Close out the saltwater season by dropping jigs to groundfish in the Gulf of Maine.
Autumn and early winter pollock fishing in the Gulf of Maine can be intense. Pollock are far more powerful than cod, hake, haddock, or other groundfish commonly caught alongside them. That’s largely because pollock are not true groundfish. They often school up well off the sea floor in pursuit of herring, mackerel, sand eels, and squid. Many compare their strength and tenacity to bluefish and have even dubbed them “Boston bluefish.”
During most seasons, pollock fishing stays good until January, when acres of baitfish become harder to locate. Until that time, however, rugged anglers can use good weather as an opportunity to head offshore in pursuit of aggressive pollock.
Late season Gulf of Maine pollock are caught almost exclusively on jigs and teasers. A 16-ounce unplated Lav Jig is my weapon of choice and I am particularly fond of using swivels at both ends of it. I have not detected a difference whether using a chrome-plated or unplated jig, but I have seen these out-fish others that lack dual swivels. I like to place a squid skirt over the treble hooks but, while I have had great success with this accessory, I have seen plenty of big pollock taken without it. Norwegian stainless jigs, Angerman jigs, and Crippled Herring are also commonly employed, bringing excellent results.
Flies (or teasers) rigged above the jig will provoke lots of strikes and can at times out-fish the jig itself. Some seasoned anglers and captains, however, are against using them.When you hook up with a pair of 15-pound-plus fish, you run the risk of busting one (or both) off as they swim in opposite directions and aggressively shake their heads. Busting a fish off here or there is a part of fishing, but the chance that one could be a trophy or a good candidate for the pool is enough to preclude teasers from some anglers’ boxes.
Jigging for pollock involves either casting out, cranking up a few turns and sweeping the rod tip up and down, or casting out and cranking the jig through the schooled-up fish. Productivity can be enhanced by paying attention to a few small details. Recognizing current and tide, for example, is very important. If the current/tide is ripping from stern to bow, cast as far as possible toward the bow, which will allow you a minute or two of vertical jigging before the jig starts being swept astern. If I am not sure how the lines will tend, I wait about 30 seconds and allow everyone else to toss their lines out first. When casting, be sure to angle the jig so that you are not crossing lines, since tangles eat up time and result in fewer fish. If your jig is being swept too fast, tie on a slightly heavier slab of metal.
Resetting is another key detail. Maximizing vertical jigging means less time resetting and more time in the strike zone. Far too many anglers keep jigging when their lines have been swept under the boat, far out in front of them, or toward the bow or stern. Once you are slightly off the vertical plane, quickly crank up and cast again. If the jig drifts too far away, you will have a difficult time tending bottom and will end up in a tangle with three or four other lines.
When it comes to teasers, I prefer the natural material of bucktail over nylon. Bucktail teasers in conjunction with a small amount of Flashabou will often provoke more strikes than nylon teasers, but finding commercially-tied bucktail flies for groundfishing can be challenging.
It is easy to run through four to six teasers in a full day of fishing, especially if spiny dogfish are sinking their jaws into them. You can make teasers yourself for a small cost by purchasing bucktail, Flashabou, hooks, swivels, thread, a bobbin, head cement and a small vise. (I make a bunch while watching a football game on a rough weather day.) When the teasers get chewed up, I only lose a couple cents worth of bucktail since I can retie a new dressing onto that hook.
Proper tackle is important. Penn’s Baja Special HN and Daiwa’s Saltiga SA40 are highly capable of handling 14- to 20-ounce jigs. I still use Pro Gear reels and am particularly fond of the Yellowtail Special. While Pro Gear has been out of business for quite a few years, you can still find their reels from time to time on eBay. Spool up with 50- to 65-pound-test braided line. It’s fine to use some backing, but ensure you are not leaving much daylight on the spool. When currents are ripping and you’re fishing 400- to 600-foot depths, long casts in the opposite direction of the current are essential. If your spool is half-filled, you’ll be adding additional friction when casting and reducing the distance.
To your braided line, attach a 20- to 30-foot length of 50- to 80-pound-test monofilament using a Uni-to-Uni or an Albright knot. It’s important to have a lengthy leader because your line will be coming in contact with rocks and other obstructions that can more easily slice through the thin diameter braid than a thicker mono. Its length also eliminates the need to tie on a whole new leader if the bottom gets a bit chewed up.
For rods, look for a 7- to 8-foot graphite or glass blank with enough backbone to handle the heavy jigs, fish up to 40 pounds, and rugged topography.
Even on nice late fall/early winter outings, proper attire is critical—and layering is unquestionably the way to dress. The outer layer, which is the most important, should be entirely waterproof. Oil skins, a commercial-style rain jacket, and lined waterproof boots are appropriate. Between sea spray and that on-board hose that rarely shuts off and seems to have a mind of its own, you will likely get wet. Also of real importance is a pair of waterproof commercial fishing gloves, which make handling ice-cold fish easier while protecting your hands from needle-like dorsal fins and sharp gill rakers.
Conditions can be choppy in October, November, and December, and the air will be on the cool side, but those thoughts quickly get erased when rods start bending and big pollock are hauled aboard. As an added bonus, it’s relatively common to see feeding whales, dolphins, and large bluefin tuna during October and November. Despite the cold conditions, it’s a beautiful and rewarding time of year to be out on the Gulf.