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Boat Fishing Techniques

To understand the rigs to use, you must first look at the kinds of fishing that can be done off boats.  You have lots of options. There are two key questions when boat fishing - what depth of water is there under the boat and what kind of currents are there down there?  The answers to these questions define the techniques and rigs. The bottom is vital too...

Boat Fising Rigs a.k.a. Traces:

Alongside the techniques we will try to illustrate some of the more common and successful rigs or traces to use off a boat. If you are fishing from a stationary boat in little or no current, you can uptide, or simply drop your preferred rig over the side and fish it on the bottom or in mid-water - wherever you will find the fish. A current allows for downtiding, as we shall see...


This is a technique that demands you cast your bait up into the current at about 45 degrees using a breakaway lead to keep the bait away from the boat.  It is mainly used in shallow waters when presenting the bait outside the"scare area" caused by the noise of the tide against the boat's hull and anchor warp. It has been suggested that fish that would normally pass or reside in the "scare zone" move out and thereby increase the concentration of fish just outside this zone.  If this is true, finding the edge of the scare zone with your cast is the key. In Mayo the bays around Belmullet demand uptiding given you are often in less than 12 feet (4 m) of water!  All this said we have caught fish from under a dinghy in shallow water and fast tides, so uptiding's success may lie in the expanded scent trail from the spaced baits wafting down on the current... Uptiding allows much lighter tackle to be used.  The 18lb line, rod, reel and leads recommended for novices will work uptiding.  An uptide rod offers you advantages over a standard boat rod but they are expensive.  Fixed spool i.e. spinning reels with a decent capacity are the better bet when uptiding. Key elements in successful uptiding: -

  • cast across, not right into the current.
  • it is not beachcasting... just lob it out!
  • once the lead touchs down a belly of line will get the breakaway lead to grip
  • the shallower the water and faster the tide, the farther the optimal cast
  • draw in the belly of line to ensure good bite detection - but allow for swells
  • bites will be several nods - drop the rod to horizontal and retrieve any slack
  • "strike" with a calm unhurried lift of the rod tip from horizontal to vertical
Uptiding Rigs:  

The design will be some variation on a leger system, e.g.a standard 2 or 3 hook paternoster, depending on the fish available on a mark (ask the skipper).  When fishing new grounds I have found the "ave maria" or "hail mary" - a 3 hook design of my own useful in that it helps me work out what kind and size of fish are available. The uptiding technique listed alongside presumes the use of a fixed paternoster (although this is not essential) rather than a running leger.  A running leger is where the fish can take off with the bait and may hook itself, a useful system in heavy conditions.

The basic 3 hook paternoster for uptiding is a 10 foot (3 m) length of trace line, with a swivel at the top and a link swivel on the end to attach to a breakaway or grip lead.  Just below the top swivel a 1 foot (30 cms) length of hook snood leads to a baitholder hook - try an Aberdeen design given you are likely to use worms as the main bait over sand or mud. Use a 2 hook pennel rig for bigger baits if seeking cod or bigger fish. Three feet (1 m) below this, another 1 foot (30 cms) hook snood is positioned, with the final snood either a further three feet (1 m) below the second hook, or just above the link swivel in the event you want to entice some flatfish with some sequin and bead enhanced worms!  Most flatfish - plaice and flounder in particular - are attracted to shiny and colourful objects so anglers will thread sequins and coloured beads, even a flasher spoon, to make a Baited Spoon. 

The diagram below (a fictional useless rig) is designed to illustrate three different methods for attaching hooks to a trace. A "flapper" rig lets the hook(s) revolve around the trace (1 & 2).  Personally I don't used bait clips or impact shields on boat rigs.


This is a technique that lets you "drift" your bait away from the boat with the prevailing current.  It is also used to allow bait presentation outside the boat's "scare area". Given the lead has to fight the currrent to reach the bottom, the rigs are far heavier than those used in uptiding.  Clearly this does not make detecting bites at depth any easier, so a braid main line is a key if you want to downtide successfully.

A conventional boat rod, with a fixed spool or multiplier reel is the order of the day.  My own preference is for a short rod and a good multiplier reel like a Daiwa 7HT.

Downtiding in strong currents can turn even relatively small fish into monsters, in that you have to fight the current as well.  Ray and skate will use it to their full advantage by "kiting" with the current.  Cod will open their mouths and gape into the current in order to increase the pressure and it can get enough to break strong lines!  Check the current and tides, as you may have to wait for slack water to get a big fish aboard!

Downtiding Rigs:  

You can use the same rigs downtiding as you can uptiding, but with strong currents present,you will want to avoid tangles, particularly in the terminal rig or trace.  Both pulley and wishbone rigs are useful albeit the Pulley Rig may not be quite as sensitive to bites as a paternoster.

pulley rig (not to scale)

On the Drift:  

When fishing over reefs or a wreck an experienced skipper will put the boat into a drift - a sweep over the target mark controlled by the skipper using the boat's engine(s) and the prevailing currents and winds.  Once a successful drift has finished you can motor around the mark to the start point and drift over it, until the current, tide or weather changes!

Drifting Rigs:  

It depends on the species being targeted.  The wishbone rig is useful for avoiding tangles but the local rig is used in boat competitions as it conforms to the three hook rule and maximises species coverage.  The baited mackerel feathers takes most fish like Mackerel, Gurnard, even the odd John Dory and the jelly eel wil take Pollack and Coalfish.

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