Most of you probably know
and use the following tuna techniques. Our goal is to assist
new bluefin anglers in their pursuit of this great gamefish.
If one of our tips or tackle suggestions helps lead to a
successful fishing trip we will be gratified. Since most
recreational fishermen troll that will be the thrust of our
- Never leave the
dock without the proper safety gear or permits for the
NOAA category you are tuna fishing in. Why? Number 1 your own well being.
Secondly, we have seen
numerous Coast Guard boardings on the grounds with
many boats either fined or sent home with warnings for
failure to meet regulations. Even though your fishing
tackle is up to par your boat may not be. A free Coast
Guard examination in the spring is a great way to start
the season. Most charter boats have an inspection. If
boarded, you can save a lot of time by showing the
boarding party your sticker and inspection paperwork.
- If you are serious
about tuna fishing,
be there at false light before sunrise and plan to stay
until dark. Why? On many days the tuna bite is very
early and not dependent on the change of tide (slack).
And there may not be another bite all day until the
magic hour. The "magic hour" is from sunset 'til after
dark. We all know that slack should be the best time
with the bait rising in the water column. But don't bet
on it. As Dave would say "you snooze, you lose".
- Make sure your trim
tabs are up. Why? A great number of fish are lost at
the boat leadering the tuna. Most fish will try to run
under the boat at the end of the fight. Make it a habit
to put your trim tabs all
the way up while putting your riggers out.
- Be prepared to
offer the tuna whatever they want. It can change daily.
Why? The cost of a well-equipped arsenal pales in
comparison to the cost of your fishing platform, dockage
and fuel. We don't leave without spreader bars in all
sizes and colors, Tuna Trains in all colors, teaser
birds, multi-size ballyhoo with teaser rigs as well as
lures. If we are trolling for giant tuna, we will start
with 13" squid spreader bars and go to smaller squid
rigs if there is no action.
- Match the hatch.
Why? When we start the day we put out a generous
five rod spread including 9" and 11" squid rigs. The 9"
inside (50' back) with the 11" back (100') in the
spread. Many boats run seven rods or more to create
interest. We include Tuna Train green machine rigs with
a bird teaser as the last offering in the spread down
the center. Last but not least, we put a ballyhoo bait rigged
on a Bluefin Tuna Rig in the wash. We have caught our
biggest school or medium tuna every year on the
ballyhoo. Whatever size, color or type of rig catches
first we immediately switch three of the five rods to
match. If we see halfbeaks, we emphasize ballyhoo. If
sand eels are prevalent, green machines always work. And
we keep a keen eye on the size of squid when cleaning
fish. That determines the squid size on our spreader
- Space the
spread. Why? Regardless of how you set up your
spread you should have at least 20' of separation
between any lure, unless you are running a swimming bait
under or near a spreader bar. Our preference is to run
the green machine rig at least 50 yards back. If seas
rough, we shorten it to 40 yards. We lengthen to 60+ on
- Ladies love
diamonds. So do tuna. Why? Your squid bar should be
in a diamond shape while being trolled. It simulates the
formation that many baitfish swim in as well as many
pods of tuna. They draft in formation similar to geese.
Back in the late eighties the Maine trolling fleet
perfected the pattern. Since then, it has been copied by everyone.
- Troll in the trough
on rough days. Why? Your rigs and baits won't jerk,
fly out of the water,
and look unnatural to the tuna. The motion is not as comfortable but
you're there to catch fish.
- Troll with colored
line. Why? On multiple hookups, weeding or setting
the spread it is much easier with colored line to
identify direction and distance. We use red, blue and yellow and have not
found that it inhibits hookups in any way.
- Add flavor to your
offering. Why? We never touch a ballyhoo without
surgical gloves. All leaders are rubbed with alcohol
before presentation. Using floss, we sew fresh squid tentacles on the
hook of every hook bait (stinger) on a squid bar. If we
don't have squid, we will put a shmeg or pork rind on the
stinger hook. We also change the color of the rind or shmeg
while weeding, if we're not getting a bite. It has
made a big difference in hookups versus boils.
- Weed, Weed, Weed.
Why? Even if you don't see salad on the water, it is
usually there. We are constantly checking from one end
of the spread to the other all day long. If you are
fishing a tide line, rip or temperature edge, I guarantee
weed is there somewhere. This is especially true if there are draggers
working in the area. And if you get a boil or two
without a hookup, weed is usually the culprit. When weed
is heavy we use un-weighted stingers and tie dental
floss from the hook eye to the barb to act as a weed
- Troll fast, troll
slow. Why? We have found 5 to 5-1/2 knots has
brought the most bites on school to medium bluefin.
3 to 4 knots is best for giants. We change speeds up and
down based on conditions but these have been our averages.
- Follow the whales.
Why? They are the smartest hunters in the ocean. And the
tuna know that. If whales are sagging with the tide stay
with them. The biggest whale concentration will
usually have the most tuna in the near vicinity. Most of
our double hookups happen by giving the whales their
space and dragging rigs in front of their
- Give busting fish
space. Why? When anglers see a feeding frenzy, their
first inclination is to run right over them. That action puts the school down. We stay outside and try
to bring the rigs over the outside edges. The bigger
fish are on the edges. If you don't get a bite, you
haven't put the tuna down. You can continue to work the
school from different angles on the tide. We get more
bites trolling with the tide. And when baits are presented on a
turn versus straight.
- Don't follow the
crowd. Why? When a boat hooks up everyone knows.
They either see it or hear it on the radio. The next
thing you see is Grand Central Station. And the boat
cluster puts the fish down never to see your rigs.
Attempt to find your own fishy space and work it. Years
of harpoon boat pressure have made these fish boat shy.
Some of our best days have been totally out of sight of
- Never leave fish to
find fish. Why? It is an old saying with a lot of
truth. You may be marking fish at 60 - 90' in an area
with life but can't get a bite. Don't leave. The grass
isn't greener somewhere else. Either your spread isn't
raising them or the conditions aren't right yet. Have
patience. In September we were marking a ton of fish in
whales on the south tide with only a couple boils for
our effort. We thought they would cooperate when
the tide slowed down on the slack. No luck. After the
tide started running to the north all hell broke loose.
We caught four fish and pulled the hook on another in an
- Fish the warm side.
Why? When fishing a temperature edge we have found the
warmer side produced more fish. Years ago chumming
behind Block Island we enjoyed great fishing on the cold
side of the edge. But east of Chatham the eastern
(warmer) side of a break has produced the most fish for
- Choose your days.
Why? During moon tides and easterly winds,
fishing slows down. If you can fish on a southerly or westerly wind
preferably northwest you have a better chance of a banner day.
- Tuna hate Porpoise.
Why? I have found this to be an "old wives tale". We
have caught many tuna swimming with Flipper. The spotter
plane we had with our harpoon boat confirmed this. Tuna swim with whales, dolphin and basking sharks.
If they are not right in with the whales they probably
aren't too far away.
- Don't chase
moving schools. Why? We have all seen the terns and
hags bunched up following a school of bluefin moving at
10 - 15 knots. A couple of boats try to get ahead of
them. These fish are moving from one school of bait to
another. Our experience has been that the fish move too
fast and boat pressure will turn the fish away. We
have all gotten lucky with the school swimming into our
spread, but this is usually the exception. Stay where you
are and work the area. There are always other fish
- No Hags, No Tuna.
Why? Shearwaters (hags) are the best indicator of life
and tuna in an area. There can be exceptions but they
are rare. One comes to mind. Steve and I were fishing
alone 10 miles east of the BB Buoy in 2005 drifting and
chumming using stick mackerel for hook baits. We were
on a temp edge, tide rip with weed all around the boat.
No birds no whales, but we saw an occasional scratch at 90'. We
hung in and were rewarded with a double hookup. Got them
both - 740 and 660#'s. But most other days, I don't set up
to troll or chum unless I see shearwaters. They can be
flying or sitting on the water. It doesn't matter. It means
something just happened or is about to.
- Stick with slicks. Why? If
there is very little life but a lot of slicks pay
attention. Keep an eye on your recorder. The fish could
be feeding deep. The life and tuna will show when the
tide slows down and the bait rises in the water column.
In the interim try jigging at the depth you mark
fish. Start the jigging above the fish and drop to their
- Use detachable
stingers. Why? All Carlson squid spreader
bars are built with detachable stingers. Many squid rigs
are one piece. A bluefish attack will leave the rig
unusable requiring a rebuild. More importantly there are
usually giants mixed in with the school fish. If you are
lucky enough to hook one of the big boys, you will want a
heavier stinger leader than is needed for school tuna.
On rough days we start with a 280# fluorocarbon mainline on
the stinger and it doesn't seem to bother the school or
But if it does, we quickly switch to 130 or 150# and
lighter on the days you have to be sneaky. It is
very easy to keep switching colors and sizes to find the
right combination with detachable stingers.
- Use titanium
bars versus stainless steel. Why? We find that SS
works fine on the short bars in the spread. The
outriggers hold the bars up and they swim just fine.
Plus they are cheaper. However, we find the bars in the
back of the spread swim better with the lighter titanium
bar. The bar doesn't bury. Titanium also works
better with the smaller 9 and 11" squid.
- Use a bird on the
spreader bar. Why? The bird gives the bar more
flotation and splash helping to camouflage it and
resemble busting bait. The bird also allows you to place the
rig further back in the spread without it plowing. We
use Carlson Birds that are manufactured with a
reinforced hole for the bar.
- Put floats in the
teaser squids. Why? We all know the fire drill on a
hookup with five or seven rods out. With flotation you
can leave the other rigs out while fighting the fish, only having to clear a line that might create a tangle.
We have had many hits on the other rigs being towed
during the battle. Also, when marking at 60' to 90' with no
action you can use trolling valves to stem the tide, leave the rigs out, and
start jigging. I suggest the boat be heading upstream
into the current before you start jigging. You can order
rigs with or without flotation.
- Hottest spreader
bar color? Why? If you ask ten different fishermen
you will probably get ten different answers. Supposedly
fish are color blind. My guess is that it is the way
color reflects light. If you look through a squid into
sunlight you will see a different color than the actual
squid. This is what the bluefin sees looking up at your
rig. The word different seems to be the key. Dark color
bars with a light color glow stinger worked very well
last year. Black with glow green was hot early in the year.
By mid season rainbow and pink were catching well. Every
day is different and that includes light conditions. We
find that early in the morning and late in the day dark
bars work best while the lighter, brighter rigs fish better
during mid day or on bright days.
- Above all
experiment. Why? If you know there are tuna in the
area and you can't get a bite, keep changing until it
happens. Change rigs, size, color, spacing, speed,
direction, but above all, don't quit. It could be your
offering, wrong time of day, wrong conditions or all of
the above. Some days peanuts and some days shells.
- Thanks and good
luck. Why? Because you deserve a great day on the
water with family and friends pursuing a true warrior -
the bluefin tuna.
We hope one or two of these
tuna techniques helps your angling success. If You would
like to add one of your own with a link to your website
please contact Capt. Jack at