Ground fishing for cod, haddock and pollock on Jeffreys Ledge in the Gulf of Maine (June 3, 2017)

This huge cod was Vince’s largest fish of the afternoon

My buddy Curtis invites my son Joel and I to join him and one of his friends for an afternoon of ground fishing in the Gulf of Maine. Curtis owns a serious 33-ft ocean-going vessel. We’ve talked many times in the past of taking his boat out on a fishing trip into the ocean and the day has finally arrived to do it. The maritime forecast calls for overcast skies and calm seas with no wind or waves and air temperatures in the mid 60’s. These are ideal conditions for this time of the year! We head out of Portland Harbor at noon and navigate for about two hours in a southwesterly direction (thank goodness for GPS!) until we hit the northern tip of Jeffreys Ledge, which sits about 30 miles off-shore. On the way there, we observe several whales including two humpbacks. They alone make this trip already worthwhile!

 

 

This pollock was Joel’s largest groundfish of the afternoon

 

 

Jeffreys Ledge is one of the outstanding fishing grounds in the western Gulf of Maine. This submerged feature runs for about 70 miles in a roughly NE to SW direction from the Maine-New Hampshire border down to Cape Ann north of Boston. The ledge rises from depths of 500+ ft up to 150-200 ft on the ridge surface. It attracts a plethora of marine life, including numerous ground fish (e.g., cod, haddock, pollock, cusk, flatfish),  large pelagic sharks (e.g., thresher shark, mako shark, blue shark), plus various species of whales and dolphins. The following recreational fishing rules apply to the Gulf of Maine. For cod, the open season is from August 1 to September 30 with a minimum size limit of 24” and a bag limit of 1 fish/person/day. Hence, all the cod caught today need to be released at once. For haddock, open season is between May 1 and February 28, with a minimum size limit of 17” and a bag limit of 15 fish/person/day. The season for pollock is open year-round, with a minimum size limit of 19” and no daily bag limit.

 

Your blog author with a monster pollock. This fish’s stomach was stuffed with over a dozen 8″ baitfish!

We start fishing using cod-fishing rigs consisting of two large side hooks prettied-up by one-inch pieces of colored tubing and, at the end of the line, a heavy one-pound “cod jig” containing a large terminal treble hook. That hook is important because about a quarter of the bottom fish typically get snagged on it. The heavy cod jig also quickly places our hooks in the strike zone. The bottom is close to 200 ft deep at the top of Jeffreys Ledge and it still takes close to 20 seconds for our jigs to zoom all the way down. The fishing action consists of constantly bumping the jig on the bottom and waiting for a bite. It takes less than five minutes for the first fish to announce its presence to loud acclaim on the boat. It’s a fat cusk that puts up no fight and feels like a bag of potatoes… The problem, of course, is that the creature needs to be cranked up through 200 ft of water. The action is non-stop for the next four hours as we gently drift on and off the ledge pushed by wind and currents. We run into schools of cod, haddock and pollock and each one of us hauls up dozens of fish. Amazingly, given the speed at which the jigs shoot down towards the bottom, we regularly catch 10” mackerels which succeed in biting into the side hooks. Those macks are kept in the boat’s live well for use as bait in case we see a shark feeding on the surface. At some point in the afternoon, Curtis screams out “SHARK!!” and eagerly points his finger in the direction of a large dorsal fin circling the boat about 200 ft out. We immediately retrieve our jigs, bring out the shark rod, attach a balloon on the line and bait the large hook with a live mack. The bait is allowed to swim away about 10 ft below the surface, trailing the balloon with it. We all have high hopes but the abundance of bait fish schools darting all around the boat indicates that there’s plenty of prey down there for the predators to feed on and our mack remains unmolested.

 

Joel signalling the incoming tow boat using an emergency flare

It’s now 6 pm and time to turn around and head back to Portland. Curtis fires up the engine and turns north when, 15 minutes in our return trip, we hear an awful “CLANK!!!” at the back of the boat. Holy shit, that was NOT a good sound. Upon closer inspection, the engine runs normal and the propeller axle turns fine but the boat remains immobile. Joel goes to the back of the boat, immerses and points his water-proof cell phone towards the propeller, and takes several pictures. The problem is immediately apparent: the propeller sheared off its axis and dropped to the bottom of the ocean… We’re bobbing dozens of miles off-shore without the possibility of making it back to port under our own power. This is where fishing with a responsible captain really pays off. Curtis has invested heavily in all the possible safety features. His emergency radio signal is picked up by the Coast Guard, he has towing insurance, a bagful of emergency flares, a fully-equipped safety raft, etc. Thank goodness that we are not in immediate danger because the sea is flat, the wind is calm, the boat is not taking on water and the Coast Guard makes arrangements to have a tow boat come out and rescue us. However, it won’t reach us until 10 pm! So, we have nothing to do but relax for the next 3.5 hours. Then Joel suddenly screams “SHARK!!!” and points to a dorsal fin no more than 50 ft off the bow. It’s a small 5 ft mako shark! Out comes the shark rod, the balloon, and one of the remaining macks in the live well. This time, the schools of baitfish are absent and it takes the shark less than 5 minutes to locate our bait and gobble it in. Joel and I have a fun 15 minutes fighting the 80-pound predator before releasing it unharmed back into the ocean. What a great way to end the day!

 

The results: We caught several dozen cod, haddock, and pollock, plus a juvenile maco shark, in four hours of fantastic fishing in the Gulf of Maine.

 

We finally reach Portland Harbor at 5 am after a seven-hour tow!

 

Was the information in this blog useful? I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions. Also, feel free to discuss your fishing experiences at this location.

 

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One thought on “Ground fishing for cod, haddock and pollock on Jeffreys Ledge in the Gulf of Maine (June 3, 2017)

  1. That’s an epic adventure!!!! You won’t forget that one. Thank goodness for the captains preparedness. All’s well that ends well.

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