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.
Capt. Joe Huck and the crew of the Helen H were pretty well beat when Joe called around 7 p.m. this evening (Saturday, January 22) to relay a report for the day’s cod catching. Huck noted it was bit snappy when they left the Montauk slip at 3 a.m., the wind still up out of the NW. Good news is that wind from that direction is on their stern for the eastward steam to the grounds south of Block Island, providing a relatively comfortable ride out. Arriving on a fair-sized plot of broken bottom south and east of the Island around 5 a.m., Joe marked some decent shots of bait and scattered fish. With less-than-ideal drift/sea conditions, he elected to set the anchor and deploy a mix of jig/teaser set-ups and bait rigs around the rail, hoping to find some of the larger ten-plus and teen-sized fish that have been moving in lately.
Unfortunately, the pre-dawn bite was dead quiet-nothing really doing. Once the sun crested the eastward horizon, the bite started to take shape, with a slow but steady pick of mixed-size codfish that gained momentum-and size-as the day progressed. During the morning, Huck made several moves looking for the right pile of fish to work on, eventually setting up on a piece around 10 a.m. that immediately began turning out a flurry of nicer-sized stuff, all keepers and many of them from 10 pounds into the teens.
Most of that fast action was on undecorated bait rigs armed with fresh sea clams, though a couple of jig purists swinging 12-ounce Vik-E’s with pink grub teasers (the hot teaser of late) had no trouble keeping their rods bent on quality cod. Incidentally, for bait hooks, Huck recommends nice, sharp octopus-style hooks in the 7/0 to 9/0 size range. Some days, dressing these hooks with smaller grub teasers before threading the clam on can contribute to your success.
All the while, the NW wind was easing off, and sea conditions improved by the hour; by the time Capt. Joe blew three whistles after one p.m. and pointed the bow toward Montauk, seas were approaching mill-pond status. Anglers had enough cod to keep the boys busy on the aft cutting tables most of the way home, and certainly to eat well for a few nights. Plan is to fish again tomorrow (Sunday, January 23), same time, same place: the Helen H will leave the dock at 3 a.m. and return sometime around 3 p.m. (more…)
Capt. Joe Huck, spending a blustery day ashore in Montauk Friday, was upbeat about the continued quality of the cod catching south and east of Block Island. He and the Helen H crew have managed to eek five days out of a weather-intensive fishing calendar over the last two weeks, the most recent outing on Thursday, January 20 also the boat’s best to date. General trend-with exceptions-has been a pretty fast pick of generally smaller cod in full early-morning darkness. Huck noted the ratio of shorts to keepers in this early morning chew has been around 5 to 1-though the patterns are subject to change at any point. When conditions have allowed it, drifting and jigging the open bottom from first light into the afternoon has yielded all the keeper cod the guys on deck want. On the tougher wind/sea days, Huck’s been anchoring up on hard pieces of real estate and breaking out the bait rigs and fresh clams. Those scenarios have been producing the bigger fish, including multiple specimens into the teens and low 20s.
At anchor or in drift mode, one thing has become clear about the south-of-the-Island cod situation: there are numerous shots of fish chasing abundant herring, and location-which pile of fish they set up on-dictates the size of the fish crossing the rails. For the most part, the catch has been comprised of 22-plus-inch smalls and market fish in the 6- to 8-pound range, with sporadic shots of larger fish some drifts.
For jigs, recent conditions have dictated slightly larger slabs, diamonds, Vik-e’s or Norwegians in the 10- to 16-ounce range. Teaser color preferences vary from day to day, though larger pink grub-style rigs seems to have the most universal appeal.
Capt. Joe has been glad to see a good showing of familiar faces-lots of his New York, New Jersey and Connecticut regulars, along with a few New England loyalists making the Montauk pilgrimage to hang with the old crew. No one’s been griping about the quality of the fishing to date, and the crew’s been impressed by a sort of unspoken conservation ethic about this precious resource, both among the fleet and the anglers at the rails. The grounds haven’t seen the fleet in force too many days, and crowds have been light on all but the clearest, mildest Saturdays.
Plans are to sail tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday, as weather looks to be reasonable in the sea-conditions department. Air temps may prove a bit nippy. Then again, it is January-the core of the darkest months-and the fact that there are abundant cod in the fore is grounds for celebration no matter what the thermometer reads.
Best bet is to call the office for a weather check and to make an advance reservation: 508-790-0660. To allow for last-minute weather wrangling, they’ve extended office hours until 10 p.m., though the answering machine will provide vital details about the next day’s trip status beyond civilized hours. Sailing time remains at 3 a.m.; trips generally hit the dock around 3 p.m. Per-angler cost of these full-day Block Island cod trips is $120. You can access directions and other logistical trip info at www.icodfish.com.
Capt. Joe Huck and the crew of the Helen H are now set up in their Montauk winter berth, and chomping at the bit to get Trip One behind them. All reports from the grounds south and east of Block Island suggest multiple bodies of mainly small and market-sized codfish scattered across a wide area, with some pockets of bigger fish. Some of the harder pieces across the area have also been holding some better fish-though you can expect the vast majority of the fish to between 22-inch keeper size and 8 or 10 pounds.
Most of the best fishing has been in drift mode, over open-bottom areas holding decent amounts of bait in the form of herring and mackerel. Jigs-standard diamond jigs in the 6- to 12-ounce range, hammered or regular finish-best imitate the bait cod are chasing, and a variety of teaser styles have also gotten the job done. Best bet is to carry a range of jig sizes, and swing the smallest one you can get away with, given the conditions.
Capt. Joe had some second thoughts about his choice to cancel Saturday’s scheduled run, as weather turned out to be much nicer than forecasted. Still, he noted, travel conditions were not to pretty, and in hindsight, it’s probably best that his regular guys didn’t make the trek to Montauk through snow squalls.
Plans are to get away from the dock tomorrow, Tuesday, January 11, sailing at 3 a.m. and returning sometime around 3 p.m. With yet another snow event, its severity yet to be determined, bearing down on the region on Wednesday, there’s the possibility of cod putting on a wild feed, as they’re known to do with big low-pressures approaching. Regardless of the barometric cod theory, weather forecasts look favorable, and if all goes as expected, tomorrow should be a fine day on the winter ocean. To make a reservation (required for this limited-load trip) now, call the Helen H office (508-790-0660) or the Capt. Lou Fleet: 516-623-5823.
Capt. Joe Huck on the Helen H called their last trip out on Saturday an “okay” trip, and clarified that rating quickly: “It was a tough pick, but we put enough of a catch together to call it a day of cod fishing.” Working up on the edge of Nantucket Shoals, patrons managed a pretty decent flurry of mixed-size cod, from sub-legals to keepers-nothing big-plus a scattering of small pollock. The action is still mostly on jigs, and generally centered on an average depth of around 160 feet. The trouble Saturday-what ultimately put a dent in the bite-was tough drift conditions and scattered fish. On arrival, as they worked a small, relatively confined pile of fish hanging on a tight piece of bottom, a wind-against-tide drift held the Helen more or less stationary over the marks. As the wind came up out of the NW-backing the tide-the drift went from nil to way-too-much quite rapidly, Putting Huck back in search mode. After a series of moves and pretty minimal catching in the middle of the day, they managed to get back on the site of the morning action (now with less wind and less tide, and much more manageable drift conditions), and chipped away right to the buzzer. Huck wanted to be very clear that the fishing was tough go, far from a bailjob. Unfortunately, there’s all kinds of wind in the forecast, but captain and crew are standing by for the next brief pause in the weather. Best bet, if you’re trying to get a day in sometime in the near future, is to call the office and get on the list: 508-790-0660.
As noted in the last report, The Helen will be headed for Montauk within a week or two, where she’ll be joining forces with the Capt. Lou to work on what has been a wide-open cod bite south of Block Island. Call the office for further details, or check you mailbox for a brochure that will be en route shortly.
Capt. Joe Huck on the Helen H has put together a couple of good recent cod trips, taking advantage of the short-lived weather windows and some solid concentrations of mostly small to medium-sized fish. He’s been working Georges, the Channel and Nantucket Shoals, where the biggest challenge has been getting on the right pile of fish, the right ratio of keepers. There’s been a decent amount of bait around, fuelling good fishing with jigs rather than bait (fresh clams have, of course, been working, but there’s been no real need to feed them bait). Most of the guys are swinging 14- to 16-ounce diamonds, though most jigs-including Butterflies-have been getting the job done in the 130- to 160-foot depth range. (more…)
Capt. Joe Huck, who has admittedly not been the happiest-go-luckiest guy during what has amounted to a very slow fall of tuna fishing along the edge of the continental shelf, was uncharacteristically upbeat in the wake of the Helen’s weekend two-day mission. The trip left the boat’s Hyannis slip early Saturday morning, and Capt. Joe pointed the bow south-southwest toward Atlantis Canyon, where the most recent available satellite temp shot placed a slug of warmer Gulf Stream water as of late Friday night. Approaching the edge, Joe found some fairly promising water in the 70- to 71-degree range right in the vicinity of the 100 fathom. With lines in, the crew began to troll out off the edge into the deep, then west, bound for another finger of warmer water in West Atlantis. Through the day on Saturday, the troll bite proven unnervingly quiet, and all hands were beginning to entertain siginificant doubts about the odds of a solid trip. (more…)
Capt. Joe Huck on the Helen H note the Angler has wrapped up its sea bass schedule, barring a couple of private charters slated fore the next week or two if the weather stabilizes. The flags in Hyannis have been standing out at perfect 90 degree angles to their poles without so much as a crease, thanks to the last few days of relentless northeast winds, hampering any efforts to leave the dock, and Joe’s been catching up on his 15-page to-do list on the boats and on the homefront.
Capt. Joe Huck, zig-zagging his way homeward in a sizeable following sea Tuesday afternoon, debriefed me on the results of the Helen H’s two most recent two-day canyon runs. Last Thursday and Friday, September 23-24, the Helen left Hyannis for this fall’s Shimano-sponsored canyon tuna trip carrying a limited load of anglers and several of the company’s gear gurus for what would amount to a two-day on-water seminar. Capt. Huckmeyer has been working closely with Shimano for years as a field tester and technical advisor, and he noted the trip is a culmination of lots of planning and logistics each season. “It’s a great chance for my guys not just to test out all the latest gear, but to learn how to get the most out of some real cutting edge equipment,” said Huck. (more…)
I apologize for the interruption in the reports program. Look for updates on a much more consistent basis moving forward. Much has changed since the last entry, most notably the duration of trips aboard the Helen H now that the fall tuna season has hit high gear. For those who’ve been out of the loop, the first trip on the schedule, a three-dayer slated Labor Day weekend, fell victim to Media Storm Earl, a hugely overestimated gale that fizzled out and shot right through the area without raising too many eyebrows. Maiden voyage, then, sailed early Tuesday morning, September 7 and returned late on Thursday, September 9. (more…)