It's about to be our favorite time of year! Stripers are right on our door step with some rumors kicking around and definitely fish on the New Hampshire coast. Monday morning was my frist real effort of the year a marsh outflow on the right tide for early season stripers. None to be had unfortunately, but it was great to get used to the weight and power of casting 350 grain shooting head lines on an 9 wt rod while waist deep in the surf. Although we didn't see any sandeels that morning (the typical bait here), our other larger coastal rivers are full of river herring right now. Schools are either getting ready to head upstream to spawn or they are juveniles that come into the estuaries to feed. Alewives, blueback herring, and shad have all arrived on the coast a Maine which means the stripers aren't far behind. I think it will only be a few more days before the first catches of migratory bass in Maine become more than just rumors this season.
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!
It's that time of year when the anticipation of spring becomes almost unbearable. I've seen them in the talons of ospreys for a week and known that they have been staging in the mouth of some rivers (probably waiting for the water temperature to be right), gotten calls about coves full of fish, but today I finally saw some photographic evidence of the fish starting to run upstream in to fresh water in a Midcoast Maine pond. The stripers will be here any time now!
After her long slumber in the driveway and some routine springtime maintenance (light gel coating, some painting, water pump impeller replacement, etc.), last Friday was finally the time to take the F/V Sarah Jeanne out for her shakedown cruise. Launching at the Eastern Prom in Portland just after sunrise, the water was like glass and it finally started to look like summer around here.
We poked out towards the islands to open up the throttle and clear our any gunk in the carburetors and feel the salt air. It's pretty special to be out on the bay this time of year with no other boats around and no lobster gear/buoys in the water. It truly feels like a different place.
Ostensibly the point of a shakedown cruise is the make sure all the electrical systems, bilge pumps work, outboard is happy, and so on, but of course there was an ulterior motive... I've been noticing ospreys around for other a week now and seen the cormorants particularly active up the Presumpscot Estuary and figured river herring must be starting to show up. Although still a little early for stripers, I thought it might be fun to break out the fly rods and stretch out the lines a little. As we slowly scooted up the river with the tide, we actually started to mark a few fish here and there on the sounder.
The small chevrons probably indicated alewives so we tried with pink Crazy Charlies and limbered up our casting arms. After a few weeks of trout fishing, 9 wt shooting heads take a little effort to get used to again!
Although one of the ospreys we watched had a fish (sorry, a bit tough to capture that with a phone camera!), we ourselves didn't catch any. Nonetheless, it was a fun morning and great start to the 2018 season. With water temperatures between 46 and 49 and herring in the river, the stripers will be here in no time and we'll be here waiting for them!