Saturday, October 31, 2009

Not Tuna

Yesterday at 0600 I was heading out Pollock Rip to troll for Bluefin Tuna. There were four of us, on a friend's 24 foot Grady-White.

South from the elbow of Cape Cod all the way to the northern tip of Nantucket stretch a series of constantly shifting shoals and channels. Charts may be inaccurate after one winter storm, and even the channels have eight foot spots. The tides are fast and the combination of current, easterly seas and shoal water makes for breaking seas and even tidal overfalls. Bad reputations are usually deserved, and Pollock Rip and environs have a very bad reputation indeed.

[chart, Nantucket Sound and approaches]
On Friday morning the seas were six to eight feet, without much breeze. It was lumpy heading out the Rip but once in deep water conditions were better.

The tuna season was nearing an end. The folks I was with are novices at the game, with one full season. But they had studied up and had the right equipment (including expensive rods and reels) and in 2009 they boated three Bluefin and lost one at the boat, an excellent 30% success rate.

Techniques for taking Bluefin include harpoon, chumming and bait fishing, and trolling. We trolled "spreader rigs" simulating a school of 12 inch squid. At four to five knots, the rigs splashed at the surface and looked enticing.

But we got no hits. One nearby boat caught a fish, with a 78 inch fork length. Bluefin weigh up to and over 1000 pounds. (The record is 1,496 pounds.)

Our fishfinder kept picking up fish near the bottom, and I finally insisted we stop the boat and jig. We were in 150 feet, and the fourteen ounce Norwegian cod jig quickly reached bottom. In due course I foul hooked, boated and released a small dog shark. Hey, I was on the board.

Heading back in daylight one could see the shoals extending north and south for miles. My personal nightmare (or one of them) involves being lost in shoals, breakers all around showing white in the fog, and not knowing the way out. Stray from the channel in Pollock Rip, and you're living it.

On the south tip of Monomoy Island we passed close to a big colony of Grey Seals, a hundred or more. At the top of the beach was a giant bull, much bigger than any of his harem. Splashing and wrestling at the water's edge were pups, and a few hundred yards away was another giant bull, alone and morose even at a distance. I suppose he had been ousted from his harem.

Grey Seals weigh up to 900 pounds, where Harbor Seals reach 300. Grey Seals were little known on our coast in modern times until about 20 years ago, and they are now prolific in the Gulf of Maine and waters off Cape Cod, with several large rookeries. With the seals have come their ancient enemy, the Great White, and these sharks too have become part of the local ecology.

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