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Casco Bay Fishing Blog
Week of August 20, 2017
By Bob Humphrey

            My son, Ben and I competed in the inaugural Spring Point Shootout this past weekend. Kudos to the folks who put this on. They did a great job, particularly considering it was somewhat last-minute replacement for the Casco Bay Classic. There were a few differences, most notably the lack of a tuna category, which might have been interesting given that the commercial tuna fishery is in a temporary shut-down. It would have leveled the playing field for rec fishermen, who are effectively excluded from Maine’s other big game saltwater tournaments (a topic for another blog some day).

I had long wanted to fish the Classic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that literally every person I’ve ever met who has fished it claims to have won it. I checked past records and didn’t recognize a single name.

We almost entered in 2016 but I got cold feet, fearing that inclement weather could keep me and my little 24 footer shorebound. Naturally, weather was ideal. We fished just for fun and hooked into a thresher that not only would have annihilated the existing State record (425), it quite possibly could have eaten that shark. You can check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNmFaAFidAk&t=20s
Weather for the Shootout was marginal but once you pay the entry fee you’re locked in so we decided to give it our best shot. Day One, Friday, actually started out ok, and as we’d secured a berth at Port Harbor Marine http://www.portharbormarine.com/ Jefferys Ledge was within striking distance; so, we struck out. The morning started slowly but as the waves built so did the action. By midday we were frantically trying to make up hooks and leaders as we’d quickly burned through all we had and the sharks were coming steadily. Check out the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4Rff3jlHG8

In all we caught 13 fish the first day, including two nine-foot and one ten-foot fork length blue sharks, any of which we could have brought in to be weighed; and, as it turned out, would have won us some prize money as there was only one fish entered in the catch and keep category - a 393-pound thresher. Any fish caught and donated would have gone to the Wayside Food Program, but they wanted no part of blue sharks and though we would have taken second place, I wasn’t going to kill a 10 foot shark just to turn around and dump it back in the ocean.

As for the weather, it eventually brought a premature end to our fishing day and made for a very long 2-1/2-hour trip back to Port Harbor in 4-6-foot seas. But the Gerry-O took them well. I continue to be impressed with the Albemarle hull design http://www.albemarleboats.com/  Its deep V cuts into the waves then its wide flare pushes them aside and softens the blow, where many other hull styles would pound. And we fished on a day when many bigger boats stayed at the dock.

Day 2 was quite the opposite, starting out rough. In fact, had I heeded the forecast of 3-5 - foot seas all day we might never have left the dock. They started out 3-4 but with the change of tide settled down to a steady 2 feet. Unfortunately, early high seas meant we set up closer to home, on Tantas, and the action was considerably slower, which I attribute mostly to cooler water temps. The most exciting thing to happen was the tuna smashing amongst our balloons. Back at the dock there was a cookout and awards ceremony where prizes were given out for the largest striped bass, ground fish and sharks, and the most sharks caught and released. All in all it was a good start and I expect next year’s Spring Point Shootout will be even better.

 

Man with fish

Casco Bay Fishing Blog
Week of August 7, 2017
By Bob Humphrey

Parts for my outdrive were delayed another week so a two-day job turned into a three-week nightmare as I sat on shore while the tuna fleet smashed catch records and any greenhorn with a boat and a fishing rod caught tuna. Then the good news came: “Parts are in, should only be a couple more days, ready by Friday, August 11.” Then the bad news: “Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Angling Category Fishery: Northern Area Trophy Fishery Closing August 11, 2017" That meant I had waited 12 month, attended two seminars, read three books and spent thousands and thousands of dollars for the opportunity to fish for giant bluefin, and my entire season would come down to one day.

But before that could happen more bad news: “The shop effed up. You have to drive down to Salem to pick up your propellers.” So at four pm I set out from Freeport, Maine, somehow managed to fight my way through rush hour and find the H&H Propeller shop, which was now closed, but they’d stashed my props in the bushes.

I remembered it as Haskell & Hall, what it was called when I was a teenager back in the 70s. And the ghostly letters of it’s former name still appeared on the brick facade in traces of paint faded by decades of New England weather. Having picked up my props it was time to beat a hasty retreat home, but I opted to go by memory rather than follow the Garmin GPS, a task that would prove quite challenging.

First a wrong turn brought me by Congress Street Wharf in Salem, where my father used to pick up the fishing and diving charters he took out every weekend in the summer. I begged to go along and when I was finally old enough he put me to work. I remember filleting fish for the clients at a buck a piece, not bad money for a 12 year old.

Then I drove down Bridge Street, which used to be the main drag, only to find it had been relegated to second-class side road by whatever had replaced the old Beverly-Salem Bridge. I started thinking I was lost until I saw the familiar sign for Bill & Bob’s Roast Beef. Still there after all these years.

Across the bridge was also different. The very first McDonald’s in the area, quite possibly the County, one with the original golden arches, was gone. Glover Wharf and Beverly Harbor Marina were now called Beverly Pier and Beverly Port Marina. It was there in the 70s we fished on and with tuna boats like the Sandy, Scoot Too, Pandapa, White Dove and Helen S. There were no quotas or limits and top prices might make 50 cents a pound.

After negotiating the new light by the old bait shop, which was still there but in a slightly different location and with a new name, I motored up Rantoul Street, made a quick left on School, then a right on River Street where I drove past what used to be Watson’s Garage. It was a regular haunt back in the heyday where my dad and I would stop and visit with owner Trigger Watson, whom we fished with on his sky blue stickboat, The Sandy. He was also one of the first spotter pilots.

I continued on to what used to be “The Shoe,” short for United Shoe Machine Corporation, a major local employer back in the day. Now it’s a shopping center. A left there eventually led me over to Danversport and first past the Danversport Yacht Club. We fished out of there on the Patton, formerly the Tristan until Romie, of Romie’s Oyster House bought it and renamed it. They wanted to catch tuna but needed a captain and crew. That was my dad and I. And just a short distance from there, down Liberty Street used to be a tiny lot next to Portside Marine where we wintered out boat, the Falcon III. It was there I spent countless hours scraping, sanding and painting the old Phil Fessenden custom-built sport fisherman.

I was feeling pretty nostalgic about the whole experience until commuter traffic merged into a one-lane mess, something I didn’t realize until clipping the mirror on some poor bastards truck. We exchanged unpleasantries and vital information then I headed north, to get my props to the boat yard before dark. Miraculously, my son managed to get the props on and the boat gassed up and ready to for a 5 am departure the next morning. I wish I could say the story had a happy ending but alas, my season ended in futility. So now I have to wait another 12 months to land a giant bluefin.

 

Seal

Casco Bay Fishing Report
Week of July 31, 2017
By Bob Humphrey

If you’ve been following my forecasts you may recall a couple weeks back when I mentioned the warm water had finally arrived. It had been lingering offshore but an unusual period of steady easterlies pushed it into the nearby offshore waters. It usually takes another week or so for the blue sharks to follow the expanding warm water westward, setting up more typical shark conditions for places like Tantas.
Unfortunately, while I was down on Cape Cod, the warm water slipped back out. On our last trip to Tantas we couldn’t find water over 63 and as a result, the fishing was slow. We managed to pick up a ‘beagle pup and a couple blues but by now the daily tally should be much higher. We also noted very few other boats; no-one groundfishing, no other shark boats and only one tuna boat.
One the plus side, there are still plenty of groundfish around, though haddock are dwindling and/or being replaced by pollack. On the minus side, we also picked up a few dogfish - never a good sign.
Meanwhile on the tuna grounds, NOAA cut the daily commercial retention limit in half, from 4 fish to 2. That means both commercial and recreational guys can still fish, at least for now. Commercial boats are still slaying fish from Cape Cod to Cape Neddick but “reported” prices vary wildly (which makes me think someone is not being completely honest). The Cape guys report getting $1.00 a pound and allegedly the stick boats have quit until the price goes up. Meanwhile, some of my Maine contacts report $16+ per pound.
No recent news on stripers and I don’t have much else to report as my boat is still sitting on the trailer waiting on parts. A word of advice: Never buy a boat with a Volvo outdrive.
The bad news is that mackerel schools have thinned considerably inside. On a recent trip It took twice as long to catch half as many fish as in the past. Good news is that pogies are still around in good numbers. In fact, I had a little competition for them while snagging some for shark bait. My rival showed not the cute round face of a harbor seal but the horse-headed proboscis of a grey seal.
In the mid 80s I worked on Cape Cod as manager of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. At the time harbor seals were common but we would see the occasional see a grey, a noteworthy sighting. Today there are tens of thousands in the waters around Monomoy. They have all but devastated nearshore fisheries and attracted great white sharks by the hundreds. Maybe greys have been around local waters for a while but it’s the first I’ve ever seen in Casco Bay, though I’m sure it won’t be the last. And could also explain something else I saw offshore earlier this summer.

Fish


Casco Bay Fishing Report
Week of July 24, 2017
By Bob Humphrey

I missed a whole week on the water (more on that in a bit) so the local news is second-hand. Fortunately, my pals were out in force plying their luck at stripers. Unfortunately, the inshore fishing has pretty much dried up. That’s not really unusual for this time of year.
When they first arrive, stripers typically follow the anadramous fish runs up the tributaries, then linger around river mouths for a few more weeks picking up stragglers. Unusually heavy runs of both pogies and stripers kept the linesides in close for much of July but they’ve moved off. You can still find them off the island ledges by day, and off the beaches and inshore/nearshore areas by night, but you’ll have to work harder.
Meanwhile, the offshore tuna bite remains on fire. In fact, there are rumors the General Category might get shut down. First to go, as usual, will be the large school (trophy) category for recreational anglers. Commercial boats figure the rec guys ought to get shut out first, but with boat prices hovering around $1.00/pound, they’re barely meeting expenses. Conservation-wise, it would make more sense for them to take a break. But that won’t happen.
Anyway, my absence was due to a sojourn down to Cape Cod - Chatham, to be more precise. It had been slow but the striper fishing was absolutely on fire on the east side of Monomoy, where fish in the 25-45-inch range were blitzing on sand eels. I started out using live pogies, based on some local advice, and hooked a really big fish on the very first drop. It busted off and I couldn’t hook another so I switched to anything and everything in three tackle boxes I carry before finally hitting again on 6-inch Lunker City Sluggos. From then on it was solid action. In the end we broke two reels and one rod and in five days I caught more stripers than I’ve caught in 25 years in Maine. We didn’t get to see a white shark, but did see a seal that was the victim of one. Maybe next time. In the mean time, I’m hoping the good folks at Royal River Boat Yard will have the Gerry-O back up and running very soon.

 

Casco Bay Fishing Report
Week of 7/24/17
By Bob Humphrey

What a difference a week makes. While east wind is never very good for fishing (east is least), sustained east winds have pushed more warm water into coastal areas (out to 25 nautical miles). The initial lag phase, which is typical, is over and the sharks are finally moving in with it. Catches of blues have risen consistently over the last week - in fact, offering the first real consistent shark fishing of the season. I’ve also heard rumors of makos, but from folks who don’t know the difference between a mako and a porbeagle.
Meanwhile, bluefin fishing continues to be hot, so hot that the price has plummeted. Actually, that’s not why the price dropped, but the fishing has been hot. It seems ranched tuna is starting to be legitimate competition for wild fish. On the plus side it could improve sustainability of wild fish (I say “sustain” because the current fishery has been certified as sustainable). On the minus side, it’s having a significant financial impact on commercial tuna fishermen. So, consumers, are you going to purchase wild, organic, free-range tuna that fed entirely on wild, organic free range feed, or are you going to buy the GMO ranch stock?
As for in-shore, I can’t really say as I’m down on Cape Cod right now trying to chase down a great white shark. My sources tell me stripers are still around but becoming finicky. May be time to change bait. And the groundfish are moving out into colder water. And as for the Cape, stripers are around but hard to find and blues are mysteriously missing, unless everyone’s lying to me.

 

Casco Bay Fishing Report
For the week of July17, 2017
By Bob Humphrey

This installment is a little late but I have a good excuse: I’ve been out fishing for the last 3 days.
First the big news. None of my “inside sources” (you all know who you are) would tell me so I had to go find out for myself. The bluefins are in. Fishermen outside the 40 fathom line are doing well on anchor and there have even been multiple sightings of big bluefins smashing bait inside.

Shark fishing is just starting to warm up. This weekend’s east winds help move the warm water that’s been hanging outside closer to shore. There’s usually a bit of a lag effect but the blues won’t be far behind. Meanwhile, porbeagles grow more numerous every year. We picked up 4 beagles and a small female blue on Saturday.

I have a theory that porbeagles are territorial. When tuna fishing on anchor we often catch one right off, then never catch another. When drifting, we catch one when we drift over structure, then won’t catch another until we’ve gone some distance and drift over more structure. Who know, but it’s worth further investigation.

Inshore fishing continues to be good with mackerel as abundant and consistent as you could possibly hope for and stripers so abundant that even the weekend warriors are catching them with some consistency.
About the only disappointment so far have been squid. Last week’s trip failed to produce any, though we picked up a couple stripers on live macks we put out just because we were on the water. Crazy.

 

 

Casco Bay Fishing Report
For the week of July 10, 2017
By Bob Humphrey


Schoolie stripers are more spotty down here but still strong in the Kennebec. Meanwhile, they’ve been replaced by a larger size, older age class of fish mostly in the 25-28-inch range, and they’re abundant. We ran across some a couple weeks back that were, as larger stripers often are, finicky. We threw everything in the tackle box at them and they wouldn’t bite. Then we switched to live mackerel and it was game on. The last week of June is often the hottest striper action so it’s encouraging to see the action actually improving into July.
Also improving is the bait situation. Mackerel are thick in and around the islands right now. Just look for the birds then troll Sabiki rigs. Meanwhile, the pogies seem to have doubled down. Interestingly, the “super-schoolie” stripers will chase but not bite them; perhaps they’re just a tad too big. And with all the river herring still around they don’t have to work too hard for a full belly. We’ve even seen stripers blitzing shoals of herring, something that hasn’t happened in Casco Bay in a long time.
Anyway, with this many pogies around it looks encouraging for the possibility of blues later this summer. Keep your fingers crossed. Tuna fishermen remain characteristically reticent but a little bird - not the one in front of my Green Machines - told me the bite is on way outside so it shouldn’t be too much longer now, possibly by the time you’re reading this, that short-range fishermen will see some action.

 

 

striper

Casco Bay Fishing Report

For the week of July 3, 2017

By Bob Humphrey


All good news right now. You may have to look just a tad harder but once you find them, schoolie stripers are still abundant and voracious. Light-colored soft baits seem to be performing the best, and think small, 6 inches or less. Mark and recapture tagging programs have shown these fish come from a variety of locations. In one season I caught fish from the Chesapeake, James Bay and Hudson River.
If you want to go bigger, switch to live or chunk mackerel. There are still plenty of pogies around but mackerel, live and dead are outfishing the larger, oilier pogies. That may change if and when the really big (mid 30s and up) fish show up. Right now it’s still mostly upper 20s.
A few words on circle hooks. Not a fan. Unfortunately, they’re mandatory when using bait because they allegedly reduce deep (gut) hooks thus reducing catch and release mortality. Because I have access to them, I’ve tried a variety of different brands, sizes and configurations. By following the recommendation of letting fish run then slowly retrieving line rather than setting the hook, on a good day, we’re hooking fewer than 25 percent of the fish that take a bait. On a recent trip we hooked one out of 10, only because it swallowed the circle hook.
Offshore groundfish remain abundant with clams or jigs being the optimum terminal tackle. Waters are slowly warming into the upper 50s, which hopefully will attract some much larger fish, like blue sharks and tuna. Porbeagles are year-round residents and Makos, which are also warm-blooded lamnid sharks can and do tolerate the cooler waters. I also know of a recent sighting of an 18-foot great white 18 miles east of Portland from a VERY reliable source, which is not all that surprising considering their abundance just south, and the recent proliferation of harbor seals - more on that later.
Tuna fishermen remain oddly silent, which either means there are no fish around or there are a few and nobody wants anybody else to know. Rest assured once the sport boats start hooking up word will get out.
There have been a few conflicts between sport fishermen and lobstermen recently. Fishermen: Keep in mind those guys are out there trying to make a living, so give them a little slack and some space. Lobstermen: You hold no special privilege to tidal waters. Commercial and sport fishermen have every bit as much right to the water as you. Keep harassing them and the local and state law enforcement agencies will become involved.  

 

 

Photo of man with fish

Casco Bay Fishing Report

For the week of June 26, 2017

By Bob Humphrey

The bad news is that schoolie stripers that were consistently concentrated around river mouths and inshore outcrops have dispersed. They’re still around, just harder to find. The good news is they’ve been replaced by larger fish, some creeping into the keeper class. Softs and hards will work but nothing beats live bait, and mackerel are far outfishing pogies. Speaking of which, the shoals of mackerel that were clustered outside Halfway Rock have moved inside and are now locally concentrated in the Bay. Look for concentrations of terns and use Sabiki rigs to load up. Meanwhile, pogies, which had been super abundant, are also waning, due mostly to local efforts by lobsterman to supplement their hard-to-get herring bait.
Hopefully there will still be enough around to attract the bluefish if and when they show up. Outside, cod and haddock are around in numbers not seen for years, possibly decades. The best places to find them are on structure east of the 40 fathom line. Cod jigs and cod rigs work best, the latter with sea clams, not steamers or quahogs, those big bastards the summer people use the shells from as ashtrays. Tuna have still not made a showing and the fleet has been extremely tight-lipped about any strays showing up. Water temps are still in the high 50s but have been climbing steadily. Bait and whales have moved up from Jefferys so the bite could happen anytime now.

 

 

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