BY GARY GILLINGHAM
I have been long range fishing for about 25 years now. I was very lucky. When I started all the Revillagigedo Islands were open. San Benedicto, Soccoro, Roca Partida and Clarion.
The long range boats I have fished have been the Royal Polaris, Shogun, Polaris Supreme, Searcher, Red Rooster 3, Excel, Intrepid and the American Angler. Here’s a look at how long range fishing has changed over the years.
When I started it was about the time when large single speed (Penn internationals and Shimano etc.) reels were being converted to two speeds.
My first “big reels” were Shimano Triton trolling series single speeds. I bought them used from an ad in the Penny Saver! I had those reels converted to two speeds. I then graduated to Penn and now Accurate.
I used to bring large service spools of 100-pound and up Izorline monofilament with us. We would refill our reels as needed. We used to hand strip off the monofilament and then clamp our homemade spool holders to the rail on the top deck. Then hand wind on the fresh line.
The advent of braided line allowed us to get so much more line on the reels than the amount of monofilament we used. This allowed us to use smaller reels than in the past. Now, with the use of short top shots, unless your braid is damaged or some is lost the braid is still fine. If you have braid damage or need to add more, using splicing needles just splice and add more braid. It isn’t like the old days when the whole spool of monofilament need to be removed and fresh put on as you did not want a big monofilament to monofilament knot somewhere in your line.
With more line (braid) capacity on reels, when a big fish is hooked and makes long run, the situation of having to clip your outfit to a backup rod and reel (or go for a skiff ride) has decreased. It still happens but with less frequency.
The great thing about braid is you can “stack” the braid on your reels. You can fill your reel 80 or 90 percent with 100-pound braid then splice on 130-pound braid for the other 10 to 20 percent. Mark the splice with a Sharpie.
When landing your tuna, when the mark comes on the reel you can bump up your drag pressure as now your pulling on 130-pound braid. You also now have now more abrasion resistance with the heavier line.
In the past I used 50W and 80 sized reels to accommodate the large diameter of monofilament we used. Now the most popular Long Range reel is a 30 size.
I use an Accurate ATD 12, ATD 30 and ATD 50. Those are used to fish 100-pound, 130-pound and 150-pound top shots.
I still like using my ATD 50s as I have large hands and I can reel grip the reel when pulling hard. I sold my 80 size and my two ATD 50w are now set up to kite fish as they hold plenty of braid needed for fishing the kite.
The above reels are used for fishing big fish (cows). Think Hurricane Bank, Puerto Vallarta and the lower banks (if big fish are present).
I use premade fluorocarbon and monofilament top shots and use the loop to loop connection. There are many ways now to make the same connection.
For shorter long range trips to Guadalupe, Alijos and the Ridge I used to fish many different brands of smaller reels. Now I fish the new Accurate Boss Valiant reels: BV2 600 or BV2 600N reels loaded with 80-pound braid and fished with a 50-pound or 60-pound top shot.
For casting jigs for wahoo or yellowtail I use a BV 600N single speed with 80-pound braid. For bait fishing yellowtail, wahoo and smaller tuna I use a BV2 500 or BV2 500N with 30-pound or 40-pound top shot. Those reels have either 50-pound or 65-pound braid.
There are many knots anglers use now to make the braid to fluorocarbon connection, on my smaller gear I use the Bob Sands knot.
Setting drag on big reels
I like to set my strike drag pressure at no more than 25 pounds. After a big tuna makes it first long run and I am working the fish back to the boat I slowly increase drag pressure especially when the 130-pound braid comes on the reel. When the fish is close and circling it’s time to pull hard!
Another reason for a lighter drag setting at strike is that to me that’s the most important time of the hook up. The lighter drag at strike setting allows me to follow my fish over and under other anglers until I have my fish straight out from the boat.
When an angler has their strike setting too high, when they hook a big fish they are instantly pinned to the rail and have a hard time moving around to get that fish in front of them in the first critical minute.
Leaders for big fish then and now
We used to make “tuna” leaders. Using about 4 feet of 150-pound or 200-pound monofilament you would crimp with chafe protector to your Mustad 7691 J hook on one end and then crimp with a chafe protector a large swivel to the other end and then tie your monofilament main line to swivel. Now fluorocarbon and small stealthy knots are the way to go.
I use various brands of rods for my trips. I match the rod to the line weight I will be using. I want a good deep bend (without being too soft) so the recoil of the rod is putting nice even pressure on the fish at all times.
That’s why I use different brands of rods. When I go to buy a new rod I always put the reel I will be using on the rod and thread the line and pull on a fixed object. That’s the only way I can tell if that model is for me.
Accurate has just introduced a line off Valiant rods. They are light and strong. When matched to our Valiant reels it makes a very light outfit. I have caught yellowfin tuna to 84lbs. I like the action of the new rods.
Rods for big fish
There has been quite a bit of change in rod lengths over the years. In the past short rods of 5-foot to 6-foot and shorter were used along with the large butt plates and associated harness. Now the rods are 7 feet to 8 feet and you see short rods and associated large butt plates and harnesses less and less. It is a matter of choice as some of my friends still use short rods, butt plates and harnesses as that works best for them. When I started long range almost all rods used roller guides, now almost all ring guides.
Fishing the rail
Good rail technique is having the fore grip of rod on the rail with the rod back from the rail to have good room to crank. An angler should squat or get down on one knee to get the angle of rod flat or up. Your non-cranking hand should be on side of the reel or on top. This gives a good grip and prevents side-to-side reel wobble.
Using the rail, a 2-speed reel and longer rod the angler can put tremendous pressure on the fish. With a good big bend in your rod, watch the tip. When it starts to come up (the rod unloading) take a crank or two or even a half crank. It’s the constant, heavy and even pressure that really puts the hurt on the fish.
Using the rail correctly puts tremendous pressure on fish without stressing the back, shoulders and arms of the angler. Using the longer rods also helps keep line from bottom of boat, rudder or propellers when your big fish is circling close.
Since I started fishing the rail, I do not use any type of rod belt or harness any more. I can move up and down the boat faster when hooked up. I can put the rod under my left or right arm when needed. It is so much easier to go under or over anglers when chasing your fish up and down the rail.
When I used to use a plate and harness I would have to unclip the reel and get the rod out of the plate to do any of the above. For me it used to get hairy when a deckhand would tell me “Give me your rod now!” so he could clear a tangle or take the rod over the anchor winch. You needed to unclip fast and then clip back in when the deckhand gave the rod back to you.
J and circle hooks
Circle hooks have really gained in popularity over the years. It really comes down to personal choice. I use both J and circle. For me it depends on type of fish, size of the fish and what type and size of bait I am using. If using very small baits I always use J hooks as I find it hard to hook small bait with a small circle hook without beating up the bait.
I now set a J hook the same way I set a circle hook. I just ease the free spool lever up from free spool to strike and wind like crazy till the fish starts pulling drag. I do not swing hard when using J hooks and I find the hook catches the corner of mouth like a circle most of the time.
I hook my bait either through the nose, shoulder or belly depending on what the conditions warrant.
Ringed verse non ringed: once again it comes down to personal choice. I use both depending on the bait and conditions.
Hook manufactures have always been pretty standard when sizing their J hooks. One brand’s 3/0 is about the same size as another. Not so with circles. One manufacturer’s 3/0 circle can and be bigger, smaller and a different shape than another.
I always match my circle or J hook size to the size of the bait.
Flurorocarbon top shots
When I stared long range fluorocarbon was not around yet. Fluorocarbon is great stuff, less visible and more abrasion resistant. I use it for day time fly lining of baits. I do not use fluorocarbon on my jig rods, dropper loop outfits and I am not sure if it is a big benefit at night.
Monofilament top shots
I use it when sharks are thick and you keep hooking them. It gets expensive using fluorocarbon. I like fishing heavy monofilament at night as I feel line visibility is not an issue and I seem to hook more than my share of sharks at night.
When I started long range the go-to wahoo jigs were the large Hopkins spoon, the Salas 6X jr. and the large Crocodile. They still work but now there is large selection of jigs from different companies.
We used to make our own wahoo bombs and now there are many on the market. For yellowtail yo-yo fishing the standard was and still is the classic Salas 6X JR. For surface iron I used large light Salas jigs and still do. Once again there are many different brands on the market now.
Kite fishing has been around a long time. We fish the kite a lot on long range trips. Four or 5 different leaders are used depending on the bait. We now at times use plastic flying fish imitations.
We used to tie a plastic streamer about 20 feet up from the bait. This would help the crew and angler see the bait better to make sure it was on the surface. There was always a chance a wahoo would bite the streamer as your tuna was running around. Now boats use nothing or just a small balloon.
Kite fishing is time for heavy braid and leaders. With the bait hooked in back and splashing on the surface your leader is completely out of the water and fish don’t see it.
Trolling for wahoo
When I started large metal head feathers, Dyna Troll jigs and large plugs were used. Now there is whole range of plug type lures and metal heads with plastic skirts available. I use a at least a 30 sized 2-speed reel as I have seen cow yellowfin hooked while trolling for wahoo.
Bait fishing for wahoo
When I first started long range fishing, I used about eighteen inches of uncoated braided wire (60-pound or 90-pound). I would crimp to hook and crimp to a small round ring. I would also use 27-pound single strand wire and make stealthy leaders when the bite was tough.
Now my go-to leader is about four feet of uncoated 60-pound braided wire. I use thin wire designer hooks as the points of these hooks are needle sharp now.
The thin wire hooks with their needle points hook wahoo well. I use a light drag setting (let’s says 8 pounds) and just let the wahoo run as far as it wants. Wahoo normally make one long run and then you can slowly work the fish back to the boat. The light drag setting allows you to use the light wire hooks.
When drifting for wahoo I use a small egg sinker (1/2-ounce) above the leader. I find I get a lot more bites. If anchored or in shallow water I do not use a sinker as my bait goes too deep and I will start catching fish other than wahoo.
The long range lifestyle
I really enjoy the long trips, not only for the fishing but the camaraderie of your fellow anglers and crew. You will see awesome sunsets and sunrises and the ocean life is incredible. There are great memories and great photos to be had and shared.
Fishing the long range fleet is a great experience. The boats and crew are all top notch. Boats all have the latest technology for finding fish and ensuring an angler’s safety.
Staterooms are comfortable and air conditioned. Meals and snacks are excellent. If you have special dietary needs let the boat know in advance and they will take care of you.
If you are looking to go on your first long range trip, check out your boat’s website. You will find great info as far as what tackle to bring. The long range boats carry terminal tackle for sale.
Many of the passengers have been doing this for years. If you are a newbie you will get all the help and advice you need from crew and fellow anglers.
Accurate Fishing Products hosts a number of trips on different boats each year. Check out AccurateFishing.com for boats, dates and length of trips.
I personally host four trips on the Searcher (3 to 7 days) and a 16-day on the Shogun. We bring 12 to 40 loaner rod and reel outfits matched to the specific trip. All are provided at no cost.
If you want a shot at big fish but don’t have the time off work for long trips, Accurate has two fly-down, fly home four day trips on the Red Rooster fishing out Puerto Vallarta.
For anglers new to long range on a budget, come on an Accurate trip. We will provide you with the outfits you need and you can buy your terminal tackle (hooks, leaders, jigs etc.) from the boat as you need it.
Gary Gillingham is an Accurate pro staffer.