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September 08, 2010

Northeast Cod Classic

Finish out the season at Jeffreys Ledge with a mixed bag of groundfish - and tasty fillets.

Cod fishing on Jeffreys Ledge is often a less-than-technical exercise. A heavy attractor lure on 80-pound leader, a dropper with a healthy helping of fresh clams, and 50-pound-test on conventional gear dropped to the bottom is often as complicated as it gets. Before deploying the first rig, we scoured the fish finder screens for clues. It was strictly crickets. Zip. Blank screens all around. Not a sign, not even a promising unevenness on the bottom to hint at cod lying tight to the seafloor. We dropped the baits over anyway and hadn't drifted far when Reedenauer's rod bent double; 200 feet of line later, one of the more outlandish things I have ever seen with a hook in its mouth came over the gunwale.

Regulars of these waters recognize wolffish for what they are: an especially toothy, and unbelievably ugly, regular occurrence when groundfishing in these parts. To an out-of-towner like me, they can be a shock, but also a welcome catch, Kinnett assured me, as these fish go for up to $20 a pound in local markets. On an early-morning fishing trip, I'd probably be willing to pay that much not to have to look at one of them, but local knowledge carried the day, and the wolffish took up residence on ice.

As we drifted, a mixed bag of cod, haddock and pollock kept making liars of the fish fin-ders. The cod weren't the bruisers that typically show up earlier in the season and later in the winter, but they were welcome nonetheless. Detecting hits is a knack that comes quickly, but it's essential in 200 feet of water, where you'd rather not reel up unless there's a fish on the line. The rigs we drifted were simple but still pretty well-prescribed by the local pros.

Capt. Joshua Kardos, of the Yankee Fleet, targets the cod, pollock and haddock on the southern end of Jeffreys out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and he explained the proven partyboat setup. "We rig with 5 feet of 80- to 100-pound leader attached to 50-pound line," Kardos said. "We fish any Norwegian-style jig 12 to 24 ounces or a diamond jig, hammered or smooth on the bottom, and two feet or so above that, a 2-foot dropper loop with some type of teaser: grub tails, flies, soft-plastic lures like Slug-Gos, or 5-inch Kalin's grubs - it doesn't matter much."

Kardos recommends attaching the leader to the end of the line with a snap swivel for quick leader replacement. "If you get two fish on at once, they'll bust the rig apart," he says. To that basic recipe, we added fresh clams on the dropper on a 6/0 hook a couple of feet above a metal jig, a crippled herring in this case. It seems the color, style and brand of terminal tackle aren't important so long as the necessary functions are fulfilled. On this day, that meant getting the rig on the bottom. Not near the bottom, not a couple of winds above the bottom, but right smack on the gravel.

The breeze stayed steady, and when the bites on one drift slowed, we motored back up the line and started again. Conditions were so consistent that the plots on our consecutive drifts ran virtually on top of one another. The cod were there, though you wouldn't have known it by the fish finders. The screens stayed blank all day. The bottom looked good, the resolution on the screens was excellent, and the sounders and transducers gave us a great picture of the top of the ledge. At the end of the day, it mattered little. As we headed for home, we saw all the fish we wanted simply by looking in the fish box.