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Feeding frenzy takes precedence in the off-season

Not much fishing this past week, huh? Not that there was a whole lot of encouragement for anyone.

Observers of Nature will have noticed the sudden reversion to the winter weather pattern. Cold, wet, windy days, sporadically punctuated by calm, sunny days reminiscent of spring or even summer are the hallmark of the “off-season”. About the best you can do is to predict the day that will be “good” and to be ready to take advantage of it; provided, of course, that you don't have work or other pressing engagements.

To be fair, the pundits back in the old days who had the season postulated to the end of November were not far wrong in their assessment of the situation. Fairly decent weather does continue up through November, often to as late as Christmas, after which “foul” becomes a pretty apt description of most days. It is not surprising that virtually all sports fishermen and a good few commercial fishermen put paid to offshore expeditions until late March or April when things begin to look a bit more encouraging.

What emphasis there is on fishing, lobsters aside, is not on so-called game fish but on the fish that have traditionally graced our tables. Bottom-bouncing on the Banks and, rarely, along Bermuda's Edge is the technique of choice. The reason that the edge is seldom worked is that it is hard to get conditions that allow much of a drift along a reasonable depth. The target areas are around the 30-fathom mark and, in all too many places, the Edge is jagged enough that you will find yourself going from 30 to 100-plus in a minute or so. The bottom may well come up again as the drop-off runs the other way, but it can be a real nuisance bringing the line up, dropping down and then having to repeat the process every couple of minutes. The relatively flat tops of both the offshore banks make drifting over a consistent depth an easy feat to accomplish. The trick is to find an area that is home to some decent bottom fish or, at least, to manage a brief encounter with a marauding school of “floating” fish in the form of some ambers or bonitas.

Such fishing is virtually guaranteed to be successful although the definition of “successful” can leave a lot to be desired. In the old days, a boatload of hinds was the expectation; now a catch including three or four hinds is getting on for impressive. Expect a load of coneys or barbers, both small but capable of making a nice fillet. The bonitas and that ilk will probably provide the weight, although they may not be the choicest fish in the catch. That title would be reserved for the very occasional monkey rockfish that may latch on to a hook that is fished somewhat above the level of the bottom of the reef.

For this reason, some fishermen have the usual three to five hooks down at the bottom, covering to eight feet of the leader, but then place another hook four or five feet above the highest hook. The odd one is intended to attract larger rockfish or ambers that may be cruising or hanging just above the main reef area.

Occasionally, a passing shark will have a go at such, as will the odd blackfin tuna, so you may set yourself up for a bit of a surprise. Probably the single best piece of advice is to use circle hooks — they cut out all that jigging and jigging and pretty much make every bite count.

Most looking to put in a day's effort working the bottom fish will at least attempt a bit of a troll to and from the chosen ground and this will provide the occasional wahoo or tuna. While it is not impossible to make up a decent haul, the option of conserving fuel and catching something that pretty much is guaranteed is better than electing to spend six to eight hours trolling in the hope of coming up trumps.

For most, the double-barrelled approach seems to work best — some fish in the box and a shot at something that will increase the total weight taken quickly.

Last week's excitement as experienced by a commercial boat gave rise to all sorts of speculation that the Island might be sitting on a hot spot of bluefin tuna activity.

While it is not totally impossible for the fish to have done a significant rerouting of their migration pattern, it is more likely that the small proportion of fish that have always taken this alternative path continue to do so and it is just now that the population of the species as a whole has shown a bit of an increase in numbers; that the actual count of the fish coming through here may be marginally more and therefore just that bit more noticeable. There is also a tendency on the part of anglers to jump to conclusions.

Other things that are all too often discounted when encountering a big strike are some of the other possibilities. In the old days (before we knew better) it was always blamed on big blue marlin — that was when we thought a 350-pounder was big. More recently, bluefin tuna have become the candidate of choice; after all, they attain huge sizes, can run long and hard, are well known for sounding in deep water and they are known to occur here.

Another species that fits most of the above criteria is the bigeye tuna. Although it does not make the really massive size that the bluefin does, it does reach a weight that will exceed 400lbs and enjoying the same fighting capabilities of the bluefin, it is certainly capable of taking a spool to the core.

Not thought at all common around here, the bigeye occurs pretty much throughout the Atlantic with a species thought to be the same being found throughout the Pacific Ocean. Now, this could be a bit of misinformation because the species is important to Eastern Atlantic fisheries in the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores. They are caught off the East Coast of the United States as well, so there is every reason to think that they ply their way through Bermuda waters.

That they do boast large eyes suggests that they feed at depth or at night, both of which would reduce their chances of being caught here on a regular basis. They have, on occasion, been caught utilising the traditional fishing methods that are in use here.

There is the likelihood that a school-sized fish could be mistaken for a yellowfin tuna, which is the species that most locals expect to see when boating a tuna of more than 40lbs.

Closer examination is seldom called for and once the sides are off and the rack disposed of, no one is ever really going to know. But, should there be any large ones passing through, they will indeed be capable of leaving an angler wondering what sort of oceanic denizen was really responsible for his albeit temporarily Tight lines!!!

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Published November 30, 2013 at 1:09 am (Updated November 30, 2013 at 1:09 am)

Feeding frenzy takes precedence in the off-season

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