Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring Cod Fishing - Cox Ledge Report, March 18-19, 2012

Date & Vessel: 
March 18:  Island Current III
March 19: Lady Frances

Rhode Island Harbor(s): 
Snug Harbor (Wakefield)
Point Judith
Guest Anglers: Jie & Liwen

-Daiwa Saltiga Jigging 66M
-Seeker Hercules Inshore Jigger (click here)
-St. Croix PM79XXXHF
-Daiwa Saltist Jigging 66MH
-St. Croix PGM80HM
-Lamiglas Tri-flex 7020CT

-VM150 - Daiwa Boat Braid PE6
-VM150 - Daiwa Samurai #70
-Ocea Jigger 1500PG - Daiwa Boat Braid PE6
-Shimano JDM Stella 6000SW - Daiwa Boat Braid PE6
-Abu Ambassadeur 7000 (Vintage 1975) - Jerry Brown Solid #50
-Shimano Trinidad 10a - Daiwa Samurai Accudepth #55

Cod Fishing off Block Island has been the mainstay for much the NY/CT/RI/MA & Long Island NY region for the better of the century.  However often it's found that even this great fishery will feel the effects of a culmination of different factors resulting in a slow or "missed" run of fish.  Although I believe fishing has been great for the majority of this past decade at the Block, it's obvious that this warm 2011/2012 winter has pushed migration patterns for fish out of typical pattern and is the causation for poor reports of slow fishing.
Without a doubt I had high anticipation for this trip and welcomed along two other anglers that have fished the Block before for epic sized fluke with both welcoming weather and the poorest for the memories of an old salt.

Meeting with Jie & Liwen led me to our mutual meeting spot in South Norwalk, Connecticut.  I had made the trek about 150 miles already after picking up my new Seeker Hercules jigging rod from a local tackle shop where my friend Greg had been wrapping for a few weeks already.  I certainly appreciate the skill it takes to make a fishing rod great, and have it do the job and be up to task.  This particular rod was designed as a utility rod and can be read about here: Custom by Greg.  Also, the Rod's own report can be found separately here: Seeker a Jigging Rod?

Our target changed from Block Island to Cox Ledge and surrounding wrecks.  My initial reaction while on the steam out of the harbor and past the grounds was that Captain James definitely had his eye on a set of wrecks that would make the trek out that far worth his while.  It's about 40-50 miles offshore to the south side of Cox's Ledge.

The previous reports from sharpies would indicate that the fish have been green and settled in after a week weathered reports.  Luckily this was the first day in a week long break in the weather that yielded sun and calm seas.  Two to three footers would diminish and offer even small craft the luxury of making such a trip possible.  It's is at that time I thought that it would also make nice timing for a Tilefish trip out to the Hudson or Atlantic canyons.

The boat was the 76' Island Current III out of Wakefield, Rhode Island.  This is the original City Island, NY Fishing Fleet that has made Snug Harbor their home for the regions fishing.  I had made a mental error of donning a Frances Fleet hooded sweatshirt in the early hours and one of the mates was nice enough to point it out as being ballsy.  I quickly sported another hoodie on top to make amends.

Day 1 - Snug Harbor - Aboard the Island Current III

Our first day out we arrived at the dock around 2:55am for a 4:00am departure.  We were greeted by one other truck with two guys inside.  While there was a private charter on one of their smaller boats (IC2), we were the only ones at the time for the IC3 and had enough room to spread our gear and rods.  Getting there early means getting the spots you want at the stern and corners.  Ace for when you want to jig.

Although it was a Sunday the crowd was light and barely 20 anglers came on board.
I thoroughly enjoyed fishing this boat and found out through later conversation with a mate that Captain James wanted to keep all fish carcasses for use the next day for his wolverine hunt.  Pretty cool...

The pool was decided with a 36 pound codfish.  I caught a variety of species, but no dogfish.  First drop and 2nd drop I jigged up a pollock (not so keeper size) on the 200g Shimano Bottom Ship Inchiku jig from Japan.  Awesome!  The custom Seeker performed flawlessly and had a soft enough tip to work the jig and feel and taps. 

Coming over the rail on the last spot was my biggest cod.  I didn't weigh it but I estimate it to be my biggest cod to date.  I caught it on my trusty Red Vintage Abu Ambassadeur 7000 with upgraded power handle from 1975.  I have brought this reel on every trip out and it has always caught fish.  The all metal interior has never failed me.  The rig was a single hook low 4x strong Gamakatsu 6/0 Octupus with a 14 inch tag end from dropper loop.  I used a 16oz bank sinker and medium slob of clam muscle and belly.  The fight started with a soft pull as if the male cod sucked the bait in entirely.  I didn't swing the hookset instead lifted and pulled with strength.  The fish immediately showed it's power by holding deep and although I had the St. Croix Premier 8 foot Glass rod doubled over, I knew that with my swivel and the soft fighting bend of the rod I had the capability to land this one.  I did struggle to retrieve line after the initial 6-10 revolutions.  Knowing that I was up against a big fish and one that lived in the wrecks I would have to make it to above 10 feet of retrieve before I could ease up.  At a point in the beginning of the fight I could not make a turn of the handle.  I kept calm and confident know that my movements needed to be slow and never to pump the fish.  Eventually I tried to ease up on the drag.  The star drag when winched isn't very easy to move and my first attempt at it failed.  I took on some more line and a voice inside my head told me (perhaps words from Kilsong & experience) that I should try to loosen the drag again.  Although I had a swivel and 9 foot #50 Flurocarbon leader I didn't want my drag set so high as to tear a bigger hole in the lip of the cod (more on this later), and also pop the hook out after a head-shake.  I managed to loosen the star drag about 3/4 a turn on the reel and for the next 30 seconds the fish would take small increments of drag (under a foot of line) twice.  At this time I had two mates with 2 gaff's ready.  In about 4-6 minutes we had color and our Puerto Rican mate yelled out "We got the Starship Enterprise!!! Coming up!!"  From fishing sharks out of Cape May, along with bluefin tuna I knew that it was my time to not stare at the fish when it surfaces but to position the fish close enough to the gaff by stepping back 3-4 feet and getting out of the way so the mate could do his job.  Fish was landed and that for me filled the cooler!  While de-hooking, I noticed that the fish had swallowed my hook almost entirely.  This made for some difficulty retrieving the 4x strong hook but I managed. 

At least I did get to land my first ever (personal best) White Hake.  This fish came on the same last spot and on my last drop.  The bite was similar but without the weight.  The fight was ferocious and I had an inclination that the fish on the end of the line was not a codfish.  Also landed on the Abu/St.Croix PGM80HM, the bend was beautiful however not as to nearly bottom the rod out like the cod.  The fish fought to the top and when surfaced the same mate was yellin in my ear about the monster White Hake!  It was fun fishing for sure.  De-hooking was the same as with the cod.  This hake swallowed the 4x Gammy Octopus. 

Some photos of the steam out, the bite, and dinner:

With the trip coming to an end we asked the mate about local tablefare.  He suggested a few however many of the famous local seafood restaurants had the high likelyhood of not being open at this early point of the season.  However one restaurant did and it was suggested over all as the best.
We visited Matunuck Oyster Farm, at 629 Succotash Road in East Matanuck.
Here are three variations of their most famous oysters they offer along with some New England clam chowder and my choice of Shrimp Jambalaya.  All excellent.

Here is the thread we started for food recommendations before the trip.  Many people know exactly what to recommend and I appreciate the suggestions.  I wish we had more time to stay and enjoy the Rhode Island dining.  Noreast - Where to eat in Point Judith, RI

Thanks to MakoMike for the recommendation!
Best dining I've had in Rhode Island.  Very attentive with quick service along with fresh quality all in one.

DAY 2 - Point Judith - Aboard the Lady Frances, Frances Fleet

While being familier with Cox Ledge along with Block Island, I questioned where we would target on the Lady Frances.  This was my first time on this boat and although a tad longer/bigger at 105 feet then the Gail Frances at 90 feet, the Lady is still 29 feet longer than the Island Current III.  It was a very comfortable boat with a cabin that had enough room to lay out and enjoy the ride out.

Another 2.5 hour ride out.

I must say on both days that the amount of anglers were still fewer then on a normal day in the middle of the season.  We were here early and today was a Monday.  Back at the office during check in time they mentioned approximately 40 anglers to show.  I don't think there were that many.  Today's pool fish went to a small cod probably around 12 pounds.  Other fish such as bergal aka cunner aka sea perch were caught and in plentiful amounts. I think we had like 14 or 15 of those dinner sized fish in the cooler along with 5 keeper cod and one red hake aka Ling.  Liwen managed to get a double header cod bite (1 keeper) along with a slew of smaller monkfish.  Both Jie and Liwen were at one point cleaning bottom for everyone else by hooking and landing non-stop (like every time I looked over my shoulder) spiny dogfish!  I thought they were endangered???!  Better them then me :D

Some photos of the steam out, and rigging, along with chillin on the Lady Frances: