Fish Focus: Off the Grid, Southbound…

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Somewhere beyond the thrill of the hunt, the chase, the cast, the loading of the rod, the fight, the heft of a good fish, there are bigger, more compelling reasons to clear an inlet and steam 150 miles offshore chasing a hunch. Earlier in my career, I lived on the suspense of distant waters chunking and the constant variety of jumbo mystery meat. I lived for the screaming of a reel dumping line so fast against its drag clicker that I heard the sound as two layered tones. I loved the implosion of water—the sodden boom–as a gaff sunk into a still-feisty bigeye or nice yellow. I loved the adventure, the uncertainty, the hero’s march back into port with a good load of fish in the boxes—the unmatched satisfaction of hard work well done.

Of course, there’s more to the gravitational pull of distant water than the nuts and bolts of catching, cutting, and packing fish. Foremost in my years afloat has been the shift in perspective provided by absolute solitude in the natural world—a fix I once got up in the mountains, out in remote stands of old-growth conifers in northern Maine, and even, paradoxically, among millions of indifferent strangers in New York City. There is something uniquely grounding about situations that remind us just how minute, how fragile and how ultimately insignificant our problems and we are in the final reckoning.

Humility and/or personal enlightenment aside, the good news is that we’re now standing on the threshold of July—a month that typically gets things in gear from 30 fathoms all the way out past the edge of the shelf.

Unfortunately, probably thanks to the ponderous rate of our economic recovery, the last few seasons have seen a marked decrease in the historical bluewater fleet’s apparent willingness to run outside until the reports are streaming in of lights-out action—big sharks, giant bluefin tuna, yellows, bigeyes, or marlin. With fuel prices hovering nearer $4 than $3, it’s easy enough to understand this new watch-and-wait approach. The trouble, though, is how quickly things come together and then dissipate offshore—a given “bite” usually measured in hours, not days—and when everyone is standing by, hoping someone else will go do the scouting, “watch and wait” tends to become self-perpetuating: No one goes because no one else has gone. When no one goes, no one catches, and when no one catches, no one goes.

Knowing this, consider that July is quite likely the best chance we’ll get to line up civilized weather, a motivated fleet to supply timely fishing intel, and the opportunity to hang the dock lines, clear the harbor with high expectations of big-game success. The number of established shark tournaments held around the Northeast during July and early August provide compelling reasons at regular intervals to dash outside for an all-important look around.

Whatever your grandfather has said about the tuna fishing or the big makos that crossed the docks in autumns of yore—sport fishermen as whole seem to be influenced more by traditional fishing habits relative to seasonal timing than by piscatorial reality—it’s the high-summer period that has been coughing up much of the best canyon fishing and quite a few supersized toothy critters over the last five or so seasons. You should go in July for many reasons—not
least the possibility of pulling an overnighter outside 100 fathoms at East Atlantis without stuffing the bow every five minutes.

Even when the reports are a resounding green-light, be sure you take enough time to get a thorough handle on which method(s) is (are) taking most of the fish. Consider, for instance, that the bulk of June-July tuna success to our south has gone to those crews most comfortable trolling rigged natural baits like ballyhoo—no ballyhoo, no bites.

Once you’re out there, taking in the awesome expanse of water all the way to the horizon 360 degrees around the helm, you needn’t put down a load of dead critters to reap the greatest rewards of your undertaking. As you consider the distances stretching eastward across the Atlantic to southern Europe or east Africa, you will doubtless gain some of that rare perspective that reveals your latest bickering with the wife or fruitless negotiations with Human Resources for the small-ball nothing it all amounts to.

In the meantime, call around to the shops who are getting the reliable bluewater intel, glean whatever useful morsels around which you might shape a respectable game plan, and pull the trigger on what could well be the most memorable shot you’ll take out the inlet this season.