“Think there’s fish out there?” We looked over the sea surface temperature and chlorophyll charts at a mass of warm water on the edge of the continental shelf. Stormy weather had kept local boats at the dock the last week or more, so no recent fishing reports. We decided on a target area near Welker Canyon, predicting the water would move west by the time we arrived the next day. 120 miles out, leave at 3am. “I agree, sounds like a good plan,” said my mother who was looking over my shoulder. She is the saltiest of moms, wiry and tough from raising two boys on a farm, lifetime angler with a long list of credentials including working at WHOI and as a paramedic. “Sounds like a plan,” I confirmed, and we got to work getting ready.
The fog was pea soup thick in downtown Edgartown when we loaded the rods and last gear into RAPTOR, our Yellowfin 36. With everything onboard, we pushed off into the mist and found zero visual references past the glowing lights from the Chappy ferry. We made our way around Cape Pogue and out Muskeget channel then set course for west of Welker Canyon. Thick fog made for a dark run out. It seemed like the day might never come. The fog did not break until we hit the shipping lanes, then first light started shining thru and conditions cleared quickly for the final stretch.
It was 6:30 am and we were a couple miles from the canyon when we started seeing dolphins and birds. We stopped and put outriggers out, took off reel covers and pulled out an assortment of lures. A few of our fishiest lures are made by Sterling Tackle, those always go in first. Then we started rigging and deploying ballyhoo baits on Joe Shute lures, deadly. With a full spread deployed behind the boat, we trolled into the canyon. The water was glassy calm and there were a few patches of fog that hadn’t burnt off yet. I was noticing how quiet it was with no music playing yet, trolling along with no waves or wind when one of the outriggers bent back and the short rigger line unclipped. The rod hammered tight in the rod holder and line started peeling off the 80w reel. The fish ran deep behind the boat, long initial run. Nice long fight standup in the harness. Eventually, we saw color under the water from a big yellowfin tuna and got ready for the end game. Pulled him to the gaff, second gaff, and hoisted a big yellowfin tuna over the rail. Fish on deck! Fun stuff, it is always a blast when the fish are big, fighting hard and pulling lots of line.
We got to work dressing the tuna for the ice box and getting the spread of lures back out behind the boat. Dolphins zipped by next to the boat and played at the bow as we trolled along. After an hour or so we got attacked again, same rod, same lure, same position. Again, a single fish attacked with no other takers. This time we had a Martha’s Vineyard native on his first canyon trip on the rod fighting his first yellowfin tuna. Another standup fight in the harness, another good long fight. After some tight circles at the boat we got him to the gaff, second gaff, then another big yellowfin tuna came aboard. The new crew member performed a tuna heart ceremony to pay respect for his first tuna, as is the tradition.
With two quality fish in the box and plenty of time left in the day, we decided to troll towards Hydrographers canyon. The plan was to try for some mahi on the way, then eventually set up overnight for swordfish. It didn’t take us long to find a hi-flyer buoy that looked promising. As we approached mahi swirled up just below the surface. We caught them casting poppers, dropping jigs, on bait and with the spear. The mahi were medium size, mostly at or under ten pounds with a few bigger ones mixed in. There was an endless school below the boat. Mahi madness ensued with consistent multiple fish hooked at once and fish flying over the rail and into the ice box. With a good haul of mahi we got back to trolling. We pulled the icy mahi out to be dressed and took a few pictures before they went back into the icebox.
In the afternoon things slowed down a bit. We were trolling past a few hi flyer buoys when we saw big marks on the sounder around 300ft. After a few circles, huge splashes erupted behind a spreader bar and we were tight for a moment, then it went slack. We hammered the area a few more circles and then a ballyhoo way behind the boat came tight. We settled into the fight but pulled the hook, so got back trolling the area. Another circle and a ballyhoo lure gets hammered out of the outrigger. This was a bigger fish. The initial run went halfway through the line on the 80w reel. Rigged up the harpoon and settled in. Standup fight on the 80w reel. Ended up pulling the hook after about 45 minutes, never saw it, heartbreaker. Almost went epic there…
We worked the same area and again a rod bent over and we were on. After a long fight, we settled into the end game and pulled another big yellowfin over the rail. It was getting dark so we trolled into position for our first swordfish drift and began rigging baits. Deployed three sword baits and a fresh squid on a tuna rig. We fished our four baits hard all night, re-setting numerous times over a couple different locations. No love, all night. No squid in the lights, very little life. On one occasion one of the sword baits came up nibbled to pieces, likely by squid down 250 ft where the bait had been set.
The morning was equally uneventful, so with swells building, we packed up and started trolling north around 9:00 am. A smooth ride home put us at the dock around 12:30. Everything washed, dried and put away ready for another run. A long fillet session and a round of fish given to people we know love to eat fish.
Canyon runs often include epic marathon efforts by everyone involved, and this was no exception. Thanks to everyone who made this trip possible.