Charter industry drifts into hibernation
Here we are on the cusp of a New Year, yet again! It is hard to believe that another long-awaited angling season replete with a full slate of tournaments, both local and international, is finished.
It all seems to have flown by — a bit like the eerie flat calm that comes when a winter gale suddenly almost magically vanishes, leaving you wondering what all the commotion was.
The old holiday carol “Deck the Halls” sums up that feeling quite adequately with the line: “fast away the old year passes”; referring to the fleetness with which time passes and then represents itself as a new creation to be anticipated and looked forward to with enthusiasm.
And so it is with fishing. Commercial fishermen know that with the waning of the demand for lobsters, earning a living is at its most challenging. Equally though, they accept the fact that boats need to be maintained, bottoms hauled and repairs made. What better time than the winter months when the weather makes offshore excursions unpredictable and often untimely.
Certainly the charter industry goes into hibernation with a very few shifting their operations to more clement locations to our south. Not surprising given that tourists are thin on the ground and locals are totally unlikely to even contemplate a fishing trip until April, at the very earliest. That only leaves the amateurs, most of whom are content to await the arrival of spring while some might even procrastinate until the 24th May.
But those who would dismiss the winter fishing scene out of hand would be mistaken. It was last February that Andrew Card caught a 920-pound mangled bluefin tuna from within yards of the site of Argus Tower. While we do know that bluefin tuna are a migratory species suspected of making trans-Atlantic crossings, there is also some fairly accurate scientific data that places at least some of them in our vicinity during the winter months.
Accepting the fact that such fish do occur here and might well be in feeding mode (one gets the feeling that tunas are always hungry) means that a concerted effort into trying to catch them should pay off. About the only real negative about making a shot at one count here is the depth of weather and the sheer size and power of the fish. Even on heavy tackle, a 1000-pounder need only put its nose down and head for the bottom to put a really major dent into your supply of line. But then that’s the challenge of trying to catch a “big one”.
Apart from fish of the “sea monster’ variety, winter fishing does offer a few other possibilities too. There are always a few wahoo around, particularly on Bermuda’s Edge where they are likely to be found in small schools at isolated locations.
Given the dearth of effort there are a lot of places that don’t get worked and so you should be able to manage a strike or two. It is the making them count that is the tricky part. Early and late seem to be the best times.
Just recently there has been further confirmation that there are still some yellowfin on the Banks. This current crop of fish seem to be a bit smaller than the middle-sized fish that dominated the scene four or five weeks ago. The average now seems to be in the 20 to 30 pound bracket and while these are admirably suited to light tackle, this time of year is likely to see anglers carrying more substantial gear with the intention of making every shot count.
No one wants too many “onethatgotaway” stories when the fish are thin on the ground and there simply aren’t that many opportunities of effecting a capture.
The old standby that lacks glamour is bottom fishing on the Banks. No matter what one might think about it, there is a certain satisfaction from amassing a fair collect of hind, coney and barber fillets now that the turkey, ham and cassava season is drawing to a close.
What one might have forgotten is that it is the autumn and winter when the amberjack and bonita fishing is often at its best. This was brought home to Steven Cabral a week or two ago when a handlining mission took a serious turn and something hefty latched on. After a good deal of tug of war tactics, he successfully boated an amberfish that weighed about 130 pounds. A nice catch on any gear, this would have taken a good long time on just about any class of sporting gear.
This often overlooked species does not take such specialised fishing techniques as some might have you think. As was the case with the incident cited above, ambers, even large ones, will take an ordinary bottom bait with alacrity. A bit of squid, octopus or fresh piece of mackerel or robin will work as will a single anchovy. The trick is to have a good solid hook that won’t bend or break when the pulling gets tough.
When fishing multiple hook rigs, the really choice fish like ambers, bonitas and gwelly generally take the top hook which is probably effectively between six and ten feet above the bottom. This makes sense, because if you think about it, school fish like members of the jack family cruise just above the bottom structure looking for anything that strays away from its hidey hole. So a piece of bait moving as one drifts over the reef will quickly get the fish’s attention and hopefully it will latch on. Remember that large amberfish tend to run in pairs of trios, so if you do hook into one, get another bait down there as quick as you can because there is a good chance the other fish will grab hold too.
Another species which is less often seen but which can be caught in the same manner is the flag or monkey rockfish. This grouper, which is distinguished by having bright yellow around the lips, can still be found on the Banks. They usually prefer the deeper edges around the bank but the south-eastern corner is as good a place as any to have a drop or two.
Rather than hauling your line up when the depth sounder starts reading in the high 30s, stick with it into the 40 to 50 fathom range. It may mean a bit more winding up but if there are any monkeys about, they will be a more than satisfactory reward for the extra work.
Should you get lucky also bear in mind that there is a daily legal bag limit of just one such fish and there is also a minimum legal size of 50cm (20 inches) although most any rockfish caught on the Banks will satisfy that requirement. That’s why there are capable of providing some Happy New Year Tight lines!!!