Fishing Gear for Cruisers: How We Caught Our Five Best Fish in 2017


Last Updated on September 13, 2023 by Amy

David and I are not shy about it – we suck at fishing. Sadly, a lot of it is for lack of trying; just shear laziness discourages us from putting our lines out. But in early 2017, we went through our fishing gear for cruisers, gave it a good polish, and revamped our set up. Now, by no means should this be your only resource for fishing set up and gear on your cruising boat, but it’s a good start to see what has worked for us. And remember – David and I suck at fishing!

Me hard at work putting the gear together.

The results speak for themselves: while trolling hand-reels in Tonga, we caught 7 small mackerel tuna (or similar). After we left Tonga, we started putting our big rods out, and we landed four large bigeye tunas and one huge mahi-mahi. All this is just in 2,500 nm of sailing – which is not a lot for us.

Now, these sizes are just relative to our experience, but when you consider how much meat these fish provided, their sizes were pretty optimum for our food storage space and the amount of fight we want to deal with while fishing.

Two Offshore Rods & Reels

When we first started out, we had two rod & reel sets, one had belonged to my dad and one was a gift. About a year in, one reel started giving us problems. I tried to take it apart to clean it but a screw was stripped and would not come out. While in New Zealand, I took both reels to Warren Marine, where they attempted to clean and service them. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the screw out either, so their advice was to just use it as long as it worked. Well, it did stop working fairly quickly and so when we were back stateside for Julia we bought a new Penn reel. Now we have two set up on our stern, and way back in France we had two rod holders installed on either stern.  These are essential fishing gear for cruisers who want to fill their freezer.

Our older offshore reel.
Our new reel.

Two Hand Reels

When in Florida, we met a couple who were just finishing their circumnavigation. They were selling their boat and clearing out all their stuff. They gave us a hand reel with a snubber line made from rubber medical tubing and raved about how easy it was to catch fish with it. Shortly after we left, the snubber line broke. While looking for a replacement snubber, I went ahead and bought the materials for a second hand reel.

While in New Zealand I finally found instructions for how to make a snubber using bungee cord and put both hand reels together. If we are trolling just the hand reels, we cleat them off at the stern cleats. If we want to run four lines off the boat, we attach the hand reels to the stern rail using soft shackles.  This is great fishing gear for cruisers who want a low-cost, low-maintenance option.

The two hand reels I made.
You can see the bungee snubber.

The Lures

The five big fish we caught this year were caught on two different lures. We use a cedar plug on one rod, and a white, skirted lure with a metal, conical head on the other rod. The skirted lure is very similar to what we used to use, except for the shape of the head. The old lures, which hooked lots of marlins, had a flat, concave head. This head is more of a pointed shape.

Every single lure we have is on a wire leader.

Cedar plug.
White skirted lure.

Light Tackle Gear

We have two light tackle rods that our friend bought for us in Bermuda. We don’t fish off the boat at anchor very often, but a lot of other cruisers do. Mostly what prevents us from doing this is Ciguatera, a toxin in reef fish that stays in your system for the rest of your life. Pelagic fish, such as mahi-mahi and tunas, don’t have this problem and are safe to eat. Always check with the local fishing shops or local fishermen, as they know what to eat or what not to eat. A lot of times, people will say “there hasn’t been a ciguatera case in years”. Well, is that because there’s no ciguatera, or is it because no one is eating the fish with ciguatera.


David installed plastic coated hooks onto the ceiling of our port bow locker to store the rods when we aren’t on passage.

Accessories & Miscellaneous Fishing Gear for Cruisers

We have a gaff, a net, a hook remover, and the very handy book, The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing. We have various other stuff too – extra swivels, hooks, beads, etc…

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    1. Thanks for taking your time writing the story…… Did you take some notes where on your route the best fishing where located…. That kind of info could make one move a bit left or right…..

      1. The best fishing we had was while sailing short hops between islands in the south pacific. We caught two big eye and two nice mahi mahi while island hopping in Fiji.

  1. Hi Amy,
    What are the strength of your rods and reels ? 30? 50? 80 Lbs.
    I’ve got the book “cruiser’s fishing” but never get anything ( I worst than you)
    What’s the distances from the boat are your lures?
    Have great day and a safe travel.

    1. Hi Philippe! There’s a link in the blog post to the Penn reel that we use. It’s 50lb. We usually put the lures about 100 meters behind us.

  2. I appreciate that you claim no expertise in fishing – but at the very least you should point out how exponentially your record has improved over the first few weeks of passage! As one of the beneficiaries of your catch, I was thrilled! Great fish – great chef – superb meal!

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