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NY, NJ, CT, RI Edition
May 26, 2011
Volume 22 � Number 4


Your 1st Canyon Trip
by Capt. Mike Plaia
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So there you are, standing on the dock at O'dark thirty, watching your buddies load all kinds of stuff onto the boat for your first canyon run. You have a lump in your throat the size of a cantaloupe and you have these mixed feelings of excitement, dread, anticipation, fear, all mixed up like someone threw them into a blender. You have checked the weather forecast every fifteen minutes, just in case there has been a late update, but you have made up your mind and you are going for it, and doing your first canyon run.

If you think that might be you this coming season, maybe I can help you feel a little more confident. It's never easy doing something for the first time and when it involves boats and long distances it can be particularly intimidating, so here is what you need to know.

Safety First:

You should have at least one type I PFD, with a personal strobe light attached for each person on board. You also need a way to communicate with the Coast Guard or other emergency responders over long distances. That would mean either a single sideband radio or a satellite phone. If you don't have a single side band radio on board you can rent a satellite phone for a reasonable price. As long as you use it for emergencies only it won't break the bank. A life raft would be nice to have and you can also rent those, but often on a small boat, where space is at a premium, a raft is not practical. Keep in mind that those big coolers that you are filling with ice and loading on board, can often do double duty as emergency floatation devices. The other absolutely essential emergency devise is an Emergency Position Indicator Beacon (EPIRB). This is a device that transmits an SOS signal to an array of satellites to alert emergency personnel that you need help in a hurry. The better models, which I would not be without, also have a built in GPS, so they will not only transmit your distress call but they will also transmit the unit's exact position. A fully automatic model is ideal, but you can probably get away with a manually activated version. Just make sure that if the worst does come to pass, keep the EPIRB with you, so the position that it transmits is the position where you are located. It won't be the ideal situation if the EPIRB drifts away and is transmitting a position a couple of miles away from you.

Think about preparing a "ditch bag" that you can grab, along with the EPIRB at a moment's notice in an emergency. There are all kinds of things you can pack into the bag that would prove useful in an emergency. For starters, I would include some waterproof SOLAS signaling devices, most likely meteor flares, parachute flares and orange smoke. I would also include a hand-held VHF radio enclosed in an airtight plastic bag along with some spare batteries, a couple of bottles of water, a folding knife, and maybe a personal locater beacon. The PLB is similar to the EPIRB, but only transmits location and distress signals over VHF frequencies, which can still come in very handy. All of this can be stored in a plastic waterproof case that should be easy to grab if the nightmare happens.


There are two schools of thought when it comes to choosing the appropriate tackle for fishing out in the deep. One school of thought says to choose the heaviest tackle you can handle and afford, because there will be monsters out there. The other school of thought, which is becoming more prevalent these days, is to choose lighter tackle that is easier on the angler during the fight. Today with modern braided lines you can still fit a lot of line onto a relatively small reel. Obviously, there are pros and cons to both viewpoints. Heavier gear, like eighty and one hundred and thirty-pound class rods and reels are much harder on the angler during the course of the fight, simply because of their weight. However, when it comes to trolling, the ability to use heavy monofilament line will prove to be a boon when the inevitable tangles happen. The thin braided lines can prove to be a real bear when you get two, three or more lines in a bird's nest. If you don't have a fighting chair, forget about the one hundred and thirty- pound class traditional rods and reels. But eighty-pound class reels, coupled with short stand-up style rods can be very manageable if the angler knows how to fight a fish stand-up style. On my boat we use eighty-pound class wide style reels paired with six foot long stand-up rods and when combined with a gimble belt and a shoulder harness even my one hundred pound daughter-in-law can fight a big fish to the boat without undue effort.

On the other hand, a fifty-pound or even lighter reels filled with one hundred or even one hundred and thirty-pound braid when combined with the appropriate stand-up style rods, if they put out a significant amount of drag, can make the fight against a big fish much easier on the angler. The thinner braided lines will allow you to pack as much line on a thirty-pound class reel as you could pack on an eighty-pound class reel using monofilament line. But when the inevitable tangles happen when lines get crossed on the troll, you'll have a really tough time untangling the thin braid, or you will wind up cutting significant amounts of line off the reel to get rid of the tangles.

In my opinion the ideal set-up would have a full arsenal of heavier gear filled with monofilament line for trolling and another two or three lighter reels filled with one hundred-pound braided lines dedicated for fishing while chunking. But if you're like me and troll eight to ten rods and chunk fish with three or four outfits, the cost becomes a definite factor.

Where to go:

There is no doubt in my mind that, especially with today's fuel prices, a subscription to an online sea surface temperature (SST) service is a worthwhile investment. A good temperature chart can save you miles and miles of running around trying to find some productive water. In the simplest terms what you are looking for on an SST chart is a place where there is a significant temperature differential between two bodies of water right on or close to the one hundred-fathom line. The larger the temperature differential the better. This isn't a foolproof formula, but, more often than not, it proves to be successful. The theory behind it is that the temperature differential gives rise to an upwelling of water from down in the deep toward the surface which brings with it the plankton that small fish feed on. The concentration of small fish feeding on the plankton brings slightly bigger fish to feed on the small fish, and so on up the food chain until we get to the tunas and marlin that we seek.

Over the years I have tried most of the sea surface temperature chart providers out there. All of them have improved significantly over the years with the biggest advance being the addition of color to the charts which really makes the temperature differentials pop off the charts at you. The more expensive providers claim to have real time reporters on the scene to verify the hot spots. I have always found those services too expensive for my pocketbook. For the last several years I have been using, which provides the standard SST charts at a reasonable price. Like some of the others, they offer unlimited access to several charts every day, which can be very helpful in monitoring the SSTs to see which way any given body of water is moving.

This year there is a new player on the scene for our area called Ripcharts. They offer, in addition to the standard SST charts, two other charts which may provide additional information. One of their additional offerings is "altimetry" charts which show the relative height of each body of water in any area. Gravity being what it is, it's obvious that bodies of water that are higher than the surrounding water are going to be moving toward the lower water, which may give us an idea of what to expect in terms of currents in a specific area. The second type of different chart that they offer is what they call a "chlorophyll" chart, more appropriately called a turbidity chart, which shows the clarity of the water. Theoretically, this type of chart should show us where the really blue water that we seek is located. The ideal would be to find a location where there was a large temperature differential between two bodies of water where the warm water is higher than the colder water and where the warm water is relatively clear and the colder water is cloudy with plankton. Whether or not they fulfill this promise remains to be seen. One thing I did notice when browsing the Ripcharts website, is that their charts do not overlap for our area. The SST charts end, on the inshore side, at around the forty-fathom line, while the canyon charts begin at around the thirty-fathom line, so we would have to "stitch" two charts together to have a complete picture of any specific area. Also the altimetry and chlorophyll charts are of a much different scale than the SST charts. I have contacted the folks at Ripcharts with these comments and we will see what, if anything, they do to remedy the situation.

The Fishing:

Most of the daytime fishing in the canyons is done on the troll. For the last few years the lure of choice has been the spreader bar. If you don't have a load of those pricy spreader bars, the old style single lures still produce fish. Kona Jets, green machines, softheads, etc. etc. will still catch the fish we seek. Birds (teasers) still work as well. On the Makomania, our standard trolling patters looks kind of like a W, with the inner and outer outrigger lines forming the outer legs of the W. We fish three flat lines close to the boat off of flatline clips and the center rigger is fished the furthest back with a bird in front of a single lure. The outer rigger lines usually have a bird and a single lure while the inner riggers, as well as the flat lines, can have either a single lure or a bar. Feel free to experiment until you figure out what works on your boat; every boat fishes a little or a lot different than the next one.

During the early part of the season the tuna fish don't seem to bite at night. So night time fishing is usually targeted at sharks or swordfish. If you plan to shark fish at night, don't forget to put the chum on board before you leave the dock. Shark fishing at night isn't any different from shark fishing inshore, so you probably know what to expect.

Sometime during August or maybe sooner the tuna fish will decide to start feeding at night. This is when those small reels filled with unreal amounts of braided line come into their own. The chunk fishing itself isn't much different from the inshore chunk fishing that you have probably done for bluefin tuna. All those tricks still apply.

If you see fish under the boat and you're not getting bit, go lighter on the leader. Mousetraps will also work out in the canyons, but the absolute killer bait is the small fish you might be able to pick off from around the lobster pots or other floating objects. Live frigate mackerel, trigger fish, small mahi-mahi will make great baits, especially if they're alive.

Drift, Anchor or what:

At night, weather permitting, drifting is the most productive method of fishing. Set up your drift with an eye on the SST charts, like you might do while fluking inshore. But keep a sharp eye out, and on the radar for other objects. If you are drifting inshore of one thousand fathoms, you could easily drift into lobster pots, long lines or other boats. The lobster pots and other boats should show up well on your radar. The long lines may not, so keep a sharp lookout. If you want to anchor, that presents a whole different set of considerations which I don't have the space to cover here. Get out your Chapman's and reread the section about anchoring. Whatever you do, DO NOT tie off to a lobster pot unless you have the permission of the owner. To the west around Tom's and Hudson canyons I doubt that the owners will even answer your call on the VHF. To the east, out around Veatch's canyon, you might get a response. But don't tie off without permission or you are asking for trouble.

Caring for the catch:

I could probably write another complete article on how to care for your catch. But instead of doing that I'll refer you to this website on how to care for your tuna


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