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May 23, 2012

Fishing Signposts at Sea

Great captains know that reading the signs leads to more fish offshore

The bluefin bite had been going on for several days in the blue water between the Mudhole and the Hudson Canyon, off New Jersey. Capt. David Goldman of Shore Catch Guide Service enjoyed several days of crazy fishing on jigs and poppers, working the schools of sand eels among a huge gathering of whales, porpoises and bluefin tuna, just outside the color and temperature break.

But the predators took a toll on the forage within a few days. By the time I made the run in my boat, the action had dropped way off, even though the water still looked great. Something had changed, and after scouting the area for a couple of hours, I realized the porpoises were leaving, heading southeast toward an area called Chicken Canyon. This was an important signpost that announced decision time. Tuna often travel in the company of porpoises. Should I hang out in the pretty water and try to scratch out a catch or act on what I saw developing?

I ran southeast and shut down in the path of a large group of porpoises. As they got close, we tossed flutter jigs near the pod and let them sink. As soon as the jigs dropped beneath the pod, the tuna were on them. We enjoyed fast catch-and-release fishing beneath the pods until it was time to run for shore, our legal one-fish limit on ice. It turned out that the difference between a slow morning and what ended up as a great afternoon was paying attention to the signs unfolding around us.

Knowledgeable captains know that following obvious signposts as they head offshore puts them in the right neighborhood. Information gleaned from sea-surface-temperature, chlorophyll, water-color and current charts, as well as on-water observations and catch information, contributes. Even if you don’t have a network of active captains to work with, online fishing reports and satellite forecasting services can provide a starting point as you leave the dock. Then it’s a matter of maintaining awareness of what is happening around you once you’re on the scene.

Signposts fall into two general categories, visual and electronic. Obvious visual clues include rip lines, slicks, weed lines, birds and surface activity. The key is keen observation by everyone on board. When you’re trolling, there always should be at least one pair of eyes on the pattern, watching for approaching fish, but other crew members should be watching the horizon in front, behind and to either side of the boat. Even when your homework puts you in an area with good water, visual clues help narrow the search dramatically.

For the Birds
Some clues are harder to interpret than others. Last year, when I fished with Capt. Steve Baksa on the Sarah B out of Seaside Park, New Jersey, we moved into Carteret Canyon late in the day and found beautiful blue water and thousands of shearwaters. Some were flying but not diving. Most were just sitting on the water. Then I noticed some of the birds poking their heads underwater, watching something below. As we moved near those birds, we started marking baitfish. Then the birds took to the air, an indication that the bait was being pushed to the surface, and it wasn’t more than a few minutes before we were hooked up.