Capt. Joe Huck won’t usually call out of the blue just to chew the fat about hooks or lucky fishing hats. No, Joe calls generally relate to one of two scenarios: first, when the regulatory doo-doo is about to plunge headlong into the proverbial ceiling fan and second, when the fishing goes haywire—for example, a mob of six-pound sea bass getting arrested while staging a protest outside the New Bedford Display Auction. This evening—Friday, June 24—Huckemeyer’s call, the first in some months, related to the boat’s triumphant 3-ish p.m. early return from the Helen’s annual season-launching two-day fluke trip—the days connected in the middle by a Nantucket layover.
A full (“full” meaning “limited,” rather than “mob afloat”) boat left the Helen’s Hyannis berth around 7 a.m. adorned with rods, reels, and varied portable tackle-storage bags/boxes/buckets/climate-controlled, bulletproof humidors of a number and variety to dwarf a Cabela’s regional warehouse. “I was thinking this might be the first fluke trip that could hold its own lined up against any three-day tuna trip, gear-wise,” Joe said.
Any rate, Saturday’s conditions turned out considerably better than forecasts had suggested, a bit foggy and overcast but basically windless and calm—a bit too nice, in fact, as stop after stop revealed an almost universal struggle to find and sustain all-important movement over bottom. As he always does on the kick-off two-dayer, Huck used the long window of fishing time to best advantage, scouting all kinds of prime slab real estate south and east (and southeast) of Nantucket. Like all the best skippers, Joe avoided marrying one area this trip, covering depth ranges from low double-digits to triple-digits, taking a host of cues from sounder, temp gauge, tide and current tables, logbooks, plotter, cell phone, radios and his own fishy mind. “We picked away everywhere we went, all day, on Saturday,” he said. “We had some solid fish: fluke, four, five pounds and up to eight or nine—decent shots of sea bass mixed in around the harder bottom, to 4 ½ pounds, maybe?” Huck called it a “solid day,” adding quickly that he worked quite a few spots, found fish everywhere he expected to see them, marked some bait but nothing too major.
Huck put day one into perspective thus: “This first two-day Nantucket trip’s always the kick-off for our fluke season, a good chance to scope things out, figure out a bit of what’s where, what isn’t. The tough thing Saturday was that it was a slow pick everywhere—lots of bouncing around, and tough to tell whether the slow pick was really just the drift conditions, or just not many fish yet.”
Late-afternoon, Joe decided to head for Nantucket, tied up for the night at the Nantucket Boat Basin (pretty much right downtown), where the guys hit the shower facilities, cleaned up and made their way into town to eat, explore, obsess about fluke, worked their way back to the boat. Crew started getting everything ready around 3 a.m., planning to get a jump on the early sunrise. Six or so miles of fluorocarbon must have been Albrighted, clinched, uni’ed, snelled, whipped, droppered and otherwise readied for day two on the grounds. Huck was pleased to find everything clicking on arrival around six a.m. Rounding up for the first pass across an area he’d hit Thursday, Huck observed huge improvements in the conditions—a good current, a nice, quick drift (and still no real wind to pick a fight with the tide). Right from there, the sun barely clear of the eastward horizon, some nice flurries of big fluke crossing the rails, everyone saw the possibilities. By Joe’s rough count, day two saw a serious shot of doormats around the boat: between sunrise and around 2 p.m., the guys on deck landed at least eight slabs over 9 pounds and two over ten. Top two fish of today’s catch were (1) a thick 10-pound, one-ounce slab for Ron Bizzoso of Middletown, NJ, and (2) a personal-best 12-pound, four-ounce welcome mat pried off the seabed by yet another Garden State Slabman, Rich Eberle of Union, NJ.
Speaking of, when I put Joe on the spot about the trip’s defining moment, that his response was immediate: “We saw a lot of good fish over the two days, a surprising number of personal records falling. I’d get a look at one getting ready to come aboard, then find three more about the same size later that same drift,” he noted. “When Ron’s 10-1 hit the deck, everyone knew beyond a shred of doubt that—beyond actually handing him the stack of bills—no one was going to touch that fish for the pool. Within 30 seconds, he looked down at the water maybe five feet off to his side just in time to see that 12-4 come to the surface. He had the pool with a doormat no one could touch—for not even a minute.”
Huck was pleased with the trip turnout, glad to see the sportsman’s show worth of top-end gear put to good use by some sharp fluke fishermen (a huge factor in the bragging-size final doormat tally), and especially psyched to witness what he feels comfortable calling what wrapped up yesterday afternoon as the best two-day doormat trip he’s managed in four years of running them.
Asked for a few brief parting specs, Capt. Joe Huck placed the majority of the fluke activity over the two days in the 50- to 60-foot depths, in relatively cool 59-degree water (on average). He divided most of the time between sandy and pebble bottom—the latter what surrendered the lion’s share of the incidental sea biscuits, and added that while he didn’t mark any real eye-popping shots of bait, he did see plenty of evidence of pebble-dwelling critters like small crabs, as well as quite a bit of squid. Late in the trip, Huck (no doubt in good company on this point) felt particularly satisfied as he watched the sizes of so many of the fluke being released alive by folks who’d long since caped off their own limits. If this first fluke foray is any indication of what awaits the folks willing to log some long days adrift, I mighty glad I answered the phone.
The next Nantucket Fluke Trip leaves the dock at 7 a.m. this coming Sunday (i.e. tomorrow), and there are still a few slots left for the slab-deprived. The next two-day fluke excursion—this second one featuring a Martha’s Vineyard layover night, though Huck sees a high likelihood of a return to the Nantucket scenes-of-the-crime for at least part of that run—departs the morning of July 9 and returns late the following afternoon.
A Captain’s Special, spotlighting cod/haddock one day and fluke/sea bass the other (order of these days TBD pending Wx, fishing conditions), is scheduled to sail on August 13 and 14. To book your required reservation, or to gather more details about any/all of these coming-soon slab hunts, call the office: 508-790-0660.