Something special happens between early summer and late fall off the East Coast of the United States. My friends and I call it “canyon season.” It’s a time for many tuna- and billfish-chasing anglers to spool up the Momoi, check drags, sharpen hooks, rig baits, break out the spreader bars, run the boat a hundred miles plus to far-flung waypoints, and prepare for greatness. That is, if you consider greatness catching a really big fish—or 12.
Such moments of victory are often celebrated by cracking open a cold beer—preferably one from Germany in a green bottle—but this is more than a caught-fish ceremony, it’s the culmination of a trip that can span two or three days, cost thousands of dollars, and if you’re an enthusiast like me, be worth every wallet-emptying, sweat-dripping, waiting-for-the-bite moment. I’m talking about fishing the edge, where currents collide, bait run in schools that span acres of ocean, and mammoth fish with bullet-like speed can tear a neatly arranged trolling pattern into oblivion before you get to the rod. It’s a rush. It’s a heartbeat. It’s canyon fishing.
But What’s a Canyon?
I often talk with dock jocks as we’re unloading tuna, and they ask, “Where did you get those? Did you go out far?” When I reply “the canyon,” a quizzical, what-the-heck-are-you-talking-about expression often comes over their face. For the canyon is the end of the earth. In every direction there is landless horizon. But under the water is a different story.
It starts with the fact that my homeport is Freeport, New York, on Long Island’s south shore, which is the world’s largest sandbar (I can’t substantiate this right now, but go with me). There is sand everywhere, which is why we have one of the greatest beaches, bar none: Jones Beach. However, this also means there is little structure on our local seafloor and the drop to deep water is gradual. I can run my 31-footer 20 to 30 miles before I even reach 120 feet of water. In contrast, I can run a boat off the coast of West Palm Beach, Florida, and have double that depth in three or four miles. So we Northeast anglers are used to running far to catch fish. And without underwater structure (aside from a wreck or small reef here and there) and real blue water, there’s no bait and therefore no real concentration of big pelagics like tuna and marlin.
Enter the canyon run. The area my crew fishes most is Hudson Canyon (once part of the Hudson River Valley), the tip of which is a 76-NM trip from my inlet, but it is far from the only one available. There is a cornucopia of canyons that line the coast from New England to North Carolina and beyond. And the distance from the canyons to the coastline varies as you move up or down the seaboard. Basically the canyons are where the continental shelf begins to disappear into the abyss, often dramatically—with some drops as deep as 1,500 fathoms and more.
This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.