Offshore fishing requires some degree of strength and physical fitness and can cause injuries to those who are not in shape. Swimming and snorkeling are good cardiovascular exercises. Workouts for the upper body are also recommended.
You may have the right boat, the right tackle and the right bait to catch a record billfish. But do you have the right exercise program? By Peter Wright
JOHN PELTON used to get up every morning in the early ’70s and jog in place on his bedroom carpet. We’ve all seen high school gym class students doing arm exercises by rotating their extended arms and hands, but Pelton held both elbows out and whirled both hands at the wrist, keeping them closely in front of him.
The owner of a shiny new 40-foot Woodnutt sportfishing boat he’d named Hooker, Pelton was planning an assault on the black marlin world record. “You just chase them as fast as you want,” he would tell me. “I’m ready to wind in all the line you can give me.”
I had never seen anything quite like Pelton’s exercise program, but it certainly worked. The first fish we caught on Hooker’s maiden voyage was a world-record 432-pound black on 20-pound line. The marlin leaped and ran for several hundred yards and required 35 minutes of nonstop pumping and high-speed winding. Soon after that, we wound up with the Australian 12-pound-test black marlin record as well.
Pelton would never quit reeling. Even when he tripped on a gaff rope one day and fell flat on his back while fighting a fish, he kept going. The whole crew was bent over with laughter, but he struggled up on his elbows and knees and just kept winding.
Angling technique involves far more than brute strength, and any teenage girl capable of playing a couple of sets of active tennis can effectively use even the heavier line classes–as long as the harness and chair are properly adjusted. But offshore big-game angling does require a certain degree of physical fitness. With stand-up gear, for example, very few people are strong enough to use the full strength of line over 50-pound test, regardless of exaggerated claims to the contrary.
Unfortunately, offshore angling can be quite expensive to pursue, and many of the men and women who can afford to enjoy it are financially able to do so because they spend the majority of their time in offices behind desks. When they finally do get a chance to take a fishing holiday, they are often in terrible shape, and the rigors of a long, hard fight with a big fish can turn out to be anything but pleasant. In fact, a few such fights every year result in injury or even heart attacks and death.
Top anglers usually make a serious effort to be ready for strenuous fights with big fish. One angler, a dairy farmer from New Zealand, used to sit on a log with his feet braced against two wooden pegs, and, with a stout bit of wood, “pump” a heavy tractor gear off the ground in preparation for his annual fishing trip to Australia.
Stewart Campbell, whose angling feats are legendary on both heavy and light tackle, works out with weights three days a week when at home and exercises regularly every morning. He does 50 crunches (almost a sit-up, but not as hard on the back), 50 leg raises, 100 side turns, 50 push-ups, and 50 half knee bends before heading for the boat.
My crew and I commonly spend up to six weeks at a time living aboard boats, often without any significant time at all spent on dry land. In rough weather we get good muscle tone doing our onboard work, because we are constantly moving in coordination with the movement of the boat. Up in the tower I get good upper-body toning and strength just from hanging on.
What we lack is any real cardiovascular exercise–other than our swims several mornings a week. Swimming–especially while snorkeling–is one of the best exercises, and goes hand-in-hand with fishing in the tropics. Even relatively leisurely sight-seeing and paddling among the coral heads will rapidly improve the physical condition of an out-of-shape adult. Usually we can persuade the charter guests to join us, but even if the party refuses to get wet, we swim and spear fish that will wind up on the dinner table that evening. If I am not carrying a spear gun, I always try to swim for some distance, alternately using just arms and just legs.
Holding one’s breath while snorkeling elicits some of the physiological responses of diving mammals such as seals and porpoises, and the red blood cell counts (which carry oxygen to all parts of the body) are quite high. After a long period of inactivity, I notice a great improvement in stamina from as few as three or four such sessions.
* any aerobic exercise, such as skipping rope, walking, jogging or stair-climbing, will improve stamina needed for long, intense fights.
* Upper body and leg strength required for heavy tackle can be improved quickly and easily by a short workout a few days a week. Weight training will help, but it is not essential.
* Swimming is probably the best exercise of all, and it aids both upper and lower body. Snorkeling can be both aerobic and anaerobic.
Peter Wright, a professional billfish captain who fishes around the world, has caught more 1,000-pound marlin than any man alive.