MATTHEW ASTON sailed off around the world at the age of nine.
Now an old salt of 15, he reminisces about his encounters
with the denizens of the world’s oceans.
My Father had a dream of sailing around the world. If he
had told me six years ago when I was nine just how far it
was, I would have stayed at home. But in those days I was
eager to set sail and leave my school friends at their desks,
high and dry in the classroom. What I didn’t know was
that on a yacht there are more jobs to do than you could ever
imagine. Luckily though, I worked out that fishing was counted
as a job and I was able to spend hours and hours at the stern,
both at sea and at anchor. I got pretty good at fishing and
although I don’t like eating fish, Mum and Dad and my
brother David always had a good feed, thanks to me.
When we anchored in a quiet bay somewhere, they would sit
in the cockpit and look at the sunset while I spent hours
with a handline or rowing up and down trying out a new lure
I’d made. On our long passages my job was to check the
trailing line or set out the rod, not just for a tasty meal
but also for the excitement of the screaming reel, the rod
bending and a leaping fish in our wake.
When we talked to other yachties about the fish we’d
caught, some would say, “There’s no fish out there” while others would catch enough to eat on every day of their
trip. We trailed our lines around the world and I had to experiment
with different lures and rigs all the time. In the mornings
and evenings travelling at about six knots with fairly clear
skies, I got the best results.
The right lure must be shiny and active to attract the fish’s
attention. My favorite line has a silver head and a sparkling
eye. I set out about three times the boat length and let it
run near the surface. Using the rod and my smallest lure,
a 12kg line will catch a nice dolphin-fish, mackerel or even
The ratchet on the reel saved us losing many fish: we would
jump into the ‘fighting’ position on the coach
house when we heard it slow the yacht down and play the fish
alongside for gaffing.
With our 80kg ‘killer’ rig I was sometimes a bit
late in checking the line and found only a fish head, the
lure stripped, or the rig broken. On route from Tonga to Fiji
I once pulled in a rare snake mackerel, very much damaged
by the force of the water which was a pity. We always meant
to fix a bell as an alarm. Nevertheless our trusty rig has
more than paid for itself with many exciting catches.
Pulling in a 10kg fish when we are under spinnaker and unable
to slow down is like having a huge tiger shark on the line
and for this I always wear gloves. Once, I’d pulled
in a big one and was sorting out the tangle of line on the
back deck when another one hit: I was nearly pulled over by
loops of line around my arms and legs.
For more hook-ups, when setting up a trailing line you should
make sure the hook is right at the tail of the lure and use
the strongest hooks available - preferable a two-ganged type.
There a big fish out there and you need the strongest equipment
you can possibly find.
When crossing from Panama to Galapagos, El Nino had stopped
the Humbolt current and the fish were pretty scarce. After
a few days out the wind was very light and sailing at four
to five knots we’d seen a beautiful pod of humpback
whales, some seabirds, plenty of flying fish but nothing on
the line, when suddenly a school of bluefin tuna arrived.
They looked terrific, racing us a few meters from the boat
and leaping out of the water to intercept the flying fish
in mid-air. We watched them until dark, happier to just sit
and enjoy their antics rather than try to catch them. In the
morning they were there again, and the next morning: it was
too much for me so I made up a lure of plastic tube, a bit
like a tiny flying fish. With my light rod I made up a lure
of plastic tube, a bit like a tiny flying fish. With my light
rod, I lobbed it under the nose of one, jerking it out of
the water like the real thing. Bang! I had a 5kg tuna on the
line. It was too easy, but he looked so sad on the deck I
threw him back only to catch his brother, then another and
another until I must have caught the whole family and thrown
them back. They stayed with us four or five days then they
lost interest in the game as we approached Academy Bay, but
I’d had a ball!
Trolling in a quiet harbor can also be fun. Rowing quietly
along a new shoreline a dusk with a variety of small lures
is a sure way of meeting the local fish population. I try
wobblers, spoons, feathers and plastic squid until I strike
one that works. But I have also used other, less conventional
In a remote secluded bay in Indonesia I came across a school
of redeye milling around by the shore. With a few frantic
scoops I had 10 good size fish flapping about on the sand.
That was certainly one of my favorite spots.
So if you’re planning a cruise or just sailing for the
weekend away from the crowd my advice is to always trail a
line. You might even be lucky enough to pick up a beautiful
mahi-mahi (dolphin fish) - they’re almost good enough
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