Technique and Timing
You’ll seldom catch these tuna with traditional techniques like trolling, chunking and jigging. It’s challenging sight-casting. Sherer, Collins and Ghandour agree these fish are particularly demanding.
“It’s about positioning,” says Quigley. That means finding fish and positioning yourself. “These fish usually feed upwind,” says Collins. Ghandour recommends approaching 50 to 70 feet ahead of the school before casting. These fish will sound if you run up on them. “They are notoriously skittish in water less than 100 feet deep,” says Collins. It takes patience to stop and wait, unbearable when fish are busting a hundred yards away. But patience pays off when they come up around the boat, less wary and eager to take a bait.
If you want to succeed, you have to put in the time. These fish are moody. Some days, they stay up and eat; other days, you’d swear they aren’t catchable. No one has figured out why they are aggressive one day and wary the next, but having fished many scenarios, I’m certain it has nothing to do with moons, tides or weather.
Whether due to changing patterns or better angling methods, no one is quite sure why bluefin tuna in the New York Bight have recently caught anglers' attention. But the fish are here every year now, and more are caught each season as fishermen refine the speciaized techniques and tackle demanded by these impressive fish.
New York Bight Bluefin Basics
Japanese stickbaits, from 51⁄2 to 9 inches, weighing from 60 to 120 grams, account for 90 percent of the fish taken. At $20 to $250 each, they can be pricey, but they're sized to imitate small baits, built to withstand the punishment of a 200-pound fish, heavy enough to make crucial long casts quickly, and have great action. “With a sweep-and-stop retrieve, stickbaits dart and dive erratically,” notes Ghandour. They can also be worked slowly to stay in the strike zone longer. “The most common mistake is trying to rip it through the school,” says Collins. Quigley recommends the floating versions on calm days, and sinking lures when the water is choppy.
Try plastics — the Ron-Z 4X Strong Z-Series with a 10-inch silver tail, 10-inch Double-Wide Hogy or a 9-inch Arkansas Shiner Slug — when fish are on sand eels. A slow-twitched retrieve on an unweighted weedless 8/0 hook is effective, though throwing them with the heavy gear that these fish require can be challenging.
Rods: 71⁄2- to 8-foot parabolic heavy-action spinning rods made for popping (Race Point 200, Sting-o Fish G-rod 7’6”, Spinal SPM8, or equivalents)
Reels: Van Staal VSB 250 and Stella 18000 or 20000SW or equivalent, capable of up to 50 pounds of drag
Lines: 60- to 100-pound hollow-core braid
Leader: 80- to 100-pound fluorocarbon wind-on leaders
Lures: Soft plastics: 1 Slug-Go Arkansas Shiner, 2 Hogy Double Wide, 3 Ron-Z 4X Strong; stickbaits: 4 Shimano Orca, 5 Smith Baby Runboh, 6 Tackle House Britt (saltywatertackle.com), 7 Daiwa Dorado Slider; Sting-o SeaThug, Tackle House Shibuki
New York Bight Bluefin Planner
Where and when these fish show up is variable. The general pattern is it begins in late October and lasts into January; they run the 70- to 80-foot line from Montauk to Cape May. Tuna are highly regulated. The 2012 recreational limit is one fish, between 27 and 73 inches, per vessel per day/trip. Verify rules at hmspermits.noaa.gov before you go.
What: Sight-casting for inshore bluefin tuna
When: November and December Where: 60 to 90 feet of water from Montauk to Central New Jersey
Who: Capt. Adam Sherer Capt. Gene Quigley 732-600-3297 shorecatch.com
Capt. Chris Hessert 917-531-4783 manhattanfly.com
Capt. John McMurray 718-791-2094 nyctuna.com