There are many seasons that go with being a Vineyard angler. For one group, offshore fishing with a rod and reel is the pinnacle of summer. There is perhaps no greater sense of wonder than being 80 miles south of the Vineyard in a boat reeling in a giant tuna.
As offshore fishing season begins, the stories, iPhone photographs and woe of the “fish that got away” will abound on the docks. Fish are bigger, the danger is greater, and the ocean, lest any boater forget, really is the ocean. There is no hiding when the weather goes bad. There is no tackle shop offshore where you can replace that broken reel. Cell phones don’t work.
When the sea is flat and a fin is moving casually nearby, for many anglers it is almost a religious experience. And when the wind is blowing 30 knots and the seas have just turned into massive rolling hills we all take up religion.
Waves offshore are different. When the boat speeds through Nantucket Sound, heads down Muskeget Channel and into the open ocean, there is a huge shift in just about every aspect of boating. The way waves roll, the timing between each passing wave is longer. The smell of the air is different, sweeter.
And when land disappears from view there is a change inside every angler. There is a melody to the open ocean not heard inshore.
For many anglers just being out there is enough. The Vineyard, after all, resides next to the some of the world’s best offshore fishing spots.
Offshore fishermen go to great lengths to get to their special places. They go to the canyons, a term that refers to the edge of the continental shelf, at least 80 miles south of the Vineyard. Only three weeks ago, right whales were spotted in those waters. Humpback, finback and minke whales visit, too.
Along the continental shelf there are special spots on the chart that anglers often refer to —The Dumping Ground, 30 miles south of the Vineyard, The Fingers, 25 miles south, and the Canyons, 80 miles south. The Dumping Ground is an old site where munitions and debris were dropped years ago. The Fingers is a place which describes the character of the bottom that can’t be seen from the surface, but can be understood through the use of maps and sonar.
Every offshore angler has his favorite places. They call them “waymarks.” The marks on the chart show important sites where a fish had been caught on a previous voyage. In this age of sonar, GPS and what was once Loran, anglers can make precise notes of where they catch their fish.
Fishermen read the water temperature of the ocean as if they were members of a strange cult. Variations in water temperature define fishing places the same way landmarks define inshore favorite spots. Wherever cold water and warm water form an eddy or stream, anglers want to know about it. The bait usually swims along the edges. Many anglers will refer to satellite renderings of water temperature to plot out their specific trip.
Then there are the gamefish. Anglers seek yellowfin tuna and, the most preferred, big eye tuna. They go for white marlin. And in more recent years, with the restoration of the fishery, they go for swordfish. They are also looking for tropical fish like wahoo and blue marlin. Near the surface their skin can be iridescent, lustrous. A living ocean fish is a sight.
“The coolest is when they break on top of the water. You see their eye. You feel this connection,” said Doug Abdelnour, 36, of Oak Bluffs. Mr. Abdelnour works hard during the summer running Nancy’s Snack Bar. But when he’s not working, he is offshore fishing.
“[Offshore fishing] is without question one of the most relaxing moments in summer for me. There is a total disconnect with the land. The phone isn’t ringing. There is no cell service,” Mr. Abdelnour said. He plans on going offshore fishing next week in a friend’s boat. Mr. Abdelnour normally goes offshore in his 21-foot 1964 Sea Craft, a boat he has had for three years that he has yet to name.
Lee Welch, 67, an electrical general contractor, lives and breathes fishing offshore. Though he works hard when it is time to relax, he goes offshore in his 38-foot custom fishing boat, Live Wire. Mr. Welch said he will start next week. “Fishing is from mid-July into September. But up until now, it has been too windy. You don’t want to go out fishing when the wind is blowing 15 to 20 knots because it can shift to 20 to 30 knots.”
“When I go, it is usually for two days, sometimes three,” he added. “You want the sunrise and the sunsets, those are the two best times when the fish are most active.” Mr. Welch has a loyal fishing crew: Kenny Abbott, Scott Hitchings and Cliff Meehan.
The name for Robby Coad’s fishing boat reflects the spirit he has for angling. The 34-foot lobsterboat is called Tenacious. He is a charter fisherman out of Edgartown. He plans on fishing offshore next week.
“I would have gone sooner, but I have a lot of inshore charters,” he said.
“Inshore fishing is inshore fishing, but offshore fishing is different,” he added. “The fish are bigger. They are prettier. It is much more challenging. It puts all your skills into being a captain, into being a fisherman, all at the same time. Fishing for false albacore inshore is hard. But it is five times harder fishing for tuna when you are 50 to 60 miles offshore.”
Mr. Coad, 64, said it is hard making money on these trips. It is mostly for the joy. The boat can go through 400 gallons of fuel in a day, he said.
On July 14, Buddy Vanderhoop of Aquinnah found time to go offshore fishing as a guest with a friend. “It is really fun. I cherish every moment,” Mr. Vanderhoop said.
Mr. Vanderhoop is an Aquinnah charter fisherman working out of Menemsha. He said there is great pleasure in seeing lots of humpback whales, as he saw in the last trip. He also saw sea turtles and bottleneck dolphins moving gracefully through the water and a blue marlin breaching.
With the warm weather of the last few weeks, the offshore waters are alive now.
“Offshore is really hot right now,” Mr. Vanderhoop said. “The bait is out there.”