GLOUCESTER – With the exception of forced downtime from a couple of October nor'easters, the Indian summer autumn has provided Gloucester recreational charter fishing operators and their symbiotic partners, the whale watch outfits, with a good fall on the water.
Mild temperatures, plenty of sun and (usually) manageable winds have helped operators such as Yankee Fleet and Cape Ann Whale Watch stay on the water — even if on a more limited schedule —and extend their prime summer seasons into the backstretch of the annual fishing and sea-going calendar.
"This has been a better fall than the last two years," said Tom Orrell of the Yankee Fleet, whose fall fishing schedule has been reduced to weekends. "The new regulations relaxed a bit in the fall and that helped make a difference after the summer that was really off, especially our overnight trips, compared to other years."
This year, with more relaxed bag limits for haddock than in years past and a two-week window from Sept. 15 to 30 that allowed anglers to keep one Gulf of Maine cod per day, charter operators have been able to offer a taste of the days of yore, when cod was plentiful and legally available.
Orrell said much of his increased traffic on this fall's trips came from recreational anglers who had been barred from fishing for cod for the last several years because federal fishery regulators still consider the stock overfished, with overfishing still occurring.
"With the infusion of cod this year, it seemed there was a renewed interest," Orrell said. "And the relaxed regulations on haddock also helped a lot. Before all we were able to do was chase pollock."
Not that the focus on pollock was without benefit. Those trips out into deep water in pursuit of the pollock convinced Orrell there remains a market for the plentiful groundfish.
"Now we do special, deep-water jigging trips for pollock," Orrell said. "We use no bait so we can stay away from dogfish."
The plan, according to Orrell, is to maintain the fall fishing schedule right through Thanksgiving weekend that bridges November and December.
"If we get the weather, we'll get the people," Orrell said.
Capt. Jim Douglass of Cape Ann Whale Watch also reported a robust autumn surge after a very strong summer.
"It's been a really good fall," Douglass said on Monday. "The boats have had good crowds and the whales have been really active."
Throughout September, Cape Ann Whale Watch retained a schedule of two trips per day on weekends, as well as a 1 p.m. trip on weekdays. Beginning Oct. 1, the schedule went to a solitary 10 a.m. trip each day the weather allowed the Hurricane II, with a capacity of about 200, to head out.
And even with the reduced schedule, the interest hasn't diminished, Douglass said.
"We had about 150 on the boat that went out this morning," Douglass said. "And there were still about 10 humpback whales out on the corner of Stellwagen Bank."
Douglass said this fall's bounty of whales and whale-watchers continued a trend from last year, when the fall season was bustling with legions of whales and those who wanted to observe them up close and personal.
"We had a really good fall last year," Douglass said. "That's what encouraged me going into this year."
This year also has built on another trend Douglass has noticed the past few years — the world seems to have discovered Gloucester-based whale watching.
"We've had lots and lots of foreigners who have realized this is still a really good time of the year to travel here," he said. "If we've had 200 people on the boat, more often than not close to half have usually been foreigners."
But as with all things, nothing good lasts forever. Cape Ann Whale Watch will shut down for the season after Sunday's trip, entering the winter hiatus that will end when the boats head back out next spring.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT