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January 03, 2012

Flight of the Yellowfin

Anglers ply mid-Atlantic waters for schools of yellowfin tuna

Jiggin’ and Chunkin’
Capt. Joe Riley, of the Ocean City, Maryland-based Muff Diver, is perfectly located to hit the tuna all along their range in the canyons and on the seamounts as far north as New Jersey. Most days he starts by trolling spreader bars in the short riggers and split-bill ballyhoo on the flats and long riggers. When he gets whammied by a pack of yellowfin, he’ll order anyone not fighting a fish to drop a vertical jig.

If the fish are really stacked up, Riley switches to chunking with butterfish. He chunks with a five-line spread, three deep rods and two that he feeds back in the slick. The deep rods are set 75 to 150 feet below the boat by attaching a 6- to 10-ounce sinker 50 feet up the line from the bait. Chunking often requires stealthy rigging. Riley starts with a light-wire 5/0 circle hook that he completely inserts in a chunk of butterfish. He ties a 6-foot length of 30- to 80-pound fluorocarbon to the hook. The leader is crimped to a 90-pound-test barrel swivel that is tied to the line running off a 50-pound outfit. Sometimes he’ll drop a vertical jig off one of the outrigger clips. “The rocking motion of the boat gives the jig its action,” he explains.

“A lot of time, the whole school will come to the boat,” he says. “We’ll hook more fish while we fight others.

“We’ll leave one fish in the water, and more will come up to the back of the boat. We can bail them like dolphin.”

Trip Planner

Start trolling to locate fish, then switch to jigging or chunking, depending on how numerous and aggressive the tuna are. If the bite is tough, dangle a couple of Yummee Fly’n Fish, off a kite with the leader sleeve reinforced with air line tubing.

Rods: 50-pound stand-up rods for trolling, chunking and kite-fishing. For jigging, Shimano Trevala rods matched to Shimano Torium reels with 80-pound braided line.

Reels: 50-pound-class two-speed reels spooled with 80-pound mono for trolling and chunking or 100-pound braid for kite-fishing. Tie a Bimini twist in the end of the braided line and attach a 100-pound-test wind-on leader. End the rig with a 6-foot length of 50- to 100-pound fluorocarbon attached with a wind-on swivel.

Rigs: Sea Witch lures, Ilanders, cedar plugs, Green Machines, 6-inch and 8-inch squid bars, or 100- to 300-gram flutter jigs with 5/0 Mustad Ultra Point Offshore hooks and 30- to 100-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Anglers start targeting yellowfin off Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, as early as April and follow the fish through Virginia Beach, Virginia; Ocean City, Maryland; and Cape May, New Jersey, into the summer. Reverse the course, ending off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in October and November. That’s seven months of tuna fishing, never enough of a good thing.

What: Yellowfin tuna.

Where: Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to Cape May, New Jersey.

April to November.


Oregon Inlet, N.C.
Capt. Jeff Ross
Obsession Sportfishing Charters

Virginia Beach, Va.
Capt. Steve Richardson
Backlash Sportfishing

Ocean City, Md.
Capt. Joe Riley
Muff Diver Charter Fishing