How to overnight fish in a small boat

How to overnight fish in a small boat

Fishing is a strange thing – it can make perfectly lucid people put themselves in extremely uncomfortable situations just for a chance at that dream catch, writes Nick Jones.

One of those uncomfortable situations I have experienced is overnighting in a small boat. Comfort aside, it’s a great option – it allows you to fish from dawn till dusk (or through the night if you’re that way inclined), saves the fuel normally spent returning to port at the end of each day, and opens up areas impossible to explore on a single day trip. Having undertaken numerous small boat overnight missions over the years, I’ve learnt a few things along the way that I can share.

Staying on the boat means more chances to fish the low light.


I think this is super-important. You don’t really want to survive on bags of chips and biscuits for a couple of days. Take a quality gas cooker, plenty of fuel cartridges, and make a point of cooking up a decent brekkie, lunch and dinner.

A hearty, warm feed is a great morale booster for those slow fishing times or cold days, and there’s no better way to start the morning than with a stiff coffee as a hint of daylight appears in the sky above the water.

On the refreshment side of things, cans are better than bottles. They cool down more quickly and can be crushed before being discarded into the rubbish bag.


Taking plenty of fuel is a no-brainer. The old rule of thumb is planning to have one-third of your total fuel supply left when you get back to port. We use 10-litre jerry cans to carry extra fuel, as they can be stashed away in nooks and crannies. We try to empty them into the main tank as early in the trip as possible.


Ice is a necessary evil when overnighting in a small boat, particularly a hot aluminium hull in the middle of summer. Ice will keep your food fresh, beers cold, and most importantly, your prized catch in tip-top condition. A thick-walled chilly bin takes up plenty of space on a small deck, but can also double as a seat or filleting bench for larger fish.

We went through a stage of using chiller bags, as they were great for stowing away. However, on one multi-day trip to North Cape from Houhora in late May my good friend Tom Bilkey hooked up to a stonking fish late in the afternoon in the Parengarenga Canyons area on a trolled lure. It fought deep for 45 minutes, and when some big yellow sickles appeared circling down deep, the nerves kicked in! Following some intense moments and aggressive boat work, I sunk the gaff into the beautiful fish.

Tom Bilkey with his prize yellowfin tuna catch at North Cape that quickly melted all the ice!

After a quick discussion we decided that we would continue with our plan to stay out for a couple of nights rather than go back to the weigh station on the first day of our adventure. We boosted to Tom Bowling Bay where we anchored up and began processing the beast.

We just managed to fit all the meat into the chilly bags with a decent amount of ice. Unfortunately, the poor ratio of meat to ice and the warm flesh from the prolonged fight meant when we woke in the morning there was bugger-all ice left. The call was made to fish for the morning only and cut our trip short rather than risk spoiling our hard-earned sashimi.

I’m probably dreaming, but I reckon I would’ve caught one too if we had a proper chilly bin that trip!

Filleting equipment

You want to conserve your ice and chilly bin space by processing your catch as quickly as possible. Snap-lock bags are the best for fillets so they don’t sit in the chilly bin brine. Beware of black rubbish sacks. I don’t know why, but if you put fillets directly in these they go rancid very quickly!


It’s never going to be a good sleep on a small boat, but put some time and effort into making a decent area to bed down in.

Stashing equipment in between the standard v-berths and placing a roll-up sleeping mat on top can create some extra room for arms and legs. Towels are handy for drying surfaces and especially feet before they tuck into a sleeping bag.

A makeshift tarpaulin canopy can be a good option to keep the rain out on many small rigs – no matter how good the forecast looks you’ll get caught out sooner or later. A few nightcaps always helps too, but make sure you’re still coherent enough to hear a dragging anchor!


A decent jacket is worth its weight in gold. I use the Just Another Fisherman Anglertech model and it never lets me down. Try not to pack too many items, but a fresh pair of undies each day is almost as good as a coffee!

Fishing gear

Most fishers, myself included, are guilty of taking too much gear on a trip. On a small boat mission you really only want to take what you’ll use.

We’ll generally either do a snapper-kingfish trip using lures or livebaits rather than bulky bait and berley, or instead concentrate on gamefish. Not only will you be able to manoeuvre around the deck, you generally do better when you focus on one activity and do it well!

Dive gear is a tough one for me – I love free-diving for crayfish and scallops, but it does soak up fishing time and boat space. Luckily, most of my crew mates are either keen on diving themselves or patient enough to wait around for a bit while I jump in.

Overnight missions to remote locations mean big crayfish – the writer with a couple of Far North packhorse crays he grabbed using free-diving gear.

Safety equipment

A multi-day trip probably means you’re heading somewhere remote. Make sure you have a working radio, EPIRB, torch, anchor light, toolbox, oil and means of charging electronic equipment. We use the portable USB charging blocks and maintain phone use and blasting music for the whole trip!

I hope you enjoy your own small boat missions as much as I do mine!


   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

February 2019 - Nick Jones
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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