As only the 3rd trip of the season, some may think it's a little ambitious to run offshore, but in the immortal words of Captain Ron:
Today is May 15. One year ago today, I caught my first striper of the 2017 season after hearing scattered reports of a few fish around. This year things seem to be taking their time, despite the alewives running and plenty of other bait around. Every fisherman I know is getting antsy. Sure, the trout fishing has been pretty good, but we've all spent long months tying flies and dreaming about warmer weather and salt air and New England's premier gamefish. Not being able to take it any longer and wanting to stretch out the old legs on the Sarah Jeanne, the nice offshore weather on Mother's Day provided the opportunity to go look for groundfish with my friend Andy.
For anyone judging us for going fishing on Mother's Day: Andy's family lives in New York so he got a pass on other obligations that day. As for me, my mother passed away a few years ago and I spent a lot of day thinking about her. She let me get my first boat at 10 years old, a 7 foot row boat. She taught me how to fish. She taught me how to row. She always encouraged strong independence from a young age, although she was always quick to let my brother and I know when she didn't approve of our adventures or any other life choices!
The great advantage of keeping the boat on a trailer is being able to change up my fishing areas with relative ease. We launched the boat in Saco and headed SE about 12 miles out to Tantas Ledge. Although word on the waterfront is that the haddock fishing has been pretty good on Jefferey's Ledge, Tantas is arguably the closest offshore ground to the Portland area, so it seemed like a good bet for the first offshore trip for the Sarah Jeanne.
The first time anyone goes offshore in southern Maine they are always surprised that as the land slips away, the mountains creep up and start to look massive. The closest land is barely still visible out here (pretty much just a little bit of Cape Elizabeth), but the view of Mt. Washington is stupendous. I believe that this is due to fact that the trees, hills, etc. that usually surround us and block our view on land are greatly reduced and eventually no longer visible, while the tall White Mountains are as visible as they would be if there were an empty plain (or water) all the way to their base. Unfortunately with just my iPhone I couldn't get a good picture of it, still covered in snow and towering on the horizon. Next time we go outside I'll try to bring the good camera.
No other boats were around, really exaggerating how far out we seemed to be making my 20 foot Aquasport. A few lines of lobster gear were up on top of the bottom and on the edges in 200-260 feet of water. In two weeks, when the bluefin tuna season opens on June 1, I'm sure there will be a veritable floating village out there but today we seemed to have the whole Gulf of Maine to ourselves. The water seemed fairly warm, 51 degrees at the surface. We saw a few schools of fish on the sounder and started to jig. We fished with Norwegian style jigs starting on one side of the ledge and drifting up over the bottom and down to about 280 feet on the other side then repeated. Strong currents around 1 knot made tending bottom difficult with only 16 oz jigs but we made do. A few cod took the jig, but with no recreational retention for the 2018 Gulf of Maine fishery due to low stocks, these guys happily swam back to bottom no worse for wear. As someone who has done Gulf of Maine cod research for years and grew up on the waterfront, I understand the state of the science and the frustration of fishermen with ever greater restrictions and the irony that the first fish of the day we caught was the "mythical" cod.
We fished for a few hours, doing our best with our light gear and heavy currents. A few more fish came up with only one keeper haddock before the wind started to come around and pick up, but fun was had and the Sarah Jeanne's first offshore trip was a success. We'll have to try it again!