To be a successful salt water fisherman the most important information is understanding the relationship between rust and electrical fields and how they attract or repel fish


Rust, Fisherman’s Enemy #1

Every Captain knows this scenario. Anglers show up from out of town and join the armada of local boats to try their luck at some salt water fishing.  To everyone’s surprise they have a great day and share their enthusiasm with everyone on the water every time they catch a fish. 

That is about the time we are all wondering what we’re doing wrong, most people write these situations off to beginner’s luck. There has to be another factor involved.  We pulled our gear to have a look at it.  The green and silver Coyote Spoon Bait looked good but there was a little rust on the hook, this was annoying because it was practically new.  It was not the original hook but a bargain bulk replacement.  Using a brass brush we touched up our hooks and sent them back down.  It never helped, there was no cheering from our boat that day. 

After a week of discouraging fishing a very friendly retired gentleman that would greet us every time were coming in, took pity on us and offered to fix my boat.  He grabbed a volt meter and we went for a ride. After a short boat ride to deep water we lowered both downriggers to 70 feet. He turned the volt meter to DC 20, then he put the negative probe to the boats hull and the positive sensor to the down rigger cable. He turned on the volt meter, laughed and said “You’re burning up Boy, I got 1.8 volts here”. There are 2 things you can do troll your spoon 200 feet behind the boat or fix the boat properly. 

Due to all the boat traffic, long line down rigging would be an instant disaster, so fixing the boat was my only option. The first thing that had to go was all the rusted steel bolts. No rust on the boat anywhere where my orders.  The radio antenna, oar locks, braces, downrigger mounts and seat pedestals all needed replacing or new stainless steel nuts and bolts. 

Then we took a look at the motor.  The zincs or sacrificial anodes were old and white in color but not deteriorated, he said they needed replacing.  There was no zinc on the boat. He figured about two pounds would do for a 400-500 lb aluminum boat and showed me how to attach it. 

Next we looked at my tackle box, it too was in disorder.  There was rust everywhere from old rigs and steel tools. Get a new tackle box and keep it clean were my next orders.  He recommended rinsing off the salt water and wiping dry all rigs, lures and spoons before stowing.  Just as I couldn’t feel more embarrassed, he attacked my hook selection and told me not to buy junk.

There were rusty spoons and hooks everywhere. Those bargain Siwash hooks and cheep knock off spoons were rusting in just a day or two, he said the Heinz 57 alloy they use actually creates electricity, creating rust when exposed to salt water.  He picked up a trolling spoon and showed me the rust on the hook where the stainless split ring came in contact with the hook and he said “See here, the split ring and spoon are high quality stainless steel with a high nickel content, the hook is softer and becomes the sacrificial anode for the spoon.  If they were the same alloy there would be no corrosion and no electricity”. 

The whole afternoon we worked hard getting the boat ready. We heard story after story of the old timers, 50 odd years of commercial trolling on the B.C. coast, from Vancouver Island to Alaska.  My wife and I received a complete history lesson about the “boats of wood and men of steel” but all I wanted to hear was more about electrical fields. 

Finally the last thing we looked at were the down riggers and cannonballs.  My down riggers were manual “Big John” purchased in Ontario in 1977. The base was solid aluminum that was secured to my boat’s hull by a steel bracket custom made for the job.  This was a poor fresh water rig but an electrical disaster in salt water.  The downrigger has to be isolated from the boat. The easiest way to do this was to use a 6” x 6” wood block and stainless lag bolts.  Next we looked at the cannon balls. They were about 5 year’s old, very grey and the eyes were made of copper that had turned green.  They too needed replacing. This afternoon was getting expensive but I trusted the old guy and picked them up along with some brand name high quality hooks.

The next day we all met before first light and headed to the fishing grounds.  The new cannon balls were secured to the stainless steel cable with net twine leaving the cannon ball separated from the wire by about a foot.  He said we could shorten the twine if we were still too hot.  He tested the boat again and we were down to .55 volts, this was too low, we lifted the gear and lengthened the twine to about 6 feet. 

Dropping the cannon ball back down to 20 feet to test again, this time we were at .65 volts, too high.  Up came the gear again and the twine was shortened to about 4 feet.  This time it was perfect at .62 volts DC.
The next time it went down it had gear on it with new hooks. 

All this attention to detail paid off.  Now we were the boat kicking butt out there! Everyone had a great day playing salmon after salmon!  We learned as much as the old boy would teach us that August in Ucluelet back in 1984, I still had so many questions but I wasn’t sure what the questions were.  It was all so fascinating and confusing at the same time, to think there is an invisible world in the ocean of electro and electromagnetic fields that are oblivious to us yet play such a big role in the fish’s world.

Those out of town anglers that had such a good time were using new gear, new cannon balls, spoons and downriggers intended for salt water use.  The boat had probably never seen salt water before so that first day on the water those lads couldn’t do anything wrong.  They were fishing in the zone without knowing it but as they spend more time in the salt, things change.  The boat becomes ionized by the salt water and starts manufacturing electricity if there are no sacrificial anodes in place, it will start spooking fish.  The old timer says that metal in salt water starts a process of ionization that can only be stopped by melting it down, all we can do is slow it down.  So as the young lad’s boat slowly corrodes, so does their enthusiasm, wishing for a replay of the first day when they rocked on the water.

It’s sad to say that the glory days of the West Coast Troll Fleet are years behind us now. What’s left is still hanging on coping with changing markets, stricter quotas and outrageous fuel prices. The successful west coast troller is a physicist, scientist, biologist then a fisherman. They make their living understanding and managing the forces they can control.  Because of the competitive nature of these fellows for top boat, they really are closed mouthed about the subject of electric fields and it’s very hard to get any information out of them.  Most captains won’t share secrets with crew fearing they might sail with another captain some day. It has taken us over twenty years of persistent investigating and trial and error to learn what we think we know about the invisible, secretive world of electric fields and how sea life responds to it.

Tips to keep in mind when buying tackle::

  1. Retire any lures, spoons, jigs and rigs that show any sign of rust or oxidation. Removing rust or corrosion from tackle will not solve the problem; the rust is the result of the problem.
    The best saltwater guides change hooks on their rigs and lures daily.

  2. Metals to avoid when buying tackle are; brass, copper, aluminum, galvanized anything, silver and any Heinz 57 alloys, all these metals in salt water produce electricity and get too hot for the sportsman in short order.

  3. The best metal for salt water use is high quality stainless steel with high nickel content as it seems to be zone free. Use only quality stainless steel hooks, swivels, snaps or any other terminal tackle.

  4. New tackle works best, hands down, no contest. How long it works will depend on the quality and how you take care of it. Rinse off the salt water and dry before you store any metal gear.

  5. Use fisherman’s twine or a rubber snubber to attach your cannonball to the wire.

  6. Braided nylon cable will allow you to fish zone free but if your cannon ball is hot you won’t know. Rubberized cannon balls are the ticket for nylon cord, now you are truly fishing zone free but you are not attracting fish. A well tuned boat with a black box and wire will out fish you every time regardless of the target fish species.

  7. Cannonballs are a huge mass of lead that naturally create an electrical field based on mass and composition. The older they get, the hotter they get, recycle at first sign of corrosion. When selecting cannonballs buy only the ones that have stainless steel eyes, avoid brass, copper, aluminum, steel and galvanized steel, these all run too hot and start spooking fish after a few day’s use.

  8. Coating your cannonballs in rubber or paint will reduce the electronic signature. Keep it maintained and you can lengthen the life of cannonballs significantly.