From The ITB Vault
By Jan Fogt
Capt. Ron Hamlin
Capt. Ron Hamlin has probably raised and hooked more fish than any modern day charter captain. The Palm Beach County native, now in his late 60s, is a legend, having helped pioneer marlin fishing in St. Thomas in the 60s and 70s with his “juiced baits” and the introduction of the wind-on leader. Hamlin was the first American sportfishing captain to visit Venezuela, and several years ago, he was at the vanguard of Americans fishing in Guatemala, where he currently lives and operates a sportfishing operation, Captain Hook Charters, out of Marina Pez Vela through South Fishing of Miami.
Most importantly, he is the man behind the current movement, from J-hooks to circle hooks in the taking of sailfish and other billfish species on natural baits.
When asked how he determines what a bite is, Hamlin goes back to his youth.
“To me, a bite happens whenever a fish pulls a bait out of the outrigger. If a fish comes up and doesn’t grab the bait, but the angler feels the fish and feeds line back, as long as the fish touches it, taking drag, that’s a bite. Of course, I have a couple other definitions.
“One is the raise. Anytime you have a fish that comes up, follows and responds, even if the fish fades, that is a bite. Which brings us back to that question: What is a bite? To me, it all goes back to the basics. When I was a kid fishing for bass and specks in South Florida canals with live bait if a fish struck my bait and took the bobber down, causing rings to form around the bobber, I counted that as a bite. It’s no different today. Whenever the bait goes down I still count that as a definite bite.”
Capt. Dale Willis
Our publisher, Capt. Dale Willis, has worked on enough boats to understand most captains and/or mates evaluate their performance not by the fish the angler catches but by the “bites” that each boat comes up with in a given day.
Catching and releasing, he explains, is directly related to the angler’s abilities. A captain can only do so much. His main job is to position the boat where the bite is and/or is expected to be.
“Those that know fishing understand captains rarely speak about size; i.e., we caught and released a 300-pound blue. More often, it’s we were 2 for five. Translation: out of five bites, we caught two. That’s because a captain can only do so much. They determine when and where to fish and with a good spread, raise the fish. After that, it is up to the angler. So in the captain’s mind, his or her performance is more about raising fish and getting bites. Catching is the gravy. Even guys like Ron Hamlin who literally have caught tens of thousands of fish still speak in terms of bites.”
The Bite Question
Thus, the question arises, what is considered a bite?
We realize this is a question that gets a bit technical, and subjective. A question that for some is black and white. For others, more grey. That’s why we welcome any and all comments on our web site, our goal being to shed a little more light on a sketchy, if not controversial, subject.
To get the dialog going, we sought out four full-time captains to get their views on this subject. And we welcome your responses as well to the following questions at Inthebite.com.
- How do you determine what a bite is?
- How has your opinion of what a bite is changed over the years as your career has progressed?
- In your opinion, does the line have to come out of the outrigger pin to be considered a bite?
- If the fish touches the bait but fails to pull it from the outrigger pin, is that a bite?
- If the fish strikes the teaser and nothing is that a bite?
- If a single fish bites one bait, then moves to another after the angler misses the first strike, how many bites is that?
- Is there anything that aggravates you when talking with other captains about these points?
Capt. Frank Godwin
Capt. Frank Godwin just renewed his captain’s license for the seventh time, which of course means he’s been in the business for more than 30 years. These days, he splits his time between his 46-foot Bertram Sonny Boy at Miami’s Crandon Park Marina, the charter boat he’s owned and run for more than 20 years, and a private job on the 40-foot Ryco Sugar Daddy, which he will soon be taking to Costa Rica. Over the past three decades, Godwin has become one of Miami’s top sailfishing and grouper fishing gurus. Most recently, in his private job, he’s begun specializing in nighttime swordfishing. Traveling, however, is nothing new. In the 80s, Godwin signed on with angler Terry P. Fahey to help him catch the first Pacific blue marlin on 6-pound test, which was accomplished off Cabo San Lucas with a 187-pounder gaffed and wired by Godwin.
How do you determine what a bite is?
Like a lot of guys, I don’t worry about the quality of fish so much as the quantity. So yes, to me it is a numbers game. While I say this, I consider myself old-fashioned and maybe a bit discriminating as to what I consider to be a bite. To me, a fish making a pass at the baits, or a “window shopper,” as I call them, does not equate to a bite. What that fish says to me is you need to do a better job rigging and or presenting this bait.
As for whether an angler hooks the fish or not, bottom line, to me a bite can only be counted when the fish takes it [the bait]. In my business, that’s pretty straightforward. About 99 percent of our billfishing for sailfish is done with live bait off kites. Obviously most of our fish are seen on surface close to the boat. That makes it an easy call. Sometimes the fish does not get hooked. But after 30 years in the business, if the bait is mangled in a form I consider consistent with a sailfish bite, I count it as a bite.
As for grouper, you don’t see those fish bite, but experience teaches you how they bite. Normally, the numbers game there is to discern between the number of fish caught and the keepers you actually catch. We don’t count the ones we miss. That’s how it works for bottom fish.
In your opinion, does the line need to come out of the outrigger pin to be considered a bite?
When we do use the riggers, we are drifting live baits. So that really is not a consideration.
If the fish touches the bait but does not pull it out of the rigger, is that a bite?
He’s making a pass, which does not constitute a bite. “That’s a window shopper,” explains Godwin. Within this classification however, says Godwin, are those instances when you sometimes can tease a stubborn or reluctant fish to bite by dropping a bait back or making a turn, so he comes back for a second time. With novices, the outcome usually results in an overdrop and no bite. But sometimes you do make the connection. In those cases, it feels like bite times two, confides Godwin. “Yet I always count them as one bite.”
What happens if the fish strikes just the teaser, and no bait?
Being live-baiters, off Miami we hardly ever fish teasers. Even in the local tournaments we fish, most have rules against using teasers. In some tournaments, you can’t even dump baits that were cut-offs. To us, teaser bites are not a big issue. Yet fishing the Bahamas and elsewhere on those mostly marlin fishing occasions when a fish does strike the teaser and nothing else, I would not count it as a bite. Once again, it all comes back to my first point. Whenever a fish makes contact with a bait, that’s a bite. A teaser bite is not a bite. It is a raised fish. And an issue that should cause you to think, “This was not a bite but a missed bite that tells me we are not offering what this fish wants.”
When a fish strikes one bait (and the angler misses hooking it) and moves on to the next, how many bites do you count that as?
This is where my age shows. I know most guys would count that as two bites. To me, because it is one fish, we are talking about one bite even though technically it struck two baits. I’m not the kind to exaggerate my fishing.
What aggravates you most when talking to other captains who may or may not count bites like you do?
There are plenty others who may feel otherwise, but that’s not something that annoys me. I feel like everyone who really counts knows who they are and what the real truth is.
Capt. Randy Baker
Over the past 17 years, Capt. Randy Baker, 37, has fished the world, thanks to his job mating on Jerry and Deborah Dunaway’s Hooker and Madam sportfishing operation. For eight of those years he worked for Capt. Trevor Cockle. After that assignment ended, he joined the world’s most famous fishing couple as their private captain on the new Hooker in Maderia. Three years ago, he returned to his home base in Panama City, Fla. to take a job running the 52-foot K&T Mattanza for a local owner. Now married and fishing mostly the Gulf of Mexico for marlin, sailfish, swordfish and even cobia, Baker has his specific ideas about what constitutes a bite and what doesn’t.
How do you determine what a bite is?
I grew up fishing charter docks throughout in Northwest Florida, where I am from, and just got lucky landing a job on the best fishing operation in the world. That job literally took me around the world to Australia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Cabo San Lucas, Panama, Cape Verde, the Azores and a lot of other places where you get a lot of bites.
Those experiences shaped my ideas about what a bite is and what it isn’t. So when you ask me what determines what a bite is, on billfish, my criteria is this: If you raise a fish to the bait and it doesn’t eat, that’s a raised fish. Fish that follow the bait without striking, I count as lookers or raised fish. However a fish that makes an attempt to bite, that is, they might scale the bait or mangle it, counts as a bite to me. Even if the fish fades away and does not come back, that was a bite. By the way, every fish I see is a raised fish.
What would you not consider a bite?
See the above, says Baker.
In your opinion does the line need to come out of the outrigger pin to be considered a bite?
If the fish touches the bait, is that a bite?
As long as I see the fish so I know what it is, and especially if the bait has scratches on it, that’s a bite.
If the fish strikes the teaser but does not come to the bait, is that counted as a strike?
I have to give that one some thought. I guess as long as it’s not a tournament situation, because the fish came up and tried to eat my teaser, I would call it a bite.
If a single fish comes to a bait and the angler misses it. Then that fish strikes a second bait. How many bites is that?
When talking with other captains and what they saw and how many bites they got, does it bother you if they count differently?
I agree with your premise that among captains, counting bites is how we keep score. It’s a way of talking about fishing and framing how good or bad it is. That some people interpret things a little differently than I do, that they tend over emphasize their success, sometimes does bother me. Mostly, it causes me to take what they say with a grain of salt.
Capt. Scott Murie
Capt. Scott Murie formerly of the 61-foot Garlington PJ from Destin, Fla. A private boat captain, Murie and his owners fish the northern Gulf and seasonally make protracted runs between ports like Pinas Bay, Panama and La Guiara, Venezuela and St. Thomas and Bermuda, where bites can be quick and furious. The veteran captain is a tournament regular in the Northern Gulf, having taken the third place blue marlin trophy on two occasions in the Biloxi-based Blue Marlin Classic.
How do you determine what a bite is?
As long as I can see their lips flared and teeth showing, that’s a bite. No, really, to me, a bite happens whenever a fish is pulling line from the reel.
In your opinion, does the line have to come out of the outrigger pin to be considered a bite?
Yes, I prefer it that way.
If the fish touches the bait but fails to pull the line from the outrigger pin, is that a bite?
As long as the line is not tangled up in the pin, which doesn’t happen often on my boat because of the way we set the clips up, it’s a bite.
If the fish strikes the teaser but does not move on to a bait, is that a bite?
To me, that’s a teaser bite. Actually, if a fish eats the teaser and does not move onto the real bait, that’s not a bite, that’s a missed fish. It should also be a wake-up call that you need to be doing more with your baits and/or lures to entice that fish.
If a single fish bites one bait, then moves to another after the angler misses the fish on the first bait, how many bites is that?
If a single fish eats two baits, that to me is two bites.
Is there anything that aggravates you about other captains who do no share your same viewpoint about what a bite is?
In this sportfishing game, some of us think a little different. I’ll hear guys say they are zero for one when all they did was see a fish and not even raise it to a lure or bait. In reality, they saw a fish but couldn’t make it eat. To me, that’s not a bite. That’s a sighting. Maybe because we travel more than a lot of guys in my area, I’ve become more discriminating in what I consider a bite. Count me as wanting to err on the side of evidence.
Capt. Art Sansoucy
Capt. Art Sansoucy seasonally fishes between his native New Bedford, Mass. and sunny Key West, Fla. His Florida season runs November through May out of Safe Harbor on Stock Island with his New England season for tuna, wahoo, blue and white marlin out of Captain Leroy’s. during the summer and fall. Fishing the 90-foot Two Can with his wife Connie, he specializes in overnight swordfish trips in Florida along with sailfish, blue marlin, wahoo and other striking fish. Sansoucy also runs harbor trips for tarpon and permit from a smaller boat.
How do you determine what a bite is?
Not all fish bite the same. With tuna there’s very little doubt when you get a bite. With them, it’s a grab and run for the mountains. With sailfish, if the fish comes up and messes with the bait, but doesn’t eat, that’s a raise, not a bite. To me, a raise is not a bite. If the fish takes the bait, however, and runs with it, even it doesn’t get hooked, that’s a bite. A bite for an angler and bite for a captain are two different things.
For being such a big fish, blue marlin are sneaky. Sometimes, before they actually nail the lure or bait, you’ll hear the drag go click, click, click. A lot of anglers lose fish because they don’t respond quickly enough to that signal. Nonetheless, I don’t count a marlin bite until I see the fish jump on the lure. A lot of times, they will shadow the lure without striking and fade on you. To me, that’s a raise, not a bite.
Finally, on swordfish, they are really tricky. They don’t bite like any other billfish. First of all, fishing at night, you’re drifting baits. The way you tell a swordfish bite is the line goes slack. With swordfish, they are slowly rising to the surface. That’s why a lot of anglers don’t hook. I count a swordfish bite when I see the line go slack and the tip of the rod jiggle. A big percentage of them feed that way. Only a few actually take the bait and immediately start taking drag.
Does the line have to come out of the outrigger pin for it to be a bite?
If the fish touches the bait but fails to pull it from the outrigger pin, is that a bite?
That certainly is an indication of a bite.
If the fish strikes the teaser and does not take the bait is that a bite?
No, that’s a raise.
If a fish bites one bait, then moves to another after the angler misses the first strike, how many bites is that?
I tend to count fish rather than bites. So to me, that would be one bite.
What aggravates you most when you hear captains talking about bites?
I’m always leery when I see a brochure or hear some guy saying “we get more bites than anyone.” Having fished out of Stuart, Fl. for 10 years, I was impressed at how honest captains there are about judging bites versus raises. In tourist areas where you get a lot of novice anglers coming down to the docks, inevitably you’ll hear captains talking about all these bites, and I just feel like its misleading.