PACIFIC BLUEFIN TUNA TIPS
Well, as of yet, those fish that are as rare as the fabled Unicorn haven't shown up yet to most of our dismay. Of course I'm referring to Albacore. Who knows when we'll see those long finned creatures next, but in the meantime, we are off to a good start with the shortfin models.
And Lord knows, I'm all about doing the next indicated thing. Seems to me, Bluefin are my next indicated thing on the offshore grounds. There have been some fabulous catches already this year, with some shots at that 70-100#+ grade of Bluefin.
Thought I'd write up some of my favorite topics and tips for catching these tasty tuna fish! Most of this is about the offshore variety of Bluefin Tuna fishing, not that anchored up at an island with 12# test, size 6 hook anchor fishing. But as I got prepared to write this up, I did see that El Gato sportfishing caught some shortfins on a ¾ day trip today! You don't have to book a multi-day trip to fish these bad boys. AVOID SNOWBALLING
First things first, these can be extremely frustrating fish to pursue, putting on a great show splashing around the boat, but getting a bite is very challenging at times. Don't think this doesn't bother the captain and crew- they want the fish to bite as much as you do, or more so.
The tuna get chased around by choppers, planes, speedboats, sportboats, seiners, and thus they get a little touchy and finicky. Joe Crisci of the Red Rooster 3 was telling me of his younger days working on a seiner, and there was one good school around. As his story unfolded, he said a group of about 7 seiners would get on this school, and it would sink out before they could get the net pursed up, and pop up just downswell of the net! He said the boats just kept playing hopscotch, trying to wrap that school to no avail. KEEP AN OPEN MIND, OPEN EARS, OPEN EYES
Ok, you are on the grounds, weather is co-operating, fish are around, and the boat gets on a school. Don't automatically grab your 25 or 30# outfit because they are the wily Bluefin. Personally, I do not go and grab a bait and get in the water right away. In fact, I don't even know which rod I'm going to use yet.
I wait, watch for boils, listening to the captain over the PA system. If I see bigger boils, or if he shouts out some key phrases, now I can decide on which outfit to grab. Some of these key phrases might be something along this line: "Give it to them, give it to them heavy", or "Bigger fish here guys, 50# test or bigger, with a 2 speed reel". Sometimes just the tone in his voice tells me he thinks these are really going to bite.
My typical starting outfit is a 40# test rig. Two speed optional, but not absolutely necessary. A seven foot rod, something you can cast a little ways. Now if I get a bite on 40#, and while I'm fighting a fish, I see lots of boils, and lots of action in the stern, my next cast will probably be with a 50# outfit. If I get bit on 50#, go up to 60#! Using this method, a trip I was on last year, I caught quite a few on one stop, because they were really biting, and using the heavier gear, I was able to land them much faster.
When they are really biting, a nose hook on the sardine is a very good bet. Place the hook crossways through the nose, in that hard cartilage spot, so you can get a good cast. Also, the bait won't get knocked off quite as easily as a belly hook or shoulder hook. Save those hook placements for when the bite backs off into a plunker.
Every year, the Shogun has Barbara Block and the Monterey Bay Aquarium charter the boat to specifically chase Bluefin, and they catch, tag and release many, and also catch some smaller grade fish, which they transport up to the aquarium. I used to work on the Shogun, so I've been able to participate in this activity a few times.
I have learned a lot about Bluefin making these voyages, and here's a bit of what I see as pertinent information. We get on a school, but nobody casts out until they are eating right on the corner. Add to that, we all use heavy line, because we want to land these fish very quickly so they aren't harmed, or tired out. Due to this method, the school stays close and doesn't get all scattered out like it does when you have a few anglers with a light drag setting and the fish sprinting away from the point of the bite.
My point is this: In a perfect world, with the perfect load of anglers, who could all be patient, wait until the fish were chewing the paint off the boat, and then fish heavy line and tight drags, that school of fish would stay in the WFO mode a lot longer. I'm sure most of us have seen footage of the PEI giants eating every bait thrown in, and our Bluefin will act the same exact way given the chance.
Thing is, can you be patient and not throw in for a while until the captain gives the signal?
I didn't think so. AH YES, THE PLUNKER
I love when the bite switches to plunk mode myself. Separates the men from the boys here, a little talent, a bit of finesse. Now it's time to pick out a good bait, using the lighter line, maybe a bit smaller hook, a 3/0 or 4/0 circle. I like the Mustad Demon circles, and the 3X strength will work fine in this application. Model # 39942, and I prefer the ringed hooks.
Make sure your hand is wet before you gently cradle the bait, gently place the hook in your favorite spot (my new favorite is the shoulder hook, with the belly hook a close second). Here, my least favorite hook spot is the nose.
Get that bait in the water as soon as you can, I prefer a gentle underhand lob but if you can land an overhead cast lightly, go for it.
And don't forget, in a plunker, sometimes the best place to fish is the bow. As the boat drifts, it moves stern first. Therefore the discarded baits and chum ends up trickling out from the bow, and thus it's a great spot to make your hook bait look just like a free swimming bait sprinting out from underneath the vessel.
Now is the time when that 25-30 lb outfit is the right choice, as long as the fish aren't too big. And I'll use up to a 9 foot rod if I do need to make a long cast to get that bite. SECRET WEAPON- RUBBER BANDED TORPEDO SINKER
Again, listening to the captain over the PA, and he might say we are marking fish 100-150 feet below the boat. I always have a 4 ounce torpedo sinker with a rubber band looped through one of the eyes of the sinker in my pocket. If I choose to fish a sinker rig, it's as simple as a basic half hitch of the rubber band around my leader, nose hook the sardine (always nose hook with a weight), walk up the side a little ways, wind in your face, and drop it down.
Does not matter if it's a great show with fish blowing out all over the place. The sinker rig is a very valuable method, always worth a try. Watch your line angle around other fish circling while being fought, but it is worth a try.
Once, on the Royal Star, on a 5 day trip, we were all flylining. One 12 year old kid put a sinker on, and he was rewarded with a 176 pound BFT! You can bet from that point on, a lot of us were using sinkers. USING JIGS FOR BLUEFIN
An extremely effective option, and it allows you fish the non-windy side of the boat, which is another plus. You'll have that side to yourself, or at the least wit the other jig casters. Still, practice safety, look behind you when you cast. And you can look like a much better caster, as the wind aids your cast!
Cast the jig downswell, doesn't matter if you choose bow or stern area. Let the jig sink about 100-150 feet. If it stops, put the reel in gear and start winding- a fish has the jig in it's mouth. You aren't going to hit the bottom out here, so if it stops more than likely a Bluefin has picked it up. If you just rear back and jerk on the rod, you won't set the hook, simply wind, wind wind. I prefer a single hook on fish bigger than 50 lbs, trebles are ok on school sized fish.
Surface iron, and poppers, and skipjig aren't reliable methods for Bluefin on a regular basis, on our coast anyways. TO FLUOROCARBO, OR NOT TO FLUOROCARBON, THAT IS THE QUESTION
One trip, on the Royal Star, we are in plunker. I can't buy a bite. My buddy, Larry Robinson, has just landed his 3rd BFT. I watch as they gaff it, and I see a small knot about 3 feet above his hook.
I quickly grabbed some FC, tied it to my mono, and my net cast was a bite! I quickly caught three Bluefin to even the score.
Personally, I don't think it's an "always" thing, but there are times it helps, and Bluefin do have more pronounced teeth than other tunas, so the abrasion resistance makes it a win win situation. I like the Surgeon knot to connect my mono to my fluorocarbon. FISHING THE PENS
I can remember many times where we picked off a school close by a tow pen of the seiners , and it became a go to plan for the local boats the last couple of years. For some reason, it seems a light line technique just like days of old, and so if you really want a Bluefin, it might behoove you to bring a light outfit, 20# fluorocarbon. LAST LICKS
As I stated earlier, Bluefin don't really like skipjigs, poppers, but they certainly do seem to love the kite and helium balloon. So, if given the chance, and they offer it, say yes.
Keep an open mind, good attitude, and pray for flat weather. I hope we all get to catch some of the shortfins this year, they are a fun fish to catch!