, Gloucester, MA

June 25, 2013

Outdoors: The blues of June

Dave Sartwell

---- — The surface of the ocean was quiet. Little dark runs occasionally appeared when light puffs of wind rippled the surface for a moment or two and then disappeared. No swells, no lumps, just flat calm. There was no outward indication of the battle that was about to ensue; nothing to warn us of the monster that lurked below.

We had decided to fish out a couple of miles northeast of the Flat ground off from Halibut Point where the 150-ft. line drops into a deep canyon. When we arrived there were a couple of draggers working to the north and three recreational boats already drifting on the water. I shut down the Yamaha and rigged the lines. Bob and Al decided to go deep with chunks, but I had another idea in mind.

I attached a sturdy No. 6 circle hook to a 24-in, 80-lb. test wire leader and knotted that to the 80-lb. test braided line I had spooled onto my Penn spinning reel. I stripped out about 25 feet of line, blew up a white balloon, knotted it off and attached it to the line. I do that by wrapping the line around the knotted end of the balloon several times one way and then taking the other end that is leading away from the balloon and wrapping it over the other wrap. This binds it in place without having to actually tie a knot. When anything strikes, the balloon spins and comes free and there is no knot in the line when you reel it in. After a battle you simply pick up the floating balloon.

I then took a frozen mackerel that had been thawing in the sun and put the big hook through the backbone just behind the head. Slipping the whole rig into the water, I let the balloon carry the bait away from the boat. Soon I had a balloon acting like a big bobber holding the bait from descending any farther down than the 25 feet of line that was below the balloon. Dropping the rod into a stern rod holder, I started cutting chunks of mackerel and threw them over the side for chum. I soon had a pretty good line going out the back.

My companions managed to land two dogfish in the next 20 minutes, but we were marking fish about 100 feet deep so we decided to stay put. We had not anchored because there was no wind to speak of and we were drifting along very slowly. I was facing forward talking to Al who was facing the stern when Al’s eyes got as big as saucers and then he pointed and hollered at the same time.

“Your rod! Your rod!” he shouted.

I turned to see my rod bent like the arch in St. Louis. I looked out and their was a big swirl where the balloon had been. As I reached for my rod it snapped back into an upright position, trembling as it did so. The fish had not hooked himself. As we speculated as to what had pounded the dead mackerel, I reeled the remains to the boat. Whatever had hit it had severed off all that was behind the hook. All that was left was the head and the hook and all of that looked like it had just gone through a blender.

All excited now, I reached into my bag of tricks an hauled out a double hook rig and attached it to the leader. This time I attached the mackerel with a hook through the eye sockets and one through the tail. Again I attached a balloon and sent it back out into the ocean. There was still no breeze and the water was flat calm. Now our senses were heightened, but nothing happened for at least fifteen minutes. I went back to chumming and chatting. This time, however, I was keeping an eye on the rod.

Just when we had started to relax a bit the pole bent in half and the balloon disappeared. I grabbed for the rod and gave two really hard yanks on the rig to set the hooks. It felt like I had just grabbed the bumper of your car. I reeled like the devil for about ten seconds, there was a twitch at the other end and the bait came loose.

“Oh man,” I thought. “I’ve lost another one.”

I started to reel in the line while my friends began to raze me about my failure. I no sooner had dragged my rig fifteen feet or so when the huge fin signifying a blue shark swirled to the bait and slammed it like a freight car.

Nothing on the boat moved for a moment or two as the three of us just stared at what was now a big ripple in the water. But then the rod bent and I could feel a throbbing at the other end of the line signaling that we were into a BIIIIIG fish.

It seemed it took a hesitant second or two for the shark to process the information that he was hooked. But then the fun broke loose. He made an initial run that just scorched the reel. It screamed in protest as the line ripped from the spool. I reached down and tightened the drag a bit, but it made very little difference. Out he went away from us.

I don’t know why he turned, but he did. I gave him two good jabs and started to reel. Slowly he followed the line toward the boat. It was not as if I was dragging him back to the boat, it was more like he was curious as to where this line attached to his mouth was coming from. But I reeled like crazy, taking up the slack and keeping a tight line. He then saw the boat and we saw him. Ho-boy! This baby was about seven feet long with that bright blue shiny back that gives it the name.

He wanted no part of us. Off he ran again with a renewed purpose. I kept the pressure on and he turned again out about two hundred yards. Again he came back towards the boat. Over the next fifteen minutes he came and went almost as he pleased, but each successive run was shorter and shorter. Soon He came to the boat. Although they are wonderful to eat, we decided to give him his freedom. Bob reached over and severed the line at the hook and away he went, driving down into the black water.

Now is the time to get out there. If you are new to the action, rig big and look for the other boats. You are welcome to join on in!