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A look at the keys to unlocking the secrets of targeting breakwall blackfish.
By Joseph Cassone
Tags: inshore
Breakwalls hold togs of all sizes but taking home the smaller fish and releasing the bigger ones will help to ensure that the fishery lasts for years to come.

The civil engineers that designed the breakwalls that line New England’s coast did so in order to create calm harbors for the shipping trade. They unknowingly created prime pieces of blackfishing structure that present a unique angling challenge. Breakwalls are among the biggest pieces of structure available to inshore anglers. It can be daunting at first to decide where to anchor up on a pile of rock that’s over a mile long. Finding the “spot on the spot” is the key to being the boat cheering with double-headers.

Most breakwalls are constructed out of large slabs of rock stacked on top of each other. The large overlapping rocks don’t stack perfectly even and create a complex habitat of pockets and crevices. This is an ideal habitat for blackfish as it provides the cover and the food that they need. In addition to the structure, breakwalls offer sharp changes in depth. To borrow a cliché, what we see of a breakwall is merely the tip of the iceberg. From the visible portion of the breakwall downward to bottom the pile of stones extends horizontally creating a steep rocky slope. Depending on the time of season blackfish can be found in holes anywhere along this slope.

A good strategy is to start on the shallow edge of where you suspect the blackfish are hanging and methodically fish down the slope to dial in on their exact depth. Blackfish generally move deeper as the water cools later in the season. All the usual blackfish baits will shine at breakwalls. It’s tough to beat a half of a fresh cut green crab or a whole Asian shore crab. If you happen to be friendly with a lobstermen you might be able to score a few hermit crabs which are a supreme bait.

When the bite is on at your local breakwall expect to see a fleet of boats anchored up to take advantage of the highly-productive fishery.

I have noticed that breakwalls create very different current conditions than what are occurring through out the rest of an area. When current strikes an obstacle it is deflected 90 degrees away in another direction. This phenomenon is most commonly seen in rip lines, where the current collides with the edge of a reef and is forced up and over the reef. Breakwalls are different from reefs in that the water is unable to go up and over them and is deflected parallel to their length. Due to their very large size breakwaters create a different localized pattern of current as it is deflected. This alternate current collides with the primary current pattern at the end of the wall creating an unpredictable swirling current. While this creates excellent fishing conditions it poses a challenge in terms of boat positioning.

Some of the breakwalls are over a mile long so deciding where to drop anchor can be more difficult than Brett Favre deciding if he is going to retire. The ends of a breakwall are top spots. The swirling currents over the rocky point produce an ideal fishing spot. The end of the breakwall acts like a rocky point extending out into the sea. The current sweeps through the rocky holes and brings the fish all the crabs they could eat. As the tide really starts to crank I always felt that blackfish move deeper into their holes and are less apt to roam. When this happens I try to bounce my sinker around and probe into the pockets.

The ends of the breakwater are also great striper spots. While blackfishing we usually throw a chunk of bunker out on an extra rod and this often turns into a bonus bass. It’s no secret to savvy anglers that the end is a great spot to find a pile of tog. You are likely to encounter a number of boats on the end; be sure to use good etiquette and don’t anchor right on top of another boat. There are other spots along breakwalls that receive much less pressure and can be just as productive.

“Pass-throughs” are isolated spots along the wall where there is a hole straight through to the other side. The large stones do not stack evenly and can make sizeable gaps to the other side of the wall. The passage through the wall acts like a cave and provides outstanding place for the tog to hole up. To locate the pass-throughs idle along the length of the wall at low tide and look for light on the other side. Another way to find them is to look for swirling currents surrounded by calm water on the opposite side of the wall from where the current is hitting. These holes allow the current to “pass through” where they would otherwise be blocked.

Generally the closer you can set to the wall the better the fishing will be, but extreme caution must be made when working this close to "immovable objects."

Once you have decided where to anchor, doing so requires just a little more effort than normal. The swirling currents around the end of the breakwall can make anchoring a challenge. The current can make your boat swing away from the rocks and that pile of tog that just showed up on the sounder. To counter this employ a two anchor system with a traditional anchor off the bow and a throwable anchor off the stern that attaches to the rocks. The two anchors allow for precise movements up and down the slope.

The basic throwable anchor consists of nothing more than a rope and something that can get hung in between the rocks. I have seen other boats use pieces of pipe with a hole drilled in the center. While these are easier to throw, they are difficult to retrieve as it is tough to get a heavy pipe to pop up out of the rocks. A better system is to use a two foot length of wood, either a dowel or section of 1X4. The wood can stand vertically to slip down between the rocks, and with a little bit of manipulation with the rope can be made to turn horizontal and provide a secure connection to the breakwall.

When you are done fishing and want retrieve your anchor, put some slack into the line and then whip it up and down. The movement of the rope can make the wood flip vertically and pop out from the rocks. Sometimes it is not possible to coax the anchor out from the rocks. Getting the wooden anchor in and out of the rocks is somewhat of an art form. It is possible to nose up to the breakwall and have one of the more nimble passengers hop out onto the rocks and work the anchor out. Only attempt this maneuver under calm conditions as the safety of the boat and crew is worth more than a piece of wood. Just come back another day when it is calmer to retrieve your anchor rather than take needless risks.

Blackfish are cursed with delicious white flesh that earns legal-size fish a one-way ticket to the fillet table. It is perfectly acceptable and encouraged to keep legal-sized blackfish. When the action gets hot and heavy consider releasing the bigger fish and keep the smaller guys. The 6-plus-pound blackfish contribute a lot more reproductive output to the population. Releasing bigger fish helps to ensure there will be bountiful blackfish populations in the future.