Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Catching groundfish a challenge
Things are very different today when fishing for groundfish. Under the extreme pressure put on these groundfish stocks by both commercial and recreational fishermen combined with a lot of climatic changes and increased water temperatures, finding groundfish for recreational fishing usually means a trip of up to 30 miles to one of the offshore ledges - Tanta's, Jeffrey's or Stellwagen Bank. And when you get there it's sort of a roll of the dice where the fish will be on those large pieces of underwater structure.Years ago you needn't go any farther offshore than a half mile or so to catch all the groundfish you wanted. Cod, haddock, pollock, cusk, wolfish and flounder were easily found and not that hard to catch. It was common to stop at a fish market, get a pound or so of native shrimp or clams for bait and either row or power out to the first bit of underwater structure and drop your handlines down and start catching that variety.
Recreational anglers can usually source that question by talking to other anglers either online or at their favorite fishing tackle counter but other means of finding the fish are one out on the offshore ledges looking for a concentration of fishing boats. The charter and party boats will often flock together once a good school of groundfish are located so that is a great clue. Also, paste experience is a very useful tool and a lot of people that are serious about this sport will keep a very defined logbook of previous trips, along with the GPS numbers of previous hot spots. Leaving special marks on your GPS machine when good fishing spots are found and saving them is a great way to get started on your next trip.
We don't know if the fish are getting smarter or just because there were so many in the past, but the simple handline doesn't cut it anymore. Good quality and the most modern fishing gear will definitely optimize your success. Lightweight but very strong rods will make your fishing much easier, especially if you like to use heavy jigs in your fishing. Reels with a fast retrieval rate are a big help but know that you give up some of the reel's power as a trade-off for fast line retrieve. Some of the better but pricier reels are a combination of both fast retrieve and power.
A lot of people like to fish with bait and lots like to be rigged for both bait and jigging. A good bait rig should feature a very sensitive and flexible rod tip to telegraph takes. But also needs the backbone to winch up a pair of fifteen pound pollock or big codfish from the depths. Again a reel needs enough power to handle those kinds of challenges.
Last but not least is your line, which in most cases should consist of a merger of both mono/fluoro line and braided line. Since braided line is costly, a lot of people will first spool on quite a bit of monofilament line in the 40-50 pound test range, leaving enough room on the reel to apply a couple hundred yards of braided line of at least fifty pound test super braid-type line and then finish with at least 50 to 100 feet of fifty pound or stronger fluorocarbon line. The fluorocarbon line is very stealthy. The braided line will transmit light-bites best and also doesn't stretch. Line to line connections are often done with a uniknot to uniknot joint but some like more difficult knots such as the Bimini-twist.
For bait a typical bait rig will feature a loop or sinker connection to be able to easily change your lead sinkers that will range from eight ounces to sometimes over a pound, depending on depth and currents. Two loops to accommodate bait hooks of at least 5/0 should be spaced about 18 inches above the weight for the lower one and a couple feet or so above that lower hook/loop.
For jig rigging, some like to use a snap swivel to attach the jig to the line while others like to tie directly to the jig. A large enough loop tied on the bitter end can enable changing jigs, instead of using the snap swivel. Most jig anglers like to use at least one teaser lure or fly above the jig. Most use two teasers above the jig but know that a total of three hooks is mandated and that includes the hook on your jig and any others attached to jig or line. These are attached with loops tied in the leader, similar to the bait rig. This enables changing teasers easily.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.