Jet Ski Fishing - Hook Up and Go

By Ted Sensenbrenner

Photo of Jet Ski Brian fishing from his PWC

Today, PWC's are marketed as a family-friendly craft ideal for watersports and cruising. But fishing? Well, not so much

But that didn't stop an inventive BoatUS member from outfitting a used personal watercraft into a machine that had its advantages over a traditional fishing boat. “Jet Ski Brian,” as he is known to locals and followers of his blog, has owned several fishing boats. As fuel costs rose along with the hassle factor of launching a boat for a quick fishing session, he figured, if rigged properly, a jet ski could get him to the action faster and more economically.

Outfitting the Craft

photo of a jetski rigged up for fishing

His initial fishing outings confirmed that a stock PWC wasn't going to cut it. Besides lacking rod holders, there was no place for his catch, no electronics to navigate by, and battery and fuel capacity was a concern. So he met with a local aluminum fabricator to add brackets for electronics and an arch for rod holders. The final product proved worthy and the idea began to catch on. Soon, Brian was being asked to talk to local groups about his offshore adventures.

A few years later, Brian purchased a second PWC, which gave him the opportunity to start from scratch and make improvements to address previous shortcomings. So back to the welder he went, this time with plans to add an external fuel tank, a more robust arch with seatback and bracket for a larger-capacity cooler. He also designed a removable three-piece windscreen made of vinyl and canvas that protects him during cold weather.

Going the Distance

Brian does most of his fishing on the Chesapeake Bay and coastal Virginia and North Carolina. His familiarity with the area made him comfortable with routine trips of 15 to 25 miles. As confidence increased, he gradually started making longer runs of 40, 50, and even 60 miles offshore. When making longer trips, he always goes with another friend on a PWC or buddy boat that fishes in the vicinity.

As for safety, he incorporates the same safety devices and practices on his ski as he does when boating, and more. “I carry an EPIRB, a SPOT GPS tracker which is attached to my life vest, a GPS/Sounder, signal flares, a personal strobe light, dye packs, and an extra gel battery. I fish all the seasons and in the winter, I wear a dry suit or a survival suit.” Other must-have gear includes a VHF, cell phone, tow rope, and a basic first aid kit.

Brian also stresses that preparation is key for any successful outing. Sometimes spares make the difference, too, or simply having an extra bottle of water. He's always thinking about how to make his craft safer and better whether it's a day trip to Chesapeake Light 15 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach or trailering the rig to Cape Hatteras and fishing 40 miles offshore, to which he adds, “I always carry a spare tire and a jack for the trailer. I've had to use it before 0500 hours on the way to go fishing.”

Thrill of the Catch

To many, the thrill of PWC fishing is the self-reliance required and the puffery that comes with man versus nature. There are no mates to set the hook, nobody to net your catch, or, maybe most important, nobody to take your picture. This emphasis on self-reliance is already popular in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, and Brian believes it's just a matter of time before it catches on here, too.

When it comes to fishing, a PWC is actually versatile. It's easy to troll, jig, or simply drift fish. You can anchor easily and use it as a dive platform or stand to spear fish. Because of the many requests for information, Brian's blog has a place for people to share ideas on gear, techniques on outfitting, and popular fishing spots.

Outfitting a PWC and getting there is fun, but so is the fishing. On the East Coast, PWC fishermen are targeting striped bass, flounder, cobia, and even wahoo. On the West Coast, bloggers write about landing mahi, vermilion, and sheephead. When asked about fishing secrets, Brian states he has no secret weapon, but “I have gotten better with age. I have learned when and where to go and what to use over time.”

FOUR QUESTIONS FOR JET SKI BRIAN

What is the largest fish you've caught?
I've hooked a few sailfish that eventually broke off, but I have landed a 70-pound cobia.
Do you practice catch and release?
I do practice catch and release, but most of the time I am targeting species I like to eat.
Do you ever feel alone?
I enjoy just focusing on running to my destination and fishing without worrying about the other guy. Sometimes when fishing locally, I'll take my wife and drop her off with a book, umbrella, and a beach towel at a secluded beach, and I'll fish for a couple of hours.
Has anyone ever told you that you are crazy?
Well, my wife knows my passion for fishing and she knows how safety-conscious I am; otherwise she wouldn't let me out of the house. But I do get a lot of crazy looks. I am not complacent in my ways and [am] always willing to change if it is for the better. Using a PWC for fishing is gaining acceptance and I have fielded hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from people interested in the sport.

* Ted Sensenbrenner is the Assistant Director of Boating Safety for the BoatUS Foundation, which encourages the fun, safe and environmentally responsible participation of on-water activities.
For more, visit BoatUS.com/Foundation.