2006 Season in Review and what we learned
This year we really came into our own, I think. We had a great idea on what the customers wanted and how best to give it to them. We really tried to keep the days fun out there.Matt Merrick mated on most of my trips and he continued to do a great job for me. I mean he is scaring his parents with how much he likes working on a charter boat. He even got his captain’s license! He did still manage to work a Fidelity internship around his days on the water. And he even lived a little bit as a 22 year-old. This fall, when
Mike Costello did an awesome job and fit in perfectly. He is that customer from New Jersey who came up in the fall to mate for me. He did great, once again.
What a difference for me this past three years has been. Before, I had worries all of the time about things that I couldn’t affect. As a financial advisor, there were so many variables in my customers’ lives that weighed heavily on me. Now, life is much more enjoyable. What’s the weather supposed to be like? Should we troll pink spreader bars or run daisy chains? Do I have enough ice? (and yes, I will—the ice machine I had all year produces 200-300 pounds/day!!!) This customer likes cod fishing with a spinning rod; is it ready? I wake up before my trips without an alarm and I still feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve. Still.
This is going to be my ramble, but I feel like I am talking to you all. That is one of the things that I love about my job. I get to hear from so many cool people and hear about what makes them tick. Fishing is what I do. It’s funny, but I have customers who catch more fish on my boat each year than I do. I really don’t fish much myself, but I truly enjoy everything about it. In reality, I really am in the business of showing people a good time on the water while they have fishing rods in their hands. Is that “fishing”? Someone said that fishing is one jerk on one end of the rod waiting for a jerk on the other. I’ll buy that. However, some of the best experiences we have had on the boat never involved fishing! We had whale shows this year the likes of which I have never imagined before. They totally raised the bar of what I think a whale show could be. On one slow trip this year, the customers broke up the slowness with an ad-hoc high-diving and swimming show off of my cabin roof. Then, on the ride home, in the hot sun, we had one whale swim alongside us for ½ hour and do everything imaginable next to the boat. It jumped 10 times in a row, ‘stood’ on it’s head and slapped it’s tail on the water, laid on it’s back and ‘clapped’, and showed us just how amazing a 40’ long animal can be. I’ll never forget it. What started off as a slow fishing day ended up being one of the most memorable trips we had this year.
Our last trip this year signified another point about the fishing that I take for granted. Matt, myself, and two of my college friends went fishing in late November, for the last hurrah. We had hoped to make it east of Stellwagen for some haddock (cod are off-limits until April 1), but we got sidetracked early while trolling for a last shot at a tuna--giant tuna. I bought two Penn 130, 2-speed reels with bent-butt rods specifically for giant tuna this fall, so we wanted to try to stretch the line a little bit. After three hours of uneventful trolling, we came to the realization that we weren’t going to go haddock fishing, so we just took out the fluke rods and jigged around the whales to see if we couldn’t get some pollack that were feeding on the mackerel. We didn’t get any pollack, but did get a pile of cod which we threw back. I really didn’t even mind throwing back those nice cod. We kept the mackerel for lobster bait and some for the grill, and had a blast doing it. My point being….in a long way, is that Matt hardly fished at all. He just relaxed, helped out a bit, videotaped the day, had a few beers, and took it all in. I kept trying to get him to fish until I realized, numbly, that not fishing was as enjoyable as fishing at that time (and Matt lives for fishing!).
THAT IS THE ALLURE OF THE OCEAN..We had a great day out there, didn’t put a ‘good’ fish in the cooler, but did see some amazing whales and dolphins, and did have the excitement of getting spooled for the first time! (it was 20 pound test on a rod built for fluke, but still, it was exciting. It was probably a tuna or a porbeagle shark.)
How about I go over what happened this year and what we learned….
April.I started fishing this year in early April and did great when we could get out there. Windy weather put the halt on several trips that I had booked, which made April a slow month for us. April is a strange time of year for fishing up here—it’s historically die-hard season. That is, the ‘typical’ person fishing in April is more often the die-hard, dust-the-snow-off-I-can’t wait-to-fish salt. Judging from the license plates in the parking lots, many April-fishermen may be out-of-state people making the transition from hunting season to fishing season. I know that many of the early-season fishermen meet their charters via the “Sportsman Show” circuit. I haven’t really marketed to that crowd yet (if you’re one and reading, give me a shot!) That may explain my slowness early in the year. Many of my customers are also hunters, and I love hearing the stories. And snacking on the jerky. With regard to the sportsmen shows, I haven’t participated in those yet, but I will soon. I am always looking for more customers and I know I can show them a great time.
One niche that may be attractive to people is my 1-4 person charter feature. I specialize in smaller charters and I price 1-4 person charters less than if I have 5 or 6 customers. I was thinking about 1-4 people crowds and driving to go fishing:
You can all drive comfortably in one car with your gear
You can comfortably stay in one hotel room.
And you only have to worry about coordinating 1-4 people.
(I find that numbers 5 and 6 are often tougher to coordinate and may have to be ‘convinced’ to come along. Read: more prone to sea sickness, etc.) So, big lesson is 1-4 person charters are awesome.
My boat is PERFECT FOR SMALLER CHARTERS.
MayAs April flowed into May, so did the windy weather. At one point, it was a ridiculous 2 weeks straight of 30 mph winds. There was a consolation to the wind—we could fish Buzzards Bay in the wind. And fish we did! When we got out there, we found sea bass fishing beyond belief! It has been like this for the past few years, so get used to it!!!! In May, most of May in fact, we found schools of willing sea bass in 20-50’ of water that made us think we were in heaven. Also, we hit giant scup (porgy) to more than two pounds. It may not sound like much compared to cod fishing, but a 2 pound scup fights amazing on light tackle. And they are great eating. Plus, the sea bass we caught to 5# 6 oz.! Many of the fish we caught were 4 pound FEMALES!
If that means nothing to you, sea bass are all female at birth, then make the “change” to males around 2-3 pounds, when they then start GROWING VERY QUICKLY!!! So, considering we were getting 4 pound females, my assumption is that they made the switch to becoming males and should be ENORMOUS NEXT YEAR!!! I had people on board who fished in Long Island for sea bass on a party boat---50 people and the pool fish wasn’t even 3 pounds!!! So, if you like sea bass, plan on coming up here in May of 2007! It’ll amaze you. What a great way to bring the kids fishing or bring someone fishing who may not want to bottom fish for cod in deep water. Another great person for these types of trips is the freshwater fisherman who likes walleye fishing or bass fishing—it’s the same gear and even tactics. You’ll probably teach me something!
I love Buzzards Bay for the views and the ability to fish in most weather. Big lesson for May: Think sea bass in Buzzards Bay! Focus. Be the sea bass….
Junebrought more variety our way. The weather wasn’t the normal June-flat-calm-seas as it usually is. It was a bit choppier, so we improvised once again. We found a new fun spot to fish—Barnstable Harbor offers some great flats fishing when the SW winds kick up. We would leave from the Sandwich Basin on the East end of the Cape Cod Canal. It is a 13 mile run to the outer harbor. Billingsgate Shoal is only 17 miles away as well. Pretty cool fishing. There were stripers and blues there in great numbers, and they were willing to hit in nice shallow water. It was fun chasing the fish down and sight casting to schools of fish. I felt like I was in Florida again! This is why I love my boat---two people can fish the bow of the boat and that means two people can easily fish the back of the boat. CAN HAVE 4 PEOPLE SIGHT CASTING AT THE SAME TIME!!! By mid-month, the sea bass had moved down to the Vineyard and left behind a lot of fluke. They were everywhere this year. Speaking of fluke, we landed our only HALIBUT of the year this June, not that I would predict it to happen again. They are so rare, only a handful are caught by all boats COMBINED in our waters each year on hook-and-line. What we learned in June….fishing for stripers and blues can really be a blast when you match the person to the tackle to the fish. We can fish with wire line, leadcore line, heavy spinning gear, or light spinning gear. It’s all fun and it all has it’s own place with the customers and conditions.
Julywas our most varied month by far! We fished in waters from 10 miles north of Stellwagen Bank to waters 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Where to start…it was hot. Really, really hot. This, combined with a steady, light SW breeze, brought Portuguese Men-of-War to the waters of Buzzards Bay. We encountered them while shark fishing south of the Vineyard (editorial: I can’t stop thinking of shark fishing. I’m addicted. I’ve watched my shark footage from this year and last countless times and can’t wait until next year) We saw our first thresher shark as it cruised by our boat while we were fighting a big blue shark. That sight will hook anyone for life. I guarantee it! We also found a great cache of sea bass in Martha’s Vineyard waters. Not to mention the striped bass fever that takes place out there in July! The Buzzards Bay marina from where we leave to Gay Head in Martha’s Vineyard is only 27 miles. That’s about our run to the cod grounds. Hmmm… That can be total chaos as people vie for spots on the rips and rockpiles as they fish for their commercial quotas. What else did we find? Well, huge schools of bluefish, big bluefish, in the waters off of Stellwagen Bank. Now these are the fish that make trout fishermen weak in their knees! Hooking a 10+ pound bluefish on spinning gear in 280’ of water is a battle royale. We found fishermen who liked eating bluefish-many eat them smoked or on the grill. It was fun. We started our fishing for tuna in July, and plan on doing more in 2007 starting in July. From our observations, we feel that it may have a great shot at a giant in July. We saw jumpers on several occasions breaking on these schools of bluefish and beyond. These are 500+ pound fish that were jumping completely out of the water chasing bluefish (which were jumping completely out of the water as well! It was amazing.) Side note to Alan--casting at a 500 pound tuna with the same rig that we're using to catch bluefish--20 pound spinning gear...I would have done the same thing!! The weather was darn excellent for most of the month, with the glaring exception being the weekend of the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament. There was a tropical storm that weekend! I was disappointed that we couldn’t fish south of the Vineyard for that trip. We did have ok weather on the second day north of Cape Cod, but there were too many dogfish in our slick to let us be competitive. However, we did drift over some new cod/haddock grounds that proved to be very productive. This bodes well for 2007. In 2007, if you want to shark fish, think of us! We plan on fishing for sharks as much as possible during the month of July (and August). We’ll be pulling out all of the stops to find those huge sharks, so fish with us and try your hand at an amazing fishery! With a freezer full of bluefish, mackerel, chopped fish remains, commercial chum, fish oil, our own secret chumming additives, and our desire to catch giant fish--- you’ll get your money’s worth on a shark trip with us. What we learned for July….I predict lots of shark fishing as we ramp up for the tourney….Fun, fun, fun.
August.Did I say that I got busier with every passing month this year? That was a great feeling. Sure, in some regards it was better weather and people ‘felt more like fishing’, but I would like to think that it’s also a bit of reputation accumulating. If you’ve fished with me in the past and had a good time, hopefully I will see you again. I also hope that you will tell your friends and that I will see them. That’s my best form of advertising! One of the best feelings I have is when I have repeat customers who bring new friends to fish with me—it’s exciting to me as it is an honor that my customers want to share their good times with others and I see the looks in my customers’ eyes and they enjoy showing their friends a great time as well! It means a lot to me. I have watched a lot of my videos from this season recently and man-o-man is there a lot of laughing! This August…we did a lot of everything fishing. Sharks? August 9: 11 hookups, 10 sharks brought boatside! 4 of them were 300 pounders. What battles! The striper fishing that we did this month gave us a little bit of a comfortable groove and we loved that. But the big news this month was the tuna! Right up there with my shark fever is my tuna fever. It’s so comfortable, exciting, relaxing, fulfilling. In a nutshell, tuna fishing is about anticipation. Here’s the rundown: We leave around 5:00, just as we have enough light to motor fast out to Stellwagen Bank. Our gear is ready and we hit the Bank in 16 miles. If there are no birds yet or whales, we troll certain areas keeping our eyes on the water, in the air, and on the fish finder. Our lines are being trolled—we have 4-6 lines out and they may be daisy chains, spreader bars with plastic squids, diving plugs, or cedar plugs. We are dragging a bowling pin teaser daisy chain that throws some great splash and is a great attractor. Are rods range from Penn 130 2-speed behemoths to Shimano 50-wides. We don’t know when the strike will come and how big the fish will be. We draw straws to see who will be the first to fight a fish—we do this ahead of time so that they can be fit with a fighting belt and harness and to give everyone their role should we get a hit. Coordination is key and our boat is nimble enough to have fun battling a nice fish. Then we wait and cruise. With a fun, patient knowing crowd, this is relaxing and tense. It’s what dreams are made of. Sometimes we’ll go over a school of bluefish and suddenly all rods will bend over with fish on. Altough they’re not tuna, that’s not to say it isn’t exciting! Man it gets crazy when that happens. Hearing the line peel off of the reel at 20-40 mph is amazing!
Mike Costello, who mated for me late in the season on several tuna trips, asked me why we didn’t always try for double hookups after the first hookup(keeping the boat in gear and hoping for a second fish to hit the spread while the someone was battling the first fish). My response was that I wanted the person fighting the fish to feel “like it was their birthday” and that they were the center of attention. Tuna are such special fish that I don’t want the experience to ever feel old for the customer. Needless to say, fresh tuna sashimi on the pier is an amazing thing! What did I learn? Spend the time on the water with combination or marathon trips. The weather is most predictable in August and that time spent is so amazing. There are so many fish to catch and only 31 days in August… What did we learn in August?Plan a combination or marathon trip and target tuna, shark, and add cod or stripers to the mix.
Septemberwas much the same as August for us this year. It was really much like one long month instead of two. The one difference is that we did have much better haddock fishing, if that was possible. We started the month with a bug for tuna and ended the month just plain having fun on the water. In fact, going back to August when I mentioned double-headers…we had three in September that hit at the same time or as we were reeling the other lines it. Granted, it did get exciting. As with August, if you want to spend some serious time on the water, try a combination trip in which we fish the morning bite for tuna, then finish the day fishing offshore for cod/haddock. Or fish the morning for tuna and then we can make the short run to Provincetown for some striper and blue fish action. For these two months, I predict now that the combo trip will be our most popular option. What do they always say about making a career out of something that you love? What did I learn in September? October may be a crap-shoot for weather, so get out there while you can. If you have a trip in October that gets canceled because of weather, you may not have time to reschedule. Shoot for September and fish for whatever you like that swims. It’s all good.
Octoberbrought the winds again. When we could get offshore, we hit some big fish. Big cod, big haddock, and big pollack. It’s not too late for shark fishing (on the American Classic, they landed a 425 pound Blue shark around October 11! That 425 was after being gutted!) Well, they caught it where I fish for sharks, so be ready! With the cod regulations being what they became, we ended our official season at the end of October. We’ll see what next year brings for regulations!
With high winds being the spoiler for the open ocean, we found some amazing fishing on light tackle this October in Buzzards Bay and Plymouth Bay! I am going to be promoting this great fishery next year, that’s for sure. In fact, anyone looking for some great scenery, fishing 10 minutes from the dock, and action for stripers, bluefish, sea bass, and fluke all in the same day and perhaps on consecutive casts, this is the way to go! There’s no traffic that time of year down there and it’s amazing to fight these fish on light tackle. I love it. What we learned for October: Get offshore on the good days and clean the house on good fish. But…have and be prepared for plan B, which is to fish inshore. Plymouth Harbor has some great fishing as does Buzzards Bay in October. If the weather turns sour for your day in October, let’s not cancel but rather change venues and fish for something else. It’s still fishing and still fun.
NovemberWe didn't run any charters this November, so shame on us. The fishing was amazing when we headed out. The haddock were still very willing and the reports were that the tuna were still out there in good numbers and great size. Even on November 28th, we were out there surrounded by 100+ whales, dolphins, and who-knows-what-else that were feeding on an amazing supply of mackerel and sand eels. There was so much life out there that it impressed me. While fishing on top of Stellwagen, using fluke rods, we had to throw back a pile of cod. Nice fish--even better on light tackle. We loaded up on mackerel for bait and the grill and had a blast. What we learned in November Get out there and put some haddock in the freezer or take a chance at that last tuna of the season.
What we learned this year, overall, was that our love for the water is contagious. Not only do we want to spread it to you all, but we’ve found that once you get the bug, you tend to bring new people to get inoculated. It’s the greatest compliment. We built our business through word-of-mouth and repeat customers, but are, of course, still looking for new customers. So, we’re in the process of making the whole site flow much better and adding some needed flash to the site. Of course number one on our things to do list is to get the site internet exposure so more of you will see us (and hopefully decide to fish with us!) Matt’s brother Chris has been aiding in those details. Not only is he a Princeton Physics major, but he’s brilliant with computers as well. And a good kid to boot. Between Matt and Chris the Merrick’s did quite well.
Capt. Rich Antonino, family, and crew