Falling leaves outside our windows tell us another season is about to end. Some boats are already away, others are on their way south, ready to begin the southern leg of a 12-month fishing year. And a third category looks to get in one or two more trips before the inevitable curtain call.
The reminders of a changing season are all around. Just the other day, Capt. Greg Mercurio, of Yankee Captains, called to say he was on his way to Key West, Fla., from New Bedford, Mass., after a mediocre tuna season plagued by wind and low numbers of fish, the tuna seemingly blown "away" to some unknown spot after the passage of Hurricane Earl.
Another fisherman, Andy Gagarin of Watch Hill, R.I., is already at his new home in Islamorada, Fla., leaving his 26-foot Regulator under wraps up north in a local boatyard and looking forward to using a 23-foot Contender he bought last winter as his Florida boat.
The last time I called my good friend Al Golinski, he was working on his trailer for the 1,600-mile trip to The Keys from Massachusetts and planning his last trips for bass and blackfish. In many Northeast areas, it's very possible to get in a morning of chasing stripers around, then dropping on a wreck or rock pile for blackfish.
Close to home
Boaters regularly patrol the beaches of southern Rhode Island in the morning, bundled against a morning chill, casting for bass and some very large blues. Then they drop half a green crab at spots like the Stone Pile off Weekapaug, the small fleet of boats there a familiar sight.
Boaters in New Jersey seek bass and blues up and down the coast as the sun rises, then head to any of the more than 5,000 artificial reef sites from Cape May to Sandy Hook to possibly hook an outsized blackfish. Some of these blacks are more than 12 pounds - a true trophy.
Long Island Sound offers the potential for large blackfish from some of the under-fished wrecks off Norwalk to the rocky bottom off Latimer Light, the scene of some 15-plus-pounders during the last couple of years. The key seems to be to find a wreck or bottom not hit by dozens of boats since the Oct. 1 season opener. There are so many wrecks in some of the old Norwalk Dump sites that a survey by the National Ocean Service found too many to mark. So the service settled for marking newer charts with words to the effect that numerous wrecks exist in the area. Find one of those and you may have the biggest tautog of your life.
Montaukers often have bass into November. Sometimes they're casting on the south side, sometimes trolling in the famed rips from Shagwong to the Elbow. Other hot spots for blackfish are Inner Cartwright or Cerebrus Shoal and over to Fishers Island, an underfished spot on a weekday.
Years back, we would jig up bass and blues of more than 12 pounds after Thanksgiving in the North Rip of Block Island. That might be worth a shot today if you have a boat with a cabin or protective covering from the wind. Afterwards you have the chance to head down to the rock piles on the east or southeast sides of Block Island to drop baits for blackfish. Those rocks indeed do not get the fishing pressure other spots along the mainland do.
Around The Block
Another good friend, Capt. Jimmy Koutalakis trailers his 31-foot Sea Vee down from Massachusetts to expressly fish for late bass, drifting an eel around Southwest Ledge or going for sea bass on Shark's Ledge in 90 or so feet on the south side of Block Island.
If you have some clams on board, you just might try farther off the island at spots like the Gateway, 30 Line or Dodge Grounds to perhaps catch a cod or two.
That fishery was once a before-Christmas staple, but through the years has been greatly reduced by fishery mismanagement. There are some signs the fishery may be recovering a bit: perhaps more cod in the summer and certainly a robust fishery in January and February.
Party boats that fished these waters used to advertise that you could catch your Block Island turkey, slang for a large cod, with them. Maybe, just maybe, area boaters will see a return to a once-fine event.
And, not to belabor the cod point, but don't forget we used to have a great inshore fishery for cod all along the Rhode Island southern shore over into the rocky bottom of Westport, Mass. Years back, a fellow from Deighton, Mass., sent me an old black-and-white picture of a large catch of cod he and a friend landed just outside Warren's Point near the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border. In the past it was possible to catch cod in a small boat just outside the Matunuck breakers, around the rocky bottom off Nebraska Shoals, on the rocks not far from Scarborough, R.I.
Certainly not the least on the list of "forgotten" spots was southeast of Point Judith Light. In the mid-1970s I made my first trip there with Ron Wojick, who then lived just up the road from the light. Together we landed approximately 18 cod up to 46 pounds, fishing roughly 1-1/2 miles out.
In Massachusetts where they still have a viable cod fishery, boaters get in one last trip before winter closures take effect, maybe fishing for haddock or pollock if the cod fishing in their area is closed until the spring. These necessary regulations are the result of years of inadequate management back in the 1980s through the 1990s. We are paying the price today.
Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for most of his life. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine's New England edition and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.
This article originally appeared in the Home Waters section of the December 2010 issue.