Sunday, June 27, 2010


To the experienced fisherman, sailor or boater, the term "sailboat fishing" probably makes little sense. Skippers of sailboats shudder at the thought of a sharp hook or hooks being bandied about their ropes and sails, and with good reason. I've bought more than one line during my time having snagged it with a larger hook, causing some damage to the line removing it. It ruined it's structural stability, and ropes on a sailboat often have BIG stress upon them. So I just always bought new lines when I was careless.

But fishing on a sailboat is entirely enjoyable and sometimes very profitable. Sailboats don't make much noise as they sail, compared with their motoring brethren. And more than one time we slid into an evening's anchorage silently, allowing me to tap into a resident population of fishes that dwelled on and around the shell reef we anchored over.

Most of my fishing on sailboats was done on a Catalina 27 or 29 (the years have blurred my recall) that a friend's father owned. We sailed on it most weekends from the 7th grade until several years after high school, until his parents divorced and the boat went away. They also had several Sunfish, and I fished all over East Galveston Bay and it's environs many a day in a Sunfish with a Zebco rod and reel, some shrimp, some water and a forbidden beer.

Most skippers abhor any fishing done on their boat when under way. In fact, it often times is very difficult, what with tacking and all. I found that a pocket fisherman could be used in these circumstances, but again, Skippers I've known frowned heavily upon it and so I just didn't do it.

Most skippers didn't mind if you fished at anchorage, as many regattas and cruises I went on involved anchoring for at least one night. I mostly used a Zebco spincasting travel rod, with either the Zebco 33 it came with, an Abu Matic 290 or an Ambassador 5000. Skippers generally don't like large one or two piece rods blocking any area of the boat, on deck or in the cabin below. That's why the travel rod could be stowed into my duffel in my sleeping area and it caused no problems.

On several larger boats where we actually went out into the Gulf, I carried a heavy duty 5 foot one piece fiberglass pier rod with a wooden handle and a large, ancient Ocean City reel (similar to a Penn reel) with 60 lb. test line on it. Fishing 20 miles out of Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico, you never knew what you might hook.

When my friends parents were not out with us on their boat, which grew more often the older we grew and the less his parents sailed or did anything together, the boat became our apartment, our solace. When still in high school, we'd take my family ski boat down to the Houston Yacht Club, pick up some groceries and beer somewhere along the long drive to Shore Acres, Texas to the HYC and get the ski boat launched.

We'd throw a line to the sailboat from the ski boat and tow the sailboat out to an anchorage. We'd find a place to spend the evening fishing off the stern deck of the sailboat, listening to lots of Jimmy Buffett tapes on the stereo. The next day, we'd use the ski boat to both ski and fish East Galveston bay. I'll note for the reader that water skiing in East Galveston Bay was usually more of a concept than a reality due to the extreme chop present, but since we were young and made of rubber it didn't matter how many times we surfed off huge waves into a crash landing.

My buddy whose dad owned the boat was quite a sailor himself, and he could basically take out and more importantly, return to dock completely under sail and again, by himself. Oh yeah, I'd work a rope here or there or jump onto the dock to tie up when landing but I've seen him launch or land that roughly 30 foot boat with no motor and just under sail power and let me tell you, under sail only is a trick.

The outboard that my friend's dad had on his boat rarely worked, and thus we really sailed that big old boat all over East Galveston Bay and Clear Lake. We used to have a time in Clear Lake, and back then a certain run down bar in Kemah, as well as a 7-11 in the back of Deer Park, were well known for selling cases out the back door. In the case of Maribelle's, if you got to the Yacht Club by 3 pm on Friday, you could sail from the HYC to that certain un-named run down bar in Kemah in a few hours, God and wind willing. $10 bucks at the backdoor got you a case of your favorite, ice cold from the freezer. Although much of Deer Park was dry, there was a line of demarcation where they sold beer and wine and a certain 7-11 in Deer Park became well known for not carding "close to 18 years old" minors on Friday nights when a certain visually handicapped person worked the store. It was an easy detour into Deer Park for a beer run, particularly given the fact that we were underage much of the time.

All of these stories deal with fishing on a sailboat, even the stories about underage beer and Jimmy Buffett, because these things just naturally go along with fishing on the back of a sailboat anchored on a moon lite night, with clear water below and a breeze keeping it cool. The smell of salt water and the life around the sea comes with the breeze. The gentle rocking of the boat and the clanging and banging of the metal halyards and lines that hold the mast to the boat and hoist sails up and down make for a serenade of wind chime like sounds, mixing with the ruffling of furled sails to the wind and the sounds of the rocking of the boat.

It was tough fishing off of small sailboats like a Sunfish while underway, but it could be done. Many times, I'd drop sail and just drift fish on calmer days. It was as close to paradise as I've ever been. If you began to drift too close to shore you could just pull the center board out and paddle back away from shore. Sometimes, I'd remove the center board and drift through shallows, sight casting at tailing redfish with tout tails and popping corks.

Fishing on a larger boat conjures the memories I mentioned above. I remember lots of different kinds of days, from hot to cold to sunny to overcast, and specific fish I caught or saw caught. We had our favorite places, trying to anchor in deeper water over shell banks so as not to be affected or trapped by tidal action when anchored. We didn't get too fancy, mostly using dead frozen shrimp and then moving to larger fish like croaker, mullet and sea perch that we either caught or netted with a small tube net we'd sometimes tow behind the boat to get live shrimp, mullet or whatever we could get.

I think I'll have to rent a boat from someone and have it anchored at a nice spot. I don't care about cruising in a sailboat, but a couple of nice afternoons and evenings in a fishy anchorage would be a cool way to spend a weekend. It's a different layout than a small houseboat, but altogether cozy in a big way. It rides the waves better than a houseboat, and makes for a much smoother anchorage in these 30 foot or so boats.


  1. Sounds like a blast...

  2. It is. Sailing and fishing, what a combo. How can you beat that?

    THanks for stopping by!