September marks the last bit of good weather to get out and chase Albacore Tuna off the coast. Jason T. had been out the weekend prior with Tommy D. and crew and they slayed the long fins and ended up plugging the boat with 37 fish.
Jason pinged us on Friday morning to see if there was any interest in making the run as the marine forecast was calling for 5′ seas at 11 seconds, which is flat calm for the ocean. He would make that final call around 17:00 once he checked the afternoon forecast update and the charter reports.
We had the green light and I shifted my schedule to go. I fisherman never gives up despite whats happened in the past. This would be my third trip out to chase tuna, and both times prior came up blank as these fish are particularly fickle and need the right conditions and water to show themselves.
We met up at Jason’s house at 02:00 to load up the gear and pushed off by 02:30 with a total crew of 3, including Phil K. I tried to catch some ZZZ’s since I knew it’d be very long and tiring day as the trip would entail the drive to Westport, and then getting ice, bait, and motoring out west for another 2.5 hours to reach our destination some 80 miles offshore in search of Blue water which runs north of 63 degrees.
I don’t understand how these guys find the fish, but I believe they are looking at the chorophyll charts to find the right temps for the bait which tuna feed on. The bar crossing was uneventful even with the max ebb at around 7 am, we were first in line for ice, so that saved us 45 minutes from having to wait with the long line of trailers waiting to ice up.
The bait station already has 7 boats waiting to fill their livewells, but it moved along steadily and minutes later we were off. The weather was overcast and slight winds keeping this chilly, definitely nice to layer and have a waterproof jacket, bibs, PFD and gloves to keep warm. The E-Sea Rider bean bags were also a nice treat cushioning the run as well.
On the ride out Jason pointed out a nice humpback whale that was breaching, and a variety of diving birds around, but no sight of them actually feeding and or diving for bait which is usually pushed up by tuna. I have yet to see any ‘jumpers’, those tuna that come out of the water chasing boiling bait.
We got to where the bulk of the fleet was at and started trolling with a swim bait, Yozuri plug, and barracuda swim bait. Three rods and began out steady troll west of the 15/15 line. After what seemed like an hour it appeared as if nothing would happen, I settled into the bean bag and decided to take a nap, when that happened we all hear one troll rod go off with the drag screaming. Fish on!!! Not knowing the drill, we scrambled around shuffling, and Jason was yelling to put the outboards in neutral and bring in the gear to convert to a bait stop. He was tossing Chovies over to entice the fish closer to the hooked fish and convert. He rigged a couple of rods with the strong swimmers and forced the line out on free spool mode so the bait would dive straight up and down.
That would be my first experience seeing the fury, the tuna would key in on that swimmer and crush it. The key is to not set the rod, but simply move the lever to strike and allow the fish to set the hook. Jason demonstrated, and handed off the hooked fish to both Phil and myself. I on the other hand was horsing in the fish, and ended up losing that trolled fish by bringing its head up which was a no no. Phil also broke off a couple by horsing in too hard and quickly. These fish are absolutely go bezerk and take a couple of hard runs when they are hooked. Once you see color and think its over, they dive and circle trying to spit the hook.
We lost 2-3 fish on that first bait stop, and only managed to boat two fish. Jason wasn’t too happy about that and if we had a 4th angler could have had more rods in the water and entice them to stay. Once the bite is off and the blue sharks come near with blood in the water, it ends as quickly as it started.
At least we had a taste of what to expect. That happened around 10 am and then we were forced to get back on the troll and it seemed like that was going to be the it as it was dead for us and the radio chatter amongst the fleet and guides that would show up with about a dozen or so boats in the general vicinity.
We decided to push northward and to the west and continue the search for fish. I ate some food, got some drinks and then decided to nap in the front of the boat. Hours go by with nothing and then at 14:00 the troll rod goes off and this time we had a better bait stop, knowing to keep the school under us and leveraging the fish and bait to our advantage. We’d put another 8 fish on deck with this stop and our emotions were running pretty elated.
After it was apparent the fish had moved on, we decided to call it at 15:00, but ended up getting closer to the fleet that was trolling north towards us. Jason instructed us to get ready and tossed a couple of big scoops of bait since we were nearing that deadline and got a school of tuna to start feeding and we managed to wrangle a couple more fish.
Total 12 fish in the box and our hearts were full. These fish were massive, with some pushing upwards of 40#. Just awesome, powerful, and amazingly beautiful. Tuna must be immediately bled and then put on ice as they spoil due to them being warm blooded. Your success not only comes with an experienced captain, but also with enough fuel range, ice, bait, and the right gear.
Its a game changer and addiction isn’t the right word to describe how I felt the next day. I can see where this would ruin an everyday fisherman.
We burned 120 gallons of fuel, 1 tank of gas towing the boat, $80 in bait, $50 for ice, and $70 for filleting. Despite the cost, the moments and memories were priceless and I wouldn’t have changed it for anything including the two bad days.
The Avet SX4.2 and the MXL 5.8 performed great on the Okuma Makaira 8′ west coast live bait rods. I had invested in a few of these in the event that I’d convert to a tuna guy, and it was good that I brought them as they proved worthy to have aboard.