Pictured above: Headboat mates take great care when cleaning fish to provide delicious fillets for the angler to enjoy after the trip.
Everyone has a Sunday ritual. Some go to church, others go to their favorite diner, but I go to Atlantic Highlands Marina to fish on my favorite headboat, the Dorothy B.
As I approach the boat, I am greeted by the crew, Captain Kevin Bradshaw and mates Jeremy and Jake. I hand my rods and tackle bag off, and clamber aboard, dragging only my cooler behind me. Once aboard, I head straight for the bow to secure my favorite spot for fluke fishing.
Placing my rod in the holder at the rail, and putting my extra rod in the spare holders at the center of the bow, I begin taking my Gulp, bucktails, teasers, and leaders out of my tackle bag. After I am settled in, I head off to get my usual breakfast sandwich and coffee from Sissy’s at the Harbor, greeting all my Sunday fishing buddies along the way. At the bow, on my right, is my favorite fishing partner, Kieran, and on my left is Dave.
At 8 a.m. on the dot, the boat lines are tossed up on the dock as the boat sets a course for Raritan Bay. While heading out, I take in the scenery and think about what color jig and weight will catch me a doormat fluke. A high-low rig is my go-to, with a bucktail or jighead on bottom and a teaser on top, and I tie it with 20-pound-test fluorocarbon. Depending on where we fish, the bucktail and jig sizes range from 1 ½ to 4 ounces. I use the 3- and 4-ounce ones in the deeper channels like Raritan Reach, Chapel Hill, and Sandy Hook; the 1 1/2 – to 2-ouncers for fishing along the flats. My go-to jigs are S&S Bucktails in white, chartreuse, pink, and sea robin, while the teasers I use vary from Tsunami Glass Minnows, Bass Assassin JA series jigheads, and Mister Twister saltwater jigheads.
My first rod and setup is a 6-foot, 3-inch Tsunami Sapphire spinner with a Fin-Nor Lethal 40 spinning reel. I like the spinning setup because I can cast out from the boat and get away from other lines while jigging it back to me during drifts when lines are going under the boat. My second setup is a 7-foot Shimano Sojourn medium-heavy casting rod with a Penn Warfare 15. It’s great for when the currents are strong, and I need a 6- or 8-ounce jig to touch the bottom. Such conditions are not common on Raritan Bay, but they do happen. I also use this setup when the fluke are biting on bait instead of bucktails. All my setups have braided line: my spinner setup has 15-pound SpiderWire and my conventional setup has 30-pound SpiderWire.
As we approach our destination, I take note of the conditions, thinking about what size jig to use and what I’m going to use to tip it and the teaser, though I always start with what worked on my previous trip. For example, if I did well on my last trip with a white bucktail tipped with a white Gulp, I start my next trip with the same setup.
Gulp and fresh-cut strip baits are my go-tos for tipping my jig and teaser. On the teaser, I use a Gulp 5-inch swimming mullet or 6-inch Grub. My most productive colors are white, chartreuse, nuclear chicken and pink shine.
For tipping the jig, I generally go for bigger Gulp or strip baits. I’ll tip my jig with a Gulp 6-inch Grub or Nemesis in white, chartreuse, pink shine or nuclear chicken, but when it comes to fresh strip baits, I have most success using squid, fluke belly (from a legal fluke) and bluefish.
Before the drift begins, Captain Kevin takes his time to position the boat in the right spot. When it’s time for lines down, he announces over the loudspeaker, “All right, lines down. Now, go get ‘em!”
Moments after the drift begins, Jake approaches me, jokingly asking “You didn’t get one yet?” I laugh and keep on fishing, determined to catch my limit or catch the pool-winning doormat. Whenever anybody has a fish on, mates Jake and Jeremy are immediately right there at the railing with a net in their hands. When the drift ends, and Captain Kevin announces, “Lines up,” and my Sunday fishing buddies and I meet up in the cabin to discuss how everyone is doing, and what bait or color Gulp they are having most their success with.
Captain Kevin moves us throughout the Raritan Bay, determined as always, to put everyone on fish. We all fish our hardest, with some people more successful than others. At 12 p.m., Captain Kevin again announces, “Lines up. Our morning trip has come to an end.” I begin putting my rods away and packing up all my tackle. On the ride back to the dock, I wander to the back of the boat to see everyone’s catches and to have my keepers filleted.
Jeremy and Jake are expertly filleting the fish, making sure not to leave any bones in them. They put my fillets in a bucket of salt water to remove any blood left in the meat. From there, they put the fish in a bag, and I head back to the bow of the boat to put my catch on ice. As we are approaching the breakwall at the marina, Captain Kevin comes over the loudspeaker once more, thanking everyone for fishing with him. He backs the boat into the slip, where Jeremy and Jake tie the boat off.
After the crew helps me get my tackle onto the dock, I tell them, “I will see you next Sunday,” making sure to tip them for their hard work. I say goodbye to my Sunday fishing buddies, pack my gear into my car, and head home.
A Sunday ritual is a beautiful thing. It gives me something to look forward to after a long work week, and I can think of no better ritual than spending time out on the water and sharing laughs with great people I became friends with throughout the years. How much better could that be?