• Published:February 25, 2019
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We all want to hook up with billfish and tuna but when the fish don't cooperate, it pays to have a "Plan B."

We know you've been there -- despite reports of tuna busting water and billfish on the chew, for whatever reason, after six hours of fruitless trolling the crew's feeling dejected and demoralized.
You’ve hit the point in the day when you realize it could be a total bust. Yes, you know your luck could change at any moment. But right about now, it’s nice to have a “Plan B” in your back pocket to fall back on as opposed to continued droning through the ocean.

Here are three options that usually help turn a mundane morning into an active afternoon:


Anywhere you can find water of 70 degrees or more with flotsam, sargassum paddies, or commercial fishing pots on the surface of the ocean, there’s a good shot you can bail some mahimahi. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the floating item is, the better it will hold fish.

Items smaller than a 5-gallon bucket can be ignored, and balloons are a nonstarter. Other than that, everything is fair game. You can bail mahi off floating pizza boxes, dead sea turtles, tree limbs, refrigerators, or anything else out there (and yes, those are all items we’ve caught mahi underneath in the past).

Bailing is as simple as it gets… Rig up spinning rods in the 20- to 30-pound class with 8/0 to 10/0 circle hooks and four or five feet of fluorocarbon leader. Bait them up with fish or squid chunks. If you have a well full of live baits, that’s even better. Then, chop up a pile of bait into domino-sized pieces. Pull up within casting distance of the floating item(s), and throw a handful of the bait chunks into the water. Flip your hook baits in, and watch for the shooting green and blue missiles.
If the mahi are there they’ll dart right out and go into a feeding frenzy. But it pays to let your baits free-fall for a few minutes, because on occasion the fish will hang deep and won’t make their presence known until line starts zipping off of someone’s reel. If there’s no action 10 minutes in, move on and look for another floating item.

Bonus Tip: Keep a rod rigged with a heavy Wahoo Bomb, jig, or similar lure. When you see a school of peanut dolphin chowing on your chunks, lower the Bomb down 150 or so feet and then crank it back up to the surface as fast as you can. This lure rarely gets hit, but does sometimes bring up larger fish that hang below the main school of small ones.


There’s no such thing as a sure bet in fishing, but dropping a cut bait down to the bottom of the ocean in an area where groundfish are present is as close as it gets. Depending on where you do your fishing this may include golden or blueline tilefish, codfish, black sea bass, grouper and a variety of snapper. The one factor you need to account for is finding the right spot. Monitor your chart-plotter when you’re close to throwing in the towel on trolling, and start heading for the nearest wreck, reef, drop-off, or rocky bottom as you troll.

Most anglers employ “meat curtain” rigs for this type of fishing, with a string of five or six 12/0 to 14/0 circle hooks on a leader of several-hundred-pound test. Others like to use two- to three-pound jigs, and bait the treble hooks dangling from the bottom.

Bonus Tip: As you troll, look for the floats of commercial fishing gear and hit the GPS as you go by. Anywhere those commercial guys are dropping fish traps or lobster pots is a good area to try targeting.


The inshore world is very different from offshore waters, and an unproductive day 40 miles off the coast could turn into red-hot action just a few miles off the beach. No, you won’t encounter the same glory-fish as in the deep but there are usually hordes of bluefish, Spanish or king mackerel, jacks and barracuda that are ready and willing to bite.

The no-brainer way to get in on this type of bite is to rig three- to five-inch silver or gold spoons on a 15-foot leader, and run them behind some lead or a diving planer. Then troll them at five or six knots, over shoals, humps, or inshore wreck and reefs. Virtually any predator in the ocean will slap a spoon, and even though you won’t necessarily end up with the day’s target species in the cooler, the action will keep you coming back for more and put smiles on the faces of the crew.

Bonus Tip: On bright, sunny days, use spoons with a bright, shiny finish. But on dark, cloudy days, spoons with a matte finish will often work best.