Bay State Blitz

For me, week 3 on the road of Fish America was a homecoming of sorts, as I lived on Cape Cod for about a year and a half. A familiarity with the fishery created the "kid-in-a-candy-shop" effect and I tried to do everything in a single week. Well…I fell far short but had a blast trying. The week would start with Beantown flatfish, targeting winter flounder out of Quincy, Massachusetts with Captain Jason Colby of Little Sister Charters. Colby, pictured here, is known throughout Massachusetts for his knack for boating big bass, and has numerous 50-pound stripers to his name. But on Monday, we were after Boston's historic flatfish. You can check out the video, coming later this week, for more history on the fishery and what makes it so special to anglers around the "Habah." But for now, down to business.
After a couple hours of shut-eye in a parking lot, I met Colby at 4 a.m. to get on the water before first light. Ron Powers, a prolific outdoor writer in New England, and a local expert on the fishery, accompanied us. The winter flounder season around Boston typically reaches it's peak in the spring, and slows down as the days warm. I was catching the tail end of the action, but Colby had a few tricks up his sleeve for some buzzer-beater flounder. While the clam chum thawed, we used sea worms, a flounder favorite, pictured here.
You don't have to run far in Quincy Harbor to find flounder, but you've got to know where to go. Flounder fishing can be a game of inches, as these fish will orient around structure, holes, and ledges. We picked our spots and took our shot, and it paid off. The fish weren't enormous, averaging between 1.5 and 2 pounds, but the action was steady. Tapping the bottom with your sinker stirs up the sand, and gives the impression of prey, as Powers explained to me, and if you're in the right place the flounder, a surprisingly aggressive fish for their size, slam the bait.
Tautog, or "tog" as they're known, are an unusual party-crasher. These fish are more common to the south, but are few and far between in Boston waters this time of year. These fish have strong jaws capable of crushing crabs, their primary forage. Today they're employed on our sea worms.
We each could have easily limited out with eight flounder, but we threw plenty of keepers back. To watch Captain Colby, who filleted fish for a living when he was younger, go through 18 flounder is an amazing thing. Turn your head, and you'll miss the transformation from fish to fillets. Colby says he used to be even faster. Flounder are one of the areas most prized food fishes. Cook them however you want, you can't go wrong, but throwing them, breaded, into the deep frier will give you a classic New England fish fry.
It feels like an August day snuck into June, and by the time we're off the water in the early afternoon, I'm burnt to a crisp. I catch a few hours of sleep on a beach, where no one notices you're sleeping. Boston awaited the next day.
After the flounder fishing it's finally time for the first of many oil changes. I'm about 500 miles behind, but better late than never.
The prospect of catching a fish where you'd least expect to has always been one aspect of the sport that never fails to fascinate me. And the last place you expect to see fishermen are right in the heart of a city. I love Boston, so this was a natural destination. For some help I chose Beantown native Willy Goldsmith. Willy grew up in the city and fishes for everything. A Harvard graduate and mate aboard The Yankee Fleet party boat out of Gloucester, there is nothing swimming that isn't in danger if Willy is around.
It's unlikely the joggers, dog-walkers and bike-riders in Boston are aware they're traipsing and pedaling right over a fantastic fishery. The Charles River, which runs through Boston's Back Bay, is loaded with life. Largemouth bass and grass carp constituted our quarry for Tuesday afternoon. The river also offers good crappie fishing, but it slows once the weather warms and the fish finish spawning. Plus, when you can take a crack at a double-digit-sized fish within major city limits, you've got to try.
The water quality in the Charles River has shown signs of improvement in recent years, but I don't think Poland Spring is setting up a bottling plant there anytime soon. We did a quick survey and found the water quality to be holding steady at 2 PBRs. No, that's not some scientific scale, I just mean we saw two cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon within eyesight as we fished.
Carp fishing is a lesson in simplicity that will melt away your years of angling experience and bring you right back to the days of grabbing whatever was on hand with the simple objective of getting that thing you saw in the water, on to land. We chummed with canned corn, and used rolled up balls of Wonderbread for bait on medium-light freshwater gear. Not exactly tournament billfishing.
But matching wits is not the name of the game with Boston carp. It's more about being patient, persistent, and just chilling out. After a half-hour of soaking in the city scenery and keeping an eye on our bread balls, there's action. A decent-sized carp vacuums the bait not 10 feet away and makes a run. Willy puts the breaks on him, and 10 minutes later he's covered in Charles River water and holding our first carp of the afternoon.
I'm on the rod the next time the drag runs, and this fish is larger. It bolts and keeps going, and the ringing drag turns a few heads of joggers who wonder what the hell we're doing.
This fish is slightly larger, and comes to shore after a couple sustained runs, but with a little luck we bring it to shore.
Carp in the Charles are neither beautiful nor wary. They're just fun. They remind you of why you started fishing in the first place. If you like hanging out in a city, doing something different, and turning a few heads and getting some odd looks, then Boston carp fishing is your game.
That's not to say carp fishing is without its unique challenges. This kid was beating a tree with a stick, and a piece of bark shrapnel nearly cost Willy an ear.
After we've met our carp quota, we decide to pursue some inner-city largemouth. The heat of the day has the fish lethargic and hesitant to bite, but we fool a few with soft-plastic baits twitched softly at the edges of the beds of lily pads that line the river.
After the freshwater fun it's back to the salt. I head south to Cape Cod for some fluke fishing with Joe Pechie. Even though Boston is less than a two-hour drive from Cape Cod, fluke, or summer flounder, are much more abundant to the south than they are in the Boston area, and winter flounder are harder to find around the Cape as well. It's an odd flatfish phenomenon. But we've got one, so we might as well chase the other.
Joe and I run his 23-foot Ocean Scout out into Martha's Vineyard Sound in search of some keeper fluke for the cooler. These fish will wait downcurrent of structure to ambush their prey, so moving water is preferable when fluke fishing. The first half of the tide produces good numbers of fish, all seemingly just short of the 18.5-inch limit in Massachusetts.
But these fish are even more fun than they're winter counterparts, and are likely to get much larger. Dropping a squid- or soft-plastic-tipped bucktail jig and tapping the bottom will result in a head-shaking battle if you know where to find these summer flounder.
We run out numerous squid spreader bars in every color of the rainbow and cover a lot of water, but the tuna are nowhere to be found. These elusive and highly mobile fish can be here one day and gone the next. The boats trolling around look just as disappointed as we are. After a long day of looking, we head for port.
Tuna fishing at it's best, from what I gather picking Jim's brain during the trip, can be the embodiment of angling exhilaration, as a school of bluefin will tear into your spread. He recites stories from hectic bluefin trips of the past. Today, I pay a small portion of the cost that every angler must deposit before he or she earns a shot at a fish so beautiful and elusive. A beautiful day on the water, a show from whales and dolphins that lasted all morning and afternoon, and fresh scallops on the grill when we return make it hard to call this a failure. The drag running on that tuna reel will sound all the sweeter when it finally rings.
Massachusetts offers such a variety of fishing opportunities, that I was barely even able to scratch the surface in my time here. But if you've got to spend four days fishing in Massachusetts, fluke, flounder, Boston carp and a shot at tuna isn't a bad way to go. If you're interested in taking your own shot at these fine fisheries, you'd be hard-pressed to top these quality captains. Flounder/Stripers in Quincy: Captain Jason Colby, www.littlesister1.com Stripers/Tuna from Chatham: Captain Jim Pechie, 1-508-410-9112

With inner city carp, breaching humpback whales, a search for bluefin tuna and flounder and fluke, week 3 on the road for Fish America was a Bay State blitz.