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Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Ocean fishing is a better experience on a party boat

THESE coming weeks are our best times to get out on the ocean for fun catching groundfish and a lot of nice, good eating. Big pollock is my key species, but in the process we're apt to get a nice mess of other good eating fish, such as haddock and redfish.

We still have a boat that can handle the offshore trips needed to get onto Jeffrey's Ledge, which is the hotspot for groundfish. They can be caught in more offshore smaller ledges but not in the concentrations of Jeffreys.

Even though we have the capability of fishing from our own boat out there (it's close to 20 miles a trip!) we haven't done that in about 10 or more years.

Why? Because it's much safer and probably more economically sound to sign up on one of the party boats that sails out of any one of our local ports — Rye Harbor, Hampton Harbor, Seabrook Harbor or Portsmouth Harbor.

These commercial party or charter boats are much more suited for that multi-hour cruise to good fishing grounds in that they are more comfortable, have the amenities of bathrooms, kitchen and a roof over your head, and have the electronic devices to put you right on top of the fish and keep you there.

We just love the freedom of concern that using a party boat gives us. And also it's a chance to relax on the more-than-an-hour-long trip out and back. They also provide fish filleting and the sturdy bags to hold the fillets and ice to keep them fresh.

When the crew is filleting the day's catch, a big crowd gathers at the stern of the boat to watch these masters do their work. On my last trip out on one of Eastman's boats out of Seabrook, their mate Nicole made quick work of filleting each fish so we decided to time her.

Making only four cuts on the first side and three cuts on the second side of the fish, it took less than one minute to create the cleanest and nicest pair of haddock fillets we've ever seen. She's like a machine, but much better looking!

Onboard, especially when the fish are really hitting and tangles are fairly frequent, the whole crew, including the captain, is out on the deck helping anyone land their catch and untangle lines when necessary.

When a big fish is hooked it's a good idea to call for a crew member to come with a gaff to ensure the fish comes into the boat and does not fall off the hook coming up the side. A call for “gaff” quickly brings a mate to your side as your fish is slipped into your tote to put on ice.

We do have a few bits of advice to make a party boat trip more enjoyable. First if you have fishing gear that is saltwater-proof and capable of handling big fish, it's a big improvement over the rental gear that because of its function is not as sensitive as your own probably will be. And that's not a knock on their gear. It's because of the wear and tear on rental rods and reels means ruggedness and reliability trump gear that is sensitive to the fish's often-light bites.

We rig our deep sea fishing rods that have a fairly light action with braided line in at least a 50 pound-test. To this we tie on a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader of 30-50 pound test and at least 20 feet long and often quite a bit longer. The joining of the braided line to the leader is done by a double uni-knot of at least four twists. (We won't go into detail on this knot but if you are computer savvy you can easily find out how to tie one.) This knot allows the small knot to slip through your rod's guides with little trouble.

Our usual bait set-up entails a couple of loops to attach hooks that are set about two feet apart above where you'll tie on a lead sinker of from eight to 16 ounces, depending on the depth you'll be fishing and whether the boat is drifting or at anchor. A crew member will help you with setting up this leader if you have trouble and also most boats will furnish enough monofilament to complete your rig if you don't bring it with you.

If you get to the point where you become dedicated to this fishery, you'll eventually want a second rod, one that has different capabilities than your bait fishing rod.

A stouter and stronger rod for handling the big, heavy “cod”-type jigs and stronger reel and line helps you be proficient at catching just about all the species of groundfish and will, in some instances such as when fishing for pollock, out-fish bait rigs by a huge factor.

Jigging for groundfish is a physical challenge for some of us older folk but we've found that easing up a bit on the jigging action will produce almost as much success as the more violent jerking that some people use.

When jigging starts to get tiresome, we just switch back to our bait rig for a while and get a second wind. But it's awful hard to watch people next to you hauling up fish after fish on their jigs when your bait rig is going unnoticed!

One more supporting message about the crew: They are not at all put off by newbies! In fact that is a big part of their jobs and their livelihood depends a lot on their service and their service is often rated by the cash tips that are traditional to leave for the crew.

Jane and I just dined on baked-with-crumb-topping fresh-caught haddock. If God created a better tasting fish, he/she is keeping it for himself/herself!

We've fished on Gauron's, Eastmans, and Ricky Lapierre's Yellow Bird. All out of Hampton/Seabrook Harbor and all have given us a great day.

Drop us an email at and get out there and get you some!


Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at


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