“Tuna busting all over, and close!” came an excited voice on the VHF. Such sightings certainly weren’t unheard of, but as far as I knew, no one had ever landed one. That wasn’t for lack of trying. I’d cast to them in prior years, but they didn’t appear interested. Still, we decided to take a look.
As we closed in, we watched high-flying birds change direction and drop down, then large, dark-blue backs slashed through the water underneath. It was over before we got close. Then, without warning, they exploded 40 feet off our stern. Grabbing the closest rod, I threw a Slug-Go into the mayhem. It hit the water, and a frighteningly large tuna tried to grab it and missed. Well undergunned, I was relieved, but before I could pull it out, another bluefin pounced on it. A few expletives and 15 seconds later, we were dangerously close to getting spooled. Two hours later, we miraculously landed an 80-pound bluefin four miles from Sandy Hook.
Since then, I’ve geared up and spent most of November and December chasing these things. There are days where you’ll find eager fish, but it’s the exception, not the rule. These are truly fish of a thousand casts, but odds are getting better. In the past six or seven years, a small fleet is beginning to get it wired.
What’s the Story?
Because this fishery is still in its infancy, it’s hard to say if these bluefin were always around and anglers just couldn’t catch them, or if their appearance is a recent occurrence. These are migratory fish, making their way south. Occasionally, boats trolling bunker spoons would get inexplicably spooled. “These fish were always pushing through,” says Capt. Gene Quigley of the Barnegat-based Shore Catch Guide Service. “If there’s bait, they will stay and feed.” The recent influx of 6- to 9-inch sand eels in 70 to 80 feet of water during November and December likely had a major impact. The less frequent but still abundant herring, mackerel and half-beaks inshore also bring these fish around.
Yet it’s hard to ignore the recent coastal abundance of bluefin — not just here, but everywhere. While bluefin populations are arguably a shadow of what they once were, any angler targeting them along the coast from Maine to North Carolina will tell you that there appear to be more bluefin around now than in the two previous decades.
Sami Ghandour — owner of Saltywater Tackle in Brooklyn, who specializes in plugs and jigs for tuna — acknowledges the recent abundance, yet he believes their presence is all about changing patterns in migration and distribution. “Only Mother Nature knows the reasons,” he says.
Capt. Adam Sherer, another Shore Catch guide, has landed more of these inshore bluefins than anyone. “They’ve always been around,” he says, “but the people targeting them weren’t catching, and so they’d just give up.”
“The knowledge and gear has progressed,” notes Travis Collins, proprietor of Spinal Rods and one of the most proficient inshore bluefin anglers out there. “So now people have confidence and are targeting them.”