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Northeast fishing

Get some structure in your fishing plan

Be they shoals, wrecks or rocks, find objects on the bottom and you’ll find the fish

Get some structure in your fishing plan

Be they shoals, wrecks or rocks, find objects on the bottom and you’ll find the fish

Fish just don’t hang their hat at any ol’ spot. They usually congregate around what’s called structure, some object on the bottom — be it a rise, clump of rocks or wreck — that offers them both a source of food and safety from their predators up the food chain.

Some of these places are marked on charts, either paper or electronic, allowing access to them once the position is obtained through various means. But others — usually the prized locations since they don’t get fished often — are the ones that produce that outsized sea bass or jumbo fluke that wins the yearly prize at the yacht club.

One of the best sources for obtaining these bearings is at the meetings held by clubs of like-minded individuals. Some organizations offer members a list of spots once they are approved for membership. At other times I’ve seen a group of fishermen give a list of bearings to another on his or her birthday.

In some states the Marine Fisheries Division has done such an outstanding job of creating near-shore artificial reefs they offer a list of the spots for a nominal price. New Jersey is one place that comes to mind, offering a full-color book with pictures and bearings of the many places they’ve created over the years, most close to shore so boaters can catch a variety of fish on their day on the water. Other states, however, have done little in this regard — a foolish policy, in my opinion, since every dime invested in reef creation brings dollars to the shoreline boating and fishing communities over the years.

Lacking any of those sources, one finds good fishing holes in a variety of ways. Remember all the times you took people over to Block Island or another destination for lunch or an afternoon cruise? Make sure you keep your fishfinder running as you motor along. If you spy a suspicious bump on the bottom, record the numbers or take a minute to swing the boat around and see what you’ve uncovered. Keep in mind that jumbo fluke hang around hard places just like tasty sea bass, only they set up feeding stations in the softer bottom adjacent to the rise while the sea bass might be right on top of whatever you ran over.

If you make it a practice to regularly take a trip in your boat, take a slightly different course, covering different water each time. A party boat captain friend has found numerous wrecks this way, on an overnight trip to the grounds south of Nantucket. He ran the boat to the wee hours, watching for new bumps. And, when he hit the pillow at daybreak he had a standing offer of $100 to the backup captain who wrote down numbers of something desirable.

In certain areas the high flyers of commercial fishermen, complete with radar reflectors, give away the location of bottom tending gill nets that are always set on productive bottom. It’s very common off Chatham on the elbow of Cape Cod to look for the flyers then drift and jig around the edges of the gear — certainly not between the flyers since you’ll snag the net and lose expensive jigs meant for codfish and pollock (both excellent on the table). While on the subject of codfish, they frequent wrecks, some a long way out. If you come into possession of numbers for such a long steam from port, make sure of your source before burning lots of fuel at today’s prices only to arrive after a three-hour run to find nothing but barren bottom.

Shoals are often marked on charts as pale blue circles, but a close inspection can reveal other structures. If you see a number indicating the depth of water shallower than the numbers all around it, that’s probably a high spot that fish such as blues take up a feeding station around once the current begins to move. The area in eastern Long Island Sound, between Old Saybrook and New London is famous for these mid-Sound, deep-water humps that produce bluefish and some striped bass on a diamond jig dropped to bottom then reeled up speedily about a third of the way to the surface. Continue up and down in this manner until you drift away from the hump.

Lobster pots are also indications of hard versus soft bottom. My friends and I have found numerous rocks and lumps off of Boston by watching for a cluster of pot buoys gathered in a small area. A short run around the outside of the buoys revealed a rise in the bottom or hard spot where tasty cod gather to feed. If you uncover a very large area where fish are holding in just one spot, you have the option of anchoring down on the fish or drifting over just the fish-holding portion of the spot.

You make the same drift with aid of a plotter or just jotting down the GPS numbers where you start your drift. As long as wind and current remain the same, you can hit the fish easily with the latter method. Between Boston and the western edge, or Stellwagen Bank, there are a series of several large humps where the bottom rises considerably — in a couple spots, 30 feet of more. We often find the biggest concentration of fish in such places on the edge of the hump, or where the hump flattens out into the soft bottom. Years back an old party boat captain tipped me off about this by remarking, “You find more cows around the outside of the pasture than right in the middle of the field.”

Smart anglers have a destination in mind when they leave the dock. They head off not just to join a cluster of boats then drift aimlessly, but to a place where some type of structure holds fish hopefully ready to take baits or lures dropped their way. The difference between the two groups is very evident: Just look in the coolers when they return.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for 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.