Whether you booked a light tackle or fly fishing charter in Boston Harbor or Newburyport the 2007 fishing season was very good, and while it followed the pattern of the last few years there were also a few surprises, especially towards the end. The season began in May as it always does with many school sized fish available in Newburyport and Boston Harbor. The weather during significant stretches in May and June was not real cooperative with flooding rain and windy days resulting in significant chop. While rain is often fishable, heavy winds really put a damper on fishing success. Heading into June there were more legal sized fish hooked and bluefish showed up in Newburyport by the 12th and Boston by the 16th. Mostly these were snapper sized but we hooked blues over ten pounds by the end of the month. Over the course of the season we probably saw somewhat fewer blues in the harbor than previously but they were bigger than in the past and gave us some terrific battles.
Bait was present in large numbers which is very encouraging. Herring continues to be one of the most important prey for stripers, often swimming in very large schools, and are easier to catch than faster swimmers like mackerel. The spring herring run was strong with alewives running up harbor rivers in order to spawn, and their young swimming back late summer and early fall. Atlantic herring was present throughout much of the season. While the mackerel run was real small, menhaden was available early and often. Large bunker (pogies) were snagged as early as mid June and were still around at the end of October which is about a month longer than in 2006. Peanut bunker made a nice showing in August and into fall. Large bait attracts large bass so there were some real trophy fish landed throughout the season.
While there are many approaches to fishing we specialize in light tackle and fly fishing. Typically we would be on the water around dawn. This can be painful when the alarm clock goes off but by the time you launch this is forgotten as the anticipation of stalking stripers and blues sets in. Most of the fishing in the early morning is done with artificial lures in relatively shallow waters on flats or along channel edges. Some days, as early as June, there were flocks of working birds, but most fish were found by searching for water activity or fishing structure. On some days these fish would hit anything and on others they would be real finicky. Stealth, patience, accurate casting, and working the lure correctly were all necessary to hook these fish, and sometimes a large bass or bluefish would be the reward. The primary lures were top water soft jerk baits and various plastic bodied jigs. As usual we had more success piecing these jigs together ourselves than using the one-piece shad jigs from the various vendors. Some days the twitched surface lures worked the best, on others we needed to swim jigs in various parts of the water column or work them on the bottom. The early hours are usually the best time for all clients to be actively involved in casting and hooking fish, and it was not unusual for everybody to be hooked up at the same time. As the day progressed we often switched tactics to troll somewhat deeper waters hunting for larger fish, often using live bait. There is no doubt that live bait increases the chances of landing larger fish, so we try to mix it up as the day progresses, and to be opportunistic about the fishing the day provides.
July continued along the same lines as June, with somewhat more large stripers and bluefish available and hooked. Pogies were prevelant to the point that using artificials became less productive - once predators started to target pogies they also ignored just about everything else. Nonetheless, almost every fishing day in July was a good one. In many cases this success depended on early morning launches. The relatively selective fish of late July and early August changed and became more active as the waters cooled and bait became more plentiful towards the end of the month. At the same time the number of bluefish increased and we hooked some on almost every trip.
September and October gave us fall fishing that was nothing less than great. While we continued to stalk fish in shallows using artificials around dawn, and certainly took part in tons of fall blitz action, we could not resist live-lining pogies as well. Using relatively light tackle we hooked some real monster bass over thirty pounds and bluefish over the twelve pound mark. There was bird activity almost every day during the early hours and on some days it never stopped. If there is a time to get kids hooked on fishing, or to try salt water fly fishing for the first time, this is it. On some charters we would leave massive schools of aggressive bass and blues with aching arms recalling how much more challenging fishing had been in early August. Boston Harbor and Newburyport where relatively similar in terms of fishability during much of the season. However, there is little doubt that Boston was the place to be these last two months.
Overall it was a great season. Below are some detailed fishing reports based on a sampling of 2007 daily fishing logs I keep.
I met Mike Dryer at the Newburyport downtown pickup area to introduce his two sons, Mitchell and Cameron, to striper fishing. He had also invited his father-in-law Bob Weddleton and his friend Phil to come along. A later than normal start time was selected to coincide with the outgoing tide. Just past high the first plan was to target the Merrimack channel edge using a tube and worm. This is often a productive method and is especially good with relatively young fishermen. We hooked our first fish by the #11 buoy and repeated the run a couple times. As we also spotted some breaking fish in the area we changed our approach to casting. Each time we landed a bass the boys yelled "It's a striper!" They were all 18-22 inch schoolies but the boys were having a great time. Fishing then slowed down a bit and we tried out the jetties, mouth sandbar, and Half Tide Rocks, with only a few more fish landed by Phil. By now it was getting a bit late in the scheduled trip, the wind had picked up, it had started to rain, and we could see good sized swells in the distance at the mouth of the Merrimack. I was still eager to try the mouth again as it is usually productive around low tide and wanted to find some more action before the day was done. Mike was a bit dubious but he left it up to his boys. Thankfully they were still eager which was quite impressive after four hours of fishing and the deteriorating conditions - they were a lot of fun to fish with. It's not always the case but this time "one more spot" really paid off. After hooking up on a few feisty schoolies close to the north jetty it was soon apparent from the bend in the rods that we had found a different class of fish. For a moment it was not clear what they were, but after a couple leaders were quickly severed we knew we had found bluefish. We then found a drift outside the mouth where the blues were a little larger. The boys now had a new chant: "It's a bluefish!" Phil, an experienced fisherman was hooking fish after fish - mostly blues but with stripers mixed in, one close to keeper. Mike hooked up with an 8lb blue that doubled the rod over for about ten minutes and wiped him out (the fight would have been shorter if the captain had remembered to adjust the drag). At one point Bob, Mike, and Phil all had tight lines to a bluefish. It was a great way to end the charter - thanks to the boys. The blues and stripers were still there when we left but it was now way past lunchtime.
On board this Newburyport trip was Doug Sacra and a group of five high school teenagers. FinLander was officially at its capacity but fortunately the water was fairly calm. I had targeted the morning outgoing tide. We trolled the channel edge with only a couple schoolies to show for our work so the hunt was on - I needed to find some active fish. Finding the right structure would be the key. Various collection areas around the channel closer to the mouth yielded nothing, which was also the case for the area between and around the jetties. Sandbars which often are good producers held no fish for some reason. The fish were definitely winning the early rounds. One of the teenagers, Asa, did show me a new approach to working a jig. Essentially he just let it drag on the bottom as he sat in the stern and worked on his drawings. His reward was to catch a couple skates - a fish I will unhook with gloves on. Sometimes all that is needed is for the tide to shift a little. Essentially now at low we repeated some of the earlier spots and finally found some fish, most of them around the jetties. The group hooked about a dozen bass in the 18-22 range before lunchtime beckoned. I kept on fishing to see how the incoming tide would produce. By now there were some nice turbulent waters around the #11 can. Drift fishing was a bit difficult as is often the case in this area due to all the anchored boats fishing with bait. Nevertheless constant maneuvering and casting resulted in some good hookups. Back at the mouth my perseverance was rewarded with a couple hard fighting 25 inch bass. Virtually all fish were hooked on jigheads rigged with various plastic bodies, some mimicking sand eels, others shad.
On this day Go Fish Sport Fishing Charters participated along with thirteen other charter boats in the Safe Summer Kickoff sponsored by The Fishing Academy, a Boston based non-profit organization. The goal for the event was to take city kids out fishing and to encourage safe and positive summer activities. The event included a barbeque and prizes for the participants. Onboard the FinLander were Al Smith and Jamille Freeman as well as The Fishing Academy director John Hoffman. As a large number of kids were involved in this event a real early start would not be possible. Given that I would not pick the passengers up until 9:00am, I headed out a bit earlier to find some morning action. Sure enough, there were birds and bluefish in Quincy Bay and around Spectacle Island and I quickly hooked into them. After a few fish I had to leave which is always hard to do. It was a blue sky, sunny, calm, hot day - the kind of day that sometimes makes fishing difficult. My first destination was back to Quincy Bay to see if the bluefish were still there. They were, but the activity had decreased significantly. We were able to troll up one in the first ten minutes but that was it. We had missed the morning bite. I was pretty sure the blues were still around the area but I only had a three hour window for this trip. On a hunch I decided to troll the deeper channels around the airport. The tube and worm rig was hot and we landed a striper every few minutes. None was real large but we did approach keeper size. Since it was working for us we kept fishing with the tubes. Jamille was definitely getting a workout as his fish count continued to mount. Most of the time I keep the boat in gear during a hookup to see if we can get a strike on the second rig - that means you're not only fighting the fish but also the trolling speed. It was Al's turn to pick up the rod and it was clear we had a larger fish. Al was hoping for a bass, however, it turned out to be a very nice 10lb blue which was unusual given the area and our rig. The time was fast approaching when we would have to leave but before we did I wanted to switch tackle and let the crew cast to some bass along nearby shallow sandbars. This often gives results around mid-tide in this area and sure enough we were hooking scrappy schoolies and snapper blues using jigheads on six inch Slugos. The action was continuous and a nice break from the trolling. One of the reasons I prefer casting light tackle is that everybody gets involved and it is truly interactive. Jamille showed some real angling skills and hooked more fish than anybody. For the day he had a fourteen fish total which could have been a lot higher if we had switched to casting earlier. In the end this was enough for Jamille to tie for first place in "Most Fish" category.
There were a good amount of charters involving kids during the summer. It's a pleasure to participate in catching what are often their first saltwater fish. FinLander was specifically rigged to make sure fishing would be safe and comfortable for kids and families. On this day there were four boys, all with minimal fishing experience. Casting can be a bit of a challenge even after a quick lesson. Unless they are very active, a bass will not strike a lure that is not worked relatively well. For this reason I often will either troll with tubes, or cast and hook the fish myself, and then let the youngster fight the fish. On this day we did both, and the boys also managed to hook some fish on their own! By the time the kids where picked up on Georges Island the morning bite was winding down. I had two spots in mind, Rainsford Island and the airport channels, as they had both been productive in recent days. The south side of Rainsford yielded a few school size bass trolling both tubes and jigs. As high tide approached it was time to explore the airport. By the time we arrived at the target area the tide had just started to move so after a few minutes we were in to fish again. The tube and worm did well with consistent hits on almost every pass over the marking fish. Unlike many fishermen I don't use lead core fishing line for this rig, as this reduces the light tackle feel that I prefer. Instead I prefer to use braided line which is thin and sinks very fast, together with line counter and sinkers to reach the target zone. This rig will attract bass of all sizes which is both a blessing and a drawback. Most of the time you will get mid-sized fish but some larger ones will also be mixed in. This day the boys hooked a few fish over the legal limit, including one 33 inch. With the tide now ebbing we switched to casting and tried a few shallow sandbars around the airport where bass target bait - usually sand eels. We were successful in hooking smaller bass with soft jerk bait rigged on jigheads. All in all we had a great day of fishing, and took pictures to help them remember.
Phil Jackson, who usually takes a couple trips per season, was the sole passenger for this light tackle trip. Launching just past dawn our first destination was Quincy Bay hoping to find bass in the shallow waters as the tide approached low. These waters are often productive in the early morning but not today. Our next stop was in Hull where we found our first action. There was a small gathering of birds keyed on what turned out to be a school of smaller bass and blues chasing bait. Using soft jerk bait and jigs, we hooked close to a dozen fish before we decided to look for larger specimens elsewhere.
The next stop at Deer Island was not very promising so we decided to explore the deeper channels around the airport. We tried casting Bass Assassins and jigs to the edges and then had some nicer hookups in deeper water, including the 36 inch striper above. The action lasted for over an hour. We then wanted to try a few more spots on the way back to docks. By this time the wind had picked up considerably and we found no takers at Deer Island or in Quincy Bay. We did manage to hook a bass just shy of legal size using a jighead dressed with a soft shad body along the Fore River channel. It was time to call it a day - we definitely landed some good fish but we had to work for them.
Tony Gibbons had scheduled a charter to take his family fishing. He felt that his kids were not likely to want to fish the whole day and wanted to work in some other activity as well. Boston Harbor certainly has a lot to offer in this regards as there are islands to visit that are part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area, as well as beaches to explore. On this day, after fishing, the plan was to drop the family off at Georges Island for lunch and to visit Fort Warren. It was a gorgeous day, calm in the morning with a bit of a breeze building. As the kids had minimal fishing experience trolling was selected as the fishing approach for the day. As the flats and channels around the airport had been steady producers during the last days this was the target area. I found marking fish where I had hoped and in three trolling passes over these we hooked four good size fish, three of them right at the keeper size. The kids were happy and now it was time to explore the harbor and Fort Warren.
This charter was to be the introduction to salt water fishing for eight kids, so it was really two trips in one. The morning bite was very promising in Quincy Bay as our lures clearly raised some interest and we hooked some small bass using soft jerk bait and rigged jigheads. Lures twitched slowly on the top attracted the most interest, but most of the time a fish would rise, take a closer look, and then refuse at the last instance. While it was exciting to know the fish were there, and that we probably would continue to hook some, we wanted to find more willing fish to keep the kids interested. Our next stop in the shallow waters of Deer Island gave us similar results - we raised some fish, and hooked a couple, but for the most part the fish were reluctant to take our lures. It was time for a change in strategy. As we targeted deeper waters around the airport we found some marking fish and these were larger, and easier to tempt with our offerings. All the kids were fortunate enough to reel in a keeper sized fish (with a little help from the captain). On the largest fish of the day, a fat 41 inch striper, the second batch of four kids took turns reeling it in. It's not everyday you catch a fish almost as tall as you are! They were all quite rightfully proud of their achievement and will have great memories of Boston Harbor fishing.
Debbie Davis set up this fishing trip to be part of a Boston area vacation she had planned from her home in Texas. Along on this trip were her husband Paul, and their son Dakin. Outfitted to the hilt in gear from Cabela's they were serious about fishing. It was also clear that they were there to have a good time as their Texas good humor and wise cracks lasted the whole day. Casting off at dawn and at low tide, our goal was to search for stripers in the shallows of Quincy Bay. On this day none where found, perhaps because there was no water moving at all. Time is precious in the early morning, so rather than wait for the incoming tide to start moving, we headed on towards the airport to explore the flats and channels. Things were quiet when we arrived but we did find a good school of smaller bass in the skinny waters of Deer Island. After awhile the airport area as a whole erupted with relatively fast moving pods of working bass. At times Debbie, Paul, and Dakin where all hooked up at the same time with Dakin getting more than his fair share. The bite lasted for over an hour. Lots of stripers were landed, all in the 20-24 inch range. When it was over I wanted to see if the situation had improved in Quincy Bay but it was still quiet. Heading back towards the airport area we spun around Spectacle and hooked what seemed like a larger fish, but it unfortunately broke off before we had a chance to see it. Around mid-tide it was time to explore other areas around the airport. Working the shallows as close as the restricted zone would allow we were once again hooking bass, this time a little larger. On this day, jig heads rigged with soft plastic shad tails worked considerably better than weightless top waters that we tried. It was still overcast and calm and now an intermittent drizzle had settled in - in my book a day made for fishing. Sure enough as we tried some adjacent deeper water we hooked a couple nice fish including the 37 inch pictured above, destined to become a vacation meal, and a fitting end to a memorable day on the waters of Boston Harbor.
Jón Heiðar Pálsson had invited his brother-in-law Christian, and his son Paul along on a fly fishing trip in Boston Harbor. Natives of Iceland, they were spending a week in Boston on vacation. Jón was eager to hook a saltwater fish on the fly and had made sure during the charter selection process that I knew the "right spots" to fish. Arriving at Rowes Wharf before dawn I had my concerns. The day before had marked a change in the weather pattern as a new high pressure area had moved in, and had sent fishing into a tailspin. Wind was forecast to pick up during the day but as light penetrated the Boston skies it was still calm. Jón and crew arrived in great spirits and it was clear they planned to enjoy the trip. By the time we had reached the end of the no-wake zone the jokes and wise cracks were already flying.
While their wives had plans to heat up their credit cards with downtown shopping, our plans were to check out the waters around the airport. As we saw nothing going on in Governors Flats and Lower Middle we continued to Deer Island. In very shallow water we found bait being chased by a school of stripers. Perhaps the murky weather had held other fishermen at bay as we had these fish all to ourselves for almost three hours. To shouts of "I'm the man" and "I'm the king", and lots of Icelandic, Jón landed his first ever striper using a grey Half-and-Half Clauser. Soon, Christian took his turn on the fly rod and also landed his first bass. In the meantime, Paul, who had decided to stick with the spinning rod and jigs, was hooking and landing fish after fish. After awhile we lost count but it must have been over thirty stripers, all in the 20-24 inch range. The bite continued until low water at which point it was time to hunt. After trying a number of spots around the airport as well as Spectacle and Long Island it was clear it would be tough. By then the wind had really picked up and there was 3-4 foot chop around Long Island and Quincy Bay, so it was time to return the happy group of Icelanders back to Boston.
JB Kim had arranged a charter for himself and two fellow students at Boston University. I think they were surprised when I asked them to meet me at dawn, so we compromised on a 7:00am start which still gave us good odds of finding some morning action. I took a quick look around Crow's Flats and Hingham Harbor, but given the late start decided not to try blind casting convinced we would find surfacing fish somewhere in the harbor. We passed by Georges Island and found a small school of surfacing fish at Nixes Mate. Sure enough, after a few casts, we had our first fish of the day. After a few more we proceeded outside and found much larger schools in Bob's Bass Triangle. Large flocks of birds followed the schools as they meandered. While following them virtually guaranteed hooking fish, staying in place worked too. It's a good idea to try and fish deeper beneath or behind the schools as big fish like to conserve energy. Some of the schools we encountered were strictly bluefish, others were a mix. By now it was clear that JB and his crew were very eager to catch a keeper bass to take home and make into sashimi. While all onboard had landed a dozen or so mid sized bass, and bluefish up to ten pounds, we had hooked no keepers. At one point it was clear that larger bass were also mixed in. Two larger stripers were hooked on shad tail jigs, and after a struggle were landed. Measuring 38 and 36 inches respectively, they were destined to be put on ice. There was a massive follower on the 38 inch fish that came within a few feet of the boat. I couldn't say exactly how big but it dwarfed the fish we landed. The action lasted for a little over 2 hours and then it was over. A quick return to dock, the fish being bled correctly on the way, ensured the freshest fish possible.
This year was a little unusual in that pogies (menhaden) lasted much longer into fall. In 2006 they were gone by this time but this year would last another month. While we hooked many large fish on light tackle and artificial lures this year, there is no doubt that the ratio of large fish to landed fish, is greater when using live bait. When available, we added live lining pogies to our fishing arsenal. On most trips we stuck to our strategy of stalking early morning fish in shallows and flats, and then trolled or drifted with live bait when the morning bite was over. As always there is a tradeoff, as the early hours are better for live lining as well. Fish over 40 inches were not unusual. On this day we landed this hefty Boston Harba bass, officially measuring 46.5 inches and 34.1 pounds. While drifting is a common approach, we slow trolled to cover more ground. Often the first signal that a predator is lurking is some nervous movement in the bait, potentially followed by a couple short runs as the bass is toying or trying to position the bait. This time it was simply a strong hit followed by a long smooth flow of line from the reel. As it was clearly a large fish, we took our time. After five minutes or so the line went slack. I was hard to believe that the line or tackle had failed and unlikely that we had lost the set after such a long time, but we feared the worst. At the same time the thought that came to mind was "reel, reel, reel!", which is what I yelled. It was a relief when the line finally came taut, at which point this wise old fish was only a few feet away. It had been swimming full speed towards the boat.
As I've said many times, fall is the best time to take kids fishing. The patience that is often needed during the summer goes out the window. It would be unusual not to find some form of blitz action, and that was certainly the case this day. On board were three aspiring anglers: Corey, Darcy, and Jamie. A real early start was no longer necessary and sure enough we encountered a flock of working birds between the Fore River and West Gut. A mix of feisty blues and stripers meant the crew would need help reeling in some of the fish. The action was continuous and we left before it was over to see what else was going on in the harbor. Various sized schools of breaking fish were encountered in Quincy Bay, around Spectacle Island, and President Roads. While presentation is often quite important, on this day it did not take much to invite a strike. Soft plastics on jigheads were our primary lure, although crankbait and poppers would no doubt have worked equally well. On the western side of Spectacle good sized blues in the 8-10 pound range gave Corey a serious workout. Corey, age 11 was the eldest member of the crew, and was able to work the lures with good skill. He also improvised some by hopping the jig on the bottom, which also work well. It was a challenge for the captain to keep all the anglers rigged up and also assisting on casting and reeling in. Blues would also shred the lures. Fish were constantly being landed including some good sized blues and stripers up to 26 inches. The day was nearly perfect, both sunny and calm, and only a few boats competing for the fish. The water was so calm that you could see surfacing fish from several hundred yards. By noon the action had tapered but there were still small schools of bait and predators visible, and had we been so inclined, could have hooked fish all day. These anglers were not of the die-hard variety, however, so after at least a dozen fish each, and snacks to keep them going, they were done for the day. We returned to dock with sore arms to go with the memories of a perfect fall day in Boston Harbor.
On board this day was Brian Wells who had invited along Kurt, Vin, and Mark for a day of fall fishing in Boston Harbor. After picking up the crew at Rowes Wharf just after dawn the first order of the day would be to check out the waters surrounding the airport. Sure enough, there were small schools of birds and fish off Deer Island as well as the restricted zone by the airport. After an hour the activity had increased and we found schools around Spectacle Island as well as the back side of Long Island. For the most part these fish were relatively
selective about what they would take so presentation was important. Jigs worked, but only if they were swum at the right pace and action. Top water soft jerkbait twitched slowly but with constant movement also worked well. Mixed into mostly school sized fish bass were blues up to ten pounds and stripers up to 30 inches. We had good success fishing the entire water column, landing fish after fish. On some occasions all anglers were hooked up at the same time. The blitz action continued for over three hours and then the waters became quite still. No doubt we could have continued casting but not with the same success as the morning had given us. As I had snagged pogies before the charter it was time to search for larger fish. Rigged up with live menhaden we trolled the Fore and Back River merge area which had been hot for the last few days. While we hooked some nice bluefish the larger stripers avoided our bait this time. I found out later they had been there in the morning as well. After an hour of live-lining it was now time to return the contented crew, along with fish destined for the grill, to downtown Boston.