'3-DAY NANTUCKET WRECK ADVENTURE I'
COD, POLLOCK, WHITE HAKE FISHING
NOTE: For those using smartphones...... This thread has close to one hundred images placed throughout the story. You may need to allow time for them to load properly.
It was sometime two years ago where an idea was broached with Captain Jeff Gutman, owner and operator of the party boat VOYAGER on making a long range trip to fish the offshore wrecks and jigging grounds off Southern New England. At the time, it was what some would consider talk between a handful of fishermen on making a "bucket list" fishing trip to target in this case their favorite groundfish. From that very first discussion, this type of trip intrigued Captain Jeff to the point of pulling up NOAA chart no. 12300. Then drawing a straight bearing line from Manasquan Inlet in New Jersey to the furthest point on the other edge of this chart which is designated by the Great South Channel east of Nantucket Shoals.
"225 miles one way.....fish multiple days....deal with possible snarly seas and questionable weather conditions that you might encounter.....catch enough of each of the targeted species over that time?"
I can do that.
Needless to say, and as I have been asked numerous times since I have returned home early Monday evening from the VOYAGER dock at FISHERMEN'S SUPPLY, "how did the trip turn out?
"it is not just my humble opinion, but those you will ask who were onboard and would unanimously say, this trip pleasantly exceeded all expectations."
It was early on a Memorial day Friday afternoon that a crowd of fishermen started to gather in the parking lot and much of the talk centered around, "would the uncharacteristically easterly winds we are experiencing so late in May, abate, and seas calm to the point where we would have both a comfortable ride and fishing conditions?" One should look closely at the background in many of the images, and the sea state on this fish-story. Weather window? It would be hard to ask for any better conditions during our first two full days of fishing.
As routine on the VOYAGER long distance fishing trips, the sold out group of fisher-people lined up and intently listened as Captain Jeff gave in detail what to expect on this ultra-extended, both in days and distance on this fishing trip. The list was gone over, and questions than answers went back and forth for close to a half an hour before boarding began.
While on the top deck, both Captain Dennis and one of the "regular" customers commented about every rod holder not only filled, but extra rods strapped to and around the pipe.
"This doesn't happen to often on a limited load trip."
No it doesn't, and it was interesting to see a number of electric reels for deep dropping, along with a handful of tuna outfits all setup and at the ready to be used...just in case.
Maria was figuratively running around from the galley to the top deck as she was making preparations for the first evening meal on this trip. For those onboard, a number of treats were made to munch on during the trip, but the one we enjoyed most was the breaded whiting with caramelized onions she cooked up for Captain Chris, Big Al, Captain Keith and myself. "My goodness" we moaned in chorus when devouring into the freshest whiting brunch that anyone could indulge in while fishing. More about the whiting we caught on this trip later, but I can tell you that I highly doubt that all of us just previously mentioned had a tastier meal over the next four days than that one dish of whiting she prepared for us.
The crew had been extra-busy during the prior hours since the boat came in from opening day BSB fishing with the packing of tons of ice along with fresh bait into the Xactics-like boxes. Both Danny and Brendan (shown here) as well as Chris were then at the cutting board cutting an enormous amount of skimmers (surf clams) which were then placed into chilled totes and sealed in the deck boxes for the trip.
With the last fishermen finally getting his gear on the VOYAGER, the boat lines were secured to the dock a few minutes after 7 pm. With some grey cumulus clouds behind us as we passed through the jetties at Manasquan Inlet, the compass needle would now hold a steady due east direction throughout the night and following morning. Thankfully we had a crisp blue sky in front of us, and though there was a noticeable ground swell as we moved further from the Jersey shoreline, Captain Jeff said it was much better than from earlier in the day. Everyone was exclaiming that the sea conditions were much better than what we originally thought.
During the next few hours, tackle boxes opened up and rods were in the process of being rigged up. It was time to look at what fishermen were using, and I made note of some of the jigs and tackle holders.
One of the most interesting jigs and one that I have personally not seen in many years was a copy of the elongated style - Solvkroken 40 B, this being a 12 oz AVA Tackle 'BERZERK-O. I cannot tell you how much Captain Chris regretted sending this jig down to one of the gnarly wrecks we fished over and losing it. Prior to that, It had caught a number of cod and pollock before being hung into a large bottom obstruction.
Another jig which I also have not seen in awhile was one which could be purchased up in Pt. Judith, which some still call the "Frank Blount jigs", named after the captain and the port where you could purchase them from back in the day. A number of us would say they were a cruder copy of the Norwegian Solvkroken shaped jigs, but here the chrome plating flaked off (no copper jacket between the lead and chrome plate), but it had the required heavier eyes which allowed them to absorb the constant pounding upon hard bottom.
A more common jig which still can be purchased is the Bead Vi-Ke 16 oz. It is still a very serviceable jig for offshore wreck fishing, though the dollars will add up when leaving a few of these hung up on the bottom. There are more reasonable to purchase jigs as I will point out in another thread.
There is also something else which I see many fishermen do is that they wrap their jigs up in zip-loc type plastic bags. Personally, and as much for both seeing what you have and then having to grab a one jig placed next to others, use some type of container or PVC cut down to slightly larger - full size jig holders. It is a much safer way to store and handle your diamond style jigs especially when the ultra sharp Owner treble hooks are attached.
As the sun settled, we spoke about how well it was going...at least so far at this very early stage of the trip. The wind and seas had now by this time mellowed out as we went cruised along. "Would it hold for the next few days," was the thought in the back of our mind as the dark evening steaming hours were ahead.
Saturday began in Southern New England waters and it was clear, not by the Lat/Lon on the chart plotter but by both the never ending sight of breaching whales and the wonderful smell in the air. Not only did the air smell like there was fish - with the exclamation of "bluefish air," and the color sounders (two of them) were consistently displaying colorful and odd shaped long jags of various bait readings as we passed over them.
Was it being anxious, or was it anxiety as we were approaching our first offshore wreck of the trip? Would this spot, the first drop set the tone for trip in holding a few cod, pollock and even white hake, this as the sticks were finally pulled back and the VOYAGER started to jog over and past a steel mass that rose off the bottom.
The cabin doors were sliding back and forth as fishermen were scrambling to the rail. Bait cups were now situated between every few rod holders and the sound of the first "dud" of metal jigs were heard hitting the deck. From this point on until the very end of the trip the deck would always be covered by a some leftover bait and/or fish remnants.
At first in looking at this wreck, it didn't look to lively. That changed when the first fish and yells for a gaff started to be heard. There was no doubt that there was a very big difference with what we were seeing in this far away fishing grounds as compared to back here in the NY-NJ BIGHT though....sand eels!
A mix of bottom fish started coming up and there was two things being noted by the fishermen onboard....the number of cod, pollock as well as the size of bergalls which then ended up in fisherman's coolers.
In the first image Captain Keith is holding up what some would consider a nice-sized scrod. The outfit he was using is a RALPH RODWINDER - ULTRA CUSTOM MB 114 3F cut to a 14 tip with a 4/0H - YTS. For most of the fishing you will do on these trips, here is one of the outfits which we recommend. It will neither break the bank account but more so, works very well with jigs up to 12 ounces while having no trouble holding a 16 and even a 20 oz sinker if necessary.
There was also the first of a fish a number of fishermen onboard had never caught, that being white hake. Both myself and Big Al get a kick out of hearing "purple hake," a term whose origin is traced back to some of the older New Jersey party boat captains. It was a good start to see a surprising number of these "oddities," for anglers from this region coming in right at the very start of our trip.
Before pulling away from the first wreck fished during the trip, a spattering of 'Bostonians' came up on both the various teasers and jigs. A few of us laughed out loud, then making a joke on having to travel 175 miles to now find what was once a very common fish so far from our local dock.
It was time to move along as the VOYAGER was fishing its way to and across the Nantucket fishing grounds. The skyline changed slightly, but the seas remained relatively flat. Another smaller drop was checked out and a few passes made over. A couple of cod, pollock and bergalls were caught and then as what became routine, it was time to move along to the next drop.
The wreck-hopping was going as planned, and the next stop gave us some robust fish readings with just a few more cod, pollock and bergalls coming up.
What was interesting though was the first sign of another traditional long-lost favorite in the NY-NJ BIGHT coming up, silver hake, better known as our whiting. It is amazing how this one particular fish brought up a number of questions from a few customers of "what is that," along with us in the bow starting a "catch a bunch up for dinner tonight bucket" as they were separated out and put quickly on ice.
Pay attention to the fishing outfit with the green surgical tube teaser and chrome jig. It would be put to very good use on the next drop.......
Here was the last time this chrome favorite would be seen above the waterline. One thing to consider on these Nantucket wreck trips. Wisely plan on not only having, but in when to use your favorite jigs on these trips. I would not dare drop down an 'Angerman 10' in this area.
It was game on with the mates scrambling around deck, gaff in hand as an intense cod, but more so pollock bite was ongoing.
Buckets, shrimp baskets, pails and coolers were instantly being filled as each pass of the wreck resulted in good shot of fish, before a brief rest period as the VOYAGER motored back over the wreck before another blast of bottom fish coming up and over the rail. This process was repeated a few times before moving onto the next spot.
Over the next few moments, I walked around the deck and noticed that those fishing with bait rigs were figuratively 'loading up' and some nice sized bergalls. Very, very few onboard were throwing back bergalls that on average weighted more than say (in trying to give you idea of their size) a 15 inch black sea bass.
"Get em up" was heard over the loud hailer. Once again a move to, and then another stop over a different wreck produced some more fish.
Interestingly I had hooked on a flo-pink 6" curly tail, a bergall that I just had to measure, especially after trying to wrap my hand around it. Captain Keith grabbed it first, but then I took a hold of it since I wanted him to capture a Kodak moment. Notice the black arrow mark in the image. That is where the taped ruler measurement actually starts. I could not get this toothy member in the wrasse family to stay in one place, but I am just passing along that this particular bergall measured a hair over 18" inches long. Take a look at the size of the bergalls next to a legal sized cod.
Also to give some feeling of the size of the pollock being caught, this was just one and mind you, far from the biggest which I hung between the heated railing - with the tail almost reaching the deck. I was using a OE TACKLE surgical tube rigged with bead chain with our number 1 color for targeting pollock, 'FORREST' GREEN. These pollock are a step up from what is now normally caught on day boat trips in the NY-NJ BIGHT and southern Long Island area.
As the day was now on the cusp of the early evening hours, Captain Jeff decided to make a move to what he called "our evening spot" which resulted a long ride until we arrived to see this on the bottom sounder. Once again I took a look around the deck to see what a few of the fishermen had in their coolers.
We knew something good was in store as we approached this particular obstruction....bait and fish readings all around.
As the VOYAGER squared up and over the drop, then over the next few hours it was common to see rigs going down and various bottom fish being brought up.
One of the points we make to fishermen doing offshore night wreck fishing is to make up bottom rigs with one or another 'GLO' teasers. Depending on what you prefer to use they can range from glo curly tails to plastic squids or what is used when deep dropping for tiles with glo beads and tubing. Does it really matter what you choose? I will just emphasize the 'GLO' part on your rig. Here Big Al is holding up a simple hi-lo rig using 6' glo curly tails.
Few were disappointed as the white hake bit before, during and after the sun settled below the western horizon.
Though the current started to pickup during this time, everyone was told to breakout heavier sinkers in order to hold the bottom. Those who did, were definitely rewarded by what they put into their cooler.
As it was now dark, the crew started working on all the fish caught with Danny always at the ready making quick work as fish were brought back to the cutting station.
Onward with the travel to the far-eastern jigging grounds and fishermen were not to be disappointed as the catch would now add in the last of the big 3 groundfish, that being haddock. From what we experienced that day, I doubt there have been more haddock in this area in "eons" when figuratively speaking in what caught. Now catching is not 'harvesting' or putting what you caught into your personal fish-holding container, but I can attest to catching on cod fly's at least over 15 haddock straight on each and every cast. It may have been more, but everyone on the deck whether using bait or as a few who were using some type of teaser, catching one or double header haddock many times during the next few hours.
It was pretty ridiculous to see this amount of haddock in water depths as shallow as 17 fathoms, but there they were, what obviously appears to be a massive year class of fish that seemed stamped out of a mold at between 16 to 17 and half so inches long. With New Jersey and the EEZ minimum size for the 2017 fishing season set at 18 inches, it reminded me of early New England biblical folklore with codfish being the 'sacred' fish to feed the masses and it's closely related brethren - haddock which slithered out of the grasp of the devil, but in doing so now marked with satan's black fingerprint standing out against the pinkish tone on both sides of these fish. Were we being teased in catching so many haddock that then had to be safely release back to where they came from? I believe I can say that all of us enjoyed catching and keeping just enough for a dinner or two.
There was something else that was very apparent...the bottom was so alive in this area as more whiting were mixed in between the cod and big bergalls that were coming up when drifting over rocky lump and mussel patches.
It was apparent in this area that horse mussels would be snagged and brought up...and believe me, they come much larger than seen here.
Also other marine life came over the rail and were spit up by the fish that were caught.
In between the catching of fish on the jigging grounds, I had to stop and record the moment when a customer caught one of the first red hake/ling of the trip, along with Frank fishing on the other side of the bow with what we used to call a "baseball bat" whiting.
Gradually we were starting to see the deep blue sky fade and a grayish tone, and temperature-wise it started to get cooler as a damp chill set in. The seas remained as one can see in bluebird calm, which was amazing when its been hard to find back to back days inshore where the sea state was so mellow over the past two weeks.
As the VOYAGER continued to work east, it was time to now to stop over a few wrecks to again get larger cod and pollock into the mix. Captain Jeff moved to one spot jokingly referred to as the 'Meat' while the next being a steel dragger laying out in deeper water right along the Great South Channel.
Shouts for the gaff were heard once again and some noticeable fish were ending up in fisherman's coolers. Even the haddock I caught were bigger with Chris holding up one of the bigger-units I caught.
As we had a few moments between drifts to put away and ice up the fish, there was also a fishermen or two with their catch just laying right beside them on the cold deck.
Here I should make mention that while on the jigging grounds you can adjust the type of tackle to be used. Lighter outfits, especially the rods, can be employed, while smaller in weight jigs in the 10 to 12 oz range can now easily be used.
The results should quickly be seen in what comes up when using a 10 or 12 oz jig. What a difference in working the lighter jigs on your upper body when compared to the larger 500 gram (17.5 oz) or the more popular 400 gram (14 oz) Norwegian style jigs.
It is interesting in what you can catch with a cod fly, with this particular one made by a commercial fishermen from the GOMaine. It is a misnomer to call them a 'cod' fly since his works well for most other species, both pollock and haddock.
At this time of the trip, most fishermen were taking stock in what they had in their coolers. From what I saw at this time, a few fishermen were now making fish counts then packing their fish away with ice.
Upon hearing this, Captain Jeff decided to take a ride to another area to see what was lurking around on this particular spot. It would be a surprise.
Needless to say, near record sized bergalls in very shallow water were coming up with a number noticeably bigger than what was previously caught on the much deeper offshore drops. Here I just took a quick pic of Art holding up a bergall that was officially weighted up at the dock and came in barely 4 ounces short of the New Jersey State record, also caught onboard the VOYAGER a while back.
It now had reached the point of the trip where preparations were being made to travel back towards the west in order to get home by the arrival time of 7 pm Monday night. Fishermen were starting to bring their catch to the stern of the VOYAGER as fish cleaning was now in full swing, and this would continue so into the late evening hours as the crew worked through some amount of fish. Maria at this time was also cooking up some more culinary treats in the galley for us to enjoy....can't miss one of her meals of course.
It was a long steam back as Captain Dennis was in the process of trying to gingerly as best, maneuver though the seas that slowly but steady grew in height throughout the night. The weather forecast was on point as what we were now riding in the slop, and it would remain that way until we arrived at the first drop and only drop we would fish on the last day. To give you a little idea on the sea state at this time, you can see how unsteady this picture was when it was taken.
As the bare light of daybreak broke, Captain Jeff was now working setting two anchors. The fishing was surprisingly pretty good especially for the first half hour.
The wind was now popping and the rain coming down in scattered bursts. The sea may have looked somewhat frothy, but various bottom fish came up and then slowly petered out until the three pulls of the air horn were made. Now it was time to see who had the biggest and second biggest fish for the various pools.
No one sitting in the big chair inside the wheelhouse wants to see this on his radar screen, especially throughout what seems as the never ending hours in traveling back home at the end of the trip.
Though we had a long westward steam back to Pt. Pleasant, Captain Jeff had to check out one more spot that laid within our bearing track along the way. No doubt as it rose off the bottom, this was one to stop over and fish upon on the next Nantucket Adventure!
A few bits of information, and I do hope you enjoyed this fishing-tale........
So how do you join Captain Jeff and the crew for the the next:
For more fish pics of this trip, Mel Deak from 'MELS-PLACE' has posted a number here:
http://www.voyagerfishing.com/gallery/V ... 17-Photos/
Thanks to Captain Keith for forwarding some pics he took on his smartphone. Thanks to Captain Chris for the bottom bunk.
On what to bring for these trips....
This will be discussed on another upcoming thread. For the time being since I continue to get asked questions on the size of the Norwegian jigs to use, here is a short conversion table:
250g ( ~9 oz.)
300g (10.5 oz.)
350g (12 oz.)
400g (14 oz.)
500g (17.5 oz.)
For further information on this and upcoming VOYAGER trips:
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Until next time............