Winter is coming, so strike now

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  • Conditions have led to commercial fishermen being restricted to their lobster gear (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Conditions have led to commercial fishermen being restricted to their lobster gear (Photograph by Akil Simmons)


Winter is rattling her sabre now and it won’t be long before the sweaters and anoraks start appearing. Although the winds have been fairly moderate, the showers and generally poor conditions are doing plenty to restrict commercial fishermen to their lobster gear and keeping weekenders at home.

For the next little while at least, there is still some offshore promise as the fish undergo their seasonal movements through the local area.

Recent trolling efforts have caught a nice mixed variety of wahoo, blackfin tuna, small yellowfins and dolphin. Doubtless there is a billfish or two out there lurking somewhere but with the emphasis on the more traditional species, such could well go unchallenged.

There is still plenty of bait out there for those wishing to live bait with the likely catches being similar to those available to trollers.

For those who prefer good, old-fashioned “throwing a line over” type of fishing there is the bottom. And has that ever changed!

In the olden days, when boats were either sail-powered or had engines that pushed the craft along at less than ten knots, it was a formidable expedition to go to the Banks.

When circumstances permitted, this would be done with some measure of safety. The rewards were great, too, as there were groupers and rockfish available in abundance. The logic of the day was that fishermen would fish Challenger Bank exclusively until after December. As the new year progressed, the expeditions would go as far afield as Argus or, as it was known in those days,, Plantagenet Bank.

While the actual fishing has changed, unfortunately for the worse with the rockfish being a very occasional capture and even the numbers of hinds and coneys are nowhere near what they used to be nor are they as large, one thing that has not changed was the rationale behind limiting the fishing to just the one bank.

This was largely due to the weather pattern that defines this time of the year. The sudden onset of gales and very heavy weather were not unknown and, in fact, were fairly regular occurrences. By way of example, the sudden storm that set in around noon on Hallowe’en back in the 1980s caught the entire fishing fleet offshore and unawares. Conditions went from a bright sunny gentle sea to a raging, howling storm with poor visibility and terrible conditions in the space of about 15 minutes as the storm bore through, largely from the east to the west. This was really quite extreme and led to the loss of lives when a boat failed to make it back to shore, reminding all that it doesn’t pay to take chances with the ocean.

Those old-timers were much more in tune to natural weather patterns than most people are now and they would not have wanted to be caught too far offshore in the event that poor conditions set in.

There are other factors, too. The old, mostly wooden craft, all had large live wells in which to keep fish and the design of such boats meant that they were never going to be fast. Contrast that with a modern fibreglass boat that can run at 20-plus knots and which has the sophisticated electronic gear that plots courses, measures depth and even steers the boat. Not surprising that in the old days, fishermen had a lot fewer options.

What they did have, though, was a surfeit of fish. Those days, unfortunately, are probably gone for ever, but there is still some productive fishing to be had by working the bottom on either of the Banks. Bearing in mind what the old-timers knew, there is some logic in limiting oneself to Challenger, although if a boat is quick enough then Argus could be factored in.

Working the bottom is primarily geared at catching hinds and coneys but this is the time of the year when amberjack and Almaco jack (bonitas) really start to come into their own.

In addition to these species which are expected there is also the lesser amberjack which differs from the greater amberjack considerably in size but most notably having very large eyes.

Something also found here and actually a bit of a rarity elsewhere is the gwelly. These are often caught on the Banks and are not dissimilar to any of the other jack species. Once commonly caught, like most other things, they are less so now but are still a desirable catch. It is interesting to note that the IGFA, which keeps records for virtually every species, does not have a listing for the gwelly. This is an opportunity for anyone wishing to avail themselves of it. At this stage it would be an all-tackle record because it is unlikely that there is sufficient worldwide interest to have the gwelly listed as a line class record fish.

Regardless of the technique used, there is now a limited window of opportunity to stock up on some fish for the winter when the likelihood of getting offshore balances between slim and none. This won’t last, either, so right now may be the time to grab some Tight Lines!

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Published Oct 21, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 20, 2017 at 11:38 pm)

Winter is coming, so strike now

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