Three Friends, Six Hours, Eighty-five Bones
An epic day fishing for Atlantic Bonito off the coast of Marthaís Vineyard
by: Captain Phil Cronin
American Catholics donít usually think much about the feast of St. Bartholomew celebrated on August 24 each year. He was one of the twelve apostles and his name means "gift from God". Not much is known about him except that he was a very close friend of St. Philip, my patron saint. That friendship will always be remembered by me now for it was on the morning of August 24, 2006 that we set out on a very eventful day fishing the shoals around the "hooter".
For several days prior to our trip to the hooter we had heard about the exceptional bonito bite that was happening out there. Captain Jeff Sayre, a good friend and fellow charter captain, had been out at the hooter days before and experienced that bite with his anglers and convinced me that it was the spot to fish. Jeff was anxious to return to the area and my son Jay wanted to tag along so we agreed that I would take my boat as it had sat idle for the past several weeks while renters occupied my house. We launched at the Vineyard Haven ramp around 6:00 AM and set out for the 45 minute journey to the hooter buoy. The buoy lies around 8 miles southeast of Chappaquiddick and is surrounded with shoals that attract both bait and predators. Named after the whistle noise it produces, the buoy marks the start of Muskeget channel. It is the go-to spot for charter boats when closer to shore fishing is slow.
Our game plan was to make a bee-line to an area where the bottom was as shallow as 16 feet and troll a rebel fast track along the drop off in order to find some Atlantic Bonito or "bones" as we call them. Once we arrived at the coordinates we set out the troll and within a minute the linewent tight to a fish. A small but feisty bone was landed and we knew this would be the area to concentrate. An ENE wind was blowing lightly and the tide was flooding so we figured the best drift over the area and started our quest. We started by throwing deadly dicks on light spin tackle and immediately began what can only be described as an epic day of catching bones. During the four hours we fished the area we must have had a dozen "triples" and even more "doubles". Jay and I alternated with the fly rod, throwing snake flies and deceivers. Although the hook-ups on the fly were not as consistent as on spinning tackle, the challenge of catching and landing bones on the fly was exhilarating to say the least.
Within the first hour of fishing we had landed 20 and decided that perhaps we could bring in 30. When we surpassed 30 we wondered if a 50 bonito day was doable. We passed 50 and started to rationalize whether or not it was possible to catch 70. As the number of 70 became a distant memory we threw caution to the wind and reestablished our dayís goal at 100. By this time the boat was covered in blood from the ones we kept. We had decided that any fish brought to the boat that we felt would not survive a release would become dinner fare as all of us wanted to keep a few and one of Jeffís friends had a smoker that could handle 8 at a time. By the time we reached a count of 85 bonito we had stowed away 9 to bring home and released 76 in survivable condition. We didnít keep an accurate count of the number of lost fish but it is save to say that number must have been in the low teens.
As the tide started to flatten out and the fishing slowed we agreed that enough was enough and it was time to head back to the barn. Jeff and Jay stowed the fishing gear minus a brand new G Loomis rod and Penn reel I had lost overboard to a slippery bone (unfortunately I donít think that fish survived its escape). I made a feeble attempt at washing away all the slime, blood, and scales that covered every square inch of my 21 foot Parker and then headed for the ramp. The three of us were beat both mentally and physically with the final count being 85 Atlantic Bonito caught. Individually the numbers were: 37 for Jeff on the spinning rod, 29 for Jay alternating between fly and spinning, and 19 for me on spin and fly while handling the boat.
Iíve been fishing for bonito for quite a few years now. Days when we have caught several have been considered good fishing days. If we caught one from the beach it was a treat. A rare instance of a double hook-up on the boat was bragged about endlessly. On the feast of St. Bartholomew, gift of God and friend of St. Philip, we caught 85. I will forever remember St. Bart and from time to time thank him for his gift. It was an epic day, one on which three friends spent six hours catching eighty-five bones.
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