Catch while you can because winter is on the horizon
It won’t be long now. With the penultimate month of the year at hand and winter already exerting her grip on climes really not too far north of here, the onset of winter gales and the winter weather pattern can be expected imminently.
While this does not affect the life of the landlubber unduly, it seriously puts a damper on that of the angler who has already struggled through a most difficult year. No one expects much of the winter months, but the summer largely turned into a bust for all sorts of unrelated reasons. A series of late-season tropical systems did little to ease the sorry situation, already forcing some to take their craft out of water or to otherwise mothball them for the duration.
While the offshore is not completely abandoned by the commercial operators, there certainly is a sea change as the productive fishery is largely based on lobsters. A very few continue to fish in the traditional manner, but a day out on the Banks is not likely to be nearly as productive as a few hours on the inner bottom working the traps for the high-return crustaceans, so the shift in effort is very real.
The immediate impact of this on the sport fishing is that there is little reliable information on which to base a game plan. Weekend anglers are limited to the days that they can go fishing, with Sunday the most popular one, and there is a better than 50-50 chance that that will be blown out or otherwise a non-starter.
If everything does come right, then there is little information to go on and most anglers just revert to a quick rake of the Edge followed by, weather permitting, a trip over to Challenger Bank. That is usually the end of it, with most requiring a rather pressing reason to travel all the way to Argus where the pickings may be no better than on the first bank.
That involves a lot of fuel and a large commitment in terms of time, something which will also be affected by tonight’s clock change. It might be lighter in the morning, but it will be getting dark quick and the boat will still need to be washed down and put to bed — and Argus is a couple of hours away for many.
And it is not as if Mother Nature doesn’t have a say in all this, either. While the island may experience a winter, most of the fish that are found here derive from more tropical climes. The net result of this is that the truly tropical ones disappear in the winter months. There may be the very odd blue marlin that gets caught in December or February but there certainly would not be enough around to justify going looking for one. The same can be said of most other summer species.
Wahoo, on the other hand, often persist through the winter months and although numbers may not be impressive, often the quality is very good. Yellowfin tuna, although rated a tropical tuna species, have a wide temperature range and they can be often found in the dead of winter as well.
Although that leaves two recognised game species likely to be offshore, there really is not much point in putting in anything more than minimal effort. At this time of the year, anglers are primarily interested in fillets, not points, and often, to reap real satisfaction, it is best to rely on good, old-fashioned, bottom fishing.
This form of fishing is usually at its best when drifting on the Banks. In the old days, when this type of fishing was widely practised, this time of year saw Challenger as the preferred venue. Naturally, the quality and quantity of the fishing is not going to be anywhere what it was back then but it is still possible to fill a medium-sized cooler with hinds, coneys, amberjack, bonita and the occasionally gwelly.
The main advantage to drifting is that the baits are constantly moving over the bottom structures, covering the nooks and cervices where fish may be lurking. To maximise the catch, circle hooks are recommended and the use of fresh bait. Fresh anchovies will be hard to come by but tough baits such as squid or local octopus will hold up a lot better and offer multiple “nibbles” before having to wind up close to 200 feet of line and re-bait.
The real professionals also prefer stiff wire rigs over plain monofilament. These reduce the number of tangles and most bottom fish don’t care if they can see the leader or not. It is dark down there and most fish rely on smell, so if the bait smells good then they will snatch at it. That is where the circle hooks come in. With a lot of line out, it takes a second before the angler feels the bite, but, by then, the circle hook should have snagged the biter.
An additional hook fished a few feet above the bottom rig, will get the attention of any “floating” fish such as ambers and bonitas that cruise above the bottom reefs. They often fall victim to such hooks, as will the monkey (flag) rockfish that also hover above the rocks.
Unfortunately, there aren’t that many of those left, but unless one is properly equipped, one will never quite know for sure. Still, there are enough barbers, coneys and hinds out there to justify the effort going into finding some Tight Lines!!!