It was fast approaching 5pm when Captain Jeff Gutman of the VOYAGER was trying to make a decision on whether the 2nd Annual Memorial weekend Nantucket Wreck & Jigging trip would be able to leave the dock. For more than a few minutes he continued to stare at and compare the various updated weather models and wondered what had so drastically changed for the worse since the earlier 8 am forecast. Out loud he wondered, "would the wind be as strong, and seas as high in height as the latest forecast was now predicting?"
Customers had now gathered around the edge of the FISHERMANS SUPPLY dock and waited patiently, this as the crew went about its routine to finish loading the fresh skimmer bait onboard. With an hour before the trip, most everyone was talking 'fishing' and no doubt with a few totes of Black Sea Bass racks from fish caught on the previous trip laying at the stern of the VOYAGER, fishermen are normally eager to be the next lucky group of anglers filling up on the upcoming special long range trip.
Careful preparation is all part in giving an offshore trip the highest odds of success, and Captain Jeff in consultation with Captain Dennis and Chris went back and forth before deciding that this trip was on and that slight adjustments would be made during the trip if need be.
The routine trip discussion was then made by Captain Jeff and customers then eagerly loaded the rest of their gear onto the boat. A not so silent "we're going fishing" was what a few of us were now saying as we made our way through Manasquan Inlet. It was time to get comfortable as the VOYAGER would be sailing east as the sun was setting in the west, and the fishermen onboard would not start fishing until the sun arose on the following day.
It is during this time when most anglers spend the time rigging up, and with any offshore trip there are usually two, three and even four outfits which will be rigged with various bait and jig combinations. Most anglers onboard this trip have been on previous wreck and jigging trips and full well know that at a minimum one bait and one jigging outfit should always be at the ready. A spare or two - lighter and heavier outfits, normally will be the backups in preparation for the fickle conditions that many times will be encountered when anchored over the deep water wrecks and upon the jigging and drifting grounds.
The ride east during the night turned out to be surprisingly more mellow then expected. In fact, once the VOYAGER cleared the NY-NJ BIGHT Mud Hole, the waves heights lessened and the spacing between each wave allowed one to comfortably sleep without being rocked out of their bunks. Almost everyone enjoyed a quick dinner put together by Maria and by the time VOYAGER was slowing down coming up to the first drop the following morning, the wonderful aroma of bacon was waffling through the air.
Many of the deep water Nantucket wrecks are commonly known, either by the ships name or the tragic incident that resulted in them sinking. What is not so well known, is that each of the 30 to 40 plus-fathom Nantucket wrecks fall into two distinct maritime causalities; those which sunk due to a collision as a result of the regularly-thick fog, and the rest as a result of a U-boat attack during either the first and second world wars. Interestingly enough, almost all these wrecks are not only within the Nantucket Lightship 'box,' but also within or just outside the inbound and outbound shipping lanes. Even the remains of the offshore Nantucket Lightship, the first or last beacon that ships would see leaving or coming through the area, was struck due to thick fog during the 1930's and is still fished on these trips.
Over the past few decades as these Nantucket wrecks were fished, the Memorial Day period was considered the prime time to book a trip with one of the handful of party boats which would fish the area. What was always seen by the skippers of these vessels when coming up to and finally squaring up on these wrecks, was the ever- present appearance of large schools of bait, whether 'natures twinkes' that being sand eels, as well as mackerel, squid and other small baitfish. This time, as was seen on the previous trips done this season, the color machines showed little if any bait off to the side or above these wrecks.
Yet each and every time, Captain Jeff maneuvered and shifted over the various sections of what is now mangled wreckage, either cod or pollock came up and over the rail. Unlike the previous Nantucket trip, a noticeable jump in the size of the cod and pollock were hooked and brought to gaff on day one.
Walking around the VOYAGER, it seemed that most fishermen were using their baited hi-lo bait rigs, but there are those like myself who prefer to use jigs and target the largest sized pollock seen in southern New England waters. Here are just a few of the jigs seen being used on this trip.
There was something apparent as I was squidding a hammered 16 oz chrome diamond jig with a forest green tube...I had little if any success of catching any pollock on the tube, unusual as the combination of that particular color green and surgical tube is akin to candy for pollock. Not this time to my dismay. What I did notice was that this teaser was working when squidding during day one.
It was pretty apparent that hot pink curly tails was the primary piece of terminal tackle to use on this trip, and these were rigged with the lighter ball chain which is connected to the hook with a small heavy duty split ring. It is something to note when rigging up for future trips as typically surgical tubes are not only popular to use on the deep Nantucket wrecks when targeting large pollock. I did see other anglers catching both cod and pollock on curly tails, and by far was the number one choice when choosing in rigging up with either surgical tube, six or eight inch curly tail or cod fly.
There was also something interesting with the cod that were caught as they were spitting up scallop guts as well as squid, one which I caught that left this on the deck right next to me. Since the Nantucket Lightship 'box' was opened to scalloping, the cod in this area were definitely dining on all the free scallop remnants coming up and then being tossed over in this area.
During day 1 a strange and very unexpected catch made its way to gaff, and normally one would never expect to see 5 lbs of summer flounder reeled up from 260 feet Nantucket offshore waters.
Of course there were the large and XL-size bergalls which are caught on the Nantucket deep wrecks and have now become a favorite for fishermen to take home. Maria in the galley now makes a 'choggie chowder' during these trips which is as delicious as one made with clams.
As the sun was going down, Captain Jeff and Dennis where now making plans to look for a few drops on the way to the jigging ground,s with one supposed to be one of the last of the causalities sunk by Unterseeboot, U-53. This time though, another shape came into view on the color machine, one of which reminded us of a large old fishing boat as the VOYAGER circled in different directions in order to get a better idea on what it may have been.
The seas had laid out during the past few hours and it was a extremely pleasant ride through the Shoals where day two would begin on the jigging grounds. During the night, the VOYAGER finally slowed, stopped, and the anchor was set for the rest of the evening. Quiet ensued until 4 am in the morning when an easterly breeze kicked up and the seas quickly built. A few anglers did get out of their bunks, put their skins on and started to fish on what was just a random spot which Captain Dennis had anchored upon and keeper haddock started to come up. Just before 6 am, a number of fishermen were at the rail already catching fish as Maria was busy making breakfast.
The anchor was then picked up and the first drift on day two started. At this time, the easterly wind was now howling and sea heights built up, and those using sinkers and jigs started switching to heavier weights until finally it became close to impossible to hold bottom even using the 3 lb tilefish 'mini-brick' sinker.
At that point, everyone went back into the main cabin and waited for the current to ease up. Eager is the one word which comes to mind since most had very solid haddock fishing in sloppy conditions for the past two hours.
A short while latter, mates Chris and Brendan were seen dragging out a tote filled with line and sea anchor, and this brought a few fishermen back outside to see what was going on. The VOYAGER started to head back north, then slowed and started to make a half turn. A sea anchor was deployed as fishermen were dropping their rigs to the bottom.
It was almost like magic as both haddock, cod and smaller pollock were being caught, with a number of fishermen coming up with two each time they dropped down to the bottom.
One thing which is noticeable when on the jigging grounds is in getting easily stuck and snagged along the bottom, and then getting either your bait or jig out. The reason is very apparent, and this happened to me more than a few times with a or clump of mussels coming up on ones hooks.
As fishermen were digging into some of the fastest-catching haddock fishing we have yet seen, yells for a gaff were heard coming from the stern. One gaff, then two were seen and finally the sight of a big flatfish being wrestled over the rail. It was something to see a keeper halibut once again coming up and hitting the deck making this the second trip in a row that a legal size halibut was caught on the VOYAGER. Andre the fortunate angler was seen holding up his special fish as a number of us snapped away with their cameras.
During the next few hours, drop, lock, reel and catching fishing along the jigging grounds never stopped, and little by little customers were dragging coolers and baskets to the stern where Dan was busy cutting, then bagging up and preparing for the next tote of fish.
Early in the afternoon it was apparent that most had enough and finally Captain Jeff felt it was time to go home. Drew fishing next to me, had some day and happily held up just one of his baskets filled with fish, and was having great success using what is pretty similar to a plastic 4 inch spearing teaser. I have never seen this type of teaser work so well on the jigging grounds.
By this time of the day, the easterly wind was letting up and the sun was finally starting to peek through a grey-cloud covered sky. At this time, there were thoughts during this trip to those happy moments when fishermen were holding up some of the notable fish caught, and these 'Kodak images' stood out.
On the way home, another check and confirm on a long lost wreck was made, and will be fished on an upcoming long range VOYAGER trip during the season.
It was also during this time that Maria put out another treat for us to enjoy. I, and I believe many others cannot say enough "thank you's" to Maria who really goes above and beyond on these long range trips, from sun up right into the late evening hours in keeping our bellies full.
There was also a few notable and creative ways in which fishermen carry sinkers or keep their bait. On the last trip, Chris G. first showed and gave me this shrimp basket in which to keep all your gear at the ready. I do not believe you can find anything more convenient for having all your fishing tools at the ready.
On this trip, these home made creations caught my attention.
Also in getting back to a simple teaser rig to use on these trips, and I should point out that this dropper hook rig has been around for a few decades and used with great success. You can even use a sinker on the bottom, and rig with two hot pink curly tails or two cod flys.
Once again, the cod fly, or what we call 'cod bugs' are a favorite especially when you want to use a teaser to catch both cod and haddock, as well as being a much better choice at this time then a surgical tube when pollock are around. Here is the 'Frka' fly which can be tied on a Mustad or Eagle Claw 4/0 through 8/0 O'Shaunessey style hook.
Finally there was one unique catch made by Nick Chu on this trip as he brought up a Norwegian stainless jig that he hooked in this jig split ring. This did seem to be a 'Rustfri' Norwegian jig from what we saw and not a copy, and could be cleaned up and put back into use, but I would put it on the side and keep it as a memory from this trip.
It does seem that the Nantucket wreck and jigging trips are once again cooler-fillers with a number of groundfish species that can be caught during two days of fishing. Besides the fish named above, tasty treats such as whiting, ling and monkfish also make an appearance on some of the drops fished during these trips.
There are just three more VOYAGER - 2.5-DAY LIMITED NANTUCKET WRECK & JIGGING TRIPs coming up in 2018:
6:00 PM - Thu. July 19
6:00 PM - Thu. August 16
For those interested, call (732) 295-3019 for more trip details. As one can see, these trips not only fill coolers (see image below caught on this trip), but is one of the most enjoyable fishing experiences that one can easily plan to do during the season.