By Capt. Jeff Smith, Fin-Addiction Charters
Each April a few friends and I travel to Gloucester, Massachusetts, to fish with Captain Bruce Sweet, owner and operator of Sweet Dream Sportfishing. Sweet runs a beautiful 35 Henriques Express with twin Yanmars, and is considered one of the best groundfish captains out of Cape Ann. His fishing prowess, combined with the super-slick ride, make it well worth the drive from my home on Cape Cod.
We make it a 2-day deal, leaving the Outer Cape around noon and arriving at Cape Ann Marina, where Sweet docks his boat, by mid-afternoon. Cape Ann has its own hotel and caters to fishermen. The rooms are affordable and clean, and there are several restaurants within walking distance.
After checking in and unloading our gear, we generally walk around a bit to take in the sights of Gloucester Harbor before chowing down at the Causeway Restaurant, right across the street from the marina. We love the Causeway because the portions are huge and fresh, especially the swordfish-tip salad, which will easily feed 2 people. The prices are ridiculously cheap and the service is fast and friendly.
After a good meal, we head back to the marina to rest up for the early-morning departure.
At 5:00 a.m., we meet Capt. Bruce and his son (and mate) Eric at the dock and load our gear aboard the Sweet Dream III. Minutes later we’re steaming toward the cod grounds off the northern end of Stellwagen Bank. As we take in the beautiful sunrise, hopes for a great day of fishing occupy our minds.
One of the great things about spring groundfishing on Stellwagen is that the fish generally gather in the relatively shallow (100′ to 200’) water on top of the bank, which lets you use lighter gear. As the water warms in June, the fish move to deeper water east of the bank, where heavier jigs and tackle—and longer runs to the grounds—are needed to target them.
Finding hard bottom is a big key to finding the fish, and Sweet knows the location of many time-proven spots on the bank. Once we reach his first set of numbers, we send down the jigs and get to work. Some of us fish old-school style, using Norwegian jigs and heavy rods, while others opt to butterfly-jig with lighter Stingos and Got Stryper teasers (see below).
After poking around a bit, we hit the mother lode of keeper cod, and soon the fishbox is half full. We move around some more and find a nice pile of haddock, with a few pollock thrown in. Many times you’ll find pollock feeding on suspended schools of bait, with the haddock and cod closer to the bottom.
A good depthsounder can obviously help narrow the amount of time it takes to find fish. When the cod and haddock are hugging the bottom, they may only appear as a thin, yellow line. This is where the bottom zoom on your machine can be a big help.
Of course, finding the bait is another piece of the puzzle, and the bait on Stellwagen at this time of year is big and abundant. Sand eels in the 7” to 8” range seem to be everywhere, as evidenced by the number gannets and gulls diving on them. Long, silver jigs such as the Stingos do a great job of mimicking these mega sand eels, and are a blast to fish on the lighter outfits.
By the end of the day we’ve limited out on cod, with a bonus mix of haddock and pollock to show for our efforts. After a long and fishless winter, a groundfish trip like this is a great way to kick off the Northeast season, and fishing aboard the Sweet Dream III with Captain Bruce lets us do it in style. In fact, I’m already looking forward to next year.
Capt. Jeff Smith’s Spring Jigging Tackle
- 5’ 8” Shimano Trevala rods (I used these rods to catch tuna several years ago, and they are now my preferred cod-jigging sticks. The Trevalas come in spin and conventional versions, and I use both for cod jigging.)
- Shimano 12000 Spheros (spin) and Shimano Torium 30 (conventional)
- Stingo jigs in the 7 to 10 oz. range. If I need to fish deeper than 200′, which is rare this time of year, I use two 7 oz. diamond jigs hooked together with a split ring.
- Got Stryper 7″ soft-plastic baits work great as a single teaser above the Stingo jig. Red is a favorite, as is fluorescent green.
- 50 to 65 lb. test Cortland Masterbraid