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May 26, 2011

Northeast Offshore Grab-Bag

Summer fishing off the Northeast coast conjures surprising Gulf Stream species

Match the Hatch
For mixed-bag trips, I carry at least half a dozen different baits — sardines, butterfish, baby and large squid, ballyhoo, bluefish, bunker, mackerel — and always try to catch fresh local forage on station. Having all this ammo on board gives me enough variety to tempt even the most fickle game fish. Depending on your vessel’s quantity and capacity of livewells, bring live peanut bunker, snapper bluefish and killifish, a major plus when dolphinfish and tuna play hard to get.

Whenever my pelagic travels take me near navigation and offshore weather buoys, I always do a few drive-bys. Predators such as dolphinfish, jacks, makos, threshers and school tuna frequent these fast-food stopovers, as do baitfish such as bar jacks and blue runners.

Jigging sabiki rigs or tossing strips of squid or mackerel bellies on spinning tackle should score all the fresh bait you can handle from these locales, especially if the water temperature is above 72 degrees. Live-line a fresh bait and troll in a slow figure eight around or near the buoys, or drift it in a chunk or chum slick. Put a live bait down at the thermocline for a quick hookup from a hungry pelagic.

Tools of the Trade

Most of the game fish you’re likely to encounter will weigh 250 pounds or less, including makos, threshers and bluefins. Sure, occasional exceptions occur such as the estimated 900-pound blue marlin that my good buddies Billy Martin and “Mako Mike” Townsend hooked, fought and lost over a nine-hour span. The big billfish took a trolled Green Machine within spitting distance of the Nantucket-to-Ambrose (NA) buoy, only about 13 miles southeast of Fire Island Inlet. Other exceptions might include large sharks such as hammerheads and tigers, which ride the Gulf Stream current north and follow the warm-core eddies inshore in their constant hunt for forage.

That being said, for this fishery, I prefer relatively lightweight Penn GLD-20 II and GLD-30 II two-speed graphite lever-drag reels spooled with 400 yards of PowerPro 80-pound Spectra braid connected to a 50- to 75-foot topshot of Quattro Plus 80-pound mono. I use custom rods I made years back from 6-foot, honey-colored Sabre 30- to 80-pound blanks.

While my graphite Penn two-speeds should be considered adequate for this fishery, I can get only 13 to 14 pounds of strike drag while maintaining free-spool. To resolve this issue, I picked up a pair of Penn 16 VSX reels last season, and they have proved to be top-shelf, micro powerhouse outfits, offering up to 24 pounds at strike.

The 16 VSX reels hold 475 yards of 80-pound PowerPro or Momoi Diamond Spectra braid with a 50-yard topshot of 80-pound Quattro Plus mono. I connect the topshot to the running line with my favorite knot — an Albright special with a lock — or with an offshore loop/cat’s paw knot typically used with store-bought topshots and wind-on leaders.

Off-the-shelf rods such as the Penn International V 30- to 80-pound stand-ups in 5½- or 6-foot lengths or Shimano Tallus stand-ups provide ample power. Billfisher and Tsunami also make good 6-foot, multifunction stand-up sticks.

Go down in tackle size if you intercept a school of ­football tunas or chicken dolphin on the troll, which is always a possibility in late summer. Options include Penn LD-225, 320-LD and 330-LD single-speed, lever-drag reels spooled with 20- or 30-pound Hi-Seas Quattro or Trilene Big Game Green mono.

With this gear, ample bait and flexible tactics, any angler can take advantage of the nearshore summer onslaught and save fuel while increasing fishing time. Just be sure to keep a weather eye out!

About the Author Capt. John N. Raguso is the marine products editor of The Fisherman Magazine and runs MarCeeJay Sport Fishing Charter Services ( out of Long Island, New York.