The 2017 calendar year end was fast approaching. Throughout the month of December, I was itching to get out on the water to do a bit of fishing. Since Christmas had passed and I had successfully completed my holiday responsibilities, it was now or never. The week between Christmas and New Year’s had spotty weather conditions and many of the party boats were staying at the dock. Based on my schedule, it appeared Friday December 29, 2017 would be my last shot to get out on the water and fish for cod and black sea bass. I had to pick a location and considered Point Judith, RI my best option because three excellent party boats dock there. Based on the nautical weather reports for Block Island Sound and Coxes Ledge, Friday also appeared to be a manageable day on the water. Well, that is with the exception of increasing wind gust and below zero temperatures. Nonetheless, I was still thinking about it.
While at work Thursday I continued to contemplate whether or not to go. I got home, completed a couple of items on my honey-do-list and still had not made up my mind. That evening I went to bed and never got any sleep. You guessed it; I could not get fishing off my mind. At 2 a.m., I stopped trying, got up collected my cold weather gear, poles, tackle box and lunch. Packing everything in the car, I was off. Driving to Point Judith RI I noticed the car temperature gauge read 5 degrees. I arrived in Pt Judith an hour and a half later after driving 75 miles. I immediately looked at the car’s temperature gauge. To my dismay it had not moved. Stepping out of the car I felt a significant breeze. It was wicked cold. I put my cold weather gear on and carried my equipment to the boat. The boats deck, seats and windows were encased in ice. For a fleeting moment, I considered driving home. No way! That thought was immediately ditched. I was determined to go fishing. And I was not alone. Before the boat pulled off 40 other guys were also on board.
To acclimate myself on the water, I usually sit outside the boat’s cabin while en route to the fishing grounds. Not today. With the wind chill, it was well below zero and too cold. I stayed in the cabin with most of the other guys. It took 2 hours to arrive at the Block Island fishing grounds. When we arrived and everyone came out of the cabin it appeared we had entered the twilight zone. It was dreary, dim, cloudy and windy. Ghostly steam rose off the ocean making visibility nearly impossible. The ocean waves and swells were menacing. Every splash from breaking waves that hit the boat immediately turned into ice creating sea water snow and hail that covered everyone on the rail fishing or standing on the deck. The weather remained this way all day. The mates shucked clams and provided fresh bait. When the captain announced “let them go” everyone dropped their lines and started fishing. Cod were coming over the rail… and freezing on the deck.
After a while I decided to stay hydrated and have a drink. Bad idea, it was frozen solid. To keep my lunch from freezing, it had to stay in a cooler in the cabin. After a couple of hours the bait froze, my gut rag froze, my handkerchief froze and fisherman’s fingers, toes, noses, ears faces, etc. began freezing. Slowly but surely guys started leaving the rail and staying in the cabin. When my fishing gear started freezing up I had to pull the line off the reel to get it going. Thank goodness I had on the proper waterproof gear, three layers of thermal clothing backup gloves and doubled up on my hand warmers. I could of used a fourth layer.
Before filleting my frozen catch the mates had to soak it for a half-hour in a bath of saltwater. I have fished at this spot countless times; this outing, however, will be passed down for generations to come. This trip was unique, exciting, fulfilling, enjoyable and simultaneously a bit terrifying. I ended the day with five cod and a couple of frozen rods.
– Stephen Phillips