The 2011 season proved to be another great year for fishing the Boston Harbor waters. We found fish in shallow bays, over ledges and other structure, various rocky shorelines; and on occasion explored areas outside the harbor. Large stripers were hooked throughout the season, but especially during spring and summer. In many ways the season was similar to last year but with enough differences to keep us on our toes. Nonetheless, if we take a broad view, fishing patterns have really changed in the harbor. In years past the early and late parts of the season where the most dependable; now the spring and summer segments seem to be consistently strong and the fall season, designated home of the "blitz" run, has become the least reliable. That said, few things in fishing are guaranteed; I would be surprised if this pattern did not change again. What we can be sure of is that a fishing trip on Go Fish is a great way to spend a morning in the scenic setting of Boston Harbor.
The fishing is very dependent on the bait available in the harbor for the stripers and blues to feed on, as well as favorable weather. Generally speaking, storms disrupt fishing patterns, and it can take days before clear waters and bait return. When storms occur towards the end of the season they can sometimes drive the bait out of the harbor for good. Those who fished on Go Fish last year can attest to the fact that I take pains to avoid fishing on high wind days. While there are exceptions to everything, fishing is rarely productive in Boston Harbor when the wind is blowing hard, especially from the northeast and northwest. This year the mackerel lasted for much of the season which was quite similar to last year. Herring was available in various forms beginning with the alewifes heading up the rivers to spawn in spring, and lasted through the summer. Few pogies were found in the harbor, rather similar to 2009; as well as fewer peanut bunker during the fall. The presence of these juvenile bunker attract the fish we target, and the relatively small numbers that we saw this year probably goes a long way to explaining why the fall season was less productive than usual.
The early hours are often the most productive on any given day so Go Fish was on the water around dawn most of them. On days that welcomed us with light winds our first efforts usually included targeting fish in shallows and the possibility of sight casting. This remains my favorite way to fish: to tempt an surface explosion using a soft plastic lure. While casting is my favorite technique it is not always the most productive. As the days progressed we usually varied the technique to include trolling, jigging and live bait when available.
Fishing is a continual learning process, and you have to adapt to what the day brings. On some trips we lost count of all the fish we boated, yet on others we had to work very hard just to hook a couple. Below are selected fishing reports from the daily fishing log I keep:
This would be a packed day. Trips with students from Boston South High School had been scheduled as a graduation activity. By the time we were done, four groups had taken their turns on the water. The day started with winds that were a bit stronger than I would like and first look around the approach channels did not reveal any fish. However, returning to the anchorage revealed a couple pods of fish and birds that had spotted the bait they were chasing. Onboard were Eduardo, Dereck, Joey, and Victor; and they were immediately hooking fish. I was wondering how long the great fishing would last given that there were still three groups to take their turn. After all onboard had landed at least two fish including some keepers I decided it was time to change the crew. By now the action had slowed a little as the schools were dispersing, nevertheless there was still some nice quality action with at least one fish per person. By the time the second group was done the fish had moved on and we needed to try some different tactics. We scanned a number of structure spots in the area to see if we could find some holding fish which we did. For the most part they did not seem too interested in our offerings. By now the wind had died down and we had some very comfortable conditions, and we did manage to hook a few fish trolling tubes and plugs. Spectacle Island, often a good location to troll, did yield a couple fish but nothing spectacular. While they had attended high school in the vicinity, most of the students had never been in the harbor or done any fishing for that matter. They thoroughly enjoyed they day.
Onboard today we had Phil Andrews and his neighbor Wayne. Phil has fished with "Go Fish" for several years and often takes at least a couple trips a year. As is often the case Phil had picked a great day to try his luck - it was nearly windstill and a sunny day was in store. It did not take long to find the fish as we sighted some surface activity by Sunken Ledge as we emerged from the Fore River. Stripers were hooked, including a 34 inch fish for Wayne. Phil was focused on the surface and Wayne worked a jig very slow letting it sink. The action moved around the area for about 45 minutes before it died and was time to move on. I decided to motor by George's and took a turn into the Nixes mate area and sure enough found three other boats there. They had clearly been on fish but the activity had just died out. Some birds in the channel lured us out of the harbor but on this calm day they must have sighting deep fish that did not stay long. Returning to the Nixes bar we hooked some more fish and fished this area for awhile. As this pettered out we took a trip to Governors flats and once again were on fish with both Phil and Wayne hooking up repeatedly. When the fish dispersed I decided to take a look outside scanning south first and then up to Nahant but found nothing. No fish or bait was sighted but on this day the views alone were worth the trip. As we returned we saw some breaking fish by the Southern tip of Long Island; there were dozens of fish breaking surface with no birds or other boats in sight. These fish were quite finicky and would look at but not take our lures. Phil solved the problem by working his lure really fast, and Wayne found similar success as he mimicked this with his jig. The action was furious but did not last long. Before long we we alone on a sheet of glass. I decided to make a pit stop in shallows which turned out to be a great decision. Stripers had clearly come in with the tide and were cruising the nearly slack water. We had many small school fish following our lures but they were very selective. Nevertheless, it was exciting sight casting to and trying to decipher what kind of lure and action might draw a strike. We tried various plastic jerk bait and managed to improve on our success. Phil landed a hefty 38 inch fish in addition to several pint sized and keeper sized fish. We stayed on this fish until it was time to return to dock. Between the weather and the fishing, Wayne rated the day a "25" out of ten.
Paul Church had booked a trip for himself, his fishing buddy Dave, and friend Bob McKown. Paul fishes a good amount and Dave is a serious fisherman with a boat on Cape that mostly targets tuna and albacore. Bob had fished a little but was not in the "serious" category. A picture perfect morning welcomed us as we took an initial scan of the harbor. Swinging around Spectacle I spotted some birds by the airport corner. Paul and Dave both had a fish hooked within a few seconds. The fish were moving relatively quickly but would bust to the surface on occasion and then move on. Fortunately they were not very selective. We stuck with these fish for awhile. A call from a fellow charter captain took us out to the South Channel and when we arrived we found lots of birds scanning the seas. Almost immediately there were fish breaking everywhere but these were very hard to hook and ignored most presentations. Dave and Paul had migrated to the surface lures and were having a blast watching the fish come up and grab the lures. Water visibility was excellent as the waters were essentially still, and we were able sight cast to many of the fish. Bob was working a jig deep, on my recommendation. This is often a good approach as many larger fish often stay well below the surface. He hooked a fish and after awhile we had the feeling it was a big one. Long steady runs and slow changes of direction. Once we saw the side of the fish flash as it came up from the depths it was clear it was a good one. Once onboard we measured it at 40 inches and 26 pounds. Paul made the observation that the "rookie" always gets the large fish. Kind of true. The action eventually died down and it was time to hunt again. There was clearly some activity by Black Rock Channel, but by the time we got there the fish had dissolved into the harbor. We fished the Spit for a bit with no luck which was not a huge surprise given that the tide was essentially slack. I decided to head out of the harbor again which worked out well. There were tons of stripers working the surface and Paul and Dave were hooking up continuously. As we motored up to some surfacing fish they swam right by the boat and Paul cast to the side of the boat. His lure worked itself straight back as the boat was still moving forward. and we could see a fish swim by the boat and then take in interest in the lure. As Paul worked it closer to boat we could see the fish almost engulf it and then try again. Finally, just before Paul would need to take the lure out the water as it came up to the boat, it was attacked by a bass. We thought it was a smallish fish but clearly once the battle started it was not. Eventually a very nice 35 inch fish was landed and kept for the grill along with Bob's. Dave, who had hooked the most fish by far but nothing north of 32 inches was in search of a larger fish. Bob was still hooking fish on his jig so I suggested that Dave give up the fun of working the top water to pry the depths instead. By now most circling birds had dispersed and some were simply floating on the water. After a few minutes Dave hooked a large fish that he worked for a long stretch. We saw it's large shadow eventually and once in the boat it was measured at 41 inches, 26 pounds. It was released to fight another day. It had been one fantastic day in Boston Harbor.
Brian Wells usually books a trip during each season for some of his clients, and generally in the fall. Stong NW winds at the beginning of the month had led me to postpone this trip for a few days. Dead calm greeted us and we had high hopes based on previous days fishing. Joining Brian on this trip where Alex and Dave. On my way in to the inner harbor to pick up the crew downtown I spotted some action by Castle Island, however, by the time I returned with the crew the fish had moved on. A few birds were hovering around Governors Flats and while they clearly had spotted something, we could not locate them. We found some more birds around Sunken Ledge but not much else. I was eager to move on and scan Broad Sound which had been so productive the previous day. On the way there I wanted to scan a few structure areas and sure enough around George's Island the sounder lit up. I like to dress jigheads with various plastic bodies and before long we were hooking up. Brian got a quick start and among other fish landed a 33 inch bass. I maneuvered the boat so that we could take advantage of a rip that had formed due to the outgoing tide. Casting to surface structure as well as jigs fished deep produced consistent hookups. After awhile, Alex bested Brian with a fish measuring 34 inches. Alex had spurned the idea of taking a picture with his prior fish just over the keeper mark, and now relented with this nice fish. We tried some surface lures but clearly had more success with jigs that could be worked the entire water column. I was a little reluctant to leave as the spot was still active but I wanted to check out the potential action in the approach channels. While there were some fish in the area, it was nothing like the previous day. However, as I moved closer to Winthrop we hit the jackpot. Here we found large flocks of birds as well as stripers occassionally breaking the surface. While we followed the birds to some extent, we had great luck fishing away from the birds as schools of stipers meandered mid-column throuoghout the area. And then Dave got hot, seemingly hooking fish after fish. He hooked a 38 inch fish that Alex then bested with a 39 inch. Dave was letting his jigs sink and then retrieved relatively slowly with some occasional soft jigging motion. Essentially the action continued throughout the morning. Dave hooked a fish that was clearly big as it stripped lots of line on a reel set with firm drag. Pausing for rests a few times, Dave pulled in the lunker from well below the boat. Measuring 43 inches and over 30 pounds, it was the prize fish of the day. There were clearly lots of large fish among the schools as most hooked fish were keeper sized with many much larger. Dave and Alex kept one of the smaller 34 inch fish for the grill, all the rest were returned to grow larger. Once again an incredible Wells trip.
Today we had a crew of roofers from NY: Charlie Robinson, Ivan, Andre, and Walter. My Red Sox cap was not very popular. They had received a contract that paid them more than working local so they were in the area for a few weeks. My goal was to follow the pattern that had developed over the previous few days. During that period there had been a nice bite in Dorchester Bay on the outgoing tide. I skipped my usual scan and headed for what had been spot the previous day. We fished the whole bay pretty hard and eventually had some success as we hooked some school sized stripers. However, the action was not nearly as good as it had been the previous days. It's always hard to know how long to be patient - especially as you know that other areas could be heating up. Finally, I departed for a ledge that had been productive, leaving the other boats that had collected in Dorchester. This turned out to be a good decision as we found our best action of the day. Some stripers were hooked, including one in the low 30's. After the fished moved on it was time to scan the harbor. We encountered a few breaking fish and birds at Deer Island but not much else. By now the tide had changed and I wanted to fish some shallows that often attracts stripers as the water works itself up on the flats. While we fished the good spots pretty hard we did not manage to stir up any activity - more than likely there were simply no fish in the area. On the whole the crew had done pretty well, and fishing always beats roofing.
Joining the skipper today were Jason Rhee, Sam, and Jason's parents. The parents live in Los Angeles, and used to live in Seattle - so rainy, windy day was probably reminiscent. In fact, the plan was to fish the previous week but the rain had been even worse. The first hours were spent scanning the harbor including areas that had been hot. First looks around Quincy Bay and the inner triangle revealed nothing. There was a little bit of bird activity by the Deer Island rip but the bait they had zeroed in on had not been found by any stripers that we could detect. This became a bit of a pattern as we found similar activity around Black Rock Channel. While I was interested in taking a look outside the harbor it was simply to choppy to be a comfortable ride, so instead I made a loop around the more protected areas of Hingham and Quincy Bay. On our return to we found some low level action by Castle Island. While this was more activity then we had seen up to this point, it was not going to last. Most of the boats in the harbor had collected around this poor school and it seemed destined to be scattered. I kept checking out the depth of Dorchester Bay with my binoculars as this had been the location where fish would occasionally break out on the surface the last few days. While I could not be sure, I thought I could see something and decided to go take a look. I was right, the sonar lit up with markings and every few minutes parts of the school would break the surface - often quite close to the boat. We were able to stay with these fish for a few hours. We hooked multiple fish including several keeper sized ones and Jason and Sam decided to keep two of them to prepare sashimi. Our long search had been rewarded and the crew thoroughly enjoyed the action which we had essentially to ourselves, especially since the wind had by now died and we had some very favorable conditions.
Each year Go Fish Charters partricipates in the Summer Kickoff run by the Fishing Academy. The goal of this non-profit organization is to take kids off the street and to provide positive experiences, in this case by fishing Boston Harbor. About 20 charter boat captains participate in this charity event. As the kickoff did not start until 9:00 I got some morning fishing and scouting in. There was some activity by the South Channel and certainly something I was going to take a look at once I had the crew onboard. Participants today included a member of the Boston police, his dad, as well as a couple kids. After an initial scan around the harbor, I was not too surprised that nothing much was going on - the days preceding had been quite slow. I was just setting up to do some trolling when I spotted a few birds and some marking fish around Winthrop. By letting our jigs sink we were able to hook some stripers. No record breakers here and it was time to move on. Trolling turned out to be slow as well, there were simply not that many stripers in the harbor for the moment. At this point it seemed more important to get some kind of activity so I decided to switch to flounder fishing using seaworms. I had decided to take a chum log along and this helped attract some flounder by Rainsford island. Flounder is fun to catch and even better to eat. Today we only hooked one skate which was nice.
Dan Lesser was onboard with his son Owen and friends Sam and TJ - all 14. The day was going to be one of those clear and calm days in Boston Harbor that we cherish. Given the activity of the last few days I was not convinced we would find a lot scanning the harbor. I decided to fish Quincy Bay at low and bit into incomming tide. We had a couple bluefish attack our lures but they bit off the leaders before I could change to wire. After this promising start the bluefish dissapeared. We tried some other nearby spots but they were also devoid of fish. After another scan around the harbor we returned to fish Sunken Ledge. TJ had the first hookup and seemed to have the most action amongst the group. The action continued for a little while, and then we fished Black Rock and Nixes. On a day like this you often have to keep moving and hope that you will ultimately find the fish. Our next stop around the anchorage showed some promise. There were a few fish marking along with a smattering of birds. Something was brewing. We managed to get a couple hookups and kept fishing the area. As we approached the top of the tide more fish started to break the surface and the activity level increased - we even had two fish on at the same time. The fishing was realy good for a stretch which made up for the hard work we had put in earlier. The crew kept one keeper as a momento of some good Boston Harbor fishing.
Downtown pickup for Hal Hardang and friend Isikcan Aysev. Hal is the newphew of Jan and Peter who fished with Go Fish last year. Hal was interested in doing some fly and light tackle fishing was an experienced fishermanand and had no trouble casting and working the jigs and top water lures. Isik was somewhat new to casting and had a little difficulty in getting enough distance, but improved steadily during the day. The first order of business was to take a scan around the harbor. First stop was in the North Channel where we arrived at the tail end of a bite. While the trip had started relatively late at 8:00am the good news was that the tide was about to start moving in. We found a school of fish by Sunken Ledge that would come up every few minutes. They would only stay up for a few seconds so we had to be quick if we wanted to hook them on the surface. It always makes sense to explore deeper waters and Hal hooked a nice striper over 30 inches on a deep jig. Quincy Bay was in near ideal condition for sight casting and sure enough we were able to spot some dorsal fins slowly cruising. This does not occur too often but when it does, it's about the most enjoyable fishing you can find. These fish turned out to be very selective, which is actually part of the fun. You need to work the lures just right and vary the retrieve to figure out what approach is going to work. In some cases the only thing that will work is to coax a reaction strike. Hal managed to hook up with a few and landed a couple, including another 30 inch fish. Hal was having a blast. Isik was not having the same success - in this situation he really needed to cast the lures further away from the boat, and working the lures is not easy to do on your first trip. Eventually the fish moved off and I decided to scan around again. Structure yielded nothing but we did find some fish at Castle Island, and Isik was able to land a strong school fish to cap of the morning. Great day.
The skipper, being back from vacation was now back on the water. James Harder had brought along his two sons Sean and Nick as well as his nephew. The day started with calm overcast weather, but a "possible" thunderstorm kicked up some winds and chop making navigating the harbor more difficult. I handed out some ponchos to see if we could ride out the weather but I had my doubts. Our initial tour around the harbor did not reveal anything and other charter captains were having a similar experience. While I wanted to head north out of the harbor thunderclouds were looming and it was not worth the risk of being caught in a storm far from shelter. While I handed out the ponchos, they were rather worn and did not help too much. Perseverance is often rewarded and we found some nice action in Quincy Bay. The area presented good action and we fished it with success. We stayed with these fish until it was time to call it a day, which turned out rather well in the end.
Pickup downtown for Nate Backtell and his newphews from California: Trace and Nolan. This would prove to be a non-stop action day. After 6:30 pickup we found fish immediately around Lower Middle. A few boats were already on them which was creating some pressure on the fish. Most were fast moving and school sized, but most of all they were finicky. We hooked a couple fish but it took a lot of work. Nonetheless the action was good. I had the team work the whole water column from topwater to jigs for deeper down. As it was hard to match the exact bait and the stripers were clearly zoned in, reaction strikes seemed to be our best bet. I decided to leave these fish to find potentially less selective fish somewhere else. Between Rainsford and Hull we found similar schools. These schools were also fast moving and when we were lucky enough to be over the fish the action would be fast and furious. Trace and Noland were both improving in their casting ability increasing our odds. On some occassions I would cast for Trace to target more distant fish. By now everybody had hooked and landed at least one fish and we had kept one for the grill. At this point Trace hooked a fish the doubled his rod over. He was holding on for dear life as the striper did its utmost to throw the hook. The rod was pushed to the max - I thought it might actually break. It's more effective to keep the rod bend angle smaller during the fight, but given Trace's height it was not possible for him to hold the rod with strenght at a lower angle. With shouts of encouragement Trace was able to bring the fish boatside where the captain lipped it. A 34 inch 15 pound striper. Very nice. This size range often fights the best. The action diminished but we found more back closer to the airport. The fishing contined until it was time to return. It was the kind of fishing day you hope for.
This would be a trip with two groups of mostly kids so the start was a little later than usual. After getting the kids settled in life vests I headed for Hingham where the bite had been
good the previous days. The tide would soon be moving and I was planning on being patient - after all there was a good chance the fish would show up.
Unfortunatelly they didn not
so I tried to troll through Hull Gut and Black Rock Channel. I decided to forgo the shipping channels as the waves were rather large but instead headed to Spectacle and then back to Quincy
Bay. The fish were certainly being elusive.
In any event I was headed back to Hingham to see if the fish had finally emerged when I saw birds hover in the
vicinity of Rainsford and saw a bunch of breaking fish. We were able to hook a fish immediately on jig heads dressed with plastic tails cocahoe. I was actively involved in the hooking
as some of the kids were not quire able to master casting yet. I would hook a fish, hand it over the the counselor Nihira, and then hook another one.
The fish were keepers in 28-31 inch range, and gave the kids as much fight as they could handle. We repeated this a couple times and and managed
to land about a dozen fish including four large enough to keep. As had been the pattern on many trips this season, the best action was at the end of the trip.
Mike Harrington had picked a perfect day for his brother Matt, and father Bill to go fishing. Calm and sunny was the forcast and we were on the water in time to see a perfect sunrise in
Boston Harbor. The first scan around the harbor did not reveal much. The areas that had been productive, Hingham, Hull, and Quincy Bay were all quiet - but then the tide was still quite slack.
Just as I was heading out of the anchorage area I managed to see some birds by the approach pier and changed directions. Sure enough we encountered breaking fish along with diving birds.
For awhile we needed to share these fish with only a few boats but before long there was a whole throng - including a couple rather aggressive boats. Matt and Mike took turns hooking fish.
Bill was having a harder time hooking fish but was hanging in there.
As the action tapered off I decided to hunt around the harbor - I was expecting that some of the other areas would
become active and I also wanted to get away from the other boats. As it turned out, the scan produced nothing. By the time we returned there were only a few boats left and limited
I decided to hang tough and it paid off as the activity started to mount again - this time the schools were even faster moving but by fishing deep we were able to
maximize our results. I'm not exactly sure what changed but Bill was now on fire. He was hooking fish after fish. Matt hooked one that was fighting him real hard. As it came closer to the
boat we realized he had a very nice 12 pound bluefish on the line - the only one for the day. It was not unusual for the crew to have two fish on at the same time (picture above). It had been a great day on the water.
Onboard were today was the Stephenson party: Derreck , Charlie, and Don. We found a few birds at Lower Middle but they disoloved quickly into the harbor - more than likely we had missed a bite by a few minutes. Since I wanted to take a peek outside I stopped by the Deer Island rip and we fished jigs for awhile. Charlie had hookup with a hard fighting 30+ inch striper that was kept for the grill. Next stops were Nixes, Black Rock spit area, and then Hull Gut where there had been some action in previous days. There was a spot where fish were clearly holding deep in the middle of the run through the gut but they would not take our offerings. We tried an assortment of jigs to no avail and even tried a trolling run. Exploring back closer to the airport we had a few rises but no takers. As the tide and weather were favorable for shallow water fishing I wanted to try Quincy Bay. We were able to get a few fish to take our top water offerings which is always exciting. Don had a very near miss and Derreck hooked a fish that he fought for about a minute before it broke off - probably never quite set; often a striper will hook itself on a solid strike but you can't depend on it. We worked the area for awhile with occassional fish rising to take a close look at our offerings. On the whole it was an enjoyable morning, but the fish probably won this round.
Wayne Marshall had booked a trip with his, sons Nick and Wayne Jr., as well as Rebecca. Rebecca was serving as an alternate for his third son who got seasick on last fishing outing. On the
previous day there had been some nice top water action along Castle Island as well as the anchorage, and I knew Dorchester had been active - so, I had high hopes for the day. The day
began with a tremendous sunrise on very calm waters.
The first scan of Hingham, Quincy Bay and anchorage area revealed nothing. There was however a lot
of bait including some surfacing pogies. I managed to snag a few to use later. There were a few birds around the inner
harbor channel as well as boats live lining pogies. We fished the area a little and then I decided to continue searching as it really did not seem as if there were any fish in the area - we had not
seen a single fish landed. I returned to Quincy Bay and our luck started to turn.
The first fish landed was a bluefish by Rebecca and then a schoolie striper by Wayne Jr. Nick had a close call on a topwater lure but the strike missed the hook.
Rebecca then had a good hookup on a hard fighting striper that gave her a real
workout. Eventually she landed an approximately 30 inch striper that was kept for the grill. We fished the area quite hard but eventually it was clear we needed to move on.
We tried a few more spots but could not find more action. While the fishing had been hot the first part of August, the harbor has become noticably less active. Wayne sent me
pictures of the meal they prepared with the striper and bluefish. Looks amazing.
Richard Bonser booked this trip for his wife, Meryl and himself. They were both quite new to fly fishing and wanted to try their luck in salt water. Given the rather slow fall fishing
I let them know I was not exactly sure what to expect. The weather could not have been better, calm and sunny, simply gorgeous. Richard and Meryl had a great attitude, it was
clear they were going to enjoy themselves no matter what. I helped Meryl with her casting a bit - it's always a little more difficult from a boat. Our scan around the harbor did not
indicate much going on. We found a small fleet of boats clogging
the inner harbor entrance apparently fishing with pogies but I could not see much marking and certainly nothing on the surface. Apart from these boats the harbor was pretty empty.
I tried numerous spots with good structure as well as shallow flats but we could not raise a fish. Richard and Meryl both switched off between fly casting and light tackle rods to get
more distance. We finally hooked a fish at the Deer Island rip. Meryl thought she had a nibble, I wasn't sure as we were right over some rocks, but she was right. After a bit she had
landed an authentic Boston Harbor striper. While slow, they really enjoyed the trip and sent me this note: "Patrick, Back home in the UK! Many thanks for a nice trip in Boston Bay
last Wednesday- Meryl has been very proud of her Striper. Thanks again."