“Going to put them in at the tip, troll around and setup for the night, get back up on the troll in the morning for a bit and head for the barn.” That’s the plan more often than not for the stereotypical Northeast Canyon fisherman. For years it has been proverbially beaten into our minds, and for good reason, it works. It’s the days that the conventional methods don’t work that I’m going to discuss, the days where the unconventional, maybe even ridiculous methods may just work.
To give you guys some background so you don’t think I am some anti-fishing activist trying to get the northeast tuna fleet to steam out to the canyons and start tossing bread over the side (more on that later), my name is Steve Fernandez. I captain a 64′ Viking “Five Seas” that spends its summers in Shinnecock, and winters in Palm Beach. I have been offshore fishing for 20 of the 33 years I have been alive, and have had the pleasure of working for and with some of the best captains on the east coast.
Now onto those days when no one gets a bite. The days where the radio is silent, and the fleet is trolling around aimlessly like sheep. It’s days like those which gave me the confidence to try new methods. No, I am not re-inventing the wheel, I don’t have any super secret methods that guarantee bites, but I do think I have more confidence in most to pull the plug on a proven method to try a more unconventional one. I think it’s this; having the guts to try something unconventional and possibly waste some of that sacred time at the canyon, that allows fisherman to keep pioneering. I have been lucky in that I have had the opportunity to spend A LOT of time at the canyons, and with that, I had a lot of time to try methods that a more casual fisherman may not have time for. Some of these methods were a giant waste of time, but some…some actually worked!
A good friend of mine, Mike who runs the DESIRE out of Long Island, is the posterchild for “thinking outside the box”, he has pushed the limits of creativity in the fishing world. I will keep Mike’s secrets safe, however a story that he told me has stuck with me over the years, I’ll do my best not to butcher it.
“So here I was standing at the Pepperidge Farm Outlet Store talking to the worker. I asked him whether or not they threw the bread out after a certain age, “Of course we do!” I then politely asked if it would be ok if instead of throwing it out, I took it in my truck. “What would you need moldy bread for sir?”, and then I explained it. I would be driving their not-so-edible bread 100 miles out to sea, and would be creating my own personal frenzy, the food chain would play itself out in front of my very eyes! Easy peazy, throw the bread in the water, and the small baitfish will show up. The bait in turn will attract bigger fish, the bigger fish will attract even larger fish, and in no time I will have Bigeyes crashing at my transom eating everything we toss at them. So here we were, 100nm South of Long Island, baits set, and the chumming began! Baguettes, scones, buns, rolls, all of it crumbled up and strewn about behind the boat. Now we just have to wait, and wait….and wait. Just like that, they began to gather, and gather…and gather. Hundreds of Seagulls began picking away, and not one baitfish.”
From a fishing standpoint, giant waste of time, but from a learning standpoint, not so much. It made sense, on paper at least. I then began thinking, surely there are other things to try that also make sense on paper, but may just work in the real world. It’s that eagerness to try new things, albeit ridiculous things, that makes Mike a successful fisherman. Yes, that particular method didn’t work unless you were targeting Storm Petrels and Herring Gulls, however many of them have.
One that comes to mind from my personal experiences happened just a month ago. We had been fishing the Scallop boats south of Long Island, and doing extremely well. The past 2 trips yielded 25-30 Bluefin, and we were planning a third. I decided to invite a friend who had never been out tuna fishing with us. I was explaining to him how the Scallopers shucking their catch kept the bluefin in the area, and tight to the boats. I jokingly said to him that we should hit the local clam bars and get all the spent shells and head out there tomorrow and make our own scallop boat slick. The next morning as we were throwing lines, he asks if could bring the shells. I initially forgot the conversation, and he reminded me, “Sure dude, bring em!” Then he asks if I could give him a hand bringing it to the boat, so up the dock we went. After leaving my house at 11pm, my sicko friend went to the ocean and filled an ENTIRE GARBAGE CAN wit
h 7-8″ surf clam shells. So, like Mike with his croissants and rye, here we were steaming out with a cockpit full of Rockaway Beach surf clams. When we arrived my heart sank. What was a fleet of 20-30 scallopers, was now a lone scallop boat making passes with 4 sport boats around them and no bites. Uh oh. So as the dragger hauled back we slid behind him and began shoveling our prized mixture of clam shells and scallop guts. The dragger left, and the sport boats followed. Within 5 minutes we had our first bite and it never stopped. We kept throwing a handful of shells and a few pieces of scallop guts mixed in, and we had them glued to the transom. All out Chewbacca fest on 40lb Bluefin, until we ran out of shells and it ended. We finished off with over 20 fish, rest of the fleet had 4 combined.
“60% of the time it works 100%”
Was it the shells? 100%. However, if it weren’t for my green friend, chances are we never would have found out. The fact that we are so honed into our ways as fisherman may actually be hurting us. Something that we as “experienced fisherman” would laugh at for the most part, worked, and worked very well. It was my inherent nearsightedness as a fisherman that caused me to chuckle at the idea, and my friends genuine curiosity and “googan-ness” that made him go collect those shells, and added another weapon to our sheath.
You can see this “thinking out of the box” mentality it all throughout our fishery. Someone once thought it would be a cool idea to try a striped bass plug for tuna, I bet most people laughed, now every boat in the canyon has 2 bent rods in the flats. Another person also had the neat idea to drop a bait down 1500′ in the middle of the day, we all know how that turned out in the Northeast. So don’t be afraid to try new things, keep an open mind, and don’t fall into a redundant rut out there. When the bite is dead utilize that time to experiment, you never know when you will stumble across another trick to add to your arsenal.
Mike and I with our crazy ideas almost 30yrs apart!
Capt. Steve Fernandez