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"The fishing was good; it was the catching that was bad," renowned angler A. K. Best once quipped.
Clearly, fishing demands of its practitioners the ability to wax philosophical now and then.
Then there are those days when it all just goes right.
"On one of our tuna trips, someone hooked a 135 (lb) yellowfin, which I thought would be the biggest catch of the day," recalled Bob Wadsworth, owner of Captain John's Sport Fishing in Waterford. "Then someone landed a 150-pounder, then 160, and finally someone caught a 210-pounder. That remains the Connecticut state record."
While there is never any guarantee of record-breaking catches (even fishermen can't fib that much!), there are plenty of opportunities to get out on the water for a day of fun and sport in southeastern Connecticut. From family-oriented day trips to nighttime odysseys in search of tuna, striped bass, bluefish and other offshore species, the emerald waters of the Connecticut coastline and its fabled fishing ground — "The Race" off Fishers Island — not only teem with fish, but plenty of sport fishing operators ready to accommodate one and all, from the greenest-gilled landlubber to the seasoned angler.
Like many fishing outfits, Captain John's is family-owned and -operated, and goes back generations. It was Wadsworth's grandfather, Earl Wadsworth, who founded the business back in 1946, at a time, said his grandson, "when there weren't too many other boats out there." Today, Captain John's four boats constitute the state's largest fleet of private charter and open party boats. (An open party boat is an unreserved, first-come/first-serve, walk-on boat, as opposed to a private, exclusive charter.)
Prices at Captain John's and other fishing outfits range from $50-$60 or so for half-day jaunts (with discounts for seniors, children and non-fishing passengers), to $100 or more for nighttime striped bass expeditions. Operators typically provide bait and offer the option of bringing your own fishing equipment (rods, reels and tackle) or hiring it on the dock.
At Blackhawk Fishing in Niantic, owner Greg Dubrule says he likes to go the extra mile by giving a little talk on the dock before each trip, describing for clients the ecology of the region where they will be fishing and getting to know each customer individually. For him, the business is not just about catching fish, but about getting families out on the water.
"Our whole focus is on children and the family," he said. "We encourage kids to visit the bridge and have signs onboard directing them there. We want them to see what fishing is all about. We are losing too many children these days to computers and video games."
To this end, Blackhawk has a weekly drawing for free fishing trips, including ones for kids with an accompanying adult, and has also offered free trips for children of veterans of the Iraq War. Building community is a focus for Dubrule and his crew, who routinely donate excess catches to local soup kitchens and shelters.
The comfort of his clients is a primary concern to Captain Brad Glas of the Hel-Cat II out of Groton, to the extent that Glas made specified modifications to the design of his vessel, the largest party boat (114 feet) in New England.
"I had them make the walkways five feet," said Glas, referring to the sides of the vessel where customers typically fish. The modification, he said, provides extra space between seats along the boat's superstructure and the rails, which are also a bit higher, which Glas says makes clients feel more secure, while at the same time still allow plenty of room to fish. "Nobody else has that kind of clearance," he said.
As crusty a New England boat captain as they come, Glas says a "good day," fishing or otherwise, is when you "wake up in the morning with no roots in your face!" But he acknowledges that his father, who started the business in 1946, was the guy with real guts.
"He was in the Coast Guard, chasing German submarines off Montauk and in the Gulf of Mexico with a revolver and a wooden boat," said Glas.
The Hel-Cat II offers trips in search of sea bass, porgies, blues ("some of the best fighters in the ocean") and bottom fish, such as fluke (summer flounder). While Glas encourages his clients to bring coolers to fill with their catch — but preferably empty. Like Dubrule, he says his operation is family-focused and not an opportunity for a beer blast.
"We serve draft beer, but we do not allow customers to bring alcohol on board," said Glas. (Other vessels also restrict alcohol consumption on board, for obvious safety reasons.)
For those looking for a smaller vessel — something closer to your buddy's boat — try Carolyn Ann Sportfishing, at Captain Scott's Lobster Pier right on the docks of New London. The company's 41-foot Hatteras Sportfisherman is a classic fishing yacht and accommodates up to six clients – the perfect vessel for a close group of friends or couples to get out on the water and enjoy a day of deep water fishing.
Captain John's Sportfishing
Captain John's “Sunbeam Fleet” can be found at Captain John's Dock, Mago Point Marina, 15 First Street, Waterford, CT 06358 (381 Rope Ferry Road, via GPS finder). Half-day (approximately 5 ½ hour) blue and bass fishing trips (May 10 – Sept. 2) are $60 (seniors, $55 and children, $32). Night stripe bass fishing (approximately 5 ½ hour) start May 18 and run into October for $85. Also offered are “After Work Special” trips for blues and bass, Mondays and Thursdays (May 27 – Aug. 29), departing at 4 p.m. (reservations recommended). For information on departure times and more, contact Captain John's at 860.443.7259, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Black Hawk fishing season commenced May 4, with bass and blue trips sailing at 6 a.m., 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., for $62 (children 12 and under, $31). Evening trips (Thursdays and Fridays) starting May 23 sail at 4 p.m. and are $75. Night bass trips are $105 (reservations required) and porgy day trips are $72 (children $36). Seal watch, summer sunset cruises and fireworks trips are also offered. Contact Black Hawk II, Box 46, Niantic, CT 06357; tel: 860.448.3662 or via e-mail, BlackHawkFishing@gmail.com for more information and to register for special offers and discount coupons.
Hel-Cat II offers “Bankers Hours” (9 a.m. - 3 p.m.) trips for bass and blues, starting May 18 (weekends and holidays only), then daily from June 15 through Sept. 2, and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 18 through Nov. 3. Adults $58, children (12 and under) $30; military, $52. Four-hour afternoon trips for fluke, sea bass and scup are $50 for adults, $25 for children, and $45 for military, and depart on Saturdays at 4 p.m., July 20 through Aug. 10. Porgy and sea bass trips in the fall (daily, Sept. 3rd through Oct. 14, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) are $68 for adults, $34 for children, and $62 for military. Discount non-fishing rates (passenger only) are available for all trips. The Hel-Cat II office and parking are located at 181 Thames Street, Groton, CT 06340.
Call 860.535.2066 or 860.535.3200 for more information.
Carolyn Ann Sportfishing
Carolyn Ann Sportfishing offers trips from the middle of May until the end of October for up to six people, starting at $650 for a five-hour trip, to $900 for 8 hours. Five-hour night bass trips are $725 and shark trips to Montauk are $1100. Special military discount trips are $570.
Boats leave from Captain Scott's Lobster Pier, Dock #4, 80 Hamilton Street, New London, CT 06320. For more information call: 860.884.1702, or e-mail: Mcgu2email@example.com