Trolling in style

Seadog Chester poses with the catch of the day. — Courtesy Mark Bergeron

Very few activities in this world are as liberating and exhilarating as cruising off State Beach at 30 knots on a personal watercraft (PWC).

Island waters become a playground — from the shallows of Katama Bay where baitfish swirl the water into a torrent to the powerful current flowing out of the Gut, where seabirds turn the sky white. 

With our Sea-Doo GTI PWCs, my friend and I can access pretty much any ocean fishing spot around the Island. And with a top speed of around 48 knots (approximately 55 mph), we can fish multiple spots with great efficiency. 

A very wise and experienced fisherman once told me to “always follow the birds,” which can be difficult when fishing from shore (birds have wings, we don’t).

This past weekend, we were fishing along State Beach on the PWCs, when we saw what looked like a tornado of paper planes in the distance, with water churning beneath.

We immediately packed up our poles and headed over. 

When we arrived at the spot near Cape Poge, we saw hundreds of terns dive-bombing into the water to grab baitfish being driven up from the bottom by larger fish — it was a feeding frenzy.

Bluefish were launching themselves a foot out of the water in a brilliant display of sparkling scales. The terns were so overwhelmed, they were bumping into one another to get dibs on the juiciest of swarming shad.

There were so many terns crowding the air, I was hesitant to cast my sinker into the thick of them in fear of catching a bird by the wing. My friend (a more experienced fisherman than myself) had already set a trolling minnow on his line, and was casually holding his rod at his side with one hand as he approached the storm of seabirds.

The Sea-Doos have an idle speed of around 2 or 3 knots, which is perfect trolling speed for bluefish.

As my partner entered the mass of birds, he immediately hooked a bluefish and began the fight. I took the hint and threw on a trolling rig of my own, and did not regret that decision. 

We kept making figure eights through the frenzy, and each time passing through the center, we hooked on. Bluefish after bluefish were pulled up, shaking shad from their open mouths as they flopped on the line — this was one of the most electrifying experiences I’ve had out on the water.

Chester, a seafaring border terrier, kisses a freshly caught fish. — Courtesy Mark Bergeron

Be careful about foul-hooking when trolling on a PWC. Try using a single-hook lure if you end up snagging a fish. Treble-hook lures make it relatively easy to inadvertently foul-hook a fish, especially an aggressive hunter like a blue.

As the whirlpool of fish began to dissipate, the terns seemed to disappear into thin air. We waited for a couple of minutes, washed some fish mucus and shad off our seats with ocean water, then saw what would be our next destination.

Yet another cloud of birds descended on the water a couple of hundred yards away, so we gunned it over and proceeded to wash, rinse, and repeat. 

By the end of the day, we had caught upwards of 20 blues in total, with minimal effort. 

Sure, you can take a team out on a Boston Whaler and troll for hours at a time. But PWCs really are the epitome of trolling in style. Some seasoned boat fishermen might knock the water-motorcycles for the occasional speed demon flying through a no-wake zone.

But the majority of PWC owners are responsible, and respect the rules of the water. Not only are they an incredible rush, but when used properly, PWCs can be an incredible tool for accessing hard-to-reach places, and the convenience factor is another valuable element. 

Even during low tide (my friend and I have tested this unintentionally many times), PWCs are very easy to load onto the trailer.

The trailer bunks need not even be fully submerged. Simply align your jet ski with the bunks and give it a little gas. The watercraft will slide easily onto the trailer, ready for another day of fun and fish. 


Lucas Thors was born and raised on the Vineyard, and is always looking for new experiences on Island waters.