Bluefin tuna in the 60- to 150-pound class are swimming 100’ feet beneath your boat, feeding hard on sand eels. You can see them on the meter, as can the other boats trolling and chunking this inshore lump 40 miles off the coastline. There’s just one problem: no one’s catching the darn things… until you whip out the jigging gear.
The Need for Speed
Speed jigging, also known as Butterfly Jigging, Shimano’s proprietary name, has been proved effective in getting fish like those bluefin to bite when all else fails. The key to success: a drop, then reel-and-pump motion. Both of your hands should lift up and drop down at the same time as you reel, while the rod butt is tucked into your arm pit. Your hands are not used as a pivot point for the rod, and the tip and butt should remain essentially on the same vertical plane the entire time. The lifting motion is just that; lifting, not swinging, so the rod tip never goes above nine o’clock or below eight o’clock. This allows the tip of the rod to “load” (bend slightly) and “unload” (straighten out) imparting the jig with a darting motion as it zooms up through the water column. since you’re always reeling and pumping there’s always full tension on the line—no matter when the fish strikes, you’re ready for it.
When the tunas are sitting dead on bottom, more or less in inactive mode, you can still get ‘em to bite. Simply drop your lure to the bottom, and jig it there several times. Then take four or five cranks on the reel as fast as you possibly can. This makes the jig quickly dart up off the bottom, just like a sand eel. Then let the jig drop back to the bottom, and repeat the process. Sometimes the tuna will strike as you zip it off the bottom and other times they’ll eat during the drop. In either cases you’d better be ready, because the fish will be moving at lightening speed and when it strikes it will practically rip your arms off—so hold on tight.
So, how do you turn this tactic into a full fishbox? Start by heading for any of the inshore lumps or wrecks where bluefin have been known to frequent, and have your jigging gear ready to drop the moment you arrive. Resist the urge to stop and drop befor you actually see the tunas on-screen, because this is usually a waste of time. Instead, slow to eight or 10 knots and weave back and forth across the drop-offs until you spot those big, beautiful red arches on your fishfinder—tuna.
Now position your boat so you drift back over the marks with your jigs out and ready for action. If the tunas are right on bottom drop your jigs until they hit and then give the rod five or six sweeps, and if the fish are at mid-depth drop until you’re confident the jig is a good 20’ or 30’ below their depth, and speed-jig until the jig comes to the surface. Then immediately freespool, drop the jig back to depth, and start cranking again. Look for the thermocline, too, because this is often the depth that mid-water tunas will be cruising at.
Despite the fact that most tackle manufacturers do NOT recommend using trebles on the bottom of the jig, I’ve found that adding them does in fact boost your hookup-to-landing ration. Go without, and you’ll experience many hookups that are short in duration, with pulled hooks being quite common. And a pulled hook is definitely not what we’re after, here. You want that tuna in the boat, and on ice—and when you get back to the dock at the end of the day, everyone will be asking how you get all those fish to bite when trolling and chunking seems so hopeless.
The author’s new book, Rudow’s Guide to Modern Jigging, will be available by the new year, at www.geareduppublications.com!
The Ultimate Spreader Bar
Tuna & billfish can’t resist!
You want a volcano-like explosion 30’ behind your transom? Tuna fish coming out of the water in attack-mode? Billfish to rise with their weaponry swinging? Then I sure hope you’re pulling spreader bars, because these lures will trigger more pelagics to attack than any other single lure in the water today.
Spreader bars consist of multiple chains of baits—usually plastic squid, but also skirts or rubber ballyhoo in some cases—rigged to a single bar, which keeps them in an organized pattern as they troll through the water. The farthest aft bait should be a slightly different size and/or color than the other baits, and is rigged with a hook. Bars range in price from about $60 to $250, depending on size, number of baits, and the construction materials. Bar material is important; nylon bars bend more than titanium or stainless but they have one significant advantage. Thanks to light weight and flexibility, it’s possible to run them from much lighter rods than is the norm. In fact, you can run a light nylon bar from a 30-class rig or even an offshore ultralight like an Avet SX or a Penn 16-V, while most full-size spreaders require a 50-class rig.
Naturally, you can also make your own bars by buying the squid, bar, and leader separately. There’s certainly a sense of satisfaction that comes from catching fish on a lure you made yourself, but don’t expect to save a lot of money. Since the tackle manufacturers buy their materials in bulk, when all is said and done, there isn’t a huge price difference between buying spreader bars and making them yourself.
Which colors should you choose when making or buying a spreader bar? As with other lures, the hot colors will change with the seasons and the hot bite. As a rule of thumb, however, greens, pinks and blues are standard producers. For the past few seasons, the multi-colored green/orange/pink squid (some call them the “rasta” squid) have been the most reliable. And carry a purple or dark green bar, for cloudy, low-light conditions.
Spreaders catch tuna, period.
Beth show off a spreader-caught yellowfin.
So, which bar is the “ultimate”? All of them. As with many other things in fishing, it depends on who you are, how you fish, and where and when you fish. If it’s rough and you’re on a small boat, the light nylon bar is the ultimate because in many cases, it’ll be the only one you’re physically able to run. But when it’s calm and you’re towing a huge spread from long outriggers and multiple rod positions, a big titanium bar with a full selection of big, juicy, 12” squid will be a better choice. In any case, one thing is for sure: compared to the other lures in your tacklebox, whatever type of spreader you have is—ultimately—going to prove to be a better fish-attractor than the rest.
Run Baby, Run
The single biggest mistake people make when running spreader bars? They set them too far back, and the bar itself drags through the water. Sharpies will run their spreaders from the short or center rigger position, relatively close to the boat (30’ to 50’ back,) so the bar is held up out of the water (excepting rough conditions, when it may be impossible to prevent the bar from dipping in) but the baits are in the water. Though it sounds incredible, when wind conditions are correct it’s also possible to run a (small, nylon) spreader off a kite, and keep it out to the side of the boat. One exception: the so-called “splash bars” which have small birds mounted directly on the bar itself. In this case, naturally, the bar is intended to run in the water.
The "rasta" multicolored pattern is a regular killer.
When considering placement in the spread, you should think of your spreader bar as a teaser, as well as a lure. You’ll discover that quite often, billfish will attack a spreader by slashing at it without actually biting the hook bait. To capitalize on the bar’s attraction, you have to be ready for this situation. Keep a single plastic squid, the same size, shape and color as the ones on the bar, rigged on another line and run it either from a flat line or a rocket launcher, so the bait is just behind and inside or outside of the spreader. If you spot a bill in the bar, reel in that similar lure until it’s forward of the bar, then throw the reel into freespool and allow the squid to drift back—it’ll appear to the fish as though he whacked one of the baits senseless, and it’s now drifting back behind the school. This is what he’s waiting for, and he’ll turn around and snap up that squid.
If tuna are the target, you should still run this extra squid. Now let’s say there’s a blow-up on the bar, and you have a yellowfin on. Good deal—make it better, by grabbing the squid rod and jigging it. The extra motion does have an effect, and any tag-along tunas that see it will usually move in for the kill.
Also consider the placement of your spreaders when setting up the rest of your rig. Remember that they’ll get a lot of eyeballs on them; place naked ballyhoo, Green Machines, and other offerings within sight range of the spreaders, and often fish will flock to them. Many anglers will set a bar of one color on one side of the spread, and a bar of another color on the other side. Some even put a third bar into the mix, run right down the middle. Even though the view from below of this bar is partially obstructed by the prop wash, you’ll be surprised at just how many fish it takes. No matter where or how you fish them, however, remember one thing: if you want to see multiple explosions, swinging bills, and flying gaffs, don’t leave the dock without spreader bars on the boat.
**Bonus Pro Spreader Trick: Spray-paint the arms of your spreader bars aqua-blue so they don’t stand out as much.
**Double-Bonus Pro Spreader Trick: Don’t rig your spreaders with a hook bait, but instead, put a swivel clip in the far aft position. Then, rig several different hook baits of different colors and sizes. This will allow you to swap it out, and discover if any particular color or size is more productive than another, on any given day.
The hook must not pull forward into the ballyhoo, or the bait will spin.
Pinless Ballyhoo Rigging
The following is excerpted from Offshore Pursuit, by John Unkart, and is one of many methods of rigging ballyhoo described in this book. It’s available at www.getfishingbooks.com.
The following method of rigging ballyhoo works, period. With that said, my recommendations are not the only way to rig the baits. Walk along the charter dock any evening and you will observe four people rigging ballyhoo four different ways. Everyone has their own special twist. This does not mean it is the only correct or right way to rig the bait. However, every person who rigs ballyhoo has the same objective: to make the bait swim and appear natural in the water. Keep in mind when reading the different methods of rigging that one fact remains constant, the ballyhoo must be “pulled” from the front or bill area of the fish. If the hook is tight against the skin of the stomach, the ballyhoo is going to spin. A ballyhoo being pulled with tension against the hook in the body cavity is the number one reason for spinning, and a spinning bait does not catch fish!
The ballyhoo must be thawed before rigging. The first step is to remove the eyes; they may be left in if being skirted. But the eyes fill with water and balloon out if being trolled naked, preventing the ballyhoo from swimming correctly. By removing the eyes, rigging also becomes easier. The shaft of an old aluminum arrow work well for removing eyes.
Next, the waste from the intestines and stomach must be removed. This step is skipped by some anglers and they still have a ballyhoo that swims naturally when rigged. However, by removing the innards, there is less adjusting necessary. Lay the ballyhoo on a flat surface. Place your thumb behind the head on the body cavity/stomach area and push towards the tail while using slight pressure. The innards and waste comes out the anus. Do not apply a lot of pressure, you do not want to remove the scales which make the bait flash. It may take two or three passes to remove everything.
Next step is to make the back flexible. The back bone is not broken but the scales which support the spine of the fish are “popped”. Use the thumb and forefinger to pinch along the spine from the head towards the tail. You must be careful not to apply too much pressure which can cause the skin of the ballyhoo to tear. After a little practice you will learn to pop the spine. This step is the difference between having a ballyhoo appear to “swim” or just be pulled through the water.
Once the back is popped the ballyhoo can be bent and made flexible. Once again, be careful not to tear the skin on the bait when bending. Bend slowly to prevent this from occurring.
Pinless ballyhoo rig
The pinless rig allows a ballyhoo to be trolled naked, skirted or used in conjunction with lures. Medium and large ballyhoo appear to be actually swimming when rigged properly. Small size ballyhoo do not obtain the action of the larger bait, but do not discount them. Certain days marlin and tuna prefer a small bait over a large. The pinless rig may not provide the durability of a pinned rig (discussed next) when attacked by billfish, nonetheless, they are easy to rig and may be used in most situations. Mustad hook #3407 work well in the 6/0 size for small ballyhoo, 7/0 for medium and depending on the size of large ballyhoo, an 8/0 or 9/0 serves the purpose.
If you don’t buy a store-made ballyhoo rig, the hook and a 1/4 to 1/2-ounce egg sinker get crimped to the end of 100-pound monofilament leader, or your poundage of choice. A piece of rigging wire, either stainless or copper, is wrapped around the shank of the hook and brought up through the hook’s eye. I prefer copper over stainless wire since the brightness of stainless wire stands out after rigging. Copper rigging wire is sold in pre-cut lengths of nine and 13” lengths. Do not waste your time with the nine inch. 13” works in most situations. But the best option is to buy a 200’ roll of Malin rigging wire. This assures you always have a piece long enough to finish the job. Nothing is more annoying then to need two more inches of rigging wire to finish up. The egg sinker can be eliminated if the bait is to be skipped on the surface or when trolled slow, as in three or four knots.
Lay the ballyhoo on its side and decide where the hook must protrude through the stomach cavity so the egg sinker fits under the gill plate. Then run the hook in under a gill plate and work it to the location where it is to exit the body cavity.
Try to keep the hook as low in the body as possible to assist the bait in swimming correctly. If the hook is inserted high near the backbone, the high position and the hooks’ weight can cause a problem in the natural swimming ability of the bait.
It is extremely important that the hook not pull against the body of the bait where it exits or it will not swim correctly. A small slit can be inserted where the hook exits in the body cavity if desired. Once the hook is inserted, set the sinker up in the gills.
Go through the eye sockets with the rigging wire and pull the hook snug. Make two wraps under the head and back through the eye sockets to hold the gills shut. One wrap in front of the sinker, one behind. Once again, pull the wire to snug up the hook after making the wraps.
Push the rigging wire from the bottom of the fish up through the bill, coming out at the base of the mouth on top the head. The top mouth of a ballyhoo has a hinged section close to the head which allows the wire to penetrate with ease. Only practice teaches this location and simplifies securing a ballyhoo onto the hook with just a rigging wire. Wrap the rigging wire two times around the bill. Go through the eye socket and back across the top of the head. If done correctly, the top of the ballyhoo should look like an X to hold the mouth shut and secure the bait to the hook.
Finish by wrapping 1/3 of the way down the bill, then back up. Break off the excess bill so it does not interfere with the lure or skirt. If the ballyhoo is to be trolled naked, do not break the bill off, but wrap the rigging wire to the end of the bill with the line under the bill. This allows the bait to swim naturally by being pulled from the front of the bill.
Spin 4 Tuna
Tuna on the spin? You bet!
Ever wish you could catch tuna on spinning gear? Well, why not?
Are you tired of grinding on coffee-can sized, winch-like reels? Do 30-pound tunas feel like a boot, thanks to thick mono mainlines and pool-cue rods? It sure would be nice if you could chase after pelagics like tuna fish with spinning gear, wouldn’t it? Special Spinning Bonus: you’d even be able to cast! Well, too bad for you—ask around the docks and just about everyone around will tell you it’s impossible to beat fish like this with spinning gear. At least that’s what they all told me, year after year. But I hate nay-sayers, and the words “can’t” and “impossible” just don’t exist in my glossary of fishing terms. So I decided to give it a try… and discovered that battling tunas on spinning gear is a gas.
NAYSAY #1 – Line Capacity. “Even on the biggest spinning reels,” they say, “you won’t be able to pack on enough line to tame these beasts.”
With 200 yards of 30 pound test filling the spool of a large spinning reel, it’s a no-win situation if you hook into anything over 50-lbs. I’d agree with them on this point--if it were 1980. Fortunately, in the last few years line diameter has plummeted (increasing your reel’s de-facto capacity) while strength has literally doubled in the same diameter, thanks to superbraids like Power Pro. In fact, spool up a Penn 7500 SS with 50-lb. Power Pro, and you’ll get over 400 yards onto the spool. Does that give you the beef and capacity needed to take on tunas? You bet.
NAYSAY #2 – Drag poundage. “You simply can’t put enough pressure on a tuna with a spinning reel—the drags simply aren’t heavy enough.”
This is a misconception, plain and simple. Sure, you might have to fit a pair of pliers around the drag to crank it down tight enough to get 9 or 10 pounds of pressure out of it (put a rag between the pliers and the plastic, so you don’t chew it up.) But it can be done, and it does work. Will this ruin the reel? Look to the next Naysay.
NAYSAY #3 – Explosive Reels. “If you do crank a drag down tight enough to fight tunas with a spinning reel, the gears will go ka-blooey!”
Sure they will, after three or four years. (Note—assuming you’re doing this with a quality reel. Try it with a cheap-o-matic and yes, it’ll disintegrate under the stress.) This type of fishing is certainly hard on a reel and yes, it will shorten its life span. But it’s not going to cause an instant explosion to crank down the drag to this level and fight a yellowfin or two or 10. I have two Penn 7500SS reels which I’ve used for this purpose for years; one blew out after three seasons (Repair bill: $65) and the other’s still going strong. A Shimano Thunnus is the other type of reel I’ve applied to pelagic spinning, and it’s still surviving, as well. So this may be a consideration if you baby your gear, but for us reel fishermen (insert uber-grunt here!) a little abnormal wear and tear is something we can live with.
NAYSAY # 4 – Drag’s a drag. “You can’t change the drag setting on a spinning reel in mid-fight without a lot of guesswork, and that means trolling with these rigs won’t work.”
Okay, you negative ninnies—you have a point with this one. Trolling with these rigs is a bad idea, because you’ll have to choose between settings of no drag and full drag. The Thunnus is a possible exception since you can troll with the live-liner feature turned on, but I’ve tried this and found that it’s usually too light on liveliner and too heavy on full. Bottom line: trolling isn’t the best way to apply spinning gear to tuna fish.
NAYSAY #5 – Noodle Rods. “They don’t make spinning rods tough enough for that kind of fishing.”
Sorry bub, that’s just plain wrong. In fact, there are plenty of spinning rods with the beef to take on tuna fish. A Penn Spinfisher Big Game 6’ 6760, for example, will work well for this type of fishing. The key here is to stick with an all-glass rod, not a glass/graphite combo. Graphite adds sensitivity to a rod but it can also make them a bit more brittle, and increase the chances of the rod breaking. An exception: Shimano’s Trevala rods, composites that are tough as nails, have proven themselves worthy of taking tunas up to 125-pounds on my boat.
Modern spinning reels like this Shimano Thunnus have the line capacity and drag ability to take on big game. Click on the pic to read a review of the Thunnus.
So: You have the right reel spooled up with the right line and mounted on the right rod—how are you going to hook those tuna? Remember, trolling is not the best option. Chunking, however, is a great application for spinning gear.
You won’t have to make many adjustments when drifting a chunk bait back in the slick, nor when setting lines run from reels with bait-runner equipped rigs. But set lines will need some special treatment since you can’t apply partial drag to most spinning reels. In this case, you’ll want to bring along extra rubber bands, and lots of ‘em. Once you float the bait away from the boat or set it to the depth you desire, bend a rubber band around the main line and pull it up against the rod grip, putting tension against the line where it comes off the spool and preventing it from spilling off freely. Run one end of the rubber band through the other, and tie it in an overhand knot to secure it in place. It’ll hold the line steady as the boat rocks and the float or weight bounces against the rod. But when a tuna strikes the rubber band will break, releasing the line.
While spinning reels work just fine for chunking, they really come into their own when tunas are breaking water. In this case, most anglers troll around or through the breaking fish and hope for a bite. But, unlike blues or stripers, tunas busting water often do not respond to a trolled bait. Same goes for migrating bluefin, often seen “pushing” water with their noses just below the surface.
In both of these cases, the fish will often get aggressive if you throw big surface poppers at them, and chug ‘em back to the boat. Just what is large, when it comes to tuna fish? Most of the poppers and chuggers in most of the tackle shops aren’t large enough. Six to eight-inch, quarter-pound chuggers are what you’re looking for, and generally speaking bigger is better. For some reason, the translucent, hard resin plugs like the four-ounce Frenzy Poppers seem to work well for this purpose, and since they’re heavy and dense, they also cast well.
Fighting tunas with spinning gear doesn’t require any abnormal tactics, though you should remember that clamping into a harness isn’t an option—your biceps are going to get a workout, if you want to catch a tuna on the spin. One advantage does come through when landing the fish, however. Since spinning rods have large guides, it’s usually possible to reel the swivel through them and bring the fish into gaffing range without wiring it. (Rig up with the svelt Spro barrel swivels to ensure a smooth transition through the eyes.
No matter how you cut it, the nay-sayers are wrong. To borrow a phrase we’ve been hearing a lot lately: Yes, we can… fish with spinning gear, that is!
Mid-Atlantic chunking means tuna, tuna and more tuna
Some call it “going over to the dark side.” Others say it’s simplistic, boring, and messy. In fact, many of the captains will claim that they absolutely hate to chunk. But guess what—virtually all of them do it, sooner or later. Why? Because chunking catches fish, period.
Chunking is a great way to hook into big bluefin, like this one.
Chunks ‘N Butter
The idea behind chunking is pretty darn straightforward: hack up a bunch of butterfish, and toss handfuls of fish bits over the side to attract tuna. But there are a lot of details that go into this seemingly simple process which will result in improved catches. First, the bait: You’ll need a 25-lb. flat of butterfish to keep an average chunk line going for about four hours. If you plan on a full day of fishing, two flats will be needed. All too often, you’ll be sold sub-standard butterfish. Ensure the quality by pulling the top off the box before you leave the store, and eyeballing the baits. Chalky yellow spots (rot, which usually forms around the dorsal and anal fins first) indicates poor quality. Another thing to look for is sunken, dried out eyes, which also indicates poor quality. Size of the baits is less important, and as long as there are enough butterfish the size of your palm to use as baits, tiny ones still make fine chunks.
Fish like this yellowfin forget caution when butterfish are fluttering down from above.
Now that you have your flat of butters, it’s time to turn them into chunks. But if you bought them at 5:00 in the morning, tossed them into your cooler of ice, and cruised out to the fishing grounds, those butterfish will be as hard as a rock and you won’t be cutting anything for a few hours yet—make sure you open a flat and give it a blast from the washdown hose to start it thawing, before you leave the dock. Assuming you did so, you can use one of three methods to cut the fish: the knife method, the shear method, or the chopper method. Most anglers simply put a few butterfish onto a cutting board, slice them into chunks the size of a pocket lighter, push the chunks into a bucket, and grab some more fish to chop. Using this method, it will take about half an hour to go through a quarter of a flat, at which point the guy slicing butterfish usually: A. Pukes, from breathing in fish goo for too long in rough seas; B. Cuts himself or pokes himself with a butterfish fin and quits, or C. gets a blister, and asks someone else to take over. Yes, chopping butterfish in this manner is a real pain in the butt.
Anglers with more experience are apt to carry a large pair of steel shears on the boat, grip a butterfish by the head, and hold it over the bucket as they slice the fish into chunks. This works better than a knife, but is still a pain in the butt. Last year I tested two new commercially-made butterfish chunkers, Capt. John’s EZ Chunk ($229, 302/359-5581, www.captjohnsezchunk) and The Chunkster ($178, made by Ocean Designs, 410/352-3360, www.thechunkster.com ). Both are designed more or less like huge egg slicers that fit over the top of a five-gallon bucket. The Chunkster is less expensive and looks a bit rougher around the edges, while Capt. John’s EZ Chunk is more polished and priced accordingly, but the bottom line is both get the job done far more easily and quickly than a knife or shears.
So—you now have a bucket full of chunks. What next? Cut some baits. Traditional theory holds that for yellowfin you should take the head and tail off the butterfish, turning the body into an extra-large chunk, and for bluefin you should use the entire butterfish. I’ve found both and or either can be successful on any given day, and at times, both bluefin and yellowfin seem to prefer a regular small chunk to larger offerings. In either case, do your best to hide your hook in the bait. Speaking of hooks – 8/0 is about the right size, and rig it to a five foot leader.
Once you thread a butterfish or a chunk onto the hook, drop it over the side and make sure it’s not spinning. If it does spin, rip it off and rig a new bait. The disadvantage of having no swivel on your line is that a single spinning bait can put enough line twist into your reel to drive you crazy. Even if you have to re-bait five times before one comes out right, do it.
The least-spinny, most effective baits are usually the bodies with the head and tail removed, and the hook threaded in from the tail end of the fish, next to the backbone. Once it’s threaded on, turn the hook and push the point out so it’s just barely exposed, coming out of the other side of the butterfish. When rigging whole butters, it’s even more important to insert the hook into the tail end first, so the bait sinks head-first, as it would naturally.
Leader size can vary radically, because tuna can be finicky when it comes to heavy leaders. When possible, 80-lb or 100-lb test fluorocarbon can be used and it gives you the ability to muscle the fish around pretty well. But often tuna won’t touch heavy leaders, and you may have to scale all the way down to 30-lb test before fish start taking it without hesitation. Case in point: one day last season we chunked a large school of 40-lb to 80-lb bluefin off of a scalloper, and held them next to our boat most of the day. We offered baits on rigs starting at 100-lb. test, then dropped them to 80, 60, and so on. Until we tied on 30-lb test, the fish swam up our baits then veered away at the last second, every time. So—how do you know what to use on any given day? Most captains start out with the heavy stuff, and if bites don’t come quickly, set out a line or two with light leaders. If those lines get taken, they will switch the rest of the gear accordingly.
The average chunker secures the leader to their main line by tying on a double line, then a swivel, and then tying the leader to the swivel. This works, but it means you’ll have to wire the fish at the end of the fight. In my experience far too many fish are lost during this process, so I eliminated wiring entirely by tying a loop in the end of my leaders by way of a spider hitch, then tying the doubled line directly to the loop with an improved clinch. This rig can be reeled through the rod guides without a problem, eliminates wiring entirely, and has a lower failure rate than tying directly to a swivel or going loop-to-loop with the double line and spider hitch.
Chunking can be done at anchor, or on the drift. At anchor is usually more effective, but when the wind and current conspire to push your baits up against your anchor line, drifting is mandatory. Either way, keep the chunks flowing steadily. Toss out a handful, watch until they disappear from view, then toss out another. You can sweeten the slick by adding a dose of menhaden oil to your chunk bucket, which not only helps draw in fish but also smoothes down the surface ripples, making it easier to spot fish that swim into your chunk line.
Where to place your baits in the water column is one of the most important aspects of chunking. Bottom line: you will catch fish from the surface baits, mid-depth baits and bottom baits, at different times on different days. Trying to predict which will be the most effective ahead of time is impossible, so you should always try to cover all the bases. When one particular depth seems to be the productive one for that given day, switch your other rigs around accordingly. Start off by setting one line about 10’ off the bottom (this one often produces when big bluefin are around) one at mid-depth, and one near the surface. If you have more lines, fill in the gaps accordingly. Sink baits by attaching weights to the line with the copper wires you usually use for rigging ballyhoo. A couple of twists around the line and through the weight’s eye will keep the weight in place until a tuna starts swimming away at 40-mph, which will create enough pressure to straighten out the wire and allow the weight to fall off.
When it comes to suspending their baits, most anglers use balloons. Simply strip out the desired amount of line then tie the balloon directly around the main line with a square knot. When you get a fish on, you can reel the balloon right up to the rod tip—then keep on reeling, and the line will slide through the rubber knot as the balloon is pulled snug against the rod tip.
Setting baits is all well and good, but often they won’t get taken half as much as a “stripper” bait. Strippers are baits you rig with no weight or balloon. When you lower one over the side, throw in an extra-large handful of chunks, trying to scatter them in the water all around your bait. Then set the rod into a holder, in freespool, with the clicker on. Before the bait sinks enough to cause tension, grab your line just beyond the rod tip, strip out five or six feet of line, and drop it on the water’s surface so that your bait sinks unrestricted. As the line comes close to getting tight repeat the process, and keep it up for five or ten minutes. Fished in this way, the bait will sink through the water column at the same rate as the chunks, and will look as natural as possible to the fish. One caveat: this tactic is all but impossible when large schools of bluefish are in the area. Usually, they’ll chow on a stripper bait before it gets 20 yards from the boat. Whether you get hit on a stripper, mid-depth or deep line, as soon as a fish takes the bait throw the reel into strike and smoothly start reeling, without any hookset; these fish are moving so fast that a yank on the rod has little to no effect, other than to occasionally jiggle the hook free.
That sums up the basics of chunking, but what about those nay-sayers, who are always looking down on chunking as compared to trolling? Hey--I think chunking is the REAL art form, stimulating far more creativity and requiring far more talent than trolling. Just look at the swirly, red-brown-green stains you can make on your boat. As you toss the chunks overboard try bouncing them off your crewmember’s white T-shirts, and you’ll conjure up Rorschach-like patterns no troller has ever dreamed of. And sometimes chunking results in a cockpit running ankle-deep in tuna blood, which then dyes your white High-tops red—the highest art form of them all.
Offshore Pursuit shows the way to great catches of tunas like the ones you see here.
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