MIDRANGE TROLLING TRIPS FOR TUNA
by Captain Harvey Yenkinson
Every summer New Jersey fisherman begin their offshore
ventures in search of the pelagic fish that migrate to
our waters from their winterring homes in the south. In
early to mid July to well into the fall, our waters become
inhabited by tuna, dolphin, wahoo, and marlin. There are
no offshore anglers that are not excited by the bullet
like crack of an outrigger popping when a speedster takes
a lure and your reel starts screaming for mercy as the
drag slows down the fish on its initial run. This exciting
sport is available to both private boat owners as well as
charter sportfishing patrons and the good news is you can
get in on this action inshore of the canyons.
Fishing offshore is very unforgiving of any defect in your
equipment as these powerful pelagic warriors will use any
weak link in your equipment to escape. Fresh line must be
on your reels, drags must be preset to appropriate tensions,
rod roller guides should be oiled, and hooks should be razor
sharp. Many offshore anglers remember to do these things but
forget to examine the leaders their lures are rigged on.
Leaders will often be frayed or crimps may have deteriorated.
Also, only ball bearing swivels like Sampo should be used.
Make sure your boat is equipped with the proper safety
equipment which exceeds the standards of inshore fishing.
Offshore life jackets and an EPIRB are inexpensive and
provide an element of security. A thorough check of the
present and upcoming weather conditions is for a safe trip.
Standard 30-50 pound equipment is capable of catching any
of the pelagic fish normally encounterred on a midrange trip.
For many fish, even 20 pound equipment will do the trick.
In my opinion, the single most important key to success in
offshore fishing is knowing what area to fish. The offshore
waters are massive and tuna will occupy a tiny fraction of
one percent of the ocean so you need to do everything you
can to locate a productive area to fish.
One oceanic feature that tends to congregate fish are the
bathometric changes in bottom contours. While most of the
ocean floor is like a
barren desert, depressions or lumps create both underwater
habitats for bait fish as well as upwellings that provide a
nutrient rich environment that supports the food chain.
Bathymetric chart #12B by Capt Shuda, gives a detailed subterranean
map. Inshore lumps will often become quite productive when a warm
water body from offshore has migrated inshore and brought its
plethora of marine life with it. The Cigar (26825/42737) is
uniformly productive for bluefin in the early morning hours
during the month of August and two summers ago was inhabited
by quite a few blue marlin as well! Many of the common fishing
spots are marine rich ecosystems created by the currents
flowing over these bottom changes. Offshore wrecks too, like
the 28 mile wreck (26825/42803), Misty Blue (26885/42641),
and Lori Dawn (26865/42579) create isolated marine sanctuaries
The convergence of ocean currents too creates a good fishing
opportunity often visible as rip lines on the surface. A new
will be up and running this summer and will let you see the
directions of ocean currents,
to aid in the finding of these current convergent bait holding
The gulf stream which courses north, well offshore of the
canyons, spins off eddies periodically, which travel inshore and
in a southerly direction. Surface water temp sites are plentiful
on the internet although sometimes impeded due to cloud cover.
The most frequently used site, which just happens to be free is
Keep in mind that the warm water you see Friday, will have
moved to the south when you head out Saturday. As you head
offshore watch for these water temp interfaces that we call
"breaks." Any change in water temp over a short distance usually
signifies a current interface that may be productive.
A third means of locating the fish is to be able to talk to
someone who has been out the day before. This is a big reason
charter captains can be successful on such a consistent basis.
While you may not know any charter captains, you may be able
to find such information from a good local bait shop that the
captains patronize. Also if you have a boat in a marina, try
to get to know as many people that enjoy the same type of
fishing you do. Every year I try to meet at least two new
offshore anglers in my marina with whom I can share information.
If information is scarce due to previous bad weather, you may
just have to head out to a previous productive spot and begin
searching for signs of tuna. Some spots are productive every
year, and often we will head out in that direction in lieu of
any better clues. Running out to the canyons is not necessary
and can be less productive then more inshore spots. Areas such
as the elephant trunk (26779/42512), 750 square (26750/42750),
tea cup (26775/42400), and triple wrecks (26925/42470) seem to
produce fish every year. Although I will plug these spots into
my loran, I will keep my senses alert as we head out. The
smell of recent oil slicks, the sight of circling/diving birds
or flying fish, floatsum on the surface, a temperature break,
a trawler working, or a report on the radio from a friend or
an overnighting boat may all quickly change the plans.
For two reasons, I would also take one flat of butterfish on
every trolling trip. Sometimes an area thick in sargassum,
without enough wind or current to blow it into a "weedline,"
can foul lures as soon as they are deployed. Also I have found
that once tuna are located by trolling, switching to chunking
can make for a very productive day. Other bait too may be wise
to bring along. Sometimes you may be lucky enough to find a
large piece of floating debris which is serving as a haven
for a large school of dolphin. While they may refuse your
lures, stopping up wind of the debris, throwing out a handful
of minnows, may put them into a feeding frenzy, and a minnow
impaled on a small hook may be an irresistable treat. Sometimes
bits of cut up squid can produce the same effect.
We generally troll at 6 to 8 knots, staying at the upper range
if trolling only plastic and at the lower range if some dead
baits are deployed. I try to troll as many rods, up to nine or
my boat, as I think my crew can handle. I like to fish spreader
bars, my favorite being the mini mamba bar by Melton tackle.
I also like daisy chains, two of my best being a chain of two
natural cedar plugs followed by a red and white one, and a
chain of mini soft green machines. Any of the small tuna and
dolphin lures like tuna clones and feathers are also good
producers and like all lures, should be trolled on the front
faces of the wakes, and in clean water (out of the turbulence
created by your motors).The biggest mistake I see people
making is to fish lures too big! I fish no lure over 9" and
most are close to 6". On my two stern rods, I like to fish
deep running lures including my all time favorite Yo-Zuri's
bonita and a 9" Rapala Magnum in purple mackerel color.
Sometime on the surface I will troll small ballyhoo,
rigged with or without a chin weight, and with and without a
skirt. I always like to target wahoo by setting out something
deep. I will set out a planer or a Z-wing and run a line
down on a paper clip (releases when lure is hit) with a C+H
Wahoo wacker (red and black) or a large clark spoon with a 6
inch wire leader. Also I will send down a skirted ballyhoo
rigged on wire which can be deadly for wahoo.
When trolling and you get a strike, keep the boat moving at
least thirty seconds to take advantage of the schooling behavior
of tuna. Sometimes turning the boat from side to side can
add action to the lures, as well as having everybody grab
a line and start jerking on the line to add pulsation to
the lures. When hooked up I always encourage our anglers to
just keep reeling. Worry about the burning arms later! A
resting tuna will recover its strength faster than an angler.
If the fish dives under the boat, the rod tip goes underwater
till the fish comes out the other side.
Take your time gaffing the fish, wait for a good shot,
trying for the head area, but not swinging the gaff foolishly
where you may break the line.
Offshore tuna fishing is second to none for getting your
heart racing. Check the present and pending weather
conditions, get your equipment and boat in top notch shape,
and have a fishing trip to remember the rest of your life.
Take along a friend who has never caught a tuna and you will
give him a memory for a lifetime.