You can catch BIG fish in a small boat near Orlando!
Here is an article I wrote on how to handle some of the big fish we have here on the Florida East Coast near Orlando when fishing on a small boat. Since I have caught many hundreds of big fish, I consider myself an expert on the subject!
Website Created by Keith Kalbfleisch
Big Fish, Small Boat
By Captain Keith Kalbfleisch
“The weather’s great for tomorrow—Let’s go!” You’ve planned for this day, when the weather would let you take you small fishing boat offshore. It is a relatively new boat, and you are relatively new fishermen, but you have worked carefully on your gear and lures, and are anxious to get your shot at a big fish.
You head out of the port in your small boat (small is a relative term—think whatever size you want here), and head for the fishing area your buddies at the fishing club said is holding fish. BAM! Fish on, and it is a big one! The reel, rod, angler, and captain do their job well, and the fish is at the side of the boat…
OK, now we are at the time in the scenario that I want to talk about. You may have on any number of different types of fish, and in a small boat the actions required at this point are crucial, and vary depending on the size and type of fish. We are going to assume it is a big fish, and look at what to do.
On The MTC, my flats skiff, I have had to deal with a number of big fish situations, including Dolphin to 30 lbs, several Sailfish, multiple Tarpon over a hundred pounds, Wahoo over 40 lbs, and the usual Kings, Jacks, and Cobia. I've even hooked a Marlin on The MTC! I have had hundreds of big-fish experiences, and I think you may benefit from some of my small boat/big fish experience.
A smaller boat has some advantages and disadvantages over a larger boat when it comes to landing a large fish. On the disadvantage side is the lower freeboard. You are in a more precarious position when the fish can jump onboard easier, or it is easier for you to tumble overboard. However, the same low freeboard makes it easier to pull a large fish onboard. The other advantage a small boat has is that it is more maneuverable—you can chase that fish all over the place.
When the fish is near the boat, and it is a fish you want to gaff, have the boat moving forward at a steady, but slow, pace, leading the fish beside the boat. With the gaff over the top of the fish, strike down, behind the line, pulling towards you. You should make the movement in one fell swoop, pulling the fish all the way onboard and immediately into an open cooler or fish box. On rambunctious fish like Dolphin and Cobia, you may need to sit on the lid! Don’t worry about removing hooks until the fish is dead.
If it is a billfish you are releasing, when you lead the fish beside the moving boat grab the bill with GLOVED hands. The bill is rough, and there is a hook nearby, so don’t forget the gloves. The proper way to grasp the bill is with your thumbs together (like you hold a push lawnmower or do chin-ups) so that if the fish lunges you can push the fish away from you. After grabbing the bill, hold the fish away from the boat until it settles down, then remove the hook, snap a few pictures and release it. A proper release is to slowly pull the fish through the water with the boat until it is revived, then slightly push it away form the boat to keep it away from the motor.
A tarpon is a little different, since you do not have a bill, so when the fish is spent, stop the boat, and grip the lower jaw with both hands—again gloved. After that the procedure is the same. New Florida laws have made it illegal to bring a tarpon onboard for pictures (like in this picture from a few years ago), so leave the fish in the water!
It is important to be careful in the last stages of handling a large fish in a small boat—for the safety of the people onboard, and for the health of the fish. Now all that’s left is for you to go get a big fish!