Capt. Nick Gonzalez of Double Threat Fishing Charters has always believed in the adage that good fortune occurs at the crossroads of preparation and experience. On May 18, 2017, he encountered the fish of a lifetime for his charter party when they released a giant bluefin tuna off Miami. This is his recount of that day.
Each year between February and May, the Miami sport-fishing fleet has been seeing bluefin tuna cruising south along the coast on days with a strong east wind, where the Gulf Stream is pushed all the way onto the reef. Most of the fish are seen in depths ranging from 80 to 150 feet deep. Most of the captains I've spoken with have agreed that more tuna appear to be pushing through each season.
The main problem with the bluefin off Miami is that they are swimming fast to the south. Sometimes we see them in big packs and sometimes only single fish, but it’s nearly impossible to anticipate exactly when they will come through. Catching a bluefin tuna is an especially daunting task since we use mostly 20-pound-class tackle while kite-fishing. Sailfish are fast and feisty but anything over 20-pound-test is overkill. Like any charter captain, my goal is to keep our clients happy, and it just doesn’t make sense to fish with four 80-wides and hope for one bluefin bite.
We lost two last year, and I told myself I would at least try for one this season. Right on schedule and starting in February, we started having a few good days per month. In total, we had four shots at bluefin on 20-pound tackle, and we missed a bite on an 80-wide. We thought for sure it would be our last chance of the year.
When April came around, we kept hearing reports of people seeing or losing bluefin, and I decided to fish an 80-wide every single day but with no luck. We had one trip when we doubled up on bluefins on 20-pound-test tackle: We lost one right away and the other after about four hours. So I got mad and bought a 130. I spooled it with 200-pound-test braid and a 250-pound-test wind-on leader.
The 18th of May came around and we headed off on a full-day charter with Sonny and Michael Miller, fishing right out front of Miami. The wind was blowing out of the east at 20 to 25 knots and the Gulf Stream was in 80 feet of water on the reef: perfect conditions.
We started the day live-baiting off the kites. We caught two sails and a bonito pretty quickly and had reset the spread with six kite baits when I saw a giant bluefin surfing down-sea about four waves north of us. I tacked to the south and yelled at my deckhand Kristjan Must to grab the 130 and pitch the bonito. We continued south at 8 knots and ripped the whole kite spread in while the bonito was skipping on the surface. The bluefin came screaming across the spread and aired out on the skipping bonito in an incredible bite. The fight lasted three hours with an average of about 40 pounds of drag. The bite was in 80 feet; the fish took us as deep as 200 feet, and we eventually released the fish in 45 feet of water inside the reef.
From what I know, this is the only recreationally-caught bluefin tuna verified and documented with photos that has been released off Miami.