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Cod, pollock and a visit from a predator

Trying for your limit on two fish can make for a long day, but it sure is a scrapbook-worthy adventure

Trying for your limit on two fish can make for a long day, but it sure is a scrapbook-worthy adventure

It was a long day, but a worthy one. Four of us took off from the southern part of Cape Cod, not stopping until we were many miles seaward, far down in Great South Channel. We were looking for a bumper catch of cod and pollock, fishing both wrecks and the spectacular up and downs in the ocean floor in the southern end of the Nantucket rips — the western boundary of the channel that also serves as a natural shipping lane in and out of Boston from the open Atlantic. Such a trip, all in a day, is possible thanks to whiz-bang electronics coupled with the speed and sea-cutting ability of a high-powered fishing machine.

We departed Bass River launch ramp around 5:30 a.m. after coffee, doughnuts and conversation about the adventure ahead. Two ardent anglers from Boston’s North Shore and I were guests of Jimmy “The Greek” Koutalakis of Arlington, Mass. When not tending his jewelry business, Jimmy trailers his 31-foot Sea Vee, On Time, all over southern New England, headed out for giant tuna in Ipswich Bay, hard-fighting yellowfin on the edge of the continental shelf, cod to the southeast of Nantucket Island or maybe just porgy and striper fishing in Nantucket or Vineyard Sounds. Jimmy is a passionate fisherman who invested over $200,000 in boat, electronics, trailer and tow vehicle to take him where he wants to wet a line.

The seas were acceptable as we powered up to 30.3 knots outside Monomoy, bound southeast to a series of wrecks in deep water far down in the shipping lanes. These spots are beyond most fishing trips, the distance just too much for people to plan in a day. But thanks to the 500-plus hp Cummins diesel we arrived at our first drop in time for a second breakfast.

Great South Channel is known for heavy current, often making it hard to keep a lure or bait near the bottom on the strength of the tide. Our day and arrival were planned, thanks to the tide chart incorporated in a $4,000 plotter that takes any guesswork out of navigating long distances. We were fishing at a time of the month when tides were weakest, and time of day when current would be slack or running lightly. Our first stop of the morning found us 63 miles from the ramp, light winds and slack tide, ideal conditions to drift slowly over sunken wrecks. This allowed us to keep our lures in the strike zone for a longer period of time, ensuring bites for most passes over the underwater structure.

Shipwrecks become underwater junk piles as time and saltwater attrition take their toll. They collapse, becoming havens for fish but also places where the treble hooks on the stern end of most cod jigs can become easily snagged in the debris. To overcome that we replace the treble hooks with a single, sharpened to a fine point. These are much less likely to become fouled as you jig the lure up and down yo-yo-style near, but not directly on top of the wreckage.

One point should be noted about making long runs to spots that might only be 70 feet long and perhaps 10 feet across. At today’s fuel prices make sure of the source of the GPS or Loran numbers before committing dollars and a day with good friends to such jaunts. Numbers passed around at watering holes near marinas after much elbow bending should be subject to verification or let the buyer beware. Boating friendships have been strained or broken — sometimes never to be mended — after numbers have proven false.

On a bright, glorious morning we had cod up to 25 pounds grab our jigs in singles and doubles, each time we passed over their watery condo. Once we cleared the structure, bites ceased and we had to crank up for another drift. In due course we had our legal limit of cod: 10 fish per person. By then the current was increasing, running harder and harder to the north. Time for Plan B.

We headed over to a section of the Nantucket Rips called The Fishing Rip. There the bottom goes up and down much like an underwater roller coaster. Currents moving up these hills of sand create tide rips at the apex of the peak. The whole process provides a “diner” for game fish. They wait at various points on the uphill side of the tide for the current to bring baitfish, too small to swim against the force of the tide, to their waiting mouths.

One of Jimmy’s pet hot spots in this incredibly fishy area is an almost vertical hill where the bottom drops from 90 to 160-plus feet in short order. He ran up tide, into the deep water then drifted back to the top of the hill. Beneath us his Furuno fishfinder marked a bright red blob: pollock from 8 to 20 pounds stacked up 20 feet high in some places. It was impossible to get a jig through them. Pollock grabbed the lures before they hit bottom, then pulled like horses to get free. If you had a teaser above the jig, you caught them two at a time.

At that rate it didn’t take long to catch our fill, added to the cod catch already in the fish box below decks.

Our day, though, held one more surprise.

Just as one of us got ready to pull a 12-pound pollock boatside, an opportunistic, 250-pound porbeagle shark darted out from underneath the boat, grabbed an early supper then took off with its meal. Its huge tail slashed this way and that across the water’s surface, creating a prize-winning video if we had been ready. In the end, the shark gave us back about two-thirds of our catch — the pollock’s tail gone, the sides badly mauled.

Success doesn’t come without a price. All those fish had to be cleaned, so for about the first hour or more of the trip back to Bass River we crept along, barely making way, three of the four aboard gutting, cleaning and icing, making sure our fish got back in prime shape, none the worse for the summer temperatures.

The last light of day was just fading from the sky as On Time pulled back into Bass River, having made the return trip at 30 knots after the catch was stowed.

The day was long, but satisfying. Maybe it’s not the thing for each weekend, but once in a while it does the scrapbook good to take off on an adventure, helped by a great boat and competent skipper.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.