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No tiptoeing around reality that the season is over

The sun is setting on another fishing season (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Even after a week punctuated by gusty breezes, falling temperatures and rain, it is the hurricanes and tropical systems that grab all the headlines. But if the truth were to be told, it is the seemingly endless procession of winter gales and cold fronts that do the most to reduce the number of days that even the most intrepid angler could attempt to make a run offshore.

For that reason, many anglers simply give up on even trying to go fishing in the winter, with autumn morphing miraculously into that season around about now. For many, that is the season done. Next May is something to look forward to.

Even in the “good old days” when the department charged with promoting tourism had pretty much a licence to put on its rose-coloured glasses to view Bermuda, even it had to admit that the angling season came to an end at the end of November.

May to November was the recognised season, even though just about everyone involved in sport fishing knew that the truth of the matter was that things pretty well petered out after the so-called autumnal wahoo run in September or thereabouts.

The reason given by the Fishing Information Bureau, as it was then known, was that it would be less than comfortable on a charter boat. There was no mention that most of the charter-boat operators had moved into different lines of work and that the only moving that the boat was likely to do over the next few months was to move to the slip for its annual overhaul.

Commercial fishermen would remain active because these were the days when fish pots were still in use and these could catch both fish and lobsters. As the winter weather intensified, most fishermen shifted their gear into the channel, where there was a variety of fish that could be caught, or up on to the flats, where they could concentrate on spiny lobsters.

With the fish-pot ban in 1990 and the return of lobster traps still in the future, commercial fishermen had to look for options and many took to bottom fishing on the Banks. There were myriad theories as to the best way of effecting this, but what it really came down to was putting in long hours and working the bottom hard.

Moving the boat frequently and running back up over a productive area for another drift were common tactics that paid off with good results.

Red hinds were the preferred target species, but a surprising amount of weight came in the form of so-called “floating” fish: ambers, bonitos and the occasional gwelly.

These species often occur in schools, particularly when they are smaller; larger individuals seem to move in pairs or threes.

So if the fisherman happened to come across a school of bonito, it was often possible to catch a dozen or more.

Also occasional, and this likely a result of rather limited abundance, is the monkey or flag rockfish. A very desirable catch, these seem to hang just above the bottom in slightly deeper water than is usually worked by bottom fishermen. The reason that this is believed is because they are almost invariably hooked on the top hook of a multi-hook rig.

A single anchovy or herring is often effective, although such bites may be very few and far between. There is also a daily limit of just one fish, and that fish must comply with the minimum size regulation of 20 inches. Expect to catch a lot of conies and other bottom fish before getting lucky enough to catch a monkey.

Although the emphasis will have shifted to “eating” fish from game fish, there are still some of the latter to be had. World-class wahoo are found here throughout the year, with the winter often providing the largest specimens. Numbers may be down, but the quality tends to be above-average and there are those who swear that the fish hooked in the cooler winter water put up a more heated battle than their summertime counterparts. Part of this may stem from the heavier average weight of autumn/winter fish, as they are better matched to whatever tackle is in use.

Traditional trolling certainly gets its share of results, but there are those who will persist in using live baits. Robins are the most commonly used; often as a result of chumming attracting a school to the back of the boat, where one can be quickly caught and deployed on a heavier surface line.

The present cooler water should make attacks by barracuda less likely, so the hope is that any wahoo cruising by will avail itself of the offering.

Sending a live bait down deep can reap rewards as well. Recently, a commercial fisherman had a live mackerel inhaled by a fine amberjack that topped the 140lb mark. While not every taker will be so large, this technique can often be a source of Tight Lines!!!