It was the biggest fish of the trip, and my friend lost it. Then he lost another that was even bigger, judging from the bend in the rod. A close inspection of the lure upon retrieval showed the culprit. An old treble hook on the cod jig looked as if it had been “sharpened” with a hammer — dull to the point of being about worthless.We were 25 miles out on the east side of Stellwagen Bank, money and time invested in a day’s boating and fishing. The biggest fish of the day, a cod probably more than 30 pounds, was lost to a small-dollar item, such as a new hook or maybe sharpening the old one. Little things often make a great difference in a fishing trip.
In the course of a year’s fishing and writing I get to go out on several boats, but one thing often jumps out at me after hellos and welcome aboard. The owner’s fishing tackle is often seen as indestructible, impervious to tide and use, left on the rod from the prior Saturday, “ready” to go, no inspection needed.
With the cost of operating a boat at today’s prices, a new hook for a jig is a minor addition, and a hook file is on the same level. And while we’re on the cod grounds, how about a look at the teaser that’s above the jig? Is that ready for a new hook, the point worn down to losing the biggest pollock of the day, the one the boat owner’s son really wanted to land?
If we’ve burned the fuel to head out 25 or more miles in a larger boat, have we taken the time to listen to the morning weather update? It costs nothing, and it could save wear and tear and stress on you and your boat if a front arrives after an hour on the grounds. Do you want to burn all that fuel for just an hour’s fishing? Do you want to bang around going in after only that short period, seas right on the nose, wind getting worse all the way home?
The list of little things that ruin a fishing trip marches forever forward. How about the evening casting eels around Black Point on the eastern Connecticut shore? The busy summer traffic is gone, the evening weather stretching into night cooling down nicely. The rod left in the back of the SUV since last time is up to the task, but the braided line or leader is frayed to the point of breaking soon after you hook the first bass of the night. The fish, 30-plus pounds, runs off enough line to let you know it’s your best this year. Then the line or leader lets go, and the fish is gone — you’re the victim of not taking a moment to cut back on the weathered portion or simply tying on a new leader and hook.
In my other life as a magazine editor, I often gave fishing seminars to those new to the game. I often would end by asking: If you somehow knew the next cast was going to result in hooking a 65-pound bass, would you go ahead or take time to put new line on the reel, check the leader or maybe replace the lure’s hooks with new ones? All cost little and might salvage your chance to land the fish of a lifetime.
Another little item often goes unnoticed or untested: How much time do you budget to look for new fishing holes? As you run across Long Island Sound or up to Sandy Hook, N.J., from the Shark River, do you watch the fishfinder, hoping to run over a new bump or mark of fish that might provide new opportunities if you spin the boat back around and check it out at slower speed?
How about that chart you bought last month with numbers of wrecks and lumps on it? Have you taken the time to get your dollars’ worth by checking those out? Granted, some may have other boats on them when you arrive, but others might not, leaving you an opening to catch some sea bass or large porgies before you go drifting for fluke. Sea bass make mighty fine seafood suppers — great crowd-pleasers at your backyard cookout.
Have you taken a little — there’s that word again — time to study a tide or current chart? Do you know when the tide will ease off, maybe two hours before slack? That might be the time to visit that hill that rises to 120 feet out of surrounding depths of 140, maybe a good place to catch the biggest fluke of the day, month or season. Those deeper areas are usually fished best on the slacker stages of tide, when it’s easier to tend bottom, the smart angler paying attention to his watch as well as whether guests are baiting their hooks the right way.
Years back, we were en route in a 40-footer to what later proved to be great haddock fishing on a spot 30-plus miles southeast of Eastern Point Lighthouse in Gloucester, Mass. We had to stop about two-thirds of the way out to fix a leak in a hydraulic line, jury rigging with clamps and tape. It cost us an hour of fishing time.
A check later in a boating store turned up a remedy that can be sprayed onto lots of marine leaks, sealing them solidly in minimal time until more permanent repairs can be made. The can cost little and could save a trip that far offshore. Incidentally, we later nicknamed that spot “The Leak” in honor of that day’s gremlin.
Before I set out early one morning on a 40-mile wreck trip in a 23-foot single-outboard, a wise party boat captain/friend made me get a jumper for the engine, which was available in one of the island’s supply stores. If, for some reason, the two new batteries in the new boat failed, the jumper would give me enough power to restart the engine and make it home. The jumper, when fully charged, provided a safety net on long runs. It cost a few dollars, fit easily inside under the console and gave comfort to my friend. It also relieved him of having to come get his buddy, towing him back with his 85-footer, which burns 65 gallons an hour at 12 knots.
The “little list” could go on and on. Even after you take one problem off the list, another will pop up. In the meantime, you’ve eliminated some potential problems for the next time out — and usually done so for a small amount of money, when compared to the overall cost of a year’s worth of fishing.
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 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.