The day started around 7 a.m., leaving Manchester Harbor, north of Boston and south of Gloucester on Massachusetts’ North Shore. We ended up about 30-plus miles out, starting a day of groundfishing both with jigs and bait. Before the day was done, we covered about 90 statute miles over water and had the cooler topped with fish.
Our catch ranged from cusk to 10 pounds, cod to 25, four haddock and two wolf fish of about 18 and 25 pounds. The kicker was that our boat for the day burned less than 30 gallons of fuel, not bad with today’s diesel prices of more than $5 per gallon at many Northeast marinas.
The boat belongs to Dan Jermain of Manchester, a local and lifelong resident. We became friends during college at the University of Rhode Island, often catching bass after class along the rocky beaches around Point Judith. After school I went off to writing, Dave to a very successful career as a fish broker, often traveling all over the world selling his wares.
Dave and I kept in touch after school, sometimes trying for bass with live pogies on the shoreline near his home. One day, however, I got a call saying he’d just bought a boat — specifically to head offshore for cod — and we’ve been going ever since.
Dave’s boat is a 26-foot Strike (www.strikeyachts.com), a fiberglass center console with an 8-foot beam powered by a 210-hp Cummins diesel engine. It has a cuddy cabin forward for gear and a 23-degree deadrise aft, offering a nice dry ride and great economy. Running out to the cod grounds at 1,800 rpm, doing roughly 20 knots, the boat burns about five gallons per hour.
Strike started making boats in 1977 and made Dave’s hull in 1987. He bought it in 2001 from a private party in Rhode Island, paying about $30,000 that included full electronics. His boat weighs 6,000 pounds and, with the engine amidships under the console, sits well while running into, down sea or parallel to the sea, if an afternoon southwest breeze comes up on the ride back. We make it a point to never head out into anything close to bad weather, leaving that to the crew on the reality TV show “Deadliest Catch.”
Rounding out the specs on Dave’s economical cod catcher is a 100-gallon fuel tank and the room to fish three very comfortably. Contrast the above with the gas bill for some of today’s other sleek fishing machines — some of which easily burn fuel at 10 times the pace — especially when they pull up to the fuel dock at the end of long runs.
Point the way
With a fine boat at hand, the next question is where does one point the bow to catch a cooler full of tasty cod and haddock? Dave has a book of numbers left over from one of his college jobs, running a party boat part-time for the Yankee Fleet out of nearby Cape Ann Marina in Gloucester, Mass.
On one of his trips — on that day more of a sightseeing cruise than fishing — Dave dropped a jig over the side to jig a few fish for the customer’s supper and was greatly surprised when a 99-pound halibut, instead of the school codfish he was expecting, grabbed the lure.
Lacking a book of numbers, people can easily pick out the high spots east of Stellwagen Bank, the usual haunt of summer groundfish, by using a chart plotter. Keep in mind the knowledge an old party boat skipper passed on to me: the best bottom on the hills is usually the northwest corner — the area where the glaciers that formed the bottom deposited most of the rocks and hard material that attract fish.
Dave will both anchor his Strike on top of one of the hills, or drift over the high spots, jigging a 7- to 13-ounce metal jig in yo-yo fashion. He’ll work the shallowest spots, then drifting back with wind or tide looking for bigger cod holding on a deeper edge as the hill drops down to the softer bottom around it.
If Dave is looking for haddock, he will anchor and fish with clams, herring or strips of mackerel on a hi-low bottom rig with a 12- to 16-ounce sinker, depending on the tide. If the dogfish become too much of a pest, attracted by the scent of the bait, he might pull the baited hooks out of the water for 20 minutes, have a bite, and then resume fishing and hope the dogfish have moved on.
If we are seeking pollock for sport or food, he will look for a bank with very steep edges or find a high spot that resembles a church steeple, a spire rising rapidly out of the bottom. Shipwrecks also attract the pollock, usually best fished in these waters from August through the fall, especially good on some of the last trips of the year.
Days and nights
We make it a point of arriving back at the dock sometime after 6 p.m. During the summer, we have plenty of daylight, and during the fall, still enough light at dusk to unload the fish, clean the boat and say our goodbyes until next trip.
That timing gets me out on busy Routes 128 and Interstate 95 around Boston and into Rhode Island after a lot of the rush-hour traffic has mercifully gone home. Being stuck in Boston traffic around 5 p.m. will take most of the fun out of a good day on the water.
Dave also uses his boat for the plentiful striped bass in this area, preferring live bait to lures, and getting his bait with either a small net for live bunker or jigging up small mackerel. Those are kept in a 50-gallon portable live well he puts in the stern, with water circulating the whole time we’re fishing thanks to a bilge pump he has hooked up to it.
On the next full moon we’ve planned a trip casting live eels around all the rocky points and rocks awash near his harbor, all nifty looking striper structures. We want a calm evening for both enjoyment and also the ability to see — and avoid — the numerous lobster pot buoys, while still getting close to the rocky shore where we hope to find large bass looking for a midnight meal.
Dave’s diesel was a smart boat buy given the uncertain days ahead for fuel prices. As many anglers ponder the future, Dave is looking forward to his next trip, able to easily afford the fuel needed to run offshore for cod, and bring home lots of fresh fish for some great eating.
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue.