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March 16, 2011

Bahamas Yellowfins

Northwest Providence Channel bisects the Bahamas, creating a tuna hunter's paradise.

yellowfin tuna fight

A Rose of Knowledge
When it comes to catching tuna in Northwest Providence Channel, Freeport-based angler Pete Rose figured out the game decades ago. A longtime rod-and-reel commercial fisherman, Rose thinks these tuna are here year-round and has caught them in every month. The problem, he says, is that the sooty terns - which red-flag tuna whereabouts - migrate farther south beginning in September or October. And without these birds, it's difficult to locate fish from a distance. However, come March, the sooty terns migrate back and - along with frigates, skimmers and brown boobies - converge on the small fish pushed to the surface by tuna, such as juvenile bar jacks, runners, mackerel scad and squid. These birds are the sign anglers seek when searching for tuna.

Rose recognizes that these fish move around, though he is unsure exactly where they come from or go to. He cites good to excellent tuna fishing off Andros pretty much year-round, as well as north of Walker's Cay and near Hole in the Wall, at the eastern mouth of the Channel. This could mean the fish remain within Bahamian waters. His best score, 32 yellowfins, occurred in June one day, but he has had many excellent outings throughout summer, fall and even winter. There is a marked slowdown, however, between September and December. And when questioned on prime moon phases, Rose shrugs and claims he has caught fish with the moon up, during the dark side and at all stages in between.

Peak time is nearly always late afternoon, though blitzes do occur very early in the morning, usually right around and just after sunrise. Early in the season (March through early June), tuna blitzes can materialize throughout the day. As a bonus, dolphin are around then to spice up the action. Even early on, and especially later in the season, that period from 3 p.m. to sundown is undeniably the best. And if you don't want to chase tuna all day, consider bottomfishing until the afternoon, then hunting for tuna.

Speed and Vision
Locating birds is paramount to finding tuna. Set forth without a powerful radar or, at the very least, a quality pair of binoculars, and you're wasting time and fuel. Also, speed becomes an issue, as you'll want to beat any other boats to the birds. I set my 6 kW radar, paired with a 5-foot open-array antenna, to an outer range of six miles, with the gain set as high as I can without noise interference. We'll run into the general tuna areas and study the radar. Birds appear as a faint scratch or glitch on the screen if there are only a few and a solid red mass when they're thick. Keep your eyes on that screen as the antenna makes a few sweeps, and if the return stays visible, it indicates birds.

When we spot birds, be they one or six miles away, and seas permit, I'll run wide-open for them: 50-plus mph gets you there not only fast but often ahead of any other boat. A single boat doesn't tend to put the fish down, but two or three boats working the same school does.

Another luxury of a fast boat is returning to the dock by early evening, sometimes with just enough light for a safe journey. Keep in mind that these fish rally late in the afternoon and you'll likely stick with them until nearly sundown. In our case, we were 42 miles from Bimini Sands. With our two yellowfins in the box and no more chum, we picked up and made it to the marina in less than an hour, just as the sun kissed the horizon.