Call of the Canyons

The crew of the Tokatomist pose with with an 80-pound wahoo taken at Oceanographers Canyon.

A trip to the edge of the continental shelf can lead to the catch of a lifetime—but that’s only part of the adventure. By Tom Richardson; Photography by Matt Rissell

Blue marlin sometimes crash a canyon spread.

You’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. Or New England, for that matter. When you’re floating some 1,000 feet above what might loosely be considered terra firma, you can’t help but feel a little, well, out there. Welcome to the North Atlantic canyons.

These great underwater fissures on the edge of the continental shelf, carved by meltwater-fueled rivers during the last ice age, comprise an altogether different realm. Appropriately, the waters are populated by creatures not encountered by most mortal men—at least not those who fish inshore.

The canyons can be a lonely place at times. Sometimes a passing cargo ship is the only other vessel you’ll see.

The warm, deep-blue Gulf Stream waters that flow along the shelf edge carry with them everything from triggerfish to blue marlin. Yellowfin tuna, wahoo, mahi mahi, bigeye tuna and hammerhead sharks also travel the great bluewater river, and far below, along the steeply sloping canyon walls, are colorful tilefish and that most mysterious species of all—the broadbill swordfish.

Of course, you need the right boat to fish the canyons, which lie anywhere from 80 to 120 miles offshore. The weather has to be stable, the seas manageable. And even when the elements align, success is never guaranteed.

Swordfish are one of the biggest fish that dwell in the canyons.

But that’s okay, because fishing the canyons is really about visiting a place few others get to experience, and you’ll be excused if you find yourself feeling like those ancient mariners who were sure the dark seas contained ship-crushing beasts.

Here, truly, there be monsters!


Big yellowfin are a canyon staple.