Fishing TV shows are full of jumping, flashing game fish far offshore, fighting hard, putting on a great show and, in the end, being released to fight another day.
While catch-and-release is a big part of the fishing scene, there is another philosophy out there also worthy of consideration: that a fellow doesn’t always want to travel to the ends of the Earth, preferring relatively near-shore waters. And he also wants the option of taking some fish home to eat.
All our current laws allow us to take home a reasonable amount of fish for the table, not only offering recreation and time away from the workaday world, but also some great seafood dinners. The possibilities for such a win-win situation up and down the Northeast coastline are almost endless.
Hot spots, hot tips
People in New Jersey could easily spend the morning chasing blues and stripers, then spend the rest of the day dunking bait on one of the many artificial reefs that dot the state from Cape May to Sandy Hook. This state’s reef-building program is far greater than the combined efforts of all five of the New England coastal states and the results are undeniable.
Blues and stripers can easily be targeted with a diamond jig dropped below birds wheeling and diving on top — the bigger fish often below — chasing bait fish to the surface, where the birds await their meal. Porgies, sea bass or blackfish (in season) can be caught on strips of squid, frozen clams or green crabs, usually from a boat anchored near the wreck, or one drifting close to the structure.
Anglers up the line can do the same thing, fishing for blues and bass during the early morning in the waters of The Race off New London, before heading to one of many rock piles in nearby Fishers Island or Long Island Sound to dunk bait for jumbo porgies, blackfish, or perhaps a few sea bass.
Over on Block Island, anglers from Point Judith and other jumping-off points might troll or drift in the North Rip on an early-morning, moving tide before heading off to sea bass on the rocky south or southeast corner of the island, the latter fish holding into late November, the same often true with bass and at times late-lingering blues. We once caught blues in the North Rip in water barely above 49 degrees, about the end of their temperature range.
Fishermen and women in Massachusetts might get in their last trip or two to the Race Point rip, trolling up the last of the bass before their departure south, then head over to Fishing Ledge, Stellwagen Bank or some of the wrecks and rock piles in Massachusetts Bay from Plymouth up through Cohasset for a chance at a legal cod.
The point of the whole exercise is to fish for one species, possibly catching a legal limit, then pursue another species close by if you desire. Western Long Island Sound, with its relatively narrow confines, offers the chance to easily accomplish duo-days as well. Anglers from Norwalk often run over to the fame rip at 11B for diamond jigging on some frosty morning. Then they sometimes head to the wreck of Celtic to fish for blackfish later in the day. Veteran angler and tackle dealer Rick Mola advises all who target that particular wreck to anchor close, but not right over, the structure — a sure way to lose rig after rig.
The reverse is also true. Anglers fishing for blackfish, usually best on the slower tides, often have a rod rigged and ready with a popper if blues pop up nearby, or rods with diamond jigs on them if the site of continued bird activity is too much to ignore on a tide with slower-than-expected results for bottom fish.
Hook it, cook it
Some anglers turn up their noses at blues, but they can make excellent eating if bled soon after boating, then put on ice. The best bluefish dinner I ever had was on Block Island, the fish cleaned and filleted right away after we caught some just at dark. Storm clouds soon drove us back to our small rented cottage, where a friend basted the fillets with French dressing and lightly broiled them on an old-fashioned stove in the small house. With a couple cans of beans, some leftover green peppers, crackers and two bottles of cold beer, the meal was delicious and we were warm and dry as rain beat against the windows for the better part of the evening.
Farther up the coast, from Boston to points north, people often make one or two final runs for cod and haddock before the season closes, the boat goes away and the weather closes down on us all. Haddock are usually caught at anchor on a high-low rig baited with stripers of clam or fresh herring. The fresher the bait, usually the better one does.
Some anglers have homemade chum pots, weighted with enough lead to hold it near the bottom from the bow of their boat, out of the way of the baited lines in the stern. The pot is baited with crushed mussels or cut, frozen clams, the scent drifting down-current, drawing haddock to your hooks. The downside to this is the chum might draw dogfish that still might be hanging around if water temperatures are high enough.
At some point in mid-November, anglers around Boston often find a school of cod has moved into the near-shore waters between Marblehead and Cohasset, the relatively short run goes easy on gas. The lee of land offers a chance for boats of moderate size a chance to drift and jig on a day with marginal northwest winds.
Years ago, three of us set off from Duxbury for one last cod outing before Capt. Roger Jarvis put away his vintage 26-foot Fortier. On our way to a wreck on the other side of Stellwagen Bank, we spied birds working and dropped jigs under them to catch mackerel and small stripers. We then headed out for cod, bagged some there, then ended up the day on one of the steep peaks rising up out of the bottom about 10 miles out from the middle part of Stellwagen, enjoying action with pollock to 30 pounds.
Some fishermen consider pollock a poor-man’s cod, but I say otherwise. I often bring back a bag of pollock fillets to a friend of mine, an elderly fellow and his wife who rave about it. The fish is far fresher than what they can buy at a local market, often the difference in a good meal versus a mediocre one.
Fresh fish is good for you, great on the table after simple preparation, and great enjoyment on a day away from the job or day out on the water when fall winds allow safe passage back and forth. There’s still time to enjoy all the boating, fishing and fine meals the Northeast has to offer.
This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue.