Captain Jeff Donahue provides a thorough breakdown of the all new Hatteras GT59. Captain Jeff runs the Hatterascal, hull number one of the GT59 series, on it’s wide ranging tournament schedule. See how the boat is designed, performs and what all goes into making a Hatteras. You won’t want to miss it.
InTheBite Archives – Oct/Nov 2016 Issue Vol 15, Ed 7.
by Ric Burnley
“For the most part, the playing field is pretty even,” states pro skipper Captain Andy Kubiak, “the one difference is bait.” Dock talk and the internet spread new techniques and tackle like wildfire; secrets don’t stay secrets for long. Today’s professional crews are seasoned, synchronized and sober. So, victory or defeat are determined by the details. “Having the best bait can be difference between winning and losing,” Kubiak insists.
On the Tournament Trail
Captain Andy Kubiak is one of the original bait snobs; “We fished a lot of rigged mullet back in the seventies,” he recalls. At the time, mullet were prepared by removing the backbone and splitting the tail. “Those baits were good for hooked rigs because they were mostly skin without a lot of meat,” he explains.
When dredges hit the scene, Kubiak didn’t like the split tail mullet he was using. “I wanted something that would move better, so I started cutting my own bait.” To insure he was using the best bait available, he manages every step from the time the bait is pulled from the water until it goes into his spread. “Either I catch the bait myself or I rely on a trusted source,” he says. The bait is handled gently and immediately placed into a brine to preserve color and texture. Kubiak looks for bright colors and strong contrasts. “Mullet should have a dark black tail,” he insists, “and ballyhoo should keep the bright yellow tail.” He looks for all the scales in place and clear eyes. “There shouldn’t be a lot of blood or poop in the bag,” he adds.
When it comes time to thaw the bait, he keeps it in the package that he places in a bucket of saltwater. “Never let the bait touch freshwater,” he stresses. Fresh water will suck any salt out of the bait and leave it mushy and dull. Once the bait is thawed, Kubiak places special attention on how it is rigged. “Be sure that the mullet heads are tied up tight with the mouth shut and the bait secured to the rig.” Properly rigged, a mullet should last all day on a dredge. Crews are rigging 200 to 300 mullet and as many ballyhoo for a weekend tournament. “The true test is when I see a half-dozen billfish on my dredge,” he says.
Captain Kevin Paul has been a bait snob since birth; he grew up in a high-end seafood market and came to age on a South Florida charter boat. “I knew what it takes to produce the best-quality seafood,” he recalls, “and I expected the same out of my bait.”
Paul controls all stages of the bait process. “Everything matters,” he insists. That includes where the bait is caught. “I demand our mullet come from sandy bottom not muddy bottom,” he points out. He even tracks what time the fish are eating and how long they eat. “Sometimes they eat all day, sometimes they don’t start to feed until 10 am.” This year, he has personally caught all of the Spanish mackerel that he sells. “I’m real proud of my mackerel,” he says, “you’re not going to find better baits.”
Time of year and water conditions also affect the quality of the bait. He adds, “If it is the mating season and the fish are full of roe that can affect how they perform.” For ballyhoo, he looks at how the fish are caught and handled on the boat. “How are the fish dumped and brined on the boat?” he asks.
While he wouldn’t divulge all of his secrets, Paul did let go his brine recipe. He starts with a 150-quart cooler filled with water and adds 80 pounds of Kosher salt and 10 to 15 pounds of baking soda. “The baking soda preserves the color and locks in the scales,” he explains.
Water temperature also affects the bait quality. “Winter baits are great because the fish don’t eat as much in winter,” he admits, “but a really cold winter and the fish will suffer malnutrition.” This results in skinny baits that don’t swim as well. When it comes to ballyhoo and mackerel, he avoids fish that are eating and spawning. “Those fish are pretty much junk,” he laughs.
From the boat, the bait is packaged, vacuum sealed and flash frozen. Paul distributes the baits to specialty suppliers and discerning crews. “There are only a few bait shops that have a freezer with low enough temperature to keep the bait,” he adds.
Paul suggests keeping mullet frozen through the dredge rigging process. “Take them out of the package and put them in the bait box,” he starts. Handling the bait will soften it enough for rigging.
Once the bait is rigged, it goes back on the bait tray and out of the sun. “If I’m trolling fast for blue marlin, I salt the be-Jesus out of it,” he says. For a slower troll, he uses less salt. “I sprinkle as much salt as I would use on my mashed potatoes,” he says. If his dredge mullets are in good shape, he will reuse them. “Cover them with salt and store on ice,” he suggests. However, if there is any compromise in the bait, he will replace it. “No matter how much salt you can use, you can’t turn chicken shit into chicken salad,” he jokes.
The Northeast Perspective
While ballyhoo and mullet are just beginning to hit the docks along the Northeast, New England anglers have taken prepping chunk baits to an art form. The center of the action is J and B Bait and Tackle in Niantic, Connecticut where owner Kyle Douton is a bait snob since birth. “When I was in elementary school my dad and I would drive to the distributors and load the pick up with bait,” he reminisces.
Now, Douton gets his bait delivered to the shop, but he’s been known to go the extra mile. During a hot tuna bite last year, a butterfish shortage had him on the road. “We would drive to Manhattan and buy food-quality butterfish,” he says.
When Douton picks up a flat of bunker he looks for bright colors, intact fins, clear eyes and a light coating of frost. On spring tuna trips, he’ll take two or three flats, but by the early fall he’s up to 10 flats of bait. “The water temperature is higher and the night is longer,” he explains, “so we need more bait.” If the day-time chunking bite is hot, he’ll take more flats. He warns, “Some guys are getting bait directly from draggers, but if it isn’t flash frozen it will turn out mushy.” Recently, he’s been adding herring and even sardines to his chunk menu.
When it comes to squid, Douton says the best bet is to catch fresh squid on the fishing grounds. “Use a squid jig or a long-handled, fine-meshed squid net to catch squid that come to the light,” he suggests. Adding a little stream of menhaden chum will bring more squid to the lights. Douton says some crews have even figured out how to catch squid and keep it alive between trips. For swordfish baits, he looks for nine-inch squid that are flash frozen and vacuum-sealed. “Keep the squid frozen until you’re ready to fish,” he suggests, “squid thaws fast because it freezes at a lower temperature.”
The night before the trip, Douton will stack flats of bait on the boat to thaw. “I pull a few of the best looking baits off the top of each flat to rig for hook baits,” he explains. Those premium baits are placed in a freezer bag with a good coating of kosher salt. “I’ve even started keeping the rigged baits in a salty brine to toughen them up,” he adds. From there, the baits go on a bait tray over ice. He stresses, “You want to treat these baits right because you will be handling them.”
The rest of the bait is prepared for chunking. He says that some guys have invested in a meat-grade band saw to cut the frozen flats into manageable sizes. Otherwise, he recommends cutting the 1.5-inch chunks with a mandolin knife. “If I’m fishing for big bluefin, I’ll make bigger chunks and baits,” he adds. He says that it is important that the chunks match the size of the bait, especially when yo-yoing with unweighted chunks.
To distribute the chunks, he recommends a motorized Chum Chucker. “It keeps a steady stream going even when the crew is busy or asleep,” he explains. Other crews use a scoop to launch chunks upstream from the boat. Frozen chunks don’t sink. “I want the chunks to sink at the same rate as the baits,” he explains.
Douton admits handling and prepping bait for chunking is pretty simple. “But it is a big part of the game,” he adds, “so you have to consider how you will store and handle it.” He points out that the best local skippers make the best bait a priority.
Not much debate…
When it comes to bait, only the best will do. Bait snobs know that the best preparation and the most expensive gear won’t make up for bad bait at the end of the line. Captain Kevin Paul puts it this way: “If the bait is right, the crew did their work, and the boss opened his wallet, then there is no excuse for a bad day except bad luck.”
The Buccaneer Cup: The Great Bait Debate
by Gary Caputi
In 2005 I was invited to attend a meeting of the Buccaneer Yacht Club’s board of directors at Duffy’s in Palm Beach Gardens. The club owned and ran the Buccaneer Cup, one of Florida’s most venerable and well-known sailfish tournaments, but dwindling membership and the loss of the Buccaneer Marina to condo developers had put them in a tough spot.
Several of the board members were also members of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, an organization I was affiliated with, and they felt it could benefit from an association with the tournament. My background as a writer and staff member fora number of national fishing and boating magazines also figured into their plan.
Realizing that the club no longer had the resources to continue running the Buc Cup they asked me to take on the positon of tournament director in order to help revitalize it. I agreed with the understanding that the proceeds would be donated to the RFA. We shook hands and I went to work. From the beginning I was saddled with a vexing problem: how should release points be scored for boats trolling dead baits fishing against boats using live bait? The use of circle hooks was just gaining in popularity at the time and we also wanted to encourage teams to start using them.
The 2006 tournament rules states that points would be awarded in the following manner: 100 points for a sailfish on live bait with a circle hook; 150 points on dead bait with a J-hook or 200 points with dead bait and circle hook. It was somewhat confusing, but we began to refine the rules in subsequent years trying to strike a better balance between live bait boats from the south and trollers from the north. Thankfully a lot of great captains and boat owners offered their input along the way (sometimes in heated conversations during captain’s meetings) and they have made the job easier.
So how did the Buc, a live bait competition since its inception in 1963, find itself in a position where trolling became a factor? To gain some background and insight, my first call was to my friend Frank Murray of Murray Products. Frank’s brother, the late great Ed Murray, owned the bar at the Buccaneer Marina in the late 1980s and they were among the area’s elite anglers. Today their fighting chair company remains synonymous with the sport.
“From the beginning the Buc was a live bait, all release, amateur angler event set up so families and weekend anglers could go out and have a good time,” Frank said. “It wasn’t until the mid ‘80s that trolling entered the picture for a variety of reasons, but it did create a scoring problem because of the supposed advantage that live bait had over dead. Remember, kites were not allowed for a lot of years and dredges were yet not on anybody’s radar screen. I remember having lively discussions with my dear friend John Rybovich, an ardent conservationist, about keeping the Buccaneer live bait only, but a lot of the guys that hung around the bar considered him to be something of a pain in the you-know-what. What many failed to realize was…….http://shop.inthebite.com/collections/back-issues/products/inthebite-volume-14-edition-07-octnov-2015-digital-edition