LING MARATHON FISHING WITH THE BONUS OF THE BIGGEST BLACKBACK FLOUNDERS YOU WILL SEE
DURING THE FISHING YEAR
Here is a story about a standard day boat fishing trip that was neither one of those so called "offshore wreck specials" or "cod-pollock-jumbo red hake" adventures that many us like myself look forward to doing during the fishing season in the NY-NJ BIGHT. In fact these "Ling Marathons" have been going on for decades in New Jersey and have a very solid following of fishermen better known as 'regulars' who make a number of these ten or so hour trips during the season. Let me list a few reasons why:
1- From newbie at the fishing rail to 'hunga', can catch more then enough for a few dinners and at times, fill or close to fill a 48 quart cooler during a trip
2- Catch multiple species on these trips depending on the time of the season and depth fished from the spring through the early fall, ranging from the primary target red hake to cod, pollock, jumbo blackback flounder, and also sea bass, scup, bluefish, along with blackfish, and so called exotics such as small haddock, white hake and four-spot flounder.
3- These trips primary target red hake, aka ling, that will range in size from 'hot- dog' all the way up to jumbo big units reaching sometimes up to 5 lbs if not more
4- Requires the simplest tackle, rigs and techniques to catch more then enough for a few tasty dinners
5- Possibly one of the best party boat fishing values in this region when you compare the amount of fish caught to, the amount of time fishing on these Ling Marathon trips
Before we pull off the dock, there is one thing you should put emphasis upon during the ling marathons during the summer months.....bringing a cooler filled with ice.
Due to the length of these trips and the normal average daytime temperatures even out on the ocean, groundfish such as red hake, cod and pollock caught in the morning and left in a 5 gallon pail that is baking in the sun, will literally turn into something that looks as desirable as gruel dished out at an old Siberian gulag. Fish will figuratively turn into "piss-poor" shape, making for unhappy mates at the time they are cutting up some of the best tasting seafood that now was not properly taken care of during the trip by a customer.
Before these trips, you should have a 48 to 54 quart cooler which you can pick up during your travels prior to these trips during the summer.... or when you come down to the VOYAGER, after parking your car in the lot, just go over and see Brian in FISHERMEN'S SUPPLY and spend a few dollars on a marine cooler (like a Igloo Super Tough) along with ice...and don't be stingy with the ice either...its a long, hot day on the water when the sun is up in the sky.
As many of you who have ridden on the VOYAGER, the boat does move along which means you can be fishing as soon as forty five minutes from the jetty at Manasquan Inlet. Just think for a moment that fish caught at around 730 to 8 in the morning, and then getting a nice and proper sun tan through the morning right through the early afternoon and then having to be cut. Not good at all...no matter what you try to do much later in the day.
I do hope those out there who have not done this type of fishing, just take these steps and pay attention to taking care of the 'days catch.' For those who don't want to purchase a sleeve or tote of ice, spend a few moments and fill up a number of empty plastic containers with water and freeze them (depending on the size of those containers, make up a bunch). Its a cheap way to keep freshly caught fish cool in your container, whatever that may be, but the best chilling instruments still are a good and proper cooler with more then enough real ice inside of it.
Ling marathons during the summer usually mean 'bluebird' weather and sea conditions normally during the morning part of the trip. Most fishermen wear light clothes such as shorts and a tee-shirt, and bring along a lightweight sweatshirt. It is also good insurance to have at the ready all that fancy Grundens gear you bought during the winter, especially if you like keeping all the gunk from the days fishing, on the skins and not on your clothes.
At a minimum we always have handy bottom skins (aka bib pants) and a light rain top. Many do wear sneakers since they are comfortable to wear for standing on the deck during the summer, but for those who do not want to have their latest pair of Air Jordan 29's becoming mucked-up, its a good idea to bring along a pair of fishing boots.
For tackle, just consider bringing along a moderate action 7 - 7.5 foot rod that can handle sinker weights as light as 8 oz up to 16 ozs. Carry along lead in this size range also since Las Vegas odds are that you will lose a few sinkers during these trips due to some of the snaggy wrecks that are fished on these trips.
As for reels, I high emphasize using conventional reels that are relatively easy to break down and clean after these trips since you are using skimmers for bait and the grit always seems to end up and play havoc inside lever drag and reels with tight tolerances after just a few trips.
As an example, reels in the Newell 220 to 229 size are fine, and surprisingly work well even when fishing in depths of 200 feet and slightly deeper. Larger reels such as a Newell 322 or 332 or Jigmaster 500 or 501 if you strictly use mono, or beefier reels such as the Daiwa Sealine 50H or 300H are fine, but for those who use braided line, a 200 series Newell in the F or 5-1 gear ratio works very well as I will show you in a image below.
One thing we have seen on customers reels over the years is that 50lb braided line seems, and has become the standard pound test used for this type of bottom fishing due to the thinner diameter of braided line when compared to monofilament line. I can pass along that you can fish with a lighter sinker weight when you scale down to 30 lb braid and then add a 50 or so mono topshot which you connect using a Albright Special.
Those of us who still strictly use mono on their reels don't need to use any line heavier then 40 lb test, and from what I have seen, a top notch monofilament line such as Exsum XP, works incredibly well in 30lb test and that is what we prefer. Just remember to use a good length of slightly heavier mono for your top shot which you then connect to your rig via a reasonable size barrel swivel (here we prefer 175lb to 225lb swivels since they are easier pass the 50lb leader material we use).
Now here is a rig we here/I prefer to use for this type of fishing, a HI-Lo rig where the 'Hi' hook is tied much closer to the bottom then we normally tie these rigs. This is slightly different then when we tie our cod or sea bass rigs where the spacing between snelled hooks is much further apart....and there is a good reason for making the rig this way.
We like to have two baits as close-to or right on the bottom since we are targeting jumbo blackback flounder on these trips. Ling marathons will have this bonus come up and over the rail as these flatfish start filtering into the depths by the end of June through early July.
For those wondering why we use this type of 'Hi-Lo' rigs instead of tying a tandem bottom rig, one that has been used for decades, that being the bottom tandem rig,for this type of bottom fishing and the main reason is due to fishing on some of the most sticky and crag-laden wrecks as well as artificial reefs that are, and will be fished during these trips.
A second hook right on the bottom increases the probability of getting hung up, time and again even when you drop your rig initially to the bottom...and as much, when a hard running bottom current is pulling your rig along the bottom. You will see this happen more so to those using these rigs and at times you may see Captain Jeff use a single hook on his rod (but not in the image below) to lessen this from occurring.
The above rod was from the late Captain Bobby Floppiano, and is lovingly called the 'Flop rod', and iI can tell you that it is a weapon for catching fish. The glass seems to be from Lamiglas, and is able to comfortable fish a 10 ounce sinker weight when using braided line. A Newell 220F is used here, and its like a magic wand in any fisherman's hands.
To make the rig shown here where the snelled hooks standoff, we strictly use stiff-hank type leader material from OE TACKLE in particular for the rigs we tie for the ling marathons.
To compare to our codfish rigs, we will then use Ande 'coil-type' leader material in 60lb test for the MAIN LINE and then 40lb or 50lb test hank for our BRANCH LINE which we snell our hooks on. The key and we have talked about this a number of times on this site, is that you want your hooks to stand out and away from the main line. In the image below, you will see this as well as how the bait is put on the hooks and how the rig would look when it sits on the bottom:
Notice we use what some would call using the "strings" of a clam, and unlike the way we normally would use a piece of bait for big scup or sea bass, we like to use this part of the skimmer with the strings slightly hanging off the hook. When undesirable fish such as the congo bunnies and sea raven are around in annoying numbers, or even small perch, using the part of the bait ensures you do have bait on your hook to entice a big flounder to suck it in their mouths.
For those GULP lovers, particularly using various GULP and POWER sandworm baits, I will pass along that the sandworm may work for other species, but on this trip in experimenting with them, I never had a bite...not one. I have spoken to fisherman who also do not like using these artificial baits for blackback flounder, but do use them when ling fishing. As soon as I put on the skimmer bait shown above, I had my first flounder of the day and a good sized one at that!
Finally one of the key components here is the hook size. Now you may be wondering why worry on the hook size on a ling marathon, something which should be as simple as using either a 3/0 or 4/0 size hook...right?
Well here we have found since we are trying to target jumbo size blackback flounder, and in doing so we noticed a BIG DIFFERENCE in what we hook and caught when using the standard 3/0 size Octupus as compared to dropping them to a slightly smaller 2/0 size Bait Holder style hook. If you doubt me here, go and see the Jig Maker in the Bay who experimented and saw his hook up and thus catch rates, dramatically increase.
Take a look at the mouth of an average size flounder caught on these trips:
There is also something else here to remember on ling marathon trips and that due to the areas and wrecks being fished in the NY - NJ Bight, you have a very good possibility in hooking a market or even steaker codfish or pollock that can easily go into the 20lb range. Here we try to balance between using a strong hook and how small in the size of the hook we can use to successfully catch those big flounders.
Keep in mind that as the hook sizes get smaller, their also is less metal in the hook, thus leading to a high probability of springing open or snapping when placed under load from a big fish.
But there is also a consolation here in using a high quality hook in the 2/0 - 3/0 range as shown below.
Due to the areas and wrecks being fished, almost all have dead monofilament and braided lines strung over various parts of these wrecks, there is also the high probability of hanging up not only on the structure but the dead lines on one of the various sticky wrecks. With the smaller hooks, some times fishermen are able to slightly spring the hook open just enough to get his rig and sinker back.
Here is a new brand of hooks that I am really starting to like using, and anyone of these hook styles in the particular size noted here, should work very well for those looking to target blackback flounder along with big ling on these trips:
For this fishing, one hook that is becoming a favorite of mine is the Manasquan Inlet Outfitters - 'Bait Holder' style hook in 2/0, which is quite similar to another old time favorite here in Sheepshead Bay, the Mustad brand 92641. The Manasquan Inlet hook is an extremely high in quality hook but at a value based price.
Finally, here is one other last point about hook size if you are targeting jumbo blackback flounders on the ling marathons, and here I like to point out the difference between a 2/0 and 3/0 when using a wide gap or Kahle hook:
Albeit slight, there is more 'metal' on the wire along the shank and bend of a 3/0 size hook. If we were fishing on the open bottom for blackback flounders when these fish were off in the holes off the State Park (Sandy Hook) in May or mussel bottom just to the south, the 2/0 hook would be the size we would choose. But as I have pointed out here, there are tradeoff's you have to make on these trips and much is in part due to fishing around snaggy structure and having a high probability of encountering and hooking larger fish such as cod and pollock, thus the preference in using the 3/0 size.
Though some fishermen feel that wide gap hooks get hung up less due the point being turned inwards the eye of the hook, it is your choice whether you purchase snelled wide gap hooks or if you tie your own hooks to use for not only this type of fishing but in targeting those jumbo blackbacks. Standard strength hooks as seen here will penetrate quicker, but when using a smaller wire hook, keep in mind that they will be more prone to spring open.
Getting back to the ling marathons on the VOYAGER, these trips are not only pretty laid back, but also having many regulars showing up throughout the summer. There is always more then enough room in the cabin of the VOYAGER to rest, before the day of fishing starts.
Maria the chef (and she is with some of the culinary treats she prepares) in the galley and is always rearing to go as she had the bacon going on the grill as the VOYAGER passes through the inlet.
On this particular trip, Captain Jeff had his dad along, Larry Gutman who is always seen reading a big book during these trips along with one hardcore fishermen at 81 years young, a smiling Mr. Tom Cahillane.
Though ling marathons will be 'wreck-centric' fishing, which may surprise many of you out there, the stress level for the man in the wheelhouse to get to a productive wreck, is noticeably much less due to abundance of numerous large structures in depths over 100 feet a few miles east of Manasquan Inlet. There is no hurry to put the hammers down to beat any other vessel to a favorite honey hole, nor is there the long steam to the offshore wrecks. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride....
Pulling up to the first wreck of the day. Many wonder how deep and how fishy as the VOYAGER passes over then rounds up on the wreck.
In fact when talking about double anchoring on the ling marathons is that you may have anywhere from three up to five shifts on the same drop as the captain, in this case Captain Jeff, will after a short period of time, ask everyone to pick up their lines for a moment and then pull in or let out a few feet on either of the anchor lines. This will then shift the boat over to another part of the wreck, or just off to a corner of the wreck. This usually yields another blast of fish, before the bite on that corner of the wreck peters out.
When the captain anchors 'hard on' the wreck, you will notice at times the perch life pick up, along with the congo bunnies or scuplin....while at other times, a shift could leave a part of the boat off more then a few feet from the wreck, and other inedibles will come up like mummy skates as well as the congo bunnies. Normally, when you have the perch chewing your bait off, it may become tougher to catch those big flounders, but you also know that you are fishing much closer or tighter to the wreckage....but to let you in on a little secret here, these big flounder will be right on top of the wreckage itself.
Some will wonder when the fishing slows down to a bare pick, why not just pick up the anchors and move to another wreck?
There are a few answers to this question but one of the main reason's is that many of the wrecks in the area that are typically fished, are extremely large as you will see in the above and below images.
A number of these wrecks are causalities from the two World Wars, in particular WWII, while others are various types of commercial fishing vessels along with commercial shipping vessels made up of passenger ships, barges and tugboats that have collided or over-turned during storms in the 20th century. I should add that there are a number of wrecks which are purposely scuttled on a deep water artificial reef east of Manasquan, whose reef footprint contains various size vessels and other debris which also will be fished throughout most of the season.
Here are just a few that were fished on this trip:
As you can see, these are a little more then 'snags' or small hangups as those in the commercial fishing industry will make note of in the old hang logs or on commercial plotting software such as P-Sea Windplot.
A number due to the material they were made out of, length of time on the bottom, the environment working on them over the years (current), along with being struck by those pulling commercial bottom dragging and scalloping gear, have sections that have collapsed or have been ripped and dragged off the main piece of wreckage.
In what was a big surprise on this trip, this piece of wood was reeled in off the bottom from a wreck that we previously thought was made out of steel...and obviously it is not metal, but from a wooden ship wreck.
For guys like us, going to the wrecks are great, but its just part 1 of stopping on a wreck. Now we have come to part 2, fishing and catching fish on them which is the reason why fishermen come down for these ling marathons.
As I mentioned before, the primary target is ling...but for 'us', its the big flatties which have now become extremely commonplace on these wrecks.
For ling, you will see them from this size:
Up to and over this size...though this is a pretty BIG UNIT caught by Maria:
As for those big blackbacks, they will range from keepers, with flounders even 1, 2 or 3 inches OVER the size limit, tossed back:
To these specimens which normally start in and around the one and three quarter to 2lb range, and go well past 4 lbs:
This is a jumbo blackback being held up by Dominick the mate....
Here is a shot to give you an idea of the comparison between a hotdog size ling and a nice keeper size blackback:
There are also those other groundfish that I previously mentioned like cod which are caught on these trips. Though this was and is the size commonly caught for cod on these trips, fish up to 40lbs have been landed.
Finally when Mickey's big and little hand on the clock are indicating that it is well past three in the afternoon its time for three whistles to get the VOYAGER back in on time. These trips usually end up coming in on time or just slightly around the stated time period of 1630 hours.
Dominick works like a Ginsu Chef cutting a good amount of various fish on the way home:
During this time, Dominick will ask everyone to put their fish to be cut in the shrimp baskets, and also breaks out the scale of fish-justice and weights the pool...but it was more then obvious that the cod would take home the bacon, or pool money.
Taking a peak at our cooler, our group of four which were concentrating on catching our limit of jumbo flounders along with keeping the bigger size ling, had a decent fish catching day:
As you can see from this standard day ling marathon trip, there is ample opportunity to make a reasonable catch of your primary fish such as ling and blackback flounder, but also to pick up a few cod depending on the areas, wrecks and the time of the season.
These trips are not only an excellent introduction to ocean wreck fishing trips for younger people and newbies, but have for everyone on board the highest probability of catching enough fish for more then a few very tasty dinners.
Captain Jeff traditionally has set aside Thursday during the week for the ling marathons as you can see on the trip calender.
If I can leave you one with one last thought here, it was a statement made by the late Captain Tom Marconi about "not making fishing so scientific for the customers" and I hope I have done so here. It really is as simple as picking up even a rental rod on the boat, then bait up with a strip or the strings of the skimmer, drop down to the bottom, lock up the reel and then slowly bounce your sinker on the bottom like your lifting a tea bag up in a hot cup of tea.....wait a few moments after a number of bounces, and let it sit for just a moment. Repeat on till you get a bite, lose your bait or want to put on a fresh piece of cut bait. Oh, and if you have a big flounder on top of the water, don't hesitate to call the mate over with a net or gaff...whatever is handy to ensure the big flattie makes it into your cooler.
As for the offshore blackback flounder fishery which I have talked about in great length here...
In the morning I spoke to an older retired New Jersey fishing captain who asked me if I have ever seen flounder fishing like this before on the offshore wrecks in the NY-NJ Bight.
My answer....no, I never have on the deeper wrecks (starting over 140 feet on this day), though I have seen and caught in pretty good numbers on the hard and mussel bottom in depths between 60 through 90 feet just offshore of Sea Bright, Long Branch and off the Farms and to a lessor extent in the Fishermen Buoy and Inshore Scotland area.
The blackback flounder fishery is as robust and healthy as anyone I have asked can remember, and this groups is made up of some pretty damn sharp bottom fishing captains. No one has ever seen offshore flounder fishing like the way it has been over the last decade, and it keeps getting better and better as far as the size and quantity of flounders which are now seen.
Though these flounder as well as the ling stay out in the deep through the summer and early fall, the trip calender for not only the VOYAGER, but the other handful of bottom-targeting party boats, will change in the fall as fishing normally shifts to the last of the inshore sea bass and scup run as well as blackfish.
Right now is the time to enjoy some of the easiest bottom fishing that can be done in this area, and besides the mild weather typically seen, what other fish can you catch that taste as good as the ling and the blackback flounder? Even the captain spends a few minutes at the rail to catch himself some fine eating seafood too!
Hopefully this 'Insider look' will give you an idea on what you can catch on the summer ling marathons on board the VOYAGER.