In New Hampshire, we're so lucky to have a place like the Isles of Shoals which we share with the state of Maine. "The Shoals," as us old-time coastal people refer to it, was settled by fishermen, probably well before any other settlements had been established in North America. And the name doesn't refer to shallow water. As it is currently used, it refers to the schools of codfish and other fish that swarmed around the islands. The word shoals was their version of the word schools.
Codfish were the ideal food to ship around the world, as salted and dried cod was very stable and would not spoil as long as it was kept dry. And with ready access to sea salt and plenty of wind, codfish drying racks were spread all over our Isles of Shoals. It's reported that the Town of Gossport, located in what is now called Gossport Harbor, once had 1,800 residents.
Things have changed a lot since then but one thing has remained pretty constant, the Isles of Shoals is a great place to fish for several species. For years it seemed that striped bass were never found there but in the last twenty or so years, they've been caught there with some regularity. One of the best spots is right inside Gossport Harbor where they are apt to be found under lobster boats as they wash down. The bass will feed on the scraps of lobster bait that occur with the boat wash-down.
That's not the only reason that often schools of huge stripers will follow a lobster boat around. My longtime friend, Mike Flannigan, who fishes lobsters offshore, will often tell me of striped bass following his boat around when he's hauling traps. These big stripers will quickly grab the short lobsters that have to be quickly released from Mike's lobster traps.
What made this story easy for me to believe is the amount of lobsters, some of them well into keeper-size, we've found in the stomachs of some of the biggest stripers we've caught! One of the spots where this happens often is when we fish right alongside the Port Authority's dock in Portsmouth on the Piscataqua River. On the outgoing tide we like to work our live or chunk baits of pollock or mackerel right along bottom next to the dock. It seems those big stripers hang out under the dock and will come out and snatch our baits as we float by with the outgoing tide.
By the way, it's not legal to catch lobsters unless you are licensed and can only catch them by trap. And the lobsters we've found in striper bellies are usually pretty-much digested and we sure wouldn't take a chance at eating them.
Bluefish are often found around the Shoals, but that isn't a fish you can count on being anywhere with any consistency. We'll often go a few years without any bluefish in our area but when they are here, the Shoals can be a hot spot.
Fishing for bluefish with live bait can be very frustrating as they often just chop off half of your live bait and won't touch what is left. It's almost uncanny that they'll do that! Other times they'll eat the whole live bait so you can set your hook and land one, after a very spirited fight that often sees these awesome fish come up out of water with a salmon-type jump.
A tip on bluefish attacks when fishing for stripers. Stripers seem to be pushed away when the blues come in to feed but we've found that they don't always move away but drop down under the feeding bluefish and feed on the scraps of baitfish that the blues cut up with their feeding. A smart striper move is to put on a chunk of baitfish with a goods sized sinker and drop it down near bottom. A big striper will often be your reward.
Live bait anglers are often frustrated in catching their mackerel of pollock live bait in inshore waters. But those in the know when that happens will invest in the hour or so round trip to the Shoals to catch their live bait, with live pollock being close to a sure thing and mackerel often being available.
Lastly, while inshore flounder fishing is nowhere what it used to be, once in a while we'll take a chance on the macks being at the Shoals and fish for them in any likely spot, moving around until we find them. Sandy or gravelly bottom is usually good but don't take this to the bank. We've had more than one trip to the Shoals for founder that ended up with catching a striper or bluefish but no flounder at all.
But we've never come back from that seven-mile cruise out there without truly enjoying our visit. There's just something about the place that seems like you're in a different world, in a different time.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.