Early season meatfish

Early-season colors are pretty basic, but very effective for catching a variety of meatfish. (Picture by Chris Burrows)

In the late spring and summer in the Carolinas, a lot of information is shared among offshore fishermen. Referred to as dock fishing, it’s easy to see a boat unloading a good catch and ask the crew “Which way did you go today?”

You might get a bad steer on occasion, but if you’re pleasant and ask around, you can usually garner at least some basic information about where the bite was. Now, you might not catch fish in the exact same place the next day, but it’s a lot easier to extrapolate where they might be. You get my drift.

In March, particularly when you’re deciding to make that first trip of the year, that information is a lot harder to come by. The weather generally isn’t great in early March, and most of the time your window to go comes after a period of unfishable days. This means that no one was on the break the day before to let you know what conditions actually were. Bad weather also makes satellite imagery less reliable. You might get a good enough shot to see where some promising water temperatures are, but that satellite shot won’t tell you if that water has a concentration of bait. You just have to go and find out for yourself.

Take a chance

If the forecast tells me I can make it out there and back safely, and I can escape from commitments on land, my mind is made up. I’m going fishing. A day of no bites trolling is still a day offshore and that’s still a big winner in my book. Better yet, I might hit the jackpot and catch a monster. Most of the giant wahoo I have caught have come on March trips. There’s also a chance of a good catch of tuna. Blackfin have supplanted yellowfin over the years in the ports that I generally fish out of, but the blackfin seem to keep getting bigger, and I’m not turning down fresh blackfin, ever. Keep in mind that wahoo and tuna are about it for what you might reasonably expect to encounter in March, so we’re going to rig accordingly.

Hooking a monster wahoo is a strong possibility any day in March.

It’s too early for dolphin and billfish, so I’m not even bringing a teaser with me in March. Everything I put in the water is going to have a hook in it. This time of year, the only hook I fish is a Mustad 7731 DT, either 7/0 or 8/0. It’s a needle eye hook, meaning everything is rigged on some type of wire. No recurve in the bend makes it my favorite wahoo hook. Finally, it’s got a DuraTin finish, hence the DT designation, so I can put a razor point on them with a simple file. I’m not pulling any dinks, so I’m just bringing mostly medium ballyhoo and maybe a few large or horse ballyhoo. My plan is to pull eight baits. Four are rigged with long fluorocarbon “crank-on” leaders with nothing (yet) rigged on the end. Three are rigged with simple snap swivels. The last one is a planer rod for the deep bite.

Offer options

One mistake I see a lot of anglers make, especially early in the year, is to run a single “shotgun bait” and drop it way back past anything else in the spread. Granted, it will catch fish (especially tuna) but if that is the hot bite, you have made fighting singles your ceiling for the day. If you get a bite on that long rod, and other fish are around, which is often the case, what is his buddy going to eat? Rather than limit myself, I fish my long riggers as the farthest back in the spread. If they are the same distance back and are rigged the same (Sea Witch/ballyhoo combos on short, dark wire traces, tied to a wind-on swivel at the end of the fluorocarbon) then they won’t tangle when you turn, even if you dump half a spool. Those go out first. Then I drop my “shotgun” baits back, using the same concept. These are on the fluorocarbon crank on leaders as well with the short wire. These four baits are the farthest back in the spread, and they are your best chance to catch tuna. Tuna can be wire shy, which is why I’m using short traces rather than full-length wire leaders. The short wire isn’t nearly enough of a deterrent to keep them from biting. Plus, my baits are riding in pairs, with the long riggers framing the “shotgun” baits, dramatically increasing the chance of a multiple hookup.

The short riggers have Iland Sailure/ballyhoo combos on 25-foot leaders made of No. 9, tinned piano wire. The Sailure has a cupped head, which I want to “smoke,” rather than “pop.” If I see too much popping action, the short rigger baits need to be dropped back a bit more. On the flat line I have a conical head lure, like a Blue Water Candy JAG or original Ilander, with either a large or medium ballyhoo behind it. The planer rod is the final piece of the puzzle and has either a Sea Witch or conical head in front of a ballyhoo. These baits are rigged on the same 25-foot tinned piano wire leaders as the short rigger baits. These four rods that make up the inside of my spread are targeted specifically for wahoo, as that’s where I get most (but not all) of my wahoo bites. Every rod in the spread has at least some insurance against their teeth, but the baits closest to the boat are optimized for a razor-mouthed missile.

I tend to fish dark-colored lure heads, beginning with the venerable blue and white combination this time of year. Purple, black, and red see a good bit of action as well. Some days, only one color combination seems to get bit, and if that’s the case, I have no qualms about switching the entire spread over to reflect that one pattern. As much as I am a sucker for teasers most of the time, I don’t even put them in the boat in March. Everything that goes in the water has a (very sharp) hook in it. I’ve driven the boat over a wolf pack of hungry wahoo more than a couple of times in March, and when that happens, a boring day of trolling turns exciting fast. Speaking from the embarrassment of experience, if there’s a squid chain in the water when that happens, you’re probably not going to get much of it back.

Pick your days:

March is a promising month, but it’s also full of bad-weather days, so anglers must take advantage of any breaks they get, and going after meatfish is a great use of available time.

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