In my line of work, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with and fish with lots of exceptional fishermen. My only goal is to learn from them when our paths cross. Even if they don’t fish for the same species I do, there is always some little tidbit of information, some different way of looking at a situation that can be applied to other styles, locations or species. Many of the best anglers also look at things in very simple terms—I think fishermen have a tendency to want things to be more complicated than they are. They want there to be some secret formula that they have to work to uncover—this belief that a secret exists may be one of the biggest pitfalls in fishing.
I was out on a blackfishing trip with Capt. Jason Colby of Little Sister Charters one morning this fall and I saw firsthand how a career fisherman and undeniable sharpie approaches hunting for a territorial fish. It has been preached in this magazine and our reports section for decades that tautog are territorial and it is possible for great spots to get fished out if they see too much angling pressure. As we motored out of the marina Jason said to me, “today I think we’ll fish spot 135 and spot 68, then we might take a little bit of a ride and try one more spot.” As I let his words sink in, I came to the fast realization that there is mostly likely a spot 1, so it’s reasonable to assume that he has marked, at least, 135 spots within an acceptable range of his slip! So I asked him, “Do you try to only fish each spot a few times per season?” He kind of chuckled and said, “Yeah, pretty much.”
So reading between the lines there, he knows that all these numbered spots only exist on his personal chart, to everyone else it’s just another rock among the thousands in the area. There’s a remote chance that someone else will drop a rig on one or two on them at some point, but he knows that most of them will only be fished by him, leaving the fish that call that piece ‘home’ waiting there for the next time he pulls their number.
We stopped at the first location and waited while Jason’s spotlock set us up in the perfect position. I hooked up on the first drop with a 6-pounder and then the bite lit up. We pulled several sizes of tautog, a few sea bass and a bonus 23-inch codfish. When the tide fell slack, Jason instructed us to reel up so that we could go find some big ones. We steamed about four miles to a nondescript slab of rock—no taller that a coffee table and about the size of a modest living room—at least by my estimation, looking at the screen. We set up for our first drop and Jason immediately asked us to reel up so he could reposition the boat on the other side of the structure. Taking into account the simple fact that the fish would be set up on the other side because of the current.
Once we were in position and dialed in the weight of our jigs, it didn’t take long for the bite to begin. We landed dozens of blackfish and some jumbo sea bass. We also boated some dinosaur tog, at least two 8-pounders, a 9-pounder and I was lucky enough to land the largest fish of the trip at 11 pounds. I would later learn from Jason that we weren’t actually fishing that slab of rock, we were fishing off of a larger rock and drawing the fish away from structure with our baits.
So when I say the concepts of great fishermen are simple, it’s because they are. They’re thinking about the current and how the fish will relate to the piece of structure. They’re taking advantage of their tendencies to follow the sounds of crabs being crunched by smaller fish. And they understand that you can’t make a season with just a couple of good spots – you need, at least 135.