Fluke, Sea Bass, Striped Bass Bluefins, Yellows, etc. (August 11, 2010)
I apologize for the number of days that have slipped away since the last entry I posted. It’s one of the perils of working a headboat deck in August, when seemingly every crew starts to fray under the strain of the tourist onslaught’s seasonal apex. It’s not that the average high-season tourist is particularly demanding or unpleasant-just that the repetition of loading, sailing, fishing, steaming home and unloading deck-loads of hopeful anglers multiple times a day for endless strings of days in the morbid August heat has a way of leaving New England’s deckapes severely depleted in the charm department. No captain I know from eastern Connecticut to north of Boston can remember who was on the boat which day, what fish they caught, or especially what made one day different from the five that preceded it or the five that followed. The “doldrums” aren’t all weather and fish behavior. They’re also mental for the guys on the water every single day.
Meanwhile, Capt. Joe Huck, having had a bit over a week to recharge on the fishing reports front, hit me with a load of good info when we finally ended a near-week-long game of phone tag late last Friday afternoon. He noted that the fluke fishing suffered a bit from challenging drift conditions in both directions: weak tides and no wind which translated to no movement whatsoever, or tide backed up by all kinds of wind and a resulting two-plus-knot drift speed that sent anglers looking for the sash weights to tend bottom. After an early-week stretch of light wind against weak tide, Wednesday and Thursday saw a stiff westerly wind backing east-running ebb tides, and the quality and quantity of fluke suffered. On the worst of the half-day trips, Capt. Joe resorted to either anchoring up or jockeying the boat into position over harder bottom, attempting to take the sting out of lackluster fluking by putting customers on a mix of nice black sea bass, many of which scaled between a pound and a pound-and-a-half. Thursday’s half-days saw the best quality on the sea biscuits, with a good handful of 4 ½- to 5-pounders. Each trip saw a pick of fluke, but nothing to get too excited about. Huck noted he’s been sacrificing a bit of the fishing time to steam a bit farther off into the Sound, where he’s been finding better concentrations of both sea bass and slabs.
The Nantucket fluke trip the first week of August enjoyed a bit of rebound after the generally slower close-to-home drifting. The morning and early afternoon were a struggle, with very little movement. Then, as is so often the case in fluke fishing, wind and tide started working in the same direction, and the fluke that had carpeted the bottom all along finally started to cooperate. What amounted to a two-hour flurry of fast action made the entire trip, with big numbers of nice keeper slabs and quite a few joes crossing the rails. Among those who scored bigger were Brett Egri of Old Lyme, CT, whose 9-pound, 2 ounce doormat claimed the pool; Mike Benoit of North Attleboro, MA had an 8-pound, 4-ounce entry; Mark Sabanski of Stamford, CT weighed a 7-pounder; Seamus Narwick rounded off the list with a 4.5-pound sea biscuit. There were many other fluke in the 4- to 6-pound range-too many to list here in specific. A surprising number of the anglers aboard made the most of the highly productive window, filling limits quickly. The weaker tides and otherwise challenging drift scenarios gave the lighter tackle guys, who could effectively work smaller bucktail/teaser and other cast-and-retrieve offerings, a distinct advantage on that trip and others through the week past. Huck is seeing major improvement this week, as a better push of water is providing better movement for the H. Rounding out the mix on the fluke grounds are occasional bluefish ranging from cocktail size to absolute slammers in the low- to mid-teens.
The Fleet’s six-pack charter boats, the Fish Hawk, Isabella H, Sea Hawk, have had numerous striped bass charters over the last two week, and all the skippers have been quite pleased with a lock-and-load, sand-eel-driven bite in the 80- to 100-foot range very close to shore along the backside of the Cape from Chatham northward. The vast majoriy of the action has been on diamond jigs, a classic linesider offering that has been proving its merit up and down most of the striper coast this summer. Six- or 8-ounce Avas, which, worked properly, rank high on the list of sand eels imitators, have been taking bass from just-keeper size into the low 30s. The trick to jigging bass is to “squid” the jigs, dropping them to bottom, cranking up a handful of turns on a slow, steady retrieve, dropping back to bottom and repeating over and over again until the fish box is full or your arms fall off and land in the water (or both). As an added bonus, patrons on the bass trips have also been sticking a handful of pollock on most trips. Despite their reputation as “lesser” table fare, pollock are absolutely delicious, provided they are ripped and iced within minutes of landing on deck. Small school tuna have also made sporadic appearances. That’s part of the diamond jig’s beauty: there’s almost nothing swimming in Cape Cod waters that won’t take a well-presented slab of chrome.
The Sea Hawk got in one school bluefin tuna charter last week, Capt. Tim at the helm. Working an area just a hair inside Crab Ledge, the anglers had several school tuna, two in smaller keeper bracket (27 to less than 47 inches), only one of which could legally be retained per recently updated Highly Migratory Species regulations. Another fish in the second bracket (from 47 to less than 59 inches), a fish the crew estimated at 58 inches and well over the 100-pound mark, rounded out the day. For the record, current school tuna regulations are as follow (wording pulled directly from NOAA’s HMS website, https://hmspermits.noaa.gov/news.asp): “The current recreational daily BFT retention for limit for HMS Charter/Headboat vessels (fishing recreationally) is one school BFT (measuring 27 to less than 47 inches) and one large school BFT (measuring 47 to less than 59 inches) per vessel per day/trip.” A decision was recently made to eliminate the trophy fish category for the party/charter fleet. Up until July, charter- and headboats were allowed to take one trophy (large medium or giant) bluefin per season, a fish measuring greater than 73 inches curved fork length. Sources tell me this adjustment was made amid dire concerns about the giant bluefin populations in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. Additionally, there was concern about charter boats taking numerous unreported “trophy” bluefins-not surprising, given that at certain points in this season, it has been easier for guys fishing east of Chatham to find, bait and land large mediums/giants than the smaller slot fish.
The tuna activity all came when Capt. Tim had maneuvered the Sea Hawk away from the huge fleet that had assembled in the vicinity of Crab Ledge. Fish responded to an array of cast soft plastics and trolled bars. The area that produced the fish was packed with sand eels and feeding whales, among other forms of life.
In other tuna news, the phone at the office has been practically ringing off the wall, as news of an absolute banner yellowfin bite spreads. In specific, many Helen H regulars have been calling to inquire about trips earlier than the ones currently listed on the site or in the brochures. Not one to pass up on a chance to get in on a red-hot bite, Capt. Joe has found a window in the schedule and will be launching the boat’s canyon season a bit ahead of schedule. A “preview” tuna trip of sorts has been lined up for Sunday, August 22 and Monday, August 23, and Huck’s optimistic that they’ll be able to take advantage of the wide-open yellowfin bite-on the troll, mostly-that has continued to gain steam anywhere from Hydrographers to Lydonia Canyons (bulk of the yellows to date have scaled anywhere from 40 to 70 pounds, and numerous sources are rating 2010 as the best year of canyon fishing in a good many years). The trip will leave the dock at 7 a.m. on Sunday, and return to the dock at 4 p.m. or so on Monday the 23rd. The trip was almost full when I spoke to Carol in the office this afternoon, and the spots have been disappearing in a hurry (only six left as of our conversation), so if you want in, you’d better get on the horn right immediately: 508-790-0660.