Fishing: Offshore Game Fishing
A guide to deep sea and offshore recreational game fishing off Tobago
The Tobago coast features deep seas running up onto the continental shelf with clear warm water and abundant feedstock – ideal conditions for good game fishing.
The main offshore fishing season lasts from October to June and during this time anglers will do battle with some of the world’s most exiting game fish, including blue marlin, white marlin, swordfish, wahoo, tuna, barracuda, mahi-mahi (the local name for dolphin-fish) and shark.
It is a fascinating sight to see large game fish that have migrated south for the winter chasing the vast schools of small flying fish so prolific in the warm Caribbean waters.
During the peak season around November, wahoo are so plentiful that anglers will be kept busy from dawn until dusk. Typical catches range between 30 and 65 pounds, but at least half-a-dozen 100-pound wahoo are caught each year.
Large marlin, sometimes estimated to be in the 1200-pound range, are present in the waters at the north-western end of the island, just a couple of miles offshore (between the Sisters Rocks off Bloody Bay and the Giles Islands at the northern end of the island). These huge fish are seldom landed, because they are too large for the gauge of equipment used. Sailfish are also common off the Trinidad coast and can exceed 100 pounds, although a good catch is more likely to be around 75 pounds.
The annual Game Fishing Tournament (www.tgft.com), held in Charlotteville in Tobago each March, continues to grow in popularity. The small local game fishing fleet is joined by a much larger fleet that make the 70-mile crossing from the west coast of Trinidad. International anglers who would like to join the boats and take part should book well in advance.
A typical half-day offshore fishing charter costs from around US$350 and a full day charter from $500. These prices include refreshments and the provision of all tackle. Reputable game fishing charters all operate a catch and release program whereby most billfish are tagged and then set free, rather than gaffed and killed.
Less formal (and cheaper) fishing trips can be arranged with local fishermen almost anywhere around the coast. These utilise the owner’s ‘pirogue’ – simple fishing boats of fibreglass construction, normally between 22 and 30 feet in length, with a 6½ foot beam and fitted with twin outboards. The pirogues often have the owner’s nickname or ‘handle’ painted on the side in bright airbrushed designs.
Facilities and shelter are non-existent on most pirogues, so a hat, polarizing sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt, gloves, sun block and something to drink are essential accessories not to be forgotten. If you suffer from motion sickness, don’t forget to take a supply of seasickness tablets and refrain from staring at the bottom of the boat, which is the quickest way to bring on the feeling of nausea. Look at the horizon to avoid DIY ground bait.
Don’t expect to see safety equipment, such as flares or life jackets, or VHF radio. Likewise, even basic navigation equipment, such as a compass, is rare and GPS (Global Satellite Positioning systems) are like hen’s teeth. Very few local fishermen are geared up in this way. This type of equipment is strictly reserved for the specialist fishing charter operators and even there, standards and levels of equipment will vary.
The services of a local fisherman vary considerably in cost, but expect to pay around US$10 per hour, per angler, for an inshore/offshore trip, based on two anglers sharing a pirogue. A full day afloat (6.00am to 4.00pm) for two anglers would come out at around US$100. When negotiating a price, remember to discuss and agree on the dispersal of the catch. There are no set rules, but don’t take more of your catch than you can reasonably expect to cook and eat yourself. The remaining catch will be eaten by the fisherman and his family, or be sold to offset costs.
Unless you specifically tell the fisherman that you want to release a fish, it will be gaffed or slung into the fish box in double-quick time. Almost everything caught is usually taken home.
The local fishermen don’t use rods and reels and many are not familiar with angling techniques or tackle. You need to bring your own gear. If you plan to fish from a boat on a budget, a 20–30lb class outfit, coupled with a multiplier reel holding at least 300yds of mono or braid, is ideal. Most fishermen fish for the pelagic species by trolling 'muppets' (artificial squid) at around 4 or 5 knots. You should take a range of these plastic lures in pink, orange and white, and a few strong plugs (Rapala, Yo-zuri or Storm) with you, as they are difficult to get hold of and will be more expensive than at home.
If tuna, dolphin or billfish are expected, then a 5-foot mono leader of at least 100lb breaking strain should be used to avoid abrasions from teeth and sharp gill plates which can sever the main line. For barracuda, wahoo, king mackerel and shark, an 80-100lb wire trace is mandatory. Don’t try with anything else if these are expected.
A barracuda or wahoo will bite clean through the stoutest mono as if it were cotton thread. Nearly all these species will pull your string harder than you can imagine. Being warm water species, they are always on the move and hungry and when they hit a lure, they strip the reel of line. Everything has teeth, and plenty of them!
Only use the strongest hooks and swivels that you can get hold of (use black swivels, or wahoo will attack and bite them off). Specialist, up-rated hooks and other items of gear are available from good tackle outlets (UK outlets include www.harrisangling.co.uk and www.veals.co.uk). Anglers considering a visit to Tobago and wanting to keep abreast of current offshore fishing conditions around the island may be interested in the weekly reports from Capt.' Frothy' de Silva of Hardplay, published on the site Legend Lures.
Click on the Charters tab to see a list of Tobago offshore game fishing charter operators.