Andreas Brundler gets it. So does Dave Wissemann. Heading into the Fourth of July weekend, the two Long Island subscribers to The Fisherman were tied up at 12 points in the 2017 Dream Boat Challenge, our season-long subscribers-only battle for the Steiger Craft and Yamaha package.
With an 8.89-pound tiderunner caught on May 10, Brundler accumulated 10 points atop the weakfish division; a 2.62-pound porgy one week later earned him 8th position there and another pair of points.
Wissemann on the other hand had a good day of action on May 21, picking up a 7.4-pound weakfish for second place just behind Brundler for 9 points, and a 2.8-pound porgy for 7th position ahead of Brundler’s for an added 3 points.
Deadlocked at 12. But that was then; this is now, and with four months to go before the coastwide contest comes to a close, the numbers and positions are sure to change on a week-to-week basis!
Whatever regional edition you subscribe to, the final months of competition in The Fisherman’s Dream Boat Challenge in 2017 will require some fishing participation. To go for Dream Boat gold in 2017, the path to that Dream Boat may even lead you crossing regional boundaries to bigger and better opportunities to fill the board.
New England Options
Beginning with the offshore species of yellowfin and mahi, if you have access to a canyon-capable boat—yours or a friend’s—a trip out east is well advised at some point this fall. Getting in on the yellowfin bite coupled with stops at the high-flyers along the way will provide an excellent opportunity to secure two spots and their related points. If you can’t get offshore by your own means, then chartering a captain or climbing aboard a headboat is just as good of an option.
If offshore action is simply not in the cards, there are other options nearer shore. First and foremost you can rather easily put yourself in a positon to enter two eligible species —black sea bass and scup/porgy—through the end of the challenge on a single trip. Pretty much all the waters south of the Cape to Long Island Sound are paved with these tasty bottom-dwellers, and along the way you might even pick up a good fluke or two to round out your score. If not, then working the waters around Fishers Island, Block Island or off Nantucket for a doormat fluke might just be in order. Then again, it’s fishing, and the key is to get out there and participate. You just never know when a Dream Boat entry will take the bait.
Rounding out our options in New England are the fall staples of blackfish and bluefish. Bluefish are a tough one in New England as the last few years has seen a run of massive choppers off Long Island and into New Jersey in the fall, but August and early September has produced a slew of hefty fish inside Long Island Sound thanks to the schools of adult bunker setting up camp there in the summer. This is just as much a boater’s game as it is a surfcaster’s, and there are plenty of high teen and even 20-pound blues landed by night time chunkers around the mouth of the Connecticut River.
Last up is blackfish, a category that is almost always rounded-out in the fleeting days of the challenge. While the majority of double-digit tog that end up on the leader board come from Long Island subscribers, we here in New England really should be dominating this category. October and even into November has produced 20-pound specimens for New Englanders each of the last several years, but unfortunately none of those anglers were subscribers—a big mistake! Some specific hot spots to land a 15-pound-or-better fish include the waters off Newport, Jamestown, Narragansett, Block Island, Fishers Island and Niantic. The last spot there—Niantic, CT—has produced the previous two state record fish including the current record of 26.6 pounds in 2015, which is the second-largest ever recorded on rod and reel.
New York State of Mind
Two of the most promising opportunities to score some points right now are the sea bass and porgy categories. Both species are easily accessible, even for those who don’t own their own boat, since both are heavily targeted by open and charter boats from most ports on Long Island and the Metro New York area. The seasons for both run through the end of the year, giving you ample time, and there is no shortage of fish making the minimum weight requirements for either species. In terms of accumulating points in the Dream Boat, I would definitely prioritize porgies.
As of early July, only one double digit fluke resides in the current standings, but it’s a whopper in Chester Green’s 14-pound Long Island doormat. While I know big fluke can be caught on a small bucktail tipped with a 4-inch Gulp! Swimming Mullet, the odds of attracting a Dream Boat doormat rise dramatically when you turn to big baits like bluefish or bunker fillets, whole squid or live baits like snappers. Montauk is always a good starting point in the hunt for a true doormat, but every season sees a couple of areas that tend to produce big fish with more regularity than others; one year it might be Ambrose Channel, another Eatons Neck. Watch for these developing patterns.
I’m shocked that we only had one bluefish entry this spring considering the run featured numerous blues to 18 pounds, and included at least four New York fish tapping into the 20-pound class. The past couple of falls have produced an inordinate number of bunker-stuffed blues ranging from 18 to 22 pounds and I see no reason why it shouldn’t repeat this year, primarily the west end of the South Shore, but anywhere from Montauk into the New York Bight.
The offshore categories for mahi and yellowfin tuna are wide open as of mid-summer, and seasoned blue water anglers who trek offshore on a regular basis have an obvious advantage. But if you are serious about scoring points here, round up a few buddies and hop a ride on a charter boat when the bite is on, or take a chance on a long range open boat junket. If you are not already a member of a fishing club, consider joining one. Boat owners are often looking for fellow club members to round out a crew. Just make sure your reason for joining goes well beyond hitching rides to the blue water.
Blackfish are another wide open division—the New York season doesn’t open until October 5—but remember that you can travel anywhere within the 10 eligible Northeast and Mid Atlantic states from Maine to Delaware to catch your fish as long as you weigh it at an official Fisherman weigh station. The waters off the North Fork are a traditional haven for bulldogs, but some of the biggest blackfish caught in New York have come off the South Shore and West End wrecks, and also from the central North Shore. Some captains have a knack—and the numbers—for finding outsize tog, and their reputation usually precedes them.
Greetings From the NJ/DE Shore
Fuggedaboutit, when it comes to certifiable doormats, the deep waters of Ambrose are where you should be. A deep channel of glacial proportions (think Hudson Canyon), the stretch from the 21 Buoy near the Verrazano Bridge down past the 7 Buoy near Romer Shoal provides drainage for the Hudson River, Raritan Bay and Jamaica Bay, where giant fluke congregate for final meals before returning to the canyons for the winter. Except perhaps for the Shrewsbury Rocks nearer Shark River Inlet where fluke to 20-plus pounds have reportedly been landed within the past decade, there may be no better place to find 10-pound plus fish than out of ports in Highlands and Atlantic Highlands.
Monster bluefish are scored down along the North and Central Jersey Coast from September into November—the top fish in the 2016 contest going 24.31 pounds on November 10—with surfcasters getting equal opportunities at Dream Boat fish. Reports of massive sand eel blooms offshore to start this summer already have folks dreaming of an inshore invasion this fall, with pluggers from Deal down through Seaside into the lower stretches of Cape May County salivating at the thought of busted tackle. The 2016 Thanksgiving Day striped bass blitz in Central Jersey—though stripers not in Dream Boat contention this season—should be enough to have traveling anglers putting Parkway Exit 82 on their itinerary this fall.
As for those sand eels, yellowfin action along the Delaware and Jersey Coast was off to a gangbusters start Poorman’s into the Wilmington up past the Spencer canyons. As tuna followed bait and water currents along the west edge of the canyons, plenty of 50-pound class and up yellowfin made their way to the scales to start 2017. Regrettably for New Jersey/Delaware subscribers in the thick of it all, last year it was the New Englanders who took advantage of Dream Boat certified weigh-ins with six of the top 10 yellowfin positions going to the northernmost edition.
Expect a superb yellowfin bite into September at the Hudson and Lindenkohl, with a fair share of big mahi scores as well. For inshore anglers looking to increase their ability to register fish in the Dream Boat this season, a couple of shared charters—perhaps an offshore party boat chunk trip in the fall—could be the icing on the cake with a 60- or 70-pound yellowfin and 20-pound class bull dolphin on top of any inshore scores.
With fisheries regulations being what they are, expect hungry humpbacks to greet anxious anglers at the artificial reef sites along the Jersey and Delaware Coast when the best part of the season reopens in October. New Jersey and Delaware state reef programs have been moving at a frenetic pace in the past year, which bodes well future bottomfishing with plenty of new structure. Look for titanic tautog and bruiser biscuits in October and November anywhere from 100 to 200 feet of water, most notably at robust reef deployments like DelJerseyLand Reef.
Having a plan of action is essential if you are serious about your Dream Boat quest. Plan your fishing around the prime times and locations for catching the largest of each species. That requires paying close attention to fishing reports and any other intel you can gather from friends, captains and The Fisherman’s website, magazine and books.
Look for developing patterns such as consistent reports of big blues (15 to 20 pounds) being caught in a particular area. If a particular boat is producing big fluke at a rate above what everyone else is doing, that skipper likely has information other skippers don’t have, or is doing something different from everyone else in the area. While some patterns repeat in the same areas from year to year, many do not so it is imperative that you seek out current patterns.
The 2017 Dream Boat Challenge is a simple, fun way to compete to possibly win great prizes. Fish hard and safely, and good luck.
|DREAM BOAT DETAILS|
|The Dream Boat premise is simple: accumulate the most total points by catching the heaviest fish across a field of eight eligible species (weakfish, porgy/scup, fluke, yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, bluefish, black sea bass and blackfish/tautog) and win yourself the incredible Steiger Craft 21 DV Boat powered by a Yamaha 200HP outboard motor, and many other great prizes.
Contestants may submit as many entries in excess of the minimum weight as they wish. However, only the heaviest one entry per species category will be entered and tallied for points. This means that you can enter a heavier fish in a given species and move up the leader board, but you can not hold multiple spots within any single species.
Points will be awarded to each of the top 10 entries with the heaviest fish in each species: 10 points goes to the heaviest fish in each of eight categories, 9 points for second, all the way to a single point for the 10th heaviest fish in that division.
The key to winning the Grand Prize in 2017 is not only to land the heaviest fish, but to do so across as many of the eligible species as possible. See all the official rules at thefisherman.com.