How To:

Fishing From A Sailboat 101

Author: Bullbuster Team

Techniques & Gear Needed For Fishing From A Sailboat

Are you planning on making a journey around the world on a sailboat, or do you want to do a little island hopping? In this case its great to not only pass the time but to gather supplies (dinner) by trolling along the way.  Below we recommend some basic supplies you will need for your sailing trip that will make it a lot easier to catch dinner as you go underway and while anchored. 

This is a photo of an angler trolling for bluefin tuna from his sailboat. Check out his report here :

How Do I Fish From A Sailboat?

“Trolling from A Sailboat”

The act of trolling (no not the internet bullying type), is dragging baits or lures behind your boat in order to catch fish. With your boat moving.  The lure or bait ends up looking like a fish and they will come up for it. 

Take a look at the video posted by Youtuber " DeCaptainDotCom" on his trolling setup.  His is very heavy tackle compared to our recommendations below.   What is great about this video is he gives you an in depth tour of his advanced sailboat big game trolling setup.  Many of the concepts in his video will be described below. 

“Bottom Fishing From A Sailboat”

When anchored the best method of fishing is called “bottom fishing”. This type of fishing requires you taking bait and sending it down to the bottom with a weight.  In the tropics this technique should yield snapper and grouper.  In colder waters you can expect to catch cod, ling, halibut and more. 

What Tackle Do I Need When Fishing From A Sailboat?

Rod & Reel Setups 

If you are going to be going on a long journey, you should really have at least two trolling rod setups (we recommend bringing more, but hey we are focused on the fishing more than the sailing).  You are going to want get two “conventional reels”.   When shopping for conventional reels you can either go with a “star drag” conventional reel or a lever drag conventional reel. 

Good Star Drag Reel For Trolling From A Sailboat: 

Penn Senator 4/0:  This reel is a star drag conventional reel.  It is easy to use, requires very little maintenance, is inexpensive, and can handle most fish that you are going to encounter along the way.  Most tackle shops sell this reel as a combo with a rod.  (You are going to want to make sure that the rod is a “boat rod” and is designed to fit in the rod holder of your sailboat. 

Shimano TLD:   This reel is a  “lever drag” conventional reel and for us is the way to go over the star drag.  Its pretty intuitive to use.  You pull the lever down to “free spool” to let your line out and then push it up to “strike” while trolling.  This reel is usually sold as part of a “combo” with a rod and reel included together, this is your way to go. 

(Learn More About The Shimano TLD)

You Are Going To Want At Least Two Spinning Reels

Reel For Fishing From A Sailboat

If you have ever seen someone make a cast, chances are they are using a spinning reel. This reel has “bail” that you open to make your cast.   They are easy to use and you probably are going to want to have at least two of these for catching fish on off the bottom while you are anchored. 

(See Articles On Bottom Fishing). 

Fishing Line

Fishing line comes in a few categories, assuming that you are a beginner going on this trip we are going to keep it simple.  For the reels above you are going to want monofilament fishing line.  This is inexpensive and gets the job done well.  

You can spool all of the reels above using a (suction cup spooler). The suction cup spooler attaches to your boat, or glass and puts tension on your line to make it easy to tie to your reel.  

For the conventional reels you are going to want to use 30-50 Lb line. If you have never gaffed a fish before (or have never heard of gaffing use the 50 Lb monofilament fishing line). 


A “Leader” is a piece of line that you “lead” your line with so that fish with sharp teeth or rough scales don’t cut through it.  If you are going on a long journey you are going to want a few different size spools of leader material. 

We recommend you go ahead and grab (20 Lb , 30 Lb, 50 Lb, 80 Lb leader) this will be plenty for 90% of the situations that you end up in.  

( Learn how to tie your leader to your line with a knot).


If you are not ready to be tying one line to another you can also use a piece of “terminal tackle” called a swivel. A swivel is a way to attach one piece of line to another.  It can also be used to hold a fishing weight above your hook. 

(Check out this article on how to make bottom fishing rigs using swivels, it will come in handy when you are trying to catch dinner while anchored).

Snap Swivels

Snap swivels are swivels, but with a clip at the end of them. These will come in handy so that you don’t need to tie way too many knots.  They will come especially in handy when trolling, as most lures you can buy online come with a loop already included in order to be “snapped on” by a snap swivel. 


To get your line to the bottom we recommend using “egg sinkers”.   Even for a short trip should bring at least 20 -30 egg sinkers with you between 1/2 oz and 3oz.  

(Check out our article on how to rig for bottom fishing)


You should probably use what are called circle hooks for bottom fishing.  These hooks keep you from hooking fish in the gut, but they also make it super easy to hook fish.  Instead of having to yank to hook fish all you need to do is reel. 


 A gaff is essentially a long stick with a big hook at the end of it.  This will come in handy bringing heavy fish into your sailboat.  It will be especially handy if your sailboat’s  deck keeps you well above the water. This is a way you can reach down and in the water “gaff the fish” and then pull it up into the boat. 

Rod Holders

These will be necessary especially if you are going to be fishing while underway.  We recommend putting at least two rod holders on your sailboat.  Put one on each side of your stern so you can troll two rods.  Make sure that they are securely fastened so that when a fish hits a trolled lure it doesn’t yank your rod right out of the boat. 

Check out this video posted by "Rodney Forte" on Youtube that shows you how to add a rod holder into the fiberglass of a boat:

The video below posted by Youtuber "Camboya Fishing" shows you how to mount a rod holder on a railing.  His are square, many of the railings on your sailboat will be round, however the concept and installation techniques remain the same. 

Trolling Lures

Trolling lures come in several shapes and sizes.  (If you are especially handy, you can even  make your own trolling lures).

You are going to want to bring at least a dozen trolling lures for a voyage over a week because you never know what will happen when a fish with sharp teeth comes chasing your lure. 

Learn How To Clean And Cook Fish You May Catch While Trolling From A Sailboat

Below are a few species of fish that you may catch while trolling behind a sailboat, how to clean them, and how to cook them. 

Mahi Mahi - If you are trolling behind a sailboat in deep tropical waters almost anywhere in the world you are bound to come across these tasty morsels.   (Learn How To Cook & Clean Mahi Mahi). 

How To Fillet & Cook Mahi

Blackfin Tuna -  These aren’t the tuna that you eat as canned tuna, but they sure taste good and fight hard.  (Learn How To Cook & Clean Blackfin Tuna). 

Triple Tail - This fish you will often find sitting under floating debris.  Cast a piece of bait or a “jig” at this fish with a spinning reel.  They have extremely tough skin, but they are one of the best tasting fish out there.  If you see one  under floating debri be sure to try and catch it. Your crew will not regret this decision. ( How To Cook & Clean Triple Tail).

Yellowfin Tuna -  This tuna is a hard fighter, and sure is tasty.  Try some sushi with this fish when it is fresh!  (Learn How To Cook & Clean Yellowfin Tuna). 

Wahoo - Watch out for this fishes teeth as you bring it into the boat, have everyone stay clear of its mouth, the teeth are very small but RAZOR SHARP.  (See The Picture Below Of What Can Happen When You Don’t).   The fish gets its name Wahoo for a reason, thats what your going to be saying when line starts pulling out of your reel faster than you thought was possible. 

(Learn How To Cook & Clean Wahoo)

Barracuda -  This is a fun fish to catch while trolling, but we don’t recommend eating them as many of these fish can have poisoned meat with “Ciguatera”.

Learn How To Cook & Clean Fish You May Catch While Bottom Fishing From A Sailboat

Yellow Tail Snapper - This is a fun fish to catch and a fun fish to fry.  (Learn How To Cook & Clean Yellowtail Snapper)

Mutton Snapper - This is a fun fish to catch and a fun fish to fry as well. A little bit larger than its cousin the yellow tail, your crew will be happy you caught this one. ( Learn How To Cook & Clean Mutton Snapper)

Mangrove Snapper - This is a very common snapper and makes for great table fare.  (Learn how to cook and clean a mangrove snapper)

Red Grouper - Red grouper are one of the smaller groupers.  They are fun to catch and their meat is excellent.  (Learn how clean and cook red grouper).

Gag Grouper  - Gag grouper is what you are most likely eating when you go to restaurant and order grouper (Learn How To Cook This Delicacy). 

Black Grouper  — The black grouper is often confused with the gag grouper, it looks similar but has a slightly different pattern on its scales. We recommend keeping black grouper under 20 Lbs for best table fare ( Learn how to cook and clean black grouper). 

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