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Frigate mackerel arrival ‘too little, too late?

Might it be a case of ‘too little, too late'? It still is not clear how extensive it is or what the numbers are like but there are now at least some frigate mackerel on Challenger Bank. They were found late last week and since then have been the driving force for many just to make the trip to the bank to try their luck.

Initial reports had them as nowhere numerous but dragging a daisy chain would occasionally pick up one or two which could then be turned into prime live bait. This was certainly a welcome advance on the previous situation.

Up until just recently, boats desiring to use live baits have spent time on Bermuda's Edge catching robins and then taking them across the Churn and using them on the banks. That is alright for the few who have wells with the capacity to maintain numbers of fish alive for several hours. Not much help to boats with small wells or, as is so often the case with modern fibreglass centre consoles, no live well at all.

Normally the “young of the year” mackerel, or little tunny as they are really called even though some official organisations use the name Atlantic black skipjack for the same species, show up in August and are available in large numbers.

Their presence probably has a lot to do with stimulating the autumnal wahoo run when any wahoo transiting the area stop to gorge themselves on this readily available and, no doubt, delectable food source.

Presumably they are the young resulting from fish that spawn somewhere near the Island although this presumption could be ‘way off base. Hatchlings are probably near microscopic and it probably takes some months for them to reach ‘frigate” size. So maybe the spawning location is a long way away and it is the ocean currents that funnel them in the direction of Bermuda, lonely mid-oceanic pinpoint that it is.

Presumably, there is something that keeps them here that they can feed on. It might well be something in the “green” water that often forms in August and serves as a basis for complaint from fishermen and anglers alike.

The water colouration comes from a bloom of some sort of plankton, probably a form of plant life. This, in turn, becomes food for grazers or zooplankton, basically animal plankton — although you could generate all sorts of hot scientific discussions on this topic. Essentially the food web in the sea is the same as it is on land.

Plants take energy form the sun, convert it into plant material, various animals graze on it, carnivores eat the grazers, bigger carnivores eat the smaller ones and so on, all the way up to the apex (top of the heap) predators like lions, tigers, man and in the sea, great marlin, tuna, toothed whales and sharks.

So, following this logic, the ‘green' water attracts things that feed on it, some of which is probably the food for the little mackerel.

There is no doubt that they come here for some reason and there is no denying that they must be feeding on something because, in the years when they show up in numbers, they remain for six weeks or more and by the end of that time are considerably larger than they were when they first appeared.

Naturally, you are dealing with average sizes here because there have to be a lot that wind up as food for larger predators long before they achieve a size that reduces the numbers of fish that physically are able to feed on them.

The key thing here seems to be that the fish are late in showing up and we are starting to get some of that wintry weather that leads to rough seas and plenty of mixing. That gets rid of the plankton concentration and that probably puts food into short supply for the smaller fish that feed on these tiny things. Bear in mind that countless things take place at a level far below what the human eye can see. In fact, even the finest microscopes are hard pressed to see some processes.

What does this mean to the angler? The quick answer is that the juvenile mackerel will probably be available for a very brief period and the numbers that are here may not be sufficient to make a real; impact on the wahoo population. Take that for what it is worth. As is so often the case with fishing, it is a matter of time and place. Either one can make all the difference in the world.

While some anglers are reporting catching wahoo on live mackerel, there are also plenty of reports of these choice baits being lost to the barracuda that also seem to be more common at this juncture. Many of the wahoo that have been caught on live baits have not been exceptionally large; in fact, the run-of-the-mill, 25 to 30-pound fish seem to be the norm.

Although a few boats have managed double figures, most have been quite happy to catch three or four fish and, given the time of year, this might be a reasonable expectation.

The yellowfin that showed up a couple of weeks ago seem to have departed. Either ether weren't very many of them or they were really on the move to somewhere else. There may be a few stragglers around but a few of the boats that put in some chumming effort over the last few days report disappointing results.

Working the chum a little shallower should produce blackfin tuna although with the water temperature starting to show signs of cooling off, they may not be willing to please much longer, either.

Smaller game will also start to ease off and the real alternative comes to working the bottom and putting is some effort directed at amberjack and bonita. Both species tend to be readily available, especially during the cooler months, and are capable of providing some good sporting action as well as earning their place in the kitchen.

Perhaps best of all, such fishing does not necessitate a trip to the Banks as even the reef areas are home to these fish and some of the other species to be found there, like yellowtail snappers, are also desirable catches. A lot of fuel and time can be saved by staying close to home.

If the truth be told, though, as it is now mid-October, there is unlikely to be much in the way of real fishing effort from the weekenders. Less reliable weather and reduced numbers of fish are all that it takes to have them leaving the boat on the moorings and to concentrate on other things. That said, a judiciously planned trip offshore with realistic ambitions should well merit some Tight lines!!!

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Published October 12, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 11, 2013 at 1:35 pm)

Frigate mackerel arrival ‘too little, too late?

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