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In all of fishing, there’s perhaps no better feeling than running up to a great offshore breakline. We’ve all experienced it. Whether it’s a weed line formed over a dramatic temperature break, a well-defined rip or a sharply contrasting color change, discovering spots where water conditions clash gets the blood flowing like nothing else. You just know fish are going to be around.
But while finding these spots might be the product of luck, more often, it’s the result of intense planning — establishing a sound game plan and sticking to it, while remaining nimble enough on the water to read and react to conditions on the fly.
Fishing the breaks begins well before you ever leave the dock and, like good detectives, the best anglers and captains already have amassed a great deal of knowledge, leads, and clues as to where their quarry might be found.
Having spent some 40 years guiding clients to the famed canyons off New England, Capt. John Raguso has earned his detective stripes. He says a lengthy trip to the edge of the continental shelf (which sometimes requires upwards of an 80-mile run) usually begins a week in advance, as he analyzes a number of key factors that determine where the fish might be.
In addition to carefully watching the ever-important weather, Raguso keeps equally close tabs on the forecast below the water’s surface, monitoring charts from Terrafin and Roffer’s Ocean Forecasting Service, which pull their information daily from satellite shots snapped by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
More on the specifics of what Raguso’s looking for in just a moment. His first order of business, however, is determining directional water flow.
This is important to establish right off the bat because it often dictates how far he has to run. Lengthy continental-shelf trips aren’t always necessary in Raguso’s waters, as fabulous action sometimes occurs much closer to home, around the 20-fathom line, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in fuel cost. It all depends on two things: water temperatures and chlorophyll levels.
Temps and Chlorophyll
Most anglers are familiar with sea‑surface temperature (SST) charts. They help pinpoint some of the most productive breaklines to be found in oceans across the world.
Here’s how it works: When dramatic water-temperature boundaries collide, they draw plankton, debris and bait into the area, literally sucking everything in, and often amassing great areas of floating debris. This, in turn, draws game fish. The more pronounced a temperature break — and the longer these boundaries have been abutting one another — the greater the chance that roaming pelagics have had time to locate the ensuing feeding opportunity.
So what exactly catches Raguso’s attention on the charts?
“When studying the edge of the continental shelf, I’m watching for spin-off eddies around the canyon edges,” he says. “Inshore, I’m watching for filaments that break off the spin-off eddies and meander inside.”
These “eddies” and “filaments” Raguso refers to are basically warm-water pockets, displayed much as Doppler radar displays weather, in yellows, oranges and reds on SST charts, indicating their intensity (or warmth).
SST charts are generally updated every 10 hours or so, and Raguso watches them like a hawk, trying to determine whether a pattern of movement is developing and whether the temperature breaks are intensifying. When he sees a pattern emerging — whether it’s far offshore or closer to the coast via meandering warm-water filaments — he takes it to the next level.
“That means I start looking at the chlorophyll charts to see where the cleanest water is,” he says. “I intersect and overlay the charts. You might have a nice, 3-degree temperature change, say 76-degree water surrounded by 73-degree water, but is that water blue or green? The chlorophyll overlays add the next level of detail and help you better pinpoint where the fish should be.”
Some guesswork is involved though.