Saw a post on Facebook today that asked what equipment they should take along with them on a well-financed, big boat cruise. They tossed out and discarded things like the down riggers and outhauls they had aboard their old stinkpot, but they kept the gaffs, nets, a dozen or so various rod and reel combinations…but they didn’t include the one thing that I feel should be mandatory aboard every boat that ventures over the horizon: a good handline kit.

At the least, every ditch bag should have one in it, but having it and not knowing how to use it seems lazy. So, my advice would be to have two setups: One for the ditch bag and an identical one that you keep on-hand and close to the cockpit. Plus, IT’S FUN!

One of my favorite online search results on this subject, written by Dick McClary of Sailboat-Cruising.com, starts off with this warning:

“Vegetarian boaters should read no further, this isn’t for you. But handline fishing is a skill that all other cruising sailors should acquaint themselves with. Don’t be put off by the word ‘handline’ – you don’t have to hold it all the time. Just wait until a hooked fish announces its predicament, then haul it in.”

That just about sums up what one wants while sailing a hundred or so miles between grocery stores (that, and ice), but it is more than mandatory on small cruisers like Sine Metu, my mighty 24 foot sailboat. With no refrigeration my food stocks are limited to mix of freeze-dried meals, some canned foods (I try to avoid them as they’re usually way too salty, but they do add to the menu and help keep my “favorites meals” from becoming tediously repetitive), and whatever fresh foods I can carry. Adding fresh meat to the table is always welcome, otherwise Sine Metu could turn into (God help me!) a Vegan sailboat after the last tin of roast beef gets added to the egg noodles.

(August, 2016 update) Here’s a link to a nice YouTube video so that you will have a visual reference to what this type of fishing looks like on a small boat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XM8bPBxTQyQ via Greg Delezynski

You can buy already made kits around $100 or less from various websites like WaayCool and Hawaii Fishing Lures; or assemble your own for just about as much if you follow the advice and shopping list of parts written Owen James Burke of The Scuttlefish blog; but I think we can do better.

All of those pre-made kits feature a hand-friendly line (think 1/4 inch (6.5 mm)), a length of 100-plus pound fishing line, a wire leader, a swivel and a lure. If you’re like me then you already have most of what you already need on your boat now. All that’s left to do is to MacGyver something that will work. Personally, I like the Cuban Yo-Yos that are on Amazon, and the Flip Reel by Squiddies, but as it’s an Australian company I haven’t seen one in reel life (August 2016 update: They’re now sold on Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B014DWTJKM?psc=1). Of course, you can also wrap the line around a stick just as effectively. It’s all about personal preferences.

Also, don’t forget how you will get your catch into the boat and subdue it. Are you going to use a gaff or a net? Do you have a club or a winch handle at the ready to club it to death? An ice pick to brain it and a length of 100# monofilament (Google Ike Jime)? A towel or burlap sack to cover its eyes? A squirt bottle full of cheap alcohol to spray in its gills? Do you know how to quickly subdue your soon-to-be entrée safely, quickly and humanely?

So, what the hell does all of this have to do with that Facebook post? Just this: think about what fishing gear you carry and how you will use it while sailing. On Sine Metu, that means: Two handlines (one to use while cruising and its twin in the ditch bag); a spinning rod and reel with 20 pound test line; a heavy Penn trolling rod and reel combo with 50 pound test line; and an ultralight rod and reel that’s a carryover from my days of trout fishing in Michigan, which I use it for catching bait for the larger rigs — plus, a two-pound bonito feels like a 500 pound marlin! If I still had my fly rod kit I would take it along too just for the sport of it.

As a side note, I also carry two cast nets which I’m trying to perfect, but my technique looks more like Mr. Roboto than…well…anything functional.

We’re not talking about sport fishing here – sailboat fishing is all about catching fish to eat.

Dick McClary

One final thought as I write this at a coffee shop that’s a ten minute walk from where my boat is now docked, be careful of what you wish for while you fish! Five feet of slashing, razor-sharp teeth, thrashing for its life in a six-foot cockpit, just inches away from my own flailing attempts to keep my body parts out of reach, is way too much fish for me! Give me a baby dorado, mahi mahi or ten pound tuna of any flavor, any day of the week, and I’m happy!