New Jersey, New York, Florida, Connecticut, New Hampshire....from all over the country they had come to fish for cod, haddock, cusk, and whatever else they could pull up off the bottom on one of Gloucester’s premier party boats, the Yankee Clipper. People from 8 to 80, husbands, wives, children and grandchildren all hoping to take a few fillets home in their coolers at the end of the day.
Capt. Terry Smith pulled the boat away from the dock at 7 a.m. last Wednesday and eased on out of the harbor. With the twin 3406 Caterpillar engines rumbled underneath the deck driving the big 75 foot boat past the Dogbar breakwater, we turned into the rising morning sun, came up to full throttle and headed out toward Tillies. With a two hour ride ahead of us, we settled in, watched as the shoreline slowly disappeared and chatted with fellow passengers.
Bruce Tilden, from Hadley, Ma., had brought his two grandchildren for their first ocean fishing adventure. Ryan, 10, and Justin, 8, were already eating snacks and teasing each other about who would catch the most fish.
“It has been at least thirty years since I have been out ocean fishing,” said Bruce. “But I thought the kids were old enough and this would make a nice adventure. We came out last night and stayed at the marina.”
Ross Clayton, one of the mates, was in charge of the pool. The biggest fish would bring money and a free fishing trip. Almost everybody entered.
“I put in the pool,” said 10-year old Ryan. “When your life savings are $10 and you put in $5...well...I kind of need the money!”
With practiced ease and the help of his GPS, Capt. Smith brought us to our first fishing spot. It was a hump in the bottom of the ocean that he hoped would be covered with feeding fish. Slowly he worked the big boat around sideways to the very gentle breeze and brought it to a complete halt with a little backing of the engines.
While he was doing that, the mates, George and Ross, brought everyone their plastic jug of clams for bait, made sure everyone had the right equipment, and were giving instructions to the first timers as to how to fish on a party boat. Once the boat was set the Captain gave the word and 35 lines went plunging toward the bottom some 290 feet below.
Jim Dittmer, an eighty-plus, almost-deaf fellow from Rhode Island, shouted that he comes up here every year for the first and then last week of June. He always fishes off the right stern corner.
“This way if the boat is going sideways on a drift I don’t get caught up with other lines as much,” he said. “If we anchor up, my line runs out the stern away from everybody else.”
He had his own tackle box and had rigged his line with teasers as well as clams. He had the feel as well. When he felt the light tap on his line he would set the hook hard and then slowly reel in his fish. He easily caught the most fish on our end of the boat.
The lovely part of fishing on this type of boat is that the equipment is provided for a $7 fee. It includes a short stout rod, a pretty good reel, strong monofilament line, a 16 oz. sinker, a sturdy hook and all the bait you will need. You are welcome to bring your own equipment but have to use monofilament line, no braided stuff allowed. When lines get tangled it is pretty easy to unsnarl things with heavy line, but the fine braided lines are impossible.
It wasn’t long before folks were shouting back and forth as cod, haddock and cusk were being hooked and reeled to the boat. Perhaps half of them were too short and had to be thrown back, but there were enough keepers to make folks very happy.
Ryan and his brother were working hard. Unfortunately they seemed to be the shark kings of Hadley. They kept whaling into dogfish which, on their way up, would circle round and round, trapping other lines as the boys reeled them to the surface. But they did catch a cod or two as their grandfather pulled in a couple himself.
Sal Sorace from Cape May, New Jersey had stationed himself on the left stern corner and was hauling in keepers on a pretty regular basis. He had a bad shoulder so had outfitted himself with an electric reel. When he set the hook, he just pushed a button, the spool spun and up came his catch.
Sal caught the biggest fish of the day but it was not the pool winner as he couldn’t keep it. It was a 20 lb. wolf fish that had to be returned to the water. More on wolf fish in another column.
The Captain moved us several times throughout the day, drifting over several ledges and humps, trying to find the magic spot. The fishing was good but not spectacular. Everyone was catching a few, but no one was really killing them.
“It has been a bit slow of late,” Terry said. “We have had really good days this spring, but the weather has been iffy most of the time.”
As the sun started to head into the west, the Captain called for lines up. On the way back to port, Ross and George filleted the catch. Each fisherman threw their fish up onto the cutting table and the two mates amazed everyone with the speed at which they carved the catch into white slabs of meat. Seagulls soon gathered to feed on the remains that were flung into the ocean.
If you are interested in taking the kids or grandkids for a fun day on the ocean fishing for ground fish, call the Yankee Fleet at 855-546-3474 or go to www.yankeefleet.com. They have half day, full day, over night and two day fishing outings all summer. The prices vary for the different excursions, but a full day trip for adults is $68 and $59 for children.