By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Local fishermen are reportedly experiencing one of their best spring seasons in years, thanks to a boom in the fish population off the coast of Newburyport.
Specifically, huge numbers of cod and haddock have been spotted in the coastal waters, an encouraging sign after the local populations of both fish dropped substantially in the past few years.
“We’ve seen an uptrend compared to the last four or five years,” said Chris Charos, whose family runs Captain’s Fishing Parties out of Plum Island. “We’ve seen a better spring as far as activity across the board from the first trip of the year to the present.”
The increase in fish activity could serve as a boon for local charter fishing boats. Charos said his boats have consistently seen a lot of fish on a daily basis since the beginning of this season, and Charlie Crocker, captain and proprietor of Mistie C Charters, said there have been a lot of keepers too.
None has been bigger, however, than the monstrous 42-pound halibut that Crocker helped one of his customers land a week ago Sunday.
“We were out on Jeffrey’s Ledge going cod and haddock fishing,” Crocker said. “My crewmate Dan Maguire informed me that we had a big fish on, and when I turn around and look at the guy behind me, he’s pinned to the rail, just holding on.”
Bob O’Driscoll of Townsend had hooked something big, and at first Crocker thought it might have been a shark, but given the way the line was moving, he figured it had to be either a gigantic cod or a halibut.
“We fought it, I coached him, told him how to move the line, we had it on the surface three times before it went straight back to the bottom,” Crocker said. “After 20 minutes, we finally got him to the surface and we gaffed him.”
A gaff is a pole with a sharp hook that fishermen use to stab large fish and lift them onto the boat. A gaff is necessary when dealing with big fish, because it’s impossible to lift the fish out of the water by hand without breaking the line, Crocker said.
“When you get a fish like that, you have to hit it immediately and keep it on the boat, because those fish are known to jump,” Crocker said. “As soon as it hit the deck, the line broke, so after another minute or two of fighting we never would have seen it.”
Regulations dictate that in order for a halibut to be a keeper, it has to be at least 42 inches long, and O’Driscoll’s was 48 inches. Crocker called the fish a catch of a lifetime and said it’s been the talk of the town within the fishing community all week.
“It’s incredibly difficult to get a fish of that size to the surface,” Crocker said. “Unless the angler is extremely good, the average person isn’t going to land it. They panic, they do things they shouldn’t do, but I stood right by this guy’s side for the whole fight and he really did a good job.”