Every winter fishermen anticipate the arrival of the bluefin tuna along the North Carolina coast. As the temperature starts to fall the influence of the Labrador current begins to impact the mid-Atlantic waters and a number of species begin their push south. For many years sport fishing boats from Wanchese to Swansboro would strike out to 150 feet of water and pull horse ballyhoo on a custom Joe Shute lure trying to hook a winter giant. More recently though the action has been concentrated closer to shore, dominated by smaller and more efficient center console boats fishing live baits on 80 wide reels.
This winter anglers have experienced fast action thanks in large part to a red-hot bite right off of North Carolina’s beaches. Outer Banks boaters leaving out of Oregon Inlet have found steady action over the past couple of weeks. And with the recent cold snap anglers further south, running out of Morehead City and Beaufort Inlet, have also been seeing a good number of fish coming back to the table. I spent a day at Portside Marina in Morehead City, NC to witness the action first hand. Here’s what I saw in only a few hours’ time.
Bluefin on Bluefish
Dennard Harris of Portside Marine has been staying busy, processing 15 fish in the past 24 hours. The tuna have been ranging from 80-87 inches with the largest weighing in at 275 pounds. According to Harris, the key to finding the tuna lately has been locating the big schools of 5- to 7-pound bluefish that have been hanging out east of Cape Lookout shoals.
Captain Brant McMullen made the trip up to North Carolina’s Crystal Coast from Ocean Isle Beach and put his crew from Savannah on a quality tuna caught slow trolling live bluefish. Angler Joe Lipscki made the trip all the way up from Georgia to fish with McMullen when he heard the bite was going off as he had always considered the winter bluefin bite a “bucket list” experience. McMullen claims they trolled a lot of empty water with dead baits but once they found the bluefish they put a couple live ones out and hooked up with a double almost immediately. After an hour-long battle they landed the second bite, an 82-inch fish that cored out at 205 pounds.
A few minutes later solo angler Captain Colby Bond, running out of Morehead City, brought an 87-inch tuna to the table. Bond also caught his tuna on a live bluefish just off the current break off Cape Lookout. He left the dock around midday and returned to the same area he had landed a tuna the day before. Captain Bond found big schools of bluefish on the bottom and after jigging a few up he quickly hooked up to a 275-pound tuna. He managed to boat the fish after a nearly two-hour long solo battle.
As soon as Harris cleared the processing table at Portside Marina another fish from a local boat run by Captain Branden Delong was hoisted up.
Angler Matt Hardeman fought the 87-inch bluefin after making the trip north towards Cape Hatteras. While they have been seeing a good bite off of Carteret County with the recent cold snap lately, Delong still thinks most of the fish are hanging out off Hatteras so they decided to make the long run. Their fish was also caught slow trolling a live bluefish, bumping a single engine in and out of gear as needed to keep the bait swimming in the strike zone. They brought their 255-pound bluefin to the boat in just under an hour.
Right now the conditions are perfect so everyone is taking full advantage of the opportunity and landing lots of quality fish off the mid-Atlantic coast. But if you want to get in on the action you’d better act quickly; recreational anglers can still fish for giants (bluefin over 73 inches) but that quota is expected to be reached shortly.