pointed dorsal fins (the large fin on top of their head), whereas white marlin’s fins are rounded. Spearfish have brighter blue coloring, and black marlin have rigid pectoral fins (fins on either side of the head) that do not change position. Striped marlin have a dorsal fin that is frequently the same length vertically as their body at its thickest point, and swordfish have shorter bodies and larger eyes due to their nocturnal nature. Sailfish are known and named for their sail-like dorsal fin.

            The goal of many marlin fisherman is to catch all of the species globally throughout their life, referred to as a Royal Slam. Tyler Sudbrink, avid fisherman and freelance mate from North Carolina “went fishing in the different countries to catch all the different species. I have fished in Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. Mexico is the most like America, with a lot of American boats down there fishing. There is a lot of camaraderie along the dock of people coming from the states and locals. [Fishing] supports the country’s economies by keeping out American boats and retaining revenue for the local fishermen.”

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Black Marlin
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Blue Marlin
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White Marlin
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Sailfish
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Striped Marlin
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Spearfish
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Swordfish

reel

/rēl/

noun     

  • a cylinder on which film, wire, thread, or other flexible materials can be wound.

verb

  • wind a line onto a reel by turning the reel.

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knot

/nät/

noun

noun: knot; plural noun: knots
  • a unit of speed equivalent to one nautical mile per hour, used especially of ships, aircraft, and winds.
HISTORICAL
  • a length marked by knots on a log line, as a measure of speed.

            Sportfishers troll at a speed of 6-8 knots to replicate the speed of a typical bait fish. The exact trolling speed depends on the target species. For example, blue marlin trolling is generally around 6-7 knots, whereas white marlin and sailfish, the faster species, requires a trolling speed closer to 8 knots. 


cap·tain

/ˈkaptən/

noun

  • the person in command of a ship
  • synonyms:
    • commander, master;
    • Informal: skipper
    • “the ship’s captain”

 

               Though you may think you know the meaning of this one through an extensive watch of Captain Phillips, there are elements of captainship beyond the stereotypical sailor in a cap. The captain is the leader of the boat in every sense of the word. Generally, they are employed by the owner of the boat, but are given the power to make everyday decisions regarding the well being of the vessel. In business terms, the company may be owned by the Board of Trustees, but the CEO is the one in the office everyday, making tough calls and doing the dirty work. The captain resides on the upper deck of the boat, the helm, with a clear view of the baits and the open ocean ahead.

             For some, captainship is not a choice, but a means of financial stability. For Jimmie Horning, a 19 year old captain in Manteo, North Carolina, captainship came with his father’s health issues. After multiple strokes and the loss of his captain’s license, his father was forced to retire from his beloved boat, the Hog Wild. Jimmie Horning, at the ripe age of 17, took over the duties of captain in order to provide for their family. In his words, “being a captain is about more than finding the right spots to fish, it’s about the desire to connect people with your love of the sport.”


first mate

/ˈˌfərs(t) ˈmāt/

noun

  • the deck officer second in command to the master of a merchant ship.

 

            If the captain is the CEO, the first mate is right below him at COO, the Chief Operating Officer of the cockpit. Their jobs consist of rigging the baits the night before a fishing trip, setting out the baits once in the desired fishing spot, and being on their toes should a fish bite. When a billfish is spotted in the baits, the mate is the first one to react. In order to hook the fish, they lift the rod and click off the drag, the mechanism within the reel that keeps the line from going out as they troll. With the line in free spool, meaning running without drag from the spool, the mate allows the marlin to eat the bait for about seven seconds. Once the marlin swallows the hook, they reapply the drag and wind the crank in order to set the hook in the fish’s lip. If the hook is secured, they will pass the rod off to the designated angler to begin the fight.

            Once the line reaches the end and the first mate grabs the leader (the end portion directly before the bait that is made of thicker, more durable line to resist the coarse texture of the fish’s bill) the fish is considered caught. The mate then takes two wraps of the line around his gloves, and guides the fish to the side of the boat, a process called “wiring”.  The first mate then removes the hook from the lip of the billfish and releases it back into the ocean. In order to signify the catch and release of a billfish, flags are hung upside down on the riggers of the boat. To signify a catch and kill, the flag remains right side up. While billfish are generally released, some may choose to kill a larger fish if fishing in a competitive tournament or to cook and eat.

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An Upside-Down Flag Signifying a Catch and Release
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A First Mate “Wiring” a Pacific Blue Marlin

bait

/bāt/

noun

 

  • food used to entice fish or other animals as prey.
  • “herrings make excellent bait for pike”
  • synonyms:
    • lure, decoy, fly, troll, jig, plug
    • “the fish let go of the bait”

 

               So, what exactly is dragging along behind a sport fishing boat? Well, that depends on what you want to eat it. For billfishing, large fish mean larger bait. Generally, a mate will rig anywhere from 30-100 ballyhoo baits for a single day of fishing. The ballyhoo halfbeak or ballyhoo, (Hemiramphus brasiliensis), is a baitfish of the halfbeak family (Hemiramphidae). These fish resemble the typical prey of a billfish.

Avid fisherman and freelance mate Tyler Sudbrink describes his personal process, an art, not a science, that he has developed over a decade of fishing.

Rigging a ballyhoo:

1.  Take a foot of copper wire (malleable)

2.   Wrap it onto a rubber o ring (five or six twists)

3.   Take the opposite end of the copper wire through the bottom of the mouth of the ballyhoo and position the rubber o ring just outside of the fish’s mouth

4.   Put a 3/8 ounce weight onto the copper wire and tuck the weight under the eyeballs of the bait

5.   Take the copper wire and wrap the wire behind the gills to act as a harness for the bait

6.   Go through the bottom of the fish’s mouth again and out the top of the mouth and then through the eye socket

7.   Wrap the wire tightly behind the weight and through the ballyhoos eyes twice

8.   Take the copper wire across the top of the fish’s mouth, wrap in front of the weight and back across the fish’s mouth (creating an X over the fish’s mouth), and then through the eye socket

9.   Wrap across the fish’s mouth again, once behind the o ring, and then the rest of the copper up the bill of the ballyhoo

10.   Clip the bill at a right angle so the bill is cut flat

11.   Trim the pectoral fins of the bait

12.   Break the back of the bait

13.   Slide the circle hook through the o ring and slide the bait in the water

               Through a combination of ballyhoo, teasers, and dredges, the first mate creates a spread behind the boat to best attract their desired species. For bigger species, such as blue marlin and black marlin, they may rig larger bait such as a mackerel fish. Some lines are strung through the riggers, the large masts that jut out at either side of a sportfisher, and some are trolled straight from the spool of the reel. Once the lines are in the water, the rods are placed in rod holders, holes around the gunwale (pronounced: gun-nel) of the boat and along the helm that are specifically designed to hold the bottom of a rod.

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Ballyhoo
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Mackerel

an·gler

/ˈaNGɡlər/

noun

  • a person who fishes with a rod and line.
  • “a carp angler”

               If the captain is the CEO, and the first mate is the COO, the angler is the customer of the company. They pay the captain and mate for their expertise with the hopes of catching their desired species. An angler is the person who actually engages in catching the billfish by reeling it in. Often times, they are aided by stand up gear or a fighting chair. Stand up gear refers to a belt that the angler wears that has a apparatus on the front that best resembles a rod holder, which enables the angler to fight the fish while standing up. Anglers can change the drag on the reel, which is similar to the gears of a car. The lower the drag, the easier it is to reel but the less line it takes on per crank. The fighting chair is set in the middle of the cockpit, with a rod holder in the seat. Anglers will sit to fight a large or energetic fish that may take more leg strength to fight.

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An Angler Fights a 400lb Atlantic Blue Marlin with Stand-Up Gear

 


teas·er

/ˈtēzər/

noun

FISHING

  • a lure trailed behind a boat to attract fish.

 

                    Besides bait, fisherman also employ teasers and lures to attract billfish. Teasers are colorful and meant to resemble an attractive squid. Teasers do not typically have hooks within them, but are rather used to attract the billfish to the other ballyhoo. They can be single large teasers, a chain of smaller squid, or a dredge. A dredge pulls beneath the water and is meant to resemble a ball of baitfish.

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Teasers
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A Squid or “Daisy” Chain
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Dredge from Beneath the Water

fish aggregation device (FAD)

noun

  • A fish aggregating (or aggregation) device (FAD) is a man-made object used to attract ocean going pelagic fish such as marlin, tuna and mahi-mahi(dolphin fish). They usually consist of buoys or floats tethered to the ocean floor with concrete blocks.

 

              Fish aggregating devices are used to create ecosystems where they may not otherwise exist. Off the coasts of countries such as Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Panama, FADs provide a great incentive for foreigners to come fish in the country, as they create a unique sportfishing experience. Unlike traditional fishing, FADs foster an ecosystem where various species congregate within the same area and give the greatest chance of finding and catching billfish.

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sport·​fish·​ing²

\ˈspȯrt-ˌfi-shiŋ\

noun

  • fishing done with a rod and reel for sport or recreation

 

             Sportfishing is not simply a sport, not simply a hobby, not simply a passtime. Sportfishing provides a connection between cultures, economies, and fisherman with a shared passion.

             For mate Tyler Sudbrink, it encapsulates the connection he has with his dad and family. “I had a sister who died of a genetic disease called Tay Sachs, [my dad] coped with that loss by buying a boat and being involved in the fishing community. We named the boat after her and now every time we go fishing we have a connection to our family and our friends.”

             For Jimmie Horning, fishing is “not just a career but a lifestyle”, one that is integral to his family heritage and something that he plans to stick to for the rest of his life.

             Globally, sportfishing supports economies where there may otherwise not be a viable path to financial stability. Captain Bubba Carter states that “the effects that sportfishing has on foreign countries is pretty amazing. Not only does it give jobs to mates, captains, and wash down boys, but everybody benefits: the restaurants, hotels, taxis, airports, mechanics, carpenters, painters. It’s a huge boost to the economy here in Costa Rica and globally. In Costa Rica alone, it’s a six hundred million dollar a year industry. When fishing in Venezuela, the sportfishing boats supported the town where the marina was. When the boats left, the town failed and became a ghetto. As far as my experience, I have gotten to see the world and live my dream. I couldn’t wait to go to work everyday and still love it as much today as I did when I was 15, or maybe more. It’s funny… once you become a professional in any other sport, you’re making big money–but not in sportfishing. And the reason why is there are no bleachers in the ocean, so you do it for the love, not the money.”

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