Yellowtail provide a fulfilling day on water
Summer at its Bermuda best! Last Sunday saw perfect conditions for the Billfish Release Challenge.
This tournament already wisely postponed once was an enormous success with eight boats enjoying a great day on the water. A total of around seven fish were raised and variously hooked or lost, with two blue marlin being caught and released.
Captain Allen DeSilva's Es Mucho won the tournament based on time, and Chris Down came out a winner by collecting on the Calcutta which provided a bit of a side interest in the overall proceedings.
The take-home message here is that there are still billfish on the grounds that are willing to please, along with a full selection of all the pelagic species that come to visit in the summer.
Further proof of this is the number of dolphin that have been caught off the East End where, presumably, some flotsam of some description has brought in a school that may have started to disperse.
Leaving the blue water behind and looking at reef areas, something that has had a free ride for a bit now and is presently being seriously ignored by sports fishermen is one of the smaller yet more desirable local species.
This is the yellowtail snapper, a good game fish in its own right, a popular food fish with a firm white fillet and which reaches near epic proportions in local waters.
Once really important as a commercial species, the yellowtail is less often seen now, presumably because of a disinterest on the part of fishermen. Certainly, if the number of sub-legal juveniles that were seen about two or three years ago is anything to go by, there should be no shortage of snappers for anyone willing to put in a bit of effort.
Chumming is the preferred method and spinning gear really comes into its own here because the yellowtails often stay back in the slick out of sight. Some like to mix sand in with the chum and form bait balls that slowly release as the sand dissolves off, this creates an effect that seems to be attractive to snappers, which will actually hit such baits to disperse them and to get to the bait contained within.
As the bait sinks and spreads, the schools of snapper rise off the bottom and take up their posts at the rear of the chum slick. A spinning rod allows the bait to be sent right back to where the fish are, saving the time that it would have taken to pay out the line to reach the same location.
Amazingly, the fish often stay almost equidistant from the boat even as conditions change. So consistent is this that a knot can be put into the line at the point where the bite is likely and this knot can be used as a marker to indicate when the bait is back in the “strike zone”.
The fish will almost never bite until that much line has been paid out, hence the value of being able to flip the bait through the air, in a few seconds later landing squarely where the fish are ready to please.
And ready to please they can be. Unlike some species, as long as the tide holds and the bait is forthcoming, the yellowtail will continue feeding long into the night, and this makes it possible to catch literally, hundreds of pounds, of snapper.
Not that this is of great importance to the amateurs, for whom a half-dozen or so will usually more than suffice.
Part of the reason for this is that the yellowtail snapper attains sizes here at Bermuda that are hardly even dreamt of elsewhere. Most of the local records are in excess of 10lbs, and while the all-tackle record world is held by an 11lbs Bermuda yellowtail, some of the local records which predate the IGFA recognition of the species are considerably larger.
Where the casual angler really has to be careful is with the handling of the fish. Given that it is August and it is hot out there, lots of extra ice is needed. Yellowtails spoil really quickly, and best practice is to clean them almost as soon as they are caught and then to ice them down. A slurry of ice and icy water works really well; just make sure that there is enough ice to keep the water cold for as long as it takes to get back to shore and refrigeration.
There are plenty of stories of whole catches going bad because of inadequate ice — all too often this comes down to the fish biting too well and a greedy angler catching more than he could handle with the end result of nothing. Sound familiar?
The thought of a couple of hours of late afternoon or early morning fishing for snappers over the deep reef is a lot more inviting than a full day offshore in the hot sun waiting for a trophy tuna to show up. Combining a quick drag for wahoo along the edge, before moving onto the shelf and chumming is also likely to get results as the already useful wahoo population should be on the increase.
With the end of season classic just a fortnight away, it is time to ensure that an entry form is obtained and submitted before the August 31 deadline. Tournament entry and a bit of luck could result in some very rewarding Tight Lines!