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LIV'IN ON THE EDGE   by Capt. Damon Sacco




New England offshore fishermen are often envious when they consider the variety of exotic fish available to their counterparts in Southern waters. They yearn for warm, blue ocean and fish such as blue and white marlin, yellowfin, albacore, and bigeye tuna, wahoo, swordfish, and mahi mahi. Too bad this tropical paradise is beyond their reach-or is it?


New England offshore fishermen are often envious when they consider the variety of exotic fish available to their counterparts in Southern waters. They yearn for warm, blue ocean and fish such as blue and white marlin, yellowfin, albacore, and bigeye tuna, wahoo, swordfish, and mahi mahi. Too bad this tropical paradise is beyond their reach-or is it?


Most fishermen are aware of the gulf stream, a warm northerly Atlantic current that flows along the eastern edge of the continental shelf. The stream, and warm water eddies that spin off of it are the home to a wide variety of tropical marine life, and the key to catching fish. What may come as a surprise is that this Caribbean-like ecosystem is just a three to four hour boatride from many ports in southern NewEngland. Thanks to speedy boats with greater fuel economy, advances in weather forcasting, and modern satellite ocean temperature charts, many Northeast anglers are making the run to where it looks, feels, and even smells like the Bahamas!


In Summer and early Fall, pockets and eddies of Gulf Stream water move onto the continental shelf, sometimes pushing as far North as Georges Bank. These blue water pockets may linger for weeks, and often act as mini tropical ecosystems, containing warm-water baitfish and predators that persue them. Some of the best fishing occurs along the edges of the warm water mass, where it meets cooler sorrounding water. This is where you'll find dramatic temperature breaks, weed-lines, and bait concentrations. These temp breaks are often the home to schools of squid, butterfish, mackeral, and rainfish which congregate along the warm side of the break, refusing to pass through into cooler water. As a result, the bait becomes confused, and tends to ball up in one area making it convenient for hungry gamefish on the prowl.


While such pockets of the Gulf Stream create excellent fishing opportunities-plus a sometimes shorter run to the action- you can almost always find good Summer and Fall fishing out at the canyons that lie along the edge of the continental shelf. Try to imagine the grand canyon...five hundred feet beneathe the water's surface. Some of these huge cracks in the ocean floor are ten miles long, several miles wide, and over five thousand feet deep! Throw one of these things into the mix and the result is usually a fishy one. Seven major canyons lie within range(80 to 100 miles) of sportfishing vessels sailing from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. They are, from east to west, Lydonia, Oceanographer, Hydrographer, Veech, Atlantis, Fish Tails, and Hudson. I favor the eastern canyons, for a couple of reasons. For starters, they're a lot less crowded. Second, this is where the cold, nutrient-rich Labador currents and the Gulf Stream collide, creating more dramatic temperature changes and baitholding rips.




An accurate water-temperature guage is an absolute must for fishing the canyons, as it will help you locate temperature breaks, and more importantly, fish. A change of just a half of degree can lead you to fish. Typically, 68 to 78 degree water is favorable for finding all canyon palegic species except bigeye tuna and blue marlin which prefer warmer temps in the low to high 70's. Most gulfstream eddies contain water temperature in the seventies.*****


A satellite water-temperature chart is another critically important ally-don't leave port without one. I suscribe to Roffers Offshore Fishing Forcasting Service, which faxes or e-mails me in a current water-temperature chart along with a written report before(and even during) each trip. These reports are available in Lat/Long or Loran format. The Roffers charts not only pinpoint the significant temperature breaks, they also tell you how many days the breaks have been around. Be sure and find a break before you start fishing, even if it means taking a prolonged tour across desert ocean while staring at your temp guage. Keep in mind that these breaks are always on the move, and are not always easy to find. The folks at Roffers are usually good at determining and displaying in their reports which direction the warm and cold water pockets are flowing. Once you find a break, it is imperitive to stay on it. Your guage should be constantly fluctuating. A chartplotter is an added bonus as it enables you to keep tabs on the track of your vessel while following a particular break.


A concentration of offshore birds is almost always a sure indication of fish in the area. If you run across clusters of birds(petrels, gannets,or shearwaters) sitting on the surface, adjust your depthsounder's range to 100 feet, work the area, and watch the screen closely. If you mark a cloud of bait, be sure and stick around. You may have to wait a bit for things to heat up. Sometimes a change in tide is all. Marlin mostly feed during slack tide out at the canyons. So it's important to have a perfect spread during this short window of time. Most good chartplotters will provide you with up to date tidal information. Davis shoals off of Nantucket is a good reference point.


The presence of whales and sharks can be a positive sign as well. Bigeye tuna often hang around humbacks. Be sure to stay clear of dolphins, though. They look like crashing tuna from a distance, and will fool you every time. More importantly, I've never witnessed good fishing in the Atlantic when dolphin were present.


Keep an eye out for weedlines and "high flyers"(lobster buoys with tall radar-reflector masts), as they usually mark a significant temperature break. Offshore lobstermen take temperature breaks very seriously, and will usually set their gear along the edge of the break. High flyers, if they have been sitting long enough, can also attract entire ecosystems of bait and gamefish, and are often loaded with mahi.


Floating structure is precious out here. If you stumble across a piece of floatsam on the surface, consider it a gift from and God,**** and always troll your spread by it. Chances are your baits will be blasted by grey-hounding mahi or some other predator. Last season we caught a seven foot, 84 pound wahoo--a new Massachussetts state record--by trolling past a piece of driftwood.




Since most of the fish in these waters are bunched up in schools, I like to employ as many rods as possible when trolling. Some days you may only get a few shots at fish. So it's important to make them count. On the Castafari, that means 12 rods. The trick to trolling multiple baits is to strategically seperate the baits so that each one occupies it's own area. Avoid placing baits close together, as they might tangle and even confuse interested predators.


If you're new to the game, start with 5 or 6 rods and work your way up from there. A school of hungry tuna or white marlin will easily turn your spread of tackle into a circus. So be sure and assign rods and a gameplan to each of your crew members ahead of time. As far as tackle goes, 20 to 50 pound class reels spooled with 50 to 100 pound line is suitable for the majority of fish you'll encounter. However, I recommend using at least 130 pound line and 50 to 80 pound class reels if you're planning to mess with blue marlin. For my blue marlin set-ups I spool a pair of Penn 70's with 200 pound spectra spliced into 130 pound Momoi diamond line which is small in diameter and has a breaking stregnth of around 220 pounds. I've accidently caught most of my big marlin on 50's and 30's! Be sure and spool all of your reels with Dacron or Spectra backing before adding a "top shot" of mono. You can fit a lot more line on your reels this way, and when a 250 pound bigeye shows up, you'll be glad you have it. Two years ago we boated a 278 pounder that latched onto a Penn 20 mahi outfit spooled with 50 pound test line. The fight lasted 3 and 1/2 hours! The fish would have been long gone in 30 seconds if the reel was spooled with just monofilimant.


Your leader is truly what connects you to a fish, despite the size of the reel. So pay close attention to and check your leaders frequently. For leader material I use 12 feet of 130-pound flourocarbon on most of my baits when trolling. However, my blue marlin leaders are rigged with a minimum of 300 pound mono or 200 pound flourocarbon. There are some very big marlin around out there, and every season we square off with at least one 500 pound animal. As far as knots go, I crimp everything when trolling offshore. If you choose to emply a double line section before your leader, I recommend a bimini twist attatched to the leader swivel using a tuna knot.


When setting out your baits, it is first very important to know how they swim, especially in different conditions. Don't think just because a lure looks cool that it will catch fish! It has to look natural behind the boat. A flat headed lure will pop intermittently across the waters surface, while a concaved headed lure will tend to swim and dart side to side. If you decide to pull a jet headed lure with slotted intakes, make sure that it pops up for air every few seconds and then leaves a "smoke trail" of bubbles behind it, even if it's skirting a deadbait. Jet headed lures are useless without leaving a trail. Pakula, Marlin Magic, and Zuker are a few lure manufacturers that I recommend when running topwater artificial baits. Keep them small, under 10 inches. Most of the bait around out there is tiny. Cedar plugs and Braid mauraders work well beneath the surface. Don't be afraid to run a spreader bar or two either. The mambo bars are deadly.The color green or "durado" seems to work well in the Northeast as does blue/white and black/purple.


Learn how to properly rig and skirt a deadbait. Natural baits such as ballyhoo, mullet, and spanish mackeral are good bets at the canyons.These baits can be mail ordered from a variety of bait suppliers in Florida. I prefer skirted 8 to 10 inch ballyhoo for swimming baits in the long positions and skirted 12 inch mackeral for skip baits run tight off the shortriggers. Mold Craft softheads, Ilanders, Jets, and Seawitches make great skirts for deadbaits. Again, make sure they look natural...tails wagging! Speed and distance are key. Your speed should be between 6 and 9 knots, depending on the sea conditions and your spread set up. If you're pulling mostly plastics, adding some speed won't hurt, and will allow you to cover more area.**** The faster you troll, the faster your real baits will become washed out. You want to avoid having your lures and skirted baits popping out of the water or tumbling down the front of waves. On rough days for instance, you may have to slow things down a bit.


When pulling surface baits directly behind the boat, you need to take into consideration the disturbance caused by the props, especially dragging baits within 100 feet from the transom. As a result it is important to make these baits stand out in the whitewater as much as possible. Birds and teasers placed a few feet in front of the baits help to make this happen. Spreader bars and swimming plugs also work well in this application.


Keep in mind that the boat is your biggest teaser of all, and will attract a lot fish. Last season I watched a 500 pound marlin slash my mirrored "Witch Doctor" teaser into pieces right behind the transom. Be sure and run a few baits in tight. You might be surprised!


Your outrigger baits will need the most attention, as they will be pulled across undisturbed water where visiblity is not affected. The long rigger is a great spot for a swimming dead bait. I usually run larger 9 to 12 inch Islander skirts off the short riggers--one with a horse ballyhoo and the other a spanish mackeral. Big blue marlin love to show up ten feet from the transom and clobber these baits, especially when your crew is asleep! Always keep a couple of brined "pitch baits" ready to go just in case.


If a rod goes off, keep the boat moving. Do not drop your speed. Some captains actually speed up to try and elicit more strikes. Chances are, where there's one tuna, there are a whole lot more. By continuing to troll, you can turn one strike into five. Your reels can hold several hundred yards of backing, and will give you more than enough time to give this a shot.




Another popular approach to fishing the canyons is chunking. Chunking is usually most productive at night, although late in the season, during the fall months, yellowfin,albacore, and even bigeye tuna can sometimes be caught during the day, usually in the morning and late-afternoon hours.


Once the sun sets, trolling lines come out and the chunking begins. I recommend hiking out to the edge of a canyon drop off. Try and position your vessel on the edge facing the direction of the tide as shown in the illustration. If the weather is friendly, you might try drifting, which allows you to cover more area. Otherwise bring at least 1200 feet of anchor line and a ball retrieve set up. If you do it right, you'll only have to pull it once, and believe me, once is enough. Keep your radar and chartplotter on at all times, and pay close attention to your sorroundings. Trade off with your crew on night watches. If your anchor pulls while everyone is asleep, you may wake to find that you're half way to Bermuda. I prefer to leave my spreader lights on as the light usually attracts schools of squid and other baitfish in the area.


The first step to rigging is to cut whole butterfish into chunks. Butterfish is the bait of choice among Northeast canyon fishermen, and can be readily purchased in frozen flats at most good bait shops. 4 to 5 flats will provide an ample supply of bait for a night of fishing.


The key to successful chunking is chum. Throw in a few pieces of cut fish. When they sink out of sight, throw in some more, and don't ever stop, even if a rod goes off. It may take five hours of chumming for a school of tuna to show up, so you don't want your crew all excited and preoccupied with one fish and have a school of a hundred move on to the guy next to you..


I usually fish four rods when chunking. Simply leave your snap swivels on your trolling outfits(30 to 50 pound set ups), and clip on your chunking rigs. I like to use eight feet of 80 pound flourocarbon leader attatched to a N0. 8 Owner or Gamagatzu hook via a palomar or tuna knot. I prefer the polomar simply because it's nearly unbreakable, and it's a very fast knot to tie. If a school of mahi shows up, break out the light tackle, and even a fly rod. Rigging a hook bait properly takes about 30 seconds. (see illustration) I like to start by using a whole butterfish. Once the tuna show up feeding beneath your boat, use a piece just large enough to hide your hook. This will increase your odds at getting a good hook-set. When setting out the baits, don't bother putting more than one rig down deep, especially when the tide is moving. If you're chumming correctly, the fish will usually stay up in the slick once they show up. Just add a 1/2 to 2 ounce sinker to the line or snap swivel 8 feet up from the hook, and drop a couple of these rigs back in the current at different distances. Simply adjust the amount of wieght you use according to the stregnth of the tide. You should also try free-lining a bait. This is done by stripping loose line off the reel so that the hooked bait sinks at the same rate as the chum. Although it's more work, this method will outfish everything else in the spread.


If a concentration of squid shows up beneath the lights, and you are able to net or jig some up, you're in very good shape. Hook the squid through the top of the mantle and drop it over the side. Fresh squid, dead or alive, work like magic. I like to fish the squid baits down around the thermoclyne(about 100-150 feet) with a light stick taped to the leader approximately 6 feet from the hook. If you're lucky you might even get a shot at a swordfish. Good luck!


SAFETY CHECK---sidebar


Before you even think about heading offshore, there are several things to consider. Obviously, you must know your vessel's range. Boats with limited fuel capacity may require a portable bladder for holding additional fuel. Using a bladder isn't as complicated as it seems, and they can be purchased at most marine stores and catelogs. Keep in mind that a run to the edge and back, plus a day of trolling, can put 300 miles on the boat. So do your homework, and make the necessary preparations when it comes to fuel. Twin engines are also a healthy bonus, and as far as I'm concerned, mandatory when making such long voyages.


Bring a liferaft that's large enough to hold the number of passengers on your vessel. Also, be sure you have an offshore EPIRB and that it's mounted correctly for automatic deployment. Equip your boat with a good radar and chartplotter/GPS. You'll need them both, especially if you plan to spend a night out there. I carry survival suits onboard for all of my passengers, as well. They're expensive, but as far as I'm concerned, well worth it. A satelite phone is a huge asset out at the canyons.


Be sure and monitor the weather. Stay far and clear of Northeast wind as things can get nasty, and even dangerous, very quickly out there. If you can, try and keep in contact with another vessel in the area at all times.


Finally, remember to bring ice - lots of it! If you don't have an onboard icemaker, fill your livewell, coolers, fishboxes, fish bags, with ice. It melts quickly in the summer time, and you'll always wish you had more.





  1. Replacement backing and mono for your reels(50lb to 200lb)
  2. 2 20lb outfits spooled with 25lb line for mahi
  3. 10 (30lb to 50lb) outfits spooled with (50lb to 100lb) line
  4. 2 (70lb to 80lb) outfits spooled with (130lb to 200lb) line
  5. 2 20lb spinning oufits for jigging bait
  6. 4 large treble hooks and squid jigs for catching squid
  7. A long handled dip net for catching squid
  8. 4to5 flats of frozen butterfish
  9. 3 or 4 (packs of 2) frozen horse ballyhoo
  10. 2 (packs of 6) frozen select ballyhoo
  11. 2 (packs of 12) frozen small/medium ballyhoo
  12. 4 frozen medium sized spanish mackeral
  13. 1(pack of 5) frozen medium sized split tailed mullet
  14. A portable bait freezer if you don't already have one
  15. A small cooler for brining baits
  16. Kosher salt for brine
  17. At least 2 six foot gaffs
  18. Sharp knives
  19. Hook sharpener
  20. Wiring gloves
  21. Mono cutters and pliers
  22. Crimpers and crimps to fit all sizes of your line and leader material
  23. Barrel swivels and snap swivels (100lb to 400lb)
  24. Owner and Gamagatzu size 8 hooks
  25. Mustad trolling hooks size 7 to 12
  26. Rigging needles and floss
  27. Hand towels
  28. 1/4 to 1 ounce egg sinkers for rigging skirted ballyhoo(optional)
  29. Rubbercore and small bank sinkers in assorted sizes for chunking
  30. 6 light sticks
  31. Rubber bands for storing leaders and line
  32. Black electrical tape
  33. 3 fresh coils of 130 pound flourocarbon leader material
  34. One fresh coil of 200 pound flourocarbon leader material
  35. 300 pound mono for marlin
  36. Cedar plugs and Braid mauraders
  37. Assorted skirts for deadbaits(blue and white Islanders a must)
  38. Zuker feathers, Pakula lures, Moldcraft softheads, jetheads, green machines
  39. Spreader bars with 5 to 8 inch baits
  40. A ton of ice