For the past few years, the bluefins returning to Stellwagen to feed have been the 2004 year class of fish. Anglers have watched them grow from the 25- to 50-pound range, and they get bigger every year. This year the fish are expected to be 73 to 80 inches, which puts them between 250 and 300 pounds. Prepare accordingly. And as Capt. Collin MacKenzie recommends, "When you think you are ready, get ready some more."
Rods: 50- to 80-pound conventional stand-up; 40- to 80-pound-class spinning rods.
Reels: Heavy duty spinning reels with exceptional drag durability and high line capacity; 50- and 80-pound-class conventional trolling reels.
Lines: Spinning, 80-pound braid; trolling, 130-pound hollow-core Spectra backing with 150 yards of 130-pound mono top shot.
Lures and baits: RonZ 1,Hogy or Slug-Go plastics; Ocean Lures, 2 Yo-Zuri mackerel poppers; Rapala X-RAP Magnum 3 and Mann's diving plugs; chuggers; rigged mackerel, menhaden and ballyhoo for trolling.
Other: Use Braid or AFTCO stand-up strap adapter with harness for spinning tackle.
Bluefins on the Fly
First Light has specialized in fly-fishing for bluefin tuna. Spingler says often the most difficult bluefins are the big ones feeding on small baits. The advantage to flies is you can mimic these small baitfish. However, the past couple of years have seen the year class of fish that returns a bit too robust for fly rods.
"We have not done a lot since the fish have gotten so big," says Spingler. "But when we fly-fish, we use 14-weight Sage and Winston rods, Tibor Gulfstream or Pacific reels, and at least 20-pound tippet, and usually 30-pound. We load the reels with 65- or 80-pound test gelspun backing."
Typically they use RIO Leviathan lines, which feature a 600-grain shooting head and a 70-pound-test core. "Some people fish intermediate and floating lines, but they are so thick they are not aerodynamic," he says. "With the shooting head, you can roll-cast a 3-inch bunker or 10-inch mackerel fly effectively."
This year the fish returning to feed on Stellwagen Bank are expected to be over 73 inches, which makes them saleable. As there is a vibrant global market for bluefin tuna, the line between commercial and recreational fishing often blurs when the tuna get big enough to sell. Special regulations apply, and rules governing each fishing season, which begins June 1, are published in May. For current information, go to www.hmspermits.noaa.gov.
What: Bluefin tuna.
Where: Stellwagen Bank, out of Boston and Gloucester.
Who: Capt. Derek Spingler and partner Nat Moody of First Light Anglers are pioneers in light-tackle tuna fishing. From their nimble 26-foot center console, their run-and-gun tactics have revolutionized the sport on Stellwagen. They work in close cooperation with Capt. Collin MacKenzie of Karen Lynn Charters, whose traditional Down East-style boat puts just as many tuna in the cockpit.