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Canyon Trips
So What's the Big Deal?

By:
Capt. Art

The Canyons.

Is there a New England Fisherman that doesn't recognize these words?

These magical mystery places hold all of the fish in the world but are a world away from the average recreational fisherman. What does it take to get there, and why would one want to go there?

Let's start with why. It's easy: Tuna, Marlin, Dolphin, Wahoo, etc., etc., etc. All of the greatest gamefish that exist are caught in the Northeast Canyons. Where the continental shelf meets the briny deep, these fish come to feed. Especially when a warm water eddy from the Gulf Stream wanders over the drop where the depth goes from 100 fathoms to 500 fathoms and more. This eddy carries pods of hungry gamefish that find lots of food at the edge of and on top of the continental shelf.

In addition, the sights and the scenery are absolutely fabulous. You can see more stars than you can count, and sometimes the lights from the boats on the edge give the illusion of a small city. Crystal Clear water that has 100-foot visibility contains all types of sea life that swim up next to your boat to visit.

But the most exiting thing of all, the most compelling reason to fish the Canyon is the anticipation and expectation of the greatest adventure of your fishing career.

From the very first moment that you get lines in the water, you can sense the presence of a large hungry fish that awaits your bait or lure. You try to anticipate the strike which comes out of nowhere with the tremendous speed and power of your unseen adversary that is jumping and thrashing beyond the illumination of your spreader lights. But no matter how well you try to imagine this strike, the real thing is ten times better than what you thought it would be. And the fight is tougher than you imagined, and when the fish comes into view, you find it hard to believe your eyes. Wow!

What does it take to get there?

Several things. This is not a casual fishing trip. You will be traveling out to sea 100 miles or more. This means safety is your utmost concern. You must be on a seaworthy vessel with an experienced crew. This is no place for on the job training. Your first goal is to come back alive.

SEAMANSHIP SKILLS There are no street signs on the way to the canyon. You must preplan your trip and stick to your plan. You need to know your boat, and be able to make repairs if necessary. You need adequate fuel capacity. A full load of fish is useless if you don't have enough fuel to get back to port.

DISCIPLINE You need to be able to schedule sleep time. Since you will be underway and fishing 24 hours or more, you need to be able to refresh your body's systems as well as your baits. You need to control the urge to overestimate your abilities. For example, a huge shark comes to gaffing range and all you have is one person on deck with a 3" gaff. Don't do it! Or you force yourself to chunk long past the time when you can grip your rod, and the fish pulls the whole thing overboard. Or, the other person on watch with you falls asleep and you forget to watch yourself, or wake him up. Everything is more challenging in the dark.

QUALITY FISHING TACKLE In addition to a quality boat, you need tough dependable fishing tackle; these fish will test every component in your rod and reel.

FISHING NETWORK The canyons comprise a huge area. If you do not have an idea of where the fish might be, you could be wasting your time miles away. Since eddies move and conditions change, the fish are constantly searching for the bait. You need to communicate with other fishermen to determine a pattern of recent fish movements.

Let's go on a typical overnight canyon trip on Two-Can. We start off with a real close watch on the weather. No need for a surprise here. NOAA reports, the Weather Channel, analysis of isobaric charts and front movements, are all studied well in advance of cast off time. We want to have an enjoyable as well as a highly productive trip.

On the day before departure, rods, reels, lines are checked and calibrated to precise drag settings. Live and dead bait rigs are prepared, lure rigs are checked or remade and all hooks are sharpened to a razor's edge. Baits are selected and lure spreads are designed for the target species; the route is planned with all waypoints written down in large type for easy reading in the dark.

All facets of the boat are checked - from the engine fluid levels to the flashlights on the bridge. Fuel and water tanks are topped off, and last minute supplies are gathered. Be sure to use a checklist. It really helps!

Around 08:00 on the day of the trip, the first mate and captain load 400# of ice in the fish box, check the drags once more, and set out the rods in rod holders for running. Frozen baits are defrosted and rigged; each of the lures that will be used is pulled from storage, and all other items that will be used are gathered together. (Don't forget to rig a pitch bait and have it ready in the cockpit for any fish that you might see on the way out to the Canyon.) The specific lure placements are discussed with the crew and satellite shots are studied and plans are made for the entire trip.

Between 10:30 and 11:00 the client arrives, and all of the client's belongings are stowed carefully. At 11:30 we cast off for the Canyon, 110 miles away. Our travel time is between five and six hours depending on sea conditions. The Captain makes notes of productive conditions and fishy spots on the way out so that we can fish there on the way home. While the intensity and anticipation are high, we still try to convince everyone to get some sleep on the way out. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes everyone stays awake on the way to the Edge. Since most everyone is up anyway, we assign lookouts for lumber and debris, as well as signs of fish, birds and bait.

Our plan is to run to within at least 10 miles of the final destination and then troll for a few hours in a fishy area, or go right to the edge and troll there for a few hours. This is a prime fishing time, and we do not want to waste it!

By 21:30 we have selected a location where we want to shut down and drift for the next six and a half hours. We will chunk during this time for tuna, and probably put out one swordfish bait and maybe a shark bait. Now is the time when it is critical to force some sleep times, both for the client and the crew. We always have two people in the cockpit fishing and on lookout duty, and when the tuna show up, we generally have a lot more.

One hour and thirty minutes into the drift, we have had a few squid swimming in the lights and some small baitfish. Then we see a large group of squid rush under the boat and a large red ball shows on the fish finder. Suddenly, two lines go off, and we are hooked up to two 60# Yellowfins. The joyous screams from the cockpit wake up the napping anglers in the salon, and now we have lots of help in the cockpit.

One person keeps the chunks going over, another baits two more lines, the two hooked up fight two wild fish while dancing around the cockpit to keep the lines from tangling. The mate readies the gaff, as the first tuna is almost at the boat.

While the first fish is being gaffed, one of the other anglers hooks up to a much larger fish that takes out 200 yards of line in less than 60 seconds. The second fish is coming to the boat and runs across the line of the bigger fish. A few gymnastic moves and we get the two lines separated and gaff the second fish.

While this is going on, two more fish hit but get away, The larger fish has been on for 20 minutes now, and shows no sign of tiring. Everyone is at a fever pitch now, and there is no one cat-napping. Fifteen minutes later, the large fish is brought to the boat, and the mate gaffs it. But it is easily over 100#s and needs a second gaff to get it into the boat safely.

About an hour after the start of the flurry, it stops. A couple of anglers keep chunking and the rest slowly fade off to sleep. Before we know it, it is 04:00, and time to stop chunking and start trolling.

By 04:30, we have the full spread out, and are looking for Bigeyes and Yellowfins. This is my favorite time of the trip. Most of the strikes are vicious, with the unseen adversary ripping line off into the dark like no tomorrow. Almost all of the fish are huge and we tend to catch about half. Never knowing how big the lost fish really was. (They sometimes grow.)

At 04:40, we have a double knockdown; we try for another hit, but no luck. Taking in the rest of the spread, we proceed to fight the two hooked tuna. After fifteen minutes, a nice pair of 75# yellowfins come aboard.

Spinning around we head back to the same spot, and get a triple knockdown. Two get off immediately, and the third one is a 150# Bigeye. Nice Fish!

By now the sun is coming on strong. We keep trolling in the same area, but the bite is over. We keep the same spread out for another half hour, then change to Marlin lures and hunt for the Man in the Blue Suit.

About 09:30 we are in 60 fathoms of water and a 300# Blue grabs the right long rigger bait and immediately starts tail walking: left, right, at the boat, away from the boat, and then goes deep. Our Angler settles in for a battle and shifts our Shimano Tiagra 50W into low gear. One foot at a time, the Blue comes toward the boat: about 100 feet away, he comes up jumping. We make a full court press in reverse and chase down half of the line, and five minutes later, we tag and release this fine specimen of the deep.

We continue trolling toward home, and at 10:00, we pull the lines in and start our four hour trip back to port. All in all, it was a great night on the Edge. We caught some great tuna for the table, the show put on by the Marlin was fabulous, and the wind and seas were very kindly to our clients.

Not every trip is like this. Sometimes, the weather kicks up, and sometimes the fish don't cooperate, but every trip is an adventure that will not be forgotten!

Tight Lines,
Capt. Art
twocan@inetw.net

 

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