Erik Vaaler

Erik, tell us about chunking.

Chunking is all about a lot of chunks. Every 15 seconds. You can slow down to one every minute if the fishing and the current are slow. In the Northeast, where they are usually fishing for 30-lb. to 50-lb bluefin or yellowfin, they use smaller chunks but send one over the side every 15 seconds, about the time it takes the last piece to disappear. Figure on 50-lbs of chunks for a day of fishing.

What about using balloons or kites?

Kites and balloons are for two completely different types of fishing. Kites do let you use a heavier leader, but that is not usually the primary purpose. With a kite you are trying to keep live bait thrashing around on the surface well away from the boat. Balloons are used just like bobbers. They let you fish at a set depth, spread out, and away from the boat. Balloons are used so you can set out several lines and not get the tangles you would if you were fishing right under the boat. Balloons are also a good way to fish a chunk or a live bait way back in the chunk slick.

Have you heard of using billfish for chunking?

I haven't seen it, but I am sure a few billfish get chunked. The boats almost always try to avoid catching billfish, and the ones they do catch are typically brought to the boat quickly and cut free. I would rather not see them chunked, but I think that is a much better use than being killed just for a picture (and then abandoned), which seems to be the fate of many Cabo billfish.

What frequency do you throw chunks, and what type of terminal tackle should I use?

Use 1-oz chunks. Toss one every 15 seconds to 60 seconds. The slower the drift, the slower the fishing, and the slower the chunking.

Use a swivel because the chunk will spin when being retrieved.

Use 4/0 to 9/0 Mustad 9174 or 94150 hooks.

I use 4/0 to 10/0 "Super Mutu" circle hooks if the fish are line shy.

When using J hooks, the leader lb. test should equal the weight of the fish you are targeting, with circle hooks you can cut the leader lb. test to one-half.

You feed out about 100 feet of line, retrieve, repeat, without a break, all day long.

It sounds a little boring!

You are right. It is not very exciting fishing, particularly for people used to trolling, but it can be very productive. It does get exciting when you hook up on several fish at once. Hope you get to experience that excitement.

What do I use for chunking material in Cabo?

The chunk bait situation could be a lot better in Cabo. Bonito and skipjack for chunks can be caught/bought/scrounged and seem to work as well as anything else at night (other than the potential shark problem). Unfortunately, the best (shiny) chunk baits for daylight fishing, like caballito or sardinas, are prohibitively expensive, since a day of chunking will go through 25-lb. to 50-lb. of bait. My next choice would be chunks of mackerel that had been cut up and rinsed (to minimize shark interest) before I started chunking. I tried to buy some around here (SF) for my last trip, but there wasn't any available other than sushi grade at $8.00 a pound. I passed. Next time I go, I will bring mackerel, sardines, herring or anchovies, depending on what I can buy or catch this spring. The East Coast guys have great bait. A 25# flat of butterfish sells for about $20 and is available at most marinas. Looks like trolling feathers and then possibly chunking with really small pieces after a hookup may be your best bet for bait. We fished about 1 mile off shore between El Faro and GG Bank and caught skipjack, dorado, and yellowfin. All reasonable chunking baits. You could probably get sierra in closer. Some of the crews know where you could jig up some mackerel. There are a couple of spots just outside the harbor. GG Bank often has big schools of mackerel, which will show up on a fish finder. They can be 150'- 200' down during the day, making catching them hard work. I have caught them 20' down just after sunset. I like the big Sabiki rigs with the hoochies. I believe that technically mackerel (or any other fish) count toward your 10 fish limit in Mexico, but I doubt if your skipper will care.

The balloon fishing I was referring to previously, is not the same as using a balloon with a kite. I was talking about using small (6" diameter) party balloons, blown up by mouth, as floats. Just tie them to the line (with an overhand knot in the stem of the balloon) to get the desired depth. This knot is easy to undo when you have a fish on or when you need to check your bait. Helium filled balloons (~18" diameter) can be tied to the backside of a kite when the wind isn't blowing hard enough. It is a rare day when the air is so still that this isn't enough to keep the kite up. The long-range boats run out about 100 yards of line before they attach the release clip. This is much more than many people fish with, but it helps get the kite up into steadier, faster moving air. Using 50# or lighter spectra line for the kite can make a big difference on nearly windless days, both because it weighs less than other lines and because the smaller diameter gives it less drag in the air. Using a kite designed for light air is very important too. A trick with bigger baits that can pull the balloon down in light air is to clip off part of their tail fin. My guess is that helium is not available in Cabo. You may find some "balloon mix" around which is used for filling party balloons. This is a helium-air mix, in a ratio to give just enough lift to lift the balloon. It is worthless for kite fishing. I definitely recommend putting out a couple of balloon rigs as well. Using a kite is a tougher call. They are a real hassle, requiring constant attention, but it is quite a sight when a yellowfin or marlin hits a bait on the surface.

I've heard about huge tuna cruising the seamounts. Any possibility of getting spooled?

I remembered something else about not moving the boat. If you are fishing with light gear like 30SW or 50SW, it is a good idea to keep a spare heavy rig handy in case a fish is threatening to spool you. You can then clip the heavy rig to the one that has the fish on and throw it over the side. You can then fight the fish on the heavy rig and keep the chunk line going. Penn drags work fine after a dunking. The reel should be taken apart and rinsed in fresh water at the end of the day. 30 and 50 pound gear is usually held when fishing and the line is stripped off at the reel, just like mooching for salmon. Heavier gear is fished from the rod holder and the line is stripped from the rod tip. Leave the reel with just enough drag to not overrun when you are stripping line. The fish can very easily swallow the chunk, so there is no need to wait after a pickup before throwing drag to strike.


Erik Vaaler

Many people use the terms crimping and swaging interchangeably. You hear people say things like "Use a swaging tool to crimp the hook in place." Crimping and swaging are most definitely not the same thing. Many people also use the term crimps and sleeves interchangeably. Again, they are not the same things. The result is confusion and some lost fish and gear.

A crimping tool makes a dent in the crimp (or sleeve). The same process and tools are used for putting terminal lugs and connectors on electrical wire. A swaging tool more or less uniformly radially compresses the entire sleeve. A crimp is almost always a single sleeve. A double sleeve (oval or kind of figure 8 shaped) is always used for swaging. There are double sleeves used for crimping, but they aren't very common. Also, some swaging is done with single sleeves, usually when only one line is run through it. The stops the commercial guys use on downrigger lines are a good example.

Crimps and crimping tools are only for wire. Use a crimp on monofilament and you are almost guaranteed to have a weak connection.

Swaging tools are for multistrand wire or mono. If you want to do heavy wire, 185 lbs. or more, a swaging tool will handle everything, with commonly available tools and double sleeves. If you want to use light wire (30#-90#) for leaders for wahoo, bluefish, etc, you will also need a crimping tool, or special (uncommon) small sleeves and swaging tool. Best to buy everything - swager, sleeves, and leader - from the same manufacturer due to differences in the diameter of mono leader material from different manufacturers. I use Jinkai aluminum double sleeves. Friends of mine use Momoi. They are very different - 400# Momoi leader just barely fits in 600# Jinkai double sleeves. Sevenstrand makes/sells swaggers, crimpers, and copper single and double sleeves that are good for wire, but too heavy for mono under about 300# (in my opinion). Copper sleeves work on mono or wire. Aluminum works on mono or wire too, but will corrode and weaken pretty fast when used on wire.

About a year ago Saltwater Sportsman had an article on swaging with results favoring swaged connections over knots on mono over 50#. I follow that recommendation in most applications, with just a few exceptions like using perfection loops for live bait marlin leaders, and where knot strength is secondary to abrasion resistance.

Practice makes perfect. There is a little "feel" that needs to be developed in order to get consistently good connections, particularly on lighter monofilament. Test what you have done using a scale. Melting a little ball of mono on the tag end of the leader adds a "belt and suspenders" security to the connection. Don't do this after swaging - you will damage the leader. Before swaging pull the tag end an inch or more through the double sleeve. You can then melt the end without heating up any other part of the leader. After the blob cools, snug it down on the back of the sleeve and then swage.