Besides my love for waterfowling in the month of December, there's another pursuit that keeps me both entertained and supplied with some of the best fish that you can imagine - that is going deep sea fishing on a party boat.
This time of year, usually the only boat that keeps on going out as long as there is the demand sails (just a maritime saying) out of Seabrook Harbor and that is one of the Eastman's fleet of boats. The Eastmans have been part of the party boat scene as long as my memory can recall and have not only been involved with party boat fishing but several of the family also have put in their time aboard offshore commercial fishing vessels during the party boat off-season. They are capable and veteran skippers that know when the offshore conditions are fishable and when not to get out there and find out that they made a mistake.
Although it's possible to catch quite a variety of fish when out on the ledges this time of year, it's those big pollock that get my juices flowing. We realize that many ocean anglers are sometimes addicted to catching cod and haddock, but in my estimation, give me a bunch of pollock and whatever cod and haddock come as a bonus. Those pollock not only outfight most of the other groundfish but when properly cared for and cooked, they rival in quality of just about any other fish that we've caught.
One thing we like about pollock is that they usually will take a heavy, metal jig fished close to bottom. But unlike cod or haddock, they will suspend quite a ways off bottom and we'll usually catch quite a few pollock that hit our jig as it free-falls towards bottom. You've got to be aware that this happens as you don't feel the strike, you just need to be aware when your line goes slack as it heads towards bottom and quickly set the hook, as the slack line is caused by a pollock grabbing the jig on its descent.
Pollock will also chase a jig that is being pulled up and reeled towards the surface, in fact one of the very productive methods of catching them is called speed-jigging. To do this you drop your jig to bottom and quickly reel in a predetermined amount of turns. You vary this number until you find out where the most hits are found. Speed jigging is a lot of work but it often pays off when nothing else is working. A good time to give it a try is when you do get a hit when your jig is just free falling towards bottom.
We almost always affix a couple of special teaser flies above our jig, about a foot and a half above the jig and the same distance from fly. These flies are readily available at saltwater fishing tackle sales counters or if you like to tie your own, are about the simplest flies to tie. You want to use a good, strong hook in size 4/0 to 7/0 because some of the fish you'll be eventually catching can go upwards of 30 pounds (if you're lucky).To get the best quality from your fillets, it's a good idea to bleed your fish after dispatching it. Fish blood breaks down faster than the flesh and can, over a period of time, produce a strong flavor to the fillets. And to those that are put off by any "fishy- taste", using a fillet knife, remove the dark flesh that is found along the fish's lateral line. We personally don't do this and find that cooking will decrease this impact and we actually enjoy some "fishy-taste". After all, it's fish we're eating.As these offshore trips are usually offered only a few times a week, it's always a good idea to call and make a reservation. Also, it's much more enjoyable when you're out there with friends or family members and makes for a great time for just getting together and sharing stories when the fishing is slow.
Here's Jane's and my favorite recipe for cooking fresh pollock fillets. Use some heavy duty foil and line a good sized cookie sheet. Spray a light film of PAM (we like the olive oil version) over the foil. Lay out your fillet or fillets and paint them heavily with mayonnaise. Put a mixture of 70 percent Ritz crackers and 30 percent Cheese-Its crackers and roll them into crumbs with a rolling pin or round bottle. Spread the crumbs over the fillet in a fairly thick blanket. If you like buttered crumbs, spread a few pats of butter over the crumbs. Cover lightly with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour, depending on the thickness of the fillet. Then remove foil and brown under your oven's broiler until some of the crumbs start to turn brown. Quickly remove to prevent burning the crumbs.
We like to sprinkle some good vinegar over the fish before eating.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.