Watch the weather for stellar offshore fishing this month
This time of year, an offshore trolling trip under the right conditions can offer determined anglers opportunities for some of the biggest wahoo of the year, and sometimes tuna as well. Even though March is often thought of as the beginning of spring, the majority of the month is still winter weather. But don’t let that deter you from a great time. An early season trip to the deep can be very rewarding.
Being successful this time of year means picking the right day. The most important weather chart to consult is one that shows isobars. The greater the spacing between those little all-knowing lines, the better. Wind reports are also important. You want a day with 10 knots of wind or less, preferably from the south or west, or somewhere between those two cardinal directions. Beware any day where multiple forecasting tools show a sustained northerly wind.
Make sure that your ditch bag is good to go and has an EPIRB or PLB (personal locator beacon) with the battery within its date range. Check flares and have a handheld VHF fully charged and ready to go as well. Dress in layers, with the outermost being waterproof.
You’ll have to wear everything in your wardrobe as you are headed offshore early and when you come home. But as soon as you get in the warmer water offshore you’ll come out of your gear layer by layer. But be sure to keep everything dry for later.
Know the offshore conditions before you go
A great tool for deciding when and where to go offshore in the “off” season is a satellite surface temperature shot. Information is often the most important tool in the fishing world. What I don’t want to find when I get offshore is that I am chasing good water all the way to or past 100 fathoms. If the shots show 61-degree water at 20 fathoms and well offshore of that, I’m more likely to stay home and clean the garage.
However, if we can find 68-degree water in that same depth and it looks like it is warming fairly quickly, it’s time to put fuel in the boat. A hard temperature break rather than blended water makes the prospects of success all the more appealing. Many a wahoo, and most of the truly giant ones I have seen have come from water that has not quite hit the 70 degree mark. Yellowfin and blackfin tuna aren’t scared of that temp range in the least either.
My first plan of attack when I get to “fishy” water offshore this month is generally to high-speed troll for wahoo. That’s especially true when 68 plus degree water pushes into the 20-30 fathom range. This means trolling some of the heaviest gear you have with lures that you know will stay in the water at 12-15 knots.
Be prepared for anything
Heavy shock leaders, heavy cable hook sets, and trolling weights are your friends at this point. I use No. 64 rubber bands (often several on each rod) to secure lines to either release clips or to the back of the reel seat to flatten the angle the line goes into the water and to provide an excellent strike alarm. This way, you are not only fishing, but you are also prospecting. I troll from rock to rock, often over some of the deeper grouper holes I fish in warmer weather looking for bait concentrations. If you find that bait, or if you happen to get a more obvious sign of activity, like tunas busting up top, then it’s time to switch gears.
Known tuna activity means breaking out 60-pound fluorocarbon crank-on leaders, Sea Witches, and ballyhoo, or even switching to jigging tackle if the tunas are suspended down deep. Whatever you run across, starting off with the high-speed route enables you to cover a lot more water while you are still actively fishing. Of course, if the wahoo are chasing down the fast plugs, you can just keep doing that all day long. The sound of three big rubber bands snapping simultaneously followed by an 80-pound class wahoo smoking down a reel with 20 pounds of strike drag is a great way to beat the winter blues.
To be fair, just like any time of year, the trolling bite doesn’t always cooperate. Since you are already in the deep, if you want something to take home for dinner, it’s not a bad time to jig up a good catch of big black sea bass. The fish in these depths, just inside the break, are generally the biggest you will catch. And winter is prime time to score on some keepers. Be mindful of the limits, however, as they seem to be ever-changing with the black fish.
You can’t set your calendar for winter offshore fishing. You have to be able to go when the weather allows it. Make sure you have a plan, and a backup plan. Above all, plan for anything that Mother Nature can throw at you. And don’t push your luck on a marginal day. If you stay within your limits, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find when you head to the blue water on one of those bluebird days.