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WESTPORT, MA BLACKFISH

About 30 years ago I used to make the 50-mile run from Montauk to fish Buzzards Bay for scup.

By Capt. Jason Colby
WESTPORT, MA BLACKFISH
The waters of Buzzards Bay outside the Westport River are loaded with countless blackfish hotspots. Image courtesy of NOAA Online Chart Viewer.

My boat did about 7 knots/hour so I had to make two-day trips that required an overnight layover. Sometimes the night was spent in Cuttyhunk and other times I would pull into Westport. Even back then, when I didn't have much appreciation for beauty, I still couldn't miss what a picturesque place Westport Harbor was. For the past 10 years I have had the privilege of running charters out of Westport and the place hasn't changed!

Early in the fall, the river itself has a good population of tautog near and around the Route 88 Bridge and all around the rocks seen jutting up in several locations. This fishing inside the river usually lasts until the third week of October and then they move out. Meanwhile, off Gooseberry Point about two miles east of the river mouth, there is a commercial fleet that does quite well in shallow water (15 to 20 feet) beginning in the end of September. You can find fish as they are quite willing to bite, but you have to be right on top them. If you are not catching after 20 minutes then it’s time to move.

Early in the season the fishing is primarily done in shallow water, and as the season progresses into the late fall it’s time to move out as the water cools. By mid-October I'm fishing in 25 to 30 feet and by the end of the month I'm in 30 to 35. November though is when things get really interesting! By the start of the month the fish are on the rockpiles in water over 30 feet deep and there are hundreds of places that you will not see on any chart! Always be ready to hit the MARK button on your GPS when you come across an interesting piece. I have over 200 tog spots marked on my machine and I promise anyone can go out with just a bottom-profile gizmo and catch well. You may not ever have to fish the same place twice if you don’t want to and you can always find a productive spot; perhaps one of the many I'm sure that no one has ever fished before (there are "that many" unmarked rockpiles).

One of the tricks I employ is to make a spot work. I do this by marking a good-looking piece of bottom on my machine and I anchor almost on top of it. I then fish a little bit to see if the one is hanging on the edge. Then, I take in or put out some anchor line while changing the forward cleat anchor line coming to the bow. If you cleat off on the starboard side that will influence your boat to move to port and vice versa. If you have a cleat further aft the effect is even more pronounced. This method allows you to make adjustments to the anchored position without using two anchors and without pulling the anchor excessively. Treat each separate adjustment as a new spot and give it a full 20 minutes. Blackfish do not move around a lot when they are settled into a spot.

From mid-November through to the end you can find your tog in 40- to 45-foot depths out about 3 to 5 miles from the river mouth. At this time of year you can really make a killing with big fish so be sure to fish responsibly in regard to the three-fish per person Massachusetts limit. Catch and release is fine too as tautog are very hardy fish and the mortality on released fish is quite low when the fish are handled properly. But please treat fish to be returned with great care and get them back in the water quickly and without trauma!

I will end with a word of warning though: there is a reef just a quarter mile west of the river mouth and if there is any swell coming in from the south, avoid the reef! Waves break on the reef as much as 3/4 miles from shore and I frequently go completely around the reef to fish just on the other side of it. Think safety first! Also, there are several locations where there are nasty and unforgiving rocks just beneath the surface or just sticking out. Please study the charts carefully before you venture around these waters.

COORDINATES: 41.507155° N, 71.085909° W

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