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Fishing - Head offshore for the freshest seafood

Check out the price of cod or haddock at your local store, then grab your rod and catch your own

Check out the price of cod or haddock at your local store, then grab your rod and catch your own

A satisfying day’s fishing should produce the fun of something pulling on the line a distance down below, which eventually leads to a great seafood dinner. That, my friend, is what one usually gets after a day spent cod and haddock fishing off Gloucester, Mass.

Located roughly 30 miles north of Boston, Gloucester is home to year-round fishing for cod and haddock, two finny critters that fight well at the end of a fish pole, but shine to the heavens on the table. Check out the price of fresh fillet of cod at the fish markets for inspiration to get out and chase your own.

A midsized boat can be trailered there (it’s two hours, 15 minutes, without heavy traffic, from my home in Westerly, R.I.), but an easier approach might be to charter a boat and let someone else do the driving. A weekend skipper not only hires competent help, but gets the chance to watch and learn from a pro.

This time of year most of the fishing for ground fish, as cod and haddock are often called, is done 20 to 30 miles offshore in cold, deep water from 220 to 300-plus feet. Both cod and haddock bite on metal jigs lowered down and yo-yoed up and down near the bottom, although many favor dropping a two-hook bait rig outfitted with pieces of clam instead.

All tackle is provided; all one must do is arrive at dockside at Cape Ann Marina, Exit 14 off Route 128, around 7 a.m., stow your gear and depart down the Blyman Canal, out past historic Gloucester Harbor, out into the ocean, ready for a 1-1/2- to 2-hour ride to the grounds.

Bait fishing with clams is usually down at anchor, relaxing for most, aided by the good-natured bantering that goes with the territory. The mate can instruct about the in and outs of catching cod and haddock from the ocean floor several stories below. You basically lower the rig to the bottom, wait until you feel a bite then set the hook and reel your prize up. Don’t be surprised if your prize doesn’t want to come to your place for dinner, putting up a struggle that will bend the rod over in an arc.

Most of the catch will be cod under 15 pounds — the minimum length is 24 inches — but you have the chance of catching one over 30 pounds in these waters and sometimes one over 50. If that’s the case the rod will indeed bend.

Haddock — minimum length is 19 inches — generally weigh from 3 to 8 pounds, but are good on the table, especially when eaten fresh. A haddock caught at 2 p.m. and eaten around 7 p.m. is a treat when washed down by something cold followed by dessert and coffee.

Along with the two mainstays one might also catch a cusk, an eel-like creature that makes great fish chowder; pollock, a silvery black fellow that fights harder than either of the two mainstays; or maybe a wolfish, a gray/black bottom feeder with a face full of teeth and looking like something from the Sci-Fi Channel and a disposition to match, but its fine white flesh makes superb eating.

One of the many reasons I like the Gloucester trips at this time of year is the weather. Instead of being bundled up in heavy jackets and rain gear, we often fish in T-shirts, reminding me of Key West fishing more so than Yankee waters.

The temps usually require a light jacket or sweater as fall comes on, but more often than not some sunscreen if Indian summer temperatures linger. Still, it’s always prudent to take extra clothes, if not needed they can be kept in the cabin.

The next question might be, “How does one go about chartering a boat here?” I heartily recommend my good friend of 30-plus years, Capt. Jerry Hill, almost 80 years young, with 60 years of cod fishing experience. He has a 42-foot Wes Mac with all the amenities, including a nice salon with comfortable seating on the way out and back.

The caveat is Jerry is retired and only takes a limited number of charters at a premium rate. However, his six decades of fishing these waters means you have a great chance of coming home with a cooler topped off with fish, enough for several meals. The last time myself and three others fished with Jerry we stopped the boat on the first drop around 8:30 a.m., then never moved the rest of the day, ending up with bags of fillet per person. I donated my share donated to a friend recovering from lung cancer surgery.

You can contact Jerry through his booking office at Yankee Fleet at (800) 942-5464. The name of the vessel is Last Boat IV, subject of an earlier column in this publication. If you are leaning this way, time is a consideration since Jerry heads south at some point in late October or early November, leaving the cold and charters until 2008.

And, for those who want to keep fishing through the late fall, Capt. Kevin Twombly of the Kayman Too offers charters trips throughout the year, including, weather permitting, the winter months. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but fishing some reasonable weather day in February can be quite good, offering more chance to get a day out of the house when your boat sits idle under wraps in the backyard or boatyard. Kevin can be reached at (888) 752-9626.

Sitting down to a cod and haddock fish feast in December, maybe before Monday Night Football, is a great way to enjoy the fishing experience, glad you made the trip, and glad you live close enough to the water to enjoy the ocean’s benefits.

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.