Planning for a Northeast canyon trip isn't like heading out for a day on the flats. It's a long-term commitment, with many variables in play as the runs average 70 to 100 depending on where the fish are and what port you run out of.
The target species are some of the largest game fish in the ocean, with tuna, marlin and swordfish on tap. To be successful, your plan must cover every aspect for the long haul as a day trip to the canyons equates to a 14-hour day while many overnighters run from 24 to 30 hours.
Capt. Sean Reilly runs on a 36-foot Yellowfin out of Somers Point, New Jersey, and helped us come up with this list of 10 tips to make sure you are well prepared to make the run.
1. GET YOUR INTEL STRAIGHT
"Check FishTrack and Buoyweather leading up to your trip to forecast water temperatures, edges, eddies, moon phase, and overall projected marine forecast for seas," Reilly says. "When you have a four- to six-hour run each way you need to know your 24 -hour weather window well."
Sea-surface temperature charts will allow you to maximize your plan of attack, knowing where to predict the water and monitor the currents so you get an idea of how its moving. This helps you chart out the perfect plan to start your troll or chunk drift and where you intend to end up.
2. ORDER BAIT
"Always get your bait ordered two to three days ahead of time, so any ballyhoo, butterfish, and sardines are all ready for you to pick up the day before. Don't leave your bait to chance. During the peak of the canyon season, bait can run out fast," according to Reilly.
Baits should also be prepped and ready to go with ballyhoo properly salted, rigged and set in a cooler. Thaw out butterfish and sardines so they aren't chunks of ice blocks when ready to deploy.
3. ICE UP
"Keep your catches cool and fresh. We always bring at least 200 to 300 pounds of ice on any canyon trip to ice down the tuna and mahi. There's nothing worse than going through all that trouble and bringing home mushy, warm meat or having fish sitting in water getting stale."
Gut tuna and fill the chest cavity with ice immediately, then place the fish in a kill bag, or at the very least, into the fish box which should be prepped as a slush tank filled with ice and salt water.
4. BRING PROPER TACKLE
"There's no sense in being out there if your gear is not in top form," says Reilly. "Retie all knots, look over all of the terminal tackle, bring plenty of properly sized hooks, leader material, swivels, and have all of your rigs and leaders tied up the night before so you are not messing around on the boat tying when the bite is on. Set your drags ahead of time and have all of the rods prepared to pull a ballyhoo or clip on a spreader bar or daisy chain. Many times, the fishing starts well within the run to the canyon edge. At the 30- to 40-fathom line you may encounter schools of busting yellowfin, so you want to be ready to drop lines out on them."
5. SAFETY GEAR CHECKLIST
"Make a checklist of life vests, EPIRB, sat phone, first-aid kit, allergy meds, aspirin, antibiotics, anything to keep any situation under control as best as you can."
With any electronics, always replace batteries from the last few trips with new ones and insure your tow boat and other subscriptions are up to date. It sounds simple but gets overlooked often. Prior to departure, let your crew know exactly where the safety gear is and how to use it.
6. CUT BAIT
"We always take one flat of butterfish and cut it up the night before, so we are ready to set right up on the chunk bite when the anchor settles." Put the pre-cut chunks in a five-gallon bucket and keep it in the cooler so it can be easily deployed once at the location.
7. STAY PROTECTED
"You cannot underestimate the importance of staying dry and warm," says Reilly. "Bring a bag full of spare clothing. Socks are super important, as are any foul-weather gear, back up shirts, pants, long-sleeves, sunglasses, hat, boots..." It may be 90 degrees on land, but it's always colder on the water as wind chill from running or a sea breeze will chill you to the bone, especially in the morning and night hours. You can always take layers off, but you can't put on clothes to warm up if you don't have them.
8. FILE A FLOAT PLAN
"Before you take off, let people on land know what your intentions are, where you are running to, where you plan on possibly moving during the day and what time you plan on returning." It's always good to know people on land are looking out for you and know where you are or may be if something goes down.
9. FUEL UP
"Don't wait until sunrise to fill up the boat. Many times, gas docks aren't even open until 7 or 8 a.m., plus there will usually be a line waiting to fuel up," Reilly says. "Top the boat off the day before so when you fire up the engines, you can head straight to the horizon." If you are heading on an exceptionally long run, bring bladder tanks to supplement your fuel reserves. Fill them up and stow them properly. Always be sure to chart out and predict the gas you will burn beforehand, and never cut it close, leave plenty of gas as emergency reserve in your tank.
"While it's obvious to bring plenty of food and snacks, don't forget to stock up with plenty of fresh water. When battling big game, you will need to refresh and rehydrate often." Recharging to stay in the game, alert and awake is key. You need all the strength you can get, so bring the food and fuel you require to stay in top form.