One little shipwreck can go a long way
The good news is everyone showed up at the boat on time and the weather was as posted. The bad news is, despite a very favorable tide and wind, you’ve yet to catch any of the bluefish you talked up the day before, promising your guests a nice morning on the water. If the situation doesn’t improve, what are your options?
In many areas of the Northeast, you might be able to salvage the day by heading over to a sea bass wreck as the tide goes slack. Sea bass — great fighters for their size — hang around wrecks like football fans around a sports bar. They often hunker down in and around the wreck when the tide runs hard, coming “out” when it eases off, often feeding right through the slack tide. The boat there at the right time could do very well with these great-tasting beauties that can grow larger than 5 pounds, even on some inshore spots.
The next question might be, Where does one find wrecks if one has only limited time on the weekend for boating and fishing? Charts are available in many local tackle shops with the GPS numbers of inshore shipwrecks, some victims of wind and weather, others sunk on purpose to provide habitat.
The bad news is not all states have seen fit to engage in reef building. Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have done very little in this regard, while New Jersey is a standout. That state has created so many spots within easy range of ports from Cape May to Sandy Hook that they published a book on their program, which at last count had more than 1,200 reefs. Included in the book are the all-important GPS numbers to find the wrecks.
Anglers from Connecticut to southern Massachusetts can still locate wrecks through numerous charts and dive books sold in the appropriate outlets. The downside to all manner of people knowing the location of wrecks is they get visited regularly. If the remains of a sunken fishing boat are fished three times in one week, you have little chance of catching much on Saturday morning. On the other hand, if the weather was windy most of the week and yours is the first boat on the site, your chances improve.
If the wreck is in 120 feet or less — the normal limits of scuba gear — you might find a dive boat anchored there, displaying the red dive flag. This gives others notice to steer clear and your option then is to head to the next-closest wreck on the chart.
Sea bass are not fussy eaters. They will take clams or strips of squid on a standard high-low bottom rig lowered to the bottom as you drift over the spot. If the wreck is high off the bottom, you may be better served by drifting over the edge, not directly atop it. This reduces the loss of gear.
Sea bass can also be caught on a diamond jig sweetened with a strip of squid; the natural/artificial combo lowered down, then yo-yoed near the bottom. When in the mood, they strike aggressively and pull harder than many expect.
Timing is often everything with sea bass. During those times of the month when tides are slower, the slack or light current period will be longer than times of the month when tides run harder. You can catch a handy number of them during both times; sometimes benefiting from the extra time of lighter current that lets you stay atop or near the wreck longer. You can also do extremely well after the current stops running hard, the fish often hitting furiously in the shorter period, stopping as fast as they started.
You can sometimes locate unknown wrecks by keeping your fishfinder running as you motor from spot to spot. Some of the best sea wrecks might be old-timers — wooden wrecks just about reduced to nothing, only their cargo and metal parts strewn about the bottom. One of these lies off Charlestown, R.I., explored and fished by master diver Capt. Jack Fiora of East Haddam, Conn. The wood of this unknown wreck has long since been eaten away, leaving only the cargo of granite paving blocks used in earlier times for all manner of construction. Today this wreck is home to lots of sea bass that hunker down between the blocks when the tide is running, biting often when it isn’t. To find such a spot you must look closely, watching for perhaps only a 1- to 2-foot rise.
You can also locate sea bass spots while fluke drifting. If your fluke baits are suddenly eaten by a double-header sea bass, mark that on your plotter and check it out by slowly circling around. With a little time and patience, you might uncover a mother lode not too far away from the original hookup.
Lobster pot buoys are sometimes set around wrecks or hard patches that hold sea bass. Circling around those might turn up a promising spot that isn’t in a book or laminated chart.
Some sea bass is a lot better than no bluefish. Doing a little planning before you start out on the next big fishing trip may save the day thanks to a Plan B. Having a few wreck numbers written down or stored as waypoints can save an otherwise slow day and your reputation as the neighborhood fish maven. Sea bass on the dinner table are delicious — maybe so good your guests will want to go for them next Saturday, the heck with the blues.
This article originally appeared in the New England Home Waters Section of the September 2009 issue.
Tim Coleman died May 3, in Weekapaug, R.I., doing what he loved to do best at that time of year: scouting the salt ponds and outer beaches for spring striped bass. He was an exceptional saltwater angler and a prolific writer. Thousands of readers lost an advocate and authentic storyteller for fishing in the Northeast, and anyone fortunate to have known Tim lost a good friend.