Life Is Where You Find It

Northeast tuna

Northeast tuna

I took a day to chase bluefin tuna off New Jersey with Capt. Jim Freda of Shore Catch Charters aboard his 28 Parker Sportcabin yesterday. We left Manasquan Inlet at 4:30 a.m. in pretty sloppy conditions with friends Tom Trageser and Capt. John Luchka, headed for a spot about 50 miles offshore. After a slow, bumpy ride out we got to Jim’s numbers and it was apparent we were in the right place. The water went from green to a clean green/blue and atop the 5- to 7-foot seas there were signs of life in the form of slicks and tuna chicks everywhere we looked.

The plan was to troll, but Jim suggested we drop jigs while he got the trolling tackle in order and the first one that hit the bottom scored. Trageser adroitly played the first bluefin of the morning and Jim brought it aboard using a tailer so it could be judged for size, tagged and released. It was a very frisky 35-incher. Luchka hooked up within minutes, but it was quickly apparent that it was not a tuna. After a long tug-of-war on the light jigging stick a hundred-pound brown shark came into view with the jig stuck in its pec fin. Wonder what it was doing here. Another drop and another bluefin, so the game plan was changed—forget about trolling, let’s stick with the jigs. They’re way more fun anyway.

As we moved around and jigged over the next few hours as it became apparent that we were in the middle of the proverbial circle of life. There were schools of sand eels scattered from the bottom to the surface and in places the schools were very thick. They were being pursued by the bluefin and thousands of bluefish from 5 to 15 pounds. The bluefish were on top, the bluefin scattered between the surface and the bottom in 180 feet of water. The area was also infested with brown sharks there to feast on the bluefish. There were porpoises and finback whales cavorting about, too, also digging the sand eel invasion.

During the day I hooked a second brown shark that ate a jig reeled up from the bottom, a rare occurrence. A brown over 100 pounds is a handful on a Trevala jigging stick and 50-pound braid. They run like a mako, albeit without the aerial display, but when they turn against you resting it’s a ton of work to pump them back to the boat on the light rod. Still fun, just different. We managed to catch eight bluefin to 46 inches, tagging and releasing all but one that came back and was split up between the four of us for tasty treats. There were some bigger tuna in the area: A nearby boat jigged a double header of 60-inch fish, or so the radio report stated.

Areas like the one we were in occur relatively frequently during the summer months on the continental shelf inshore of the canyons. All it takes is the right kind of water - that really pretty blue/green stuff - to push the murkier green shelf water back to the west and the bait, in the form of sand eels, show up in massive schools. The tuna, porpoises and whales are usually hot on their heels and the fishing can be spectacular fun. Trolling, jigging and chunking with sardines will all catch tuna in these oases of life. Now all you have to do is find them.