Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon??……….If so imagine filling it with water and then, instead of its confined area ……..make it the entire length of the east coast.!!! That’s a lot of depth and a lot of nooks and crannies and places for great things to live ….sometimes for their whole life and never to be seen. This spot is a real place on earth…it is called the continental shelf. This place of almost limitless depth can be reached by boat from as close as 40 miles to sometimes over 100 and well beyond. It is where the depth of water , in my childlike mind is bottomless. I am asked.……how deep is it out there………..I usually say ....."Oh around a million feet deep"!! The canyons are a place of mystery and although tools like depth finders etc, reveal its true parameters…….I choose to think of the canyons as a place with no end. Add to this incredible depth , the flow of the warm gulf stream that runs its edge and you will have a fishing area that supports everything from monsters to minnows. I know that….I have been there many times…..I have seen the minnows………and I have seen the monsters!! Swordfish….and big eye tuna ..and basking sharks.... and leaping Makos…and huge rays and turtles and tropical denizens like marlin and Wahoo and mahi. It is a natural …undiscovered…under tapped , fishery, that is a place for all those who choose go, to feel privileged to be there. This is truly the last wilderness on earth and every time I go,.... and everything I see.....only makes me wonder... what I didn’t see!!
On this day..for this adventure, we discussed our destination on the run out to the tuna grounds. Would it be Hudson canyon …or Vetches Canyon…or any of the other canyons within the great canyon……..the Atlantic Basin!! I like to troll when I am out there…if that approach happens to be appealing to the tuna and other spectacular game fish that swim this abyss. Trolling also covers more ground…and increases my chances of seeing some of the fleeting images that reside out there…..and only out there! When the water temps started to warm up…so did our sightings. First the bonito…..then the yellow and blue fins. Our quarry played in the temperate waters of the gulf stream…and we began to play with our trolling rigs….Squid Rigs….cedar plugs…zukars….green machines, etc. Knots checked…crimps checked…hooks honed….and the rigs were sent to sea in a professional, non-tangled manner. Fives outfits began churning up the ocean from the first wake to the furthest one. A lovely pattern…… Very qualified anglers and obvious presence of game fish, raised our heart rate and widen our eyes in hopes of observing the strike. A tuna strike on the surface ranks at the top for angling thrills. We could all attest to that…..we had all seen it before…and so we unified our hope to help us see it... again.
It was not long before we saw the benefits of following an old chum line or slick that we found meandering its way through this deep blue sea. Its clearly was the same route that a 54 " Wahoo chose as it smashed the green machine and took off at blinding speed. It suffered the gaff soon after and the water warmth was evident because this magnificent southern game fish was right here in our northern waters. There is actually a "Break" in the temperature ranges when you finally reach the Gulf Stream….I mean it can go from low60’s to low 70’s in a matter of a half mile. The difference between getting fish and not getting them is solely dependent on the water temp.. It rules the lives of those pelagic that choose to drive the avenue called the Gulf Stream.
One of the other indicators of that dramatic temperature change is not only shown on the thermometer……..but also in the atmosphere that covers these radically different break zones……or temp changes. The result of such close proximity between the temp of the water and the northern air above it can cause a wide range of atmospheric conditions. On this glorious adventure……the condition was fog…..from the waters surface to about 20 feet above it. A thick blanket of cottony fluff that blocked the sun and added to the chaos on board as we strained to follow the path of the towed baits. I had caught a super blue fin the day before, DAY BEFORE!!!
So I volunteered to climb the tuna tower to see if that height would provide me with a better vantage point to assure an instant response to a knock down on one of the rigs. I climbed the ladder….not to the top of the tower, but instead into a new world…..one of total clarity and beaming sunlight. Where the fog layer ended…..was simply the foundation for a brilliant sun filled day that played out above natures carpet of fog..
What a vantage point….one that would allow me a clear view of 90 million miles to our great sun and no ability to see the trolled lures in back of the boat and could only detect the voices from the anglers on the deck below. Felt like I was skiing in thick powder as the moving Bertram cut through the fog. The glowing sun painted me with warmth and I began to fall into a lull as the vessels diesel heartbeat became tranquil and soothing.
Tranquility and fury are only a heartbeat away when you big game fish in the canyons. So when I heard a whale breach in the fog below and then heard Pete declare that the screen was filled with bait, the moment had tuna written all over it. "Spin the boat around….lets pass through it again" was the phrase I picked up from the deck. They are squid….I can see them all around the boat. Finish the turn and lets run through them again. The Capt. was ahead of the crews wants……….the boat was already turning!.
Ok you guys , we are at the number where we first spotted the bait……….be prepared for action. He wasted his breath with that command……..the crew hovered near every rig……..more than poised! To avoid more chaos and to allow my buddies their turn on the rod, I stayed where I was and planned to go down and watch the fight if we hooked up. Again we all heard the whale expel his air and gather some more. "That whale is still around…I cant see it but I can hear it. Can you see it Mike.? No Capt.……….just fog below and sun above. Some time passed but the tension only built . When you have fished as long as I have….you can sense things. I sensed a canyon moment and a canyon memory. This talent comes through evolution. If you just Go Fishing…..you will never have that sense. If you respectfully wrap yourself in this natural world where fish live…….and do not consider its life forces to be compared to one another, and should be looked at as each force contributing to the next, it will be at that point that the ability to "Sense" things will come to you…………it has come to Striper Mike….as some readers can validate by having fished with me. If I say…something is going to happen……those words are NOT taken lightly. I knew something was going to happen!!!
The chatter faded into silence as the anglers stared at the rigs in hopes of a strike. "Mike is there any indication that the fog is lifting?.."….Not from here Capt. I still cant even see you guys from where I am sitting. And your only 15 ft under me. The poor vision hampers mobility for a lot of sea life so that the raucous gulls and shear waters were quiet…….the diesel hum prevailed. I you have ever been to Yellowstone National Park, then I am sure you visited Ol Faithful, our countries most renowned geyser. It erupts every whatever number of minutes apart and people gather to see this natural event all day long. The event builds as you watch it. It will bubble and gurgle and gurgle some more. It suddenly begin to push huge volumes of water up until the force of the push is such that a steamy projection of water shoots high in the air. I remember that noise well. The heavy bubbling before the burst. On this day..up in my tuna tower…90 miles out in the canyons……….I heard it again!!. I could not see my sounds due to the commotion occurring on the oceans surface and hence covered by the days thick fog. Was Old faithful going to erupt way out here?????……..and from where…the ocean is literally 1000 feet deep!!
"Are the squid still thick on the fish finder"…I yelled down below. There are literally millions of them mike……..Its tuna time, I whispered to myself……..cause tuna love squid the way we enjoy turkey on thanksgiving. My internal prediction was interrupted by a disturbing/scary, increase in the eruption noises I detected seconds before …….and it was then……..that…….from the bottomless depths of the canyons…….through the 15 foot layer of fog……..and into FULL view from my vantage point…….launched a behemoth SPERM WHALE. As it broke through the fog, its mighty /moby dick jaws were agape with streams of pink and day glow squid running out of the sides of its mouth . The eye….the teeth……..the square head……..the breath and noise and size and and and…I can fill these pages with descriptors. It was the greatest single sighting of my life!! When he reached the peak of his eruption, he fell to his side like all breaching whales and returned to the fogged surface with a thundering splash. "What was that mike"………….Capt, I will tell you on the way back in…..the 8 hour ride MIGHT be enough time for me to give this sighting its true justice. When I did retell the sighting ,he told me that they are obviously meat eaters….their teeth made that quite clear, and that they will swim down to the canyons untold depths and swim full speed UP THROUGH the squid schools with their mouth wide open. Just sucking in every squid they can during this Ol Faithful imitation..... He never did it again that day…or ever in my life……but the imagery of the squid running from between those massive teeth and classical Moby Dick Jaw wide open, is and will be in the for front of my angling memories. The hair on the back of my neck , standing on end as I type this, should verify how eternal that moment will be. Only I saw it….maybe no one will ever see that whale again……….....the bottomless forever ness of the canyons can hide him if he so chooses…….!
Play on the edge…….The edge of the continental shelf…….Go to the canyons…With eyes at full width…….See moments that become forever............ Risk Wilderness for Wonder.