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Thomas and Thomas Fly Rods

BFO/BFT are proud to be fishing with/carrying Thomas and Thomas Fly Rods this year.  Thomas and Thomas is a historic name in fly-fishing and are known for hand building amazing rods in Northwest Mass.  Like many companies their hold back is the inability to mass produce rods, because they make them of such high quality.  This forces the price point to be in the high $800 range.  For years that price point was frowned upon, but recently, as fly-fishing is becoming back in vogue and people realize and understand the cost associated with fishing in high end areas, they are becoming more and more comfortable with the high price point.  To add to it, the quality is unmatched and Thomas and Thomas stands behind every product they sell.

Our Go-To rods on the boats have been the Exocess 250 and 350 grain rods.  These rods have a stiff backbone and are designed to throw the heavier lines in really short order.  On top of their product, Thomas and Thomas is trying to expose their process to the world.  They are rebuilding their building room to be very customer friendly.  They want those using their rods to interact with those building their rods.  And Further, they are building a brewery on location to really make sure it is a go-to destination.

The ownership and management group are dialed in, not just to what customers want and quality, but making sure the whole experience for everyone is just awesome….

Buying a Boat Nantucket

I am thinking of buying a boat, Should I? Obviously this is a tough question.  And there are so many questions to ask, what do you want to use the boat for?  How much can you afford to spend on the boat? How much can you afford annually to upkeep the boat?   How big a boat do you think you could handle?

The first question is important as if you want to fish offshore you are going to need a bigger boat with two engines, where if you want to take your family to the beach for the day you will want a boat with a shallow draft that you do not beating up.  Most people want a combination package, something that can do it all.  As with most things, use the right tool for the right job, otherwise nothing else will be perfect.   Now can a 24 foot boat go to great point and get up on the beach of course.  There are boats that can do both, but a 24 foot is not perfect for either, but if you want two tasks done, one boat can accomplish two tasks.

Next question is big and obvious, what can you afford to spend?  But what is most important is not up front, but annual expenditure.  Even a 20 foot runaround will cost you 4-6k per year before fuel in maintenance, dockage, insurance, storage, winterization etc… While a 24-30 foot boat can easily set you back 8-10k.  Can you afford this upkeep? 

Also its important to remember that when you sell your boat you will lose a good deal of money.  If you purchase a boat for 50 and sell it 3 years later because you didn’t use it for 35, that is a loss.

Another great option is to A) join a boating club so you can see whether you actually use a boat enough for it to be worth it.  B) go out on a charter 8-10 times a season to see if you like being on a boat as much as you think?   Unless you are just looking for a runabout, both of these options tend to be cheaper than buying a boat. 

Another great option is to buy a runabout so you can do the family stuff together, but commit to 4-5 charters so you can get the fishing in that you want.  Either way, you are thinking about getting on the water, which we love!

Where do I fish on Nantucket?

Where do I go fishing on Nantucket?

I was just speaking to a friend of mine who manages a restaurant and is starting bourbon bar with 180 bourbons.  I asked him, how do you expect your bartenders to know them all.  His response is he doesn’t.  He wants them to have a good handle of 20-30 and than over time learn the rest. You can learn a lot by reading, tasting or even asking your patrons questions.   As I thought about this, this answer could be given about many things.

When just getting going with fishing on Nantucket you may have no idea where to start fishing, when to go or what to use.  Our advice is simple.  Find 2-3 spots and fish them hard.  Learn them.  Fish 2-3 lures. Learn them. And make sure to fish all points of the tide cycle.  Once you have put your time in, ask questions.  Fishermen, love to help others.

So how do you figure out spots to start?  Get a friend to help you out or come into Bill Fishers.  We will always help get you started.

But remember, our biggest advice of all, spend time fishing.  If you fish 2-3 times per year you will feel like fishing is always an uphill battle.  If you put your time in, you will be rewarded.

Understanding the Squid Fishery, particularly as it relates to Nantucket Island.

Understanding the Squid Fishery, particularly as it relates to Nantucket Island.

The problem:

Squid are a migratory baitfish that feed our ecosystem. They have been locally over-harvested for the past seven years.  Recent science suggests that a major spawning area for squid is south of Nantucket, Tuckernuck, Muskeget and Martha’s Vineyard.  (Squid lay eggs in squid mops, which attach themselves to the ocean floor until they are mature enough to survive outside of the egg: incubation is 17-30 days) The problem is that in the last seven years, there has been a steady increase in small mesh bottom trawlers targeting squid south and west of Nantucket causing localized depletion. These trawlers are taking from our ecosystem between 8,000,0000-19,000,000 pounds of squid each summer.  This is not to mention the incredible kill rate of the squid mops as they are also fishing directly on spawning grounds.  All the while these trawlers are non-discriminatory leading to a 37% bycatch number.

More info on Squid:

Squid spend the winter months along the continental shelf and they do not move inshore until the water begins to warm in late April – Mid-May.  The Squid come in waves to our local waters all of the way through August. They lay their eggs (mops) and fertilize them in the “shallows” during this period.   Once done they continue their movement to the rips north and east of the island filling the water off of Chatham/Monomoy as well as Great Point and the rips southeast and east of Nantucket. When the squid eggs mature they get pushed with the tide into the warmer nutrient rich waters of Nantucket Sound or along the south shore of Nantucket. As they mature, they become squiddos and they also push through our ecosystem feeding the Bluefish/Striped Bass/Tuna that fill our waters in August/September.  A squid’s life cycle is around one-year. In all stages of life, Squid are an essential food source for everything in our ecosystem. The mops are eaten by bottom fish, while the immature and mature are targeted by Striped Bass, Bluefish, Tuna, Albacore etc…

A brief history of the localized depletion for squid:

Squid are managed through annual quotas. The quotas are broken into seasonal trimesters.  If a quota is hit in one trimester, the fisherman need to stop fishing. Since 2011, the fleet has not caught the quota for the spring Trimester.  If they do not hit a previous quota trimester quota, that quota then rolls over into the next trimester. (maxing out at 50% extra of the quota). For example, in 2016 the fleet did not catch their allotment in the spring, so instead of an 8,000,000 lb quota in the summer, it went up to 12,000,000 lb. Historically, once the quotas are met, which in recent years, has only happened in the summer trimester, fisherman could continue to harvest squid as incidental catch, so long as it did not exceed 2500 lbs per trip.  Squid for a long period did not have the value it does today, as a result allowing fishermen to bring in their incidental catch.  This was a positive measure to ensure that there was not waste. As the value of squid quickly increased, fisherman would use the incidental catch loophole to extend their squid seasons. In 2016, this extra catch added up to 7,000,000 lbs. For a total haul of 19,000,000 lbs in the summer trimester in 2016. Due in large parts of the efforts of Nantucket fisherman, this extra quota has been reduced to 250 lbs a trip because of how it was abused in 2016.  This is a win for our fishery! However the agency failed to finish the rule in time so the reduced trip limit won’t take effect until trimester two of 2019.

The biggest harvest of squid continues to be in Trimester 2 and there continues to be the highest effort concentrated south of Nantucket, at the time and place where spawning  happens. On any given day, we’ll see 30-50 boats in the offshore waters. It’s our belief that the continued pressure on the spawning grounds will have a long term negative impact on the biomass of squid in our regional waters.  Most notably, after the overfishing in 2016, we saw a significant decline of mature squid in 2017 and the quota was not met until late in Trimester 2. Squid are short-lived species and science shows that an increase in the catch of squid in one year reduces the population in the next.

Of other significant consequence, there is documented reports from NOAA observers on vessels of a 36% by-catch rate (this was an average between 2007 and 2015) A 36% by catch rate means that 36% of the total catch was by catch, in other terms if you caught 100lbs of squid there was over 50lbs of by-catch.  For every 100 lbs of squid being caught, there is 50 lbs of by-catch. In 2017 observers witnessed a 50% by catch, meaning for every 100 lbs of squid taken, 100 lbs of by-catch were produced. Last year we had over 400,000 lbs of Striped bass discarded. That is half the states commercial quota! Maybe most importantly, between 2011-13 the observers witnessed and average of 32,000 lbs of squid mops a year. Considering the size of squid mops, that is an enormous number. All in all, there we 40+ species discarded, including but not limited to, Fluke, Black Sea Bass, Herring, Bluefish and Butterfish.

Lastly, predatory species, including Striped Bass and Bluefish which have long counted on squid as a major food source are at historically low catch rates. As we are seeing 8-19mm lbs of squid caught during trimester 2, our fin fish are not getting the food they need from our waters.  It is no secret that Striped Bass come to the shoals around Nantucket for the squid and they often won’t feed unless we have squid, often moving on to other to target other prey including mackerel and sand eels. This trend has been continuing for the past seven years and the change in striped bass catch rates can be directly (inversely) linked to the amount of squid being harvested.  

With respect to Harvesting Squid:

In Massachusetts State Waters (Inside of 3 miles)

In 90% of state waters small mesh bottom trawlers are not allowed to fish from May 1st – October 31st. This is a law that goes back decades.  Nantucket happens to be in that 10%. Massachusetts small mesh bottom trawlers and those from out of state receiving permits are allowed to harvest squid inside state waters (the 10% allowed to mobile gear) from April 23rd until June 9th. This date can be extended by the department of Marine Fisheries and has historically not been extended until 2015. It was extended for three years until our community put a lot of pressure on the state to not extend this date.  Last year, it was not extended. A win for the fishery!

Nantucket’s response to this:

It is our opinion; we should have the same protection as 90% of the state. In 90% of Massachusetts waters, inside of 3 miles is closed to mobile gear (dragging nets).   In an effort to receive the same treatment, we (the town of Nantucket) have proposed legislation to protect our inshore waters. Our state reps have been incredibly supportive and in one year we have already seen the bill come out of committee. It is still an uphill battle but we are making progress.

In Federal Waters (Outside of 3 Miles)

Fisherman from any state are allowed to target squid in Federal waters until the quota for that trimester is met. They are allowed to use mobile gear which rips up the bottom, which dislodges the squid mops causing a high mortality rate. Further, it is indiscriminate towards bycatch. They are limited to the size of mesh they can use so small fish can escape, but it has been documented that the commercial fishermen will double up using a 5” over and 1” 7/8ths mesh, so even though they are using the correct size mesh, the layering makes it difficult for smaller squid and bycatch to escape.  These fishermen do a good job of staying right on the three mile line so as to stay in federal waters.

Nantucket’s response to this:

We have been working hard to create a buffer zone (a time and area spawning closure) from 3 to 6 miles or 3 to 12 miles south of the Island to protect the reproducing squid. The design of a buffer zone is to not allow commercial fishing in a specific area so as to protect a designated species and the by-catch. This is not uncommon in other fisheries. Most fisheries protect known spawning areas, otherwise known as essential fish habitat.  We petitioned the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Council to address this matter, recognizing that Massachusetts is not represented on that body. To their credit, they have put it as an agenda item three times over the last two years, but they unfortunately chose not to consider a buffer zone in federal waters. The science is on our side. The squid fleet feels as though the strong squid population justifies the quota. We actually agree with the squid fishermen that the quota is sustainable if the proper gear is used (jigging and purse seining as they do it in the rest of the world) in responsible locations. Furthermore, it will be sustainable if the fleet does not target the spawning ground otherwise known essential fish habitats.  We aren’t saying catch less squid, we are asking for it to be less concentrated, and more to be taken at times and places where there is less ecological damage and cost to local communities. Over and over we have seen species (notably Cod, Herring and Swordfish) populations hurt because of practices like we are seeing with the squid now. Further, it makes no sense for the entire fleet to be fishing in one location as it has a hugely harmful negative effect on the Cape and Islands recreational and commercial fishing for predatory fish. As the squid fishermen point out, the squid stocks (for now) are healthy so can’t these boats find areas offshore, like they historically did, to catch the squid and satisfy the market? Squid caught offshore would not directly affect a local economy. The only negative would be more fuel costs for the squid fishermen.

Nantucket Fisherman have received some wins including lowering the incidental catch loop-hole from 2500 lbs per trip to 250 lbs per trip.  Unfortunately, this will not go into effect until 2019, so we can only hope the catch this trimester two does not exceed the limit. Saying this, we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, the Mid-Atlantic Council has been weighted significantly towards commercial fisherman and the present council is not conservation minded. Even though the Council is willing to hear our argument once put up for a vote there are deep pockets behind the commercial fleet and the council is very politically minded. For example, the one voting member representing New England works for one of the largest squid fishing operations.  As a result, we feel as though decisions are not being made in the fisheries best interest but in the short term interest of the fishing industry. This will be an exercise in patience as the model is currently set up.

Lastly-

Our newest fight is that Town Dock, the largest Calamari supplier in the country, has hired Marine Stewardship Council(MSC) to review and certify that the Longfin Squid fishery is a “sustainable seafood.”  MSC is an independent entity that is paid by companies like Town Dock to certify that certain fisheries are sustainable. At its root, MSC was set-up to help industries understand and protect the fisheries, and they have ecosystem policies including standards for the management of forage fish like squid.  MSC has looked at the science presented by Town Dock and is about to call the fishery sustainable, but they have not reviewed all of the science behind the certification, nor have they talked with any local “players” in the most targeted market. They have yet to speak with Nantucket’s Fishermen, which seems short signed if they want to fulfill their mission to be a credible international Steward and Certifier of fisheries.  We are optimistic that if we can get MSC to the island and to hear all the information that we have that they will understand that the squid fleet’s current practices are damaging to the long-term viability of the fishery. They have the ability to create restrictions on the fleet in an effort to get the fishery certified.

 

Understanding Nantucket Tides

Understanding Nantucket Tides…

Understanding tides might be the number one question we get by those who are trying to understand when to go fishing on Nantucket.   The number one thing any person fishing should understand is while you can have epic fishing during slack tides, the most consistent fishing is typically during moving water.  For Bass I typically like the first 2 hours or the last two hours of the water moving, but generally speaking you want moving water.  So how do you know when the water is moving as the tide seems to be different all around the island.  The trick is simple, don’t overthink the tides.  Find one tide chart and plan on leaving the dock when the chart says that the water is high or low… This will give you 30-40 minutes of running time to get to your location of choice and once you get there, the water should be moving.  Absolutely worst case scenario it is slack and will just about be running.  What you want to avoid, is arriving at the end of the running water so you have to sit through the slack.  This is why we advise leaving the dock when it is high or low, on the mark. 

We also advise you keep a log book to monitor Nantucket Tides.  Get to know what is happening and why…. So if you leave the dock at 8:30 and the tide is supposed to be high at 8:30 and you arrive at great point and the water is moving and you catch fish on your first cast, maybe you should leave a bit earlier.  So the next day, the tide turns at 9:15, try leaving the dock at 8:45 and see?  If you get there early, you will see the water turn and get a gauge as to when to go.   Do this same math for all the locations you like to fish and very shortly you will start to understands the patterns that are the tides.

The other great trick to understanding the nantucket tides is being willing to spend a full day or multiple days on the water.  Be willing to sit through the slack.  If you note down when fish stop biting/start biting and when water starts/stops moving you will be able to than put this against a tide chart and see how the patterns work.  You will understand that GP and Madaket are pretty similar but the vineyard and out east are both earlier than both of those….

Like everything else in fishing, tides are simply patterns, that you have to learn and figure out.