Marlin fishermen like to think that blue, or black marlin, depending on which ocean you fish in, is the baddest, hardest-fighting fish in the sea. Well, it’s time to wake up, buttercup — they’re not. A marlin loses its fighting advantage by its instinct to come up and jump when trying to rid itself of whatever is causing its distress. Tuna, on the other hand, go down. That’s why everyone gets so pissy in the cockpit when a bit marlin starts heading for the bottom. You know it might be a long time before you see that fish again.
With a tuna, you know from the get-go what it’s going to do — it’s going to punish you. The deeper the water you hook a tuna in, the more line you’re going to need, because tuna fish head for the bottom and never give an inch on the way back up. Frankly, if you’re fighting any tuna over 100 pounds while standing up, then I hope it was an accidental hookup — either that or you must be some sort of masochist, but to each his own.
Bluefin tuna represent the true heavyweights and routinely break the 1,000-pound mark, but bigeye and yellowfin routinely top 300 pounds, presenting a challenge on any tackle. Here, then, are five great places to tangle with tuna that reach truly gigantic size — I know that there are plenty of fellows out there itching for the ultimate pull.
San Diego, California
If the catch of the all-tackle world-record yellowfin tuna, a 405-pounder, can’t make you jump on a long-range party boat out of San Diego, California, what about this little tidbit of information fresh from Capt. Frank LoPreste, skipper of the world-famous Royal Polaris since 1977: “We usually catch between five and 15 fish over 300 pounds each trip.” And that’s every boat in the fleet!
You’ll be in for a bit of a different experience — bunking with up to 32 other passengers for a 10-day-plus trip into Mexican waters on a 100-foot-plus vessel. “We normally run trips that last anywhere from five to 22 days — but most of our big tunas are caught on 10-day trips, or longer,” LoPreste says.
While the boats leave from San Diego, they target a series of far-off banks and islands lying off the coast of Mexico to the south. “We fish off the Luisitania Bank off Magdalena Bay, which is about 600 miles from San Diego; or in another area with even bigger success, Hurricane Bank, which is 980 miles south of San Diego. We also hit Clarion Island, which is about 850 miles away, ” LoPreste says.
It takes anywhere from 2½ to 3½ days to get to the fishing grounds, but LoPreste says the boys keep themselves busy prepping tackle and watching DVDs. As a bonus, they also catch 150 to 400 wahoo on a trip. Each passenger is allowed 15 tuna and 15 wahoo — which is more than plenty for anybody.
95 percent of the fishing uses live sardines fished from the ships’ huge livewells — they also catch a decent amount of fish on the kite. “We use a rig called the double trouble, which consists of two sardines on two hooks. Live flying fish, live mackerel and live skipjack also work good on the kite for the big yellowfin,” LoPreste says.
Nova Scotia, Canada
Few fish live up to their name as aptly as a full-grown giant bluefin tuna. One of the elite species that routinely breaks the 1,000-pound mark, hooking a giant bluefin tuna in deep water is almost a certain break-off — just ask those unlucky boys who run across 800-plus-pounders a couple of times each year in the mile-deep water of the Gulf of Mexico. If you want to see a lot more fish, and in water that isn’t more than 200 feet deep, then you need to head for the land of the giants: Nova Scotia, Canada.
You won’t find any sleek sport-fishers up in Nova Scotia; if you make the trip, you’ll be fishing on a working commercial boat. But some things will be familiar. They use all the traditional methods we use to target tuna: live baits, drifting kites and chumming.
You also have to abide by different fishing regulations when recreational fishing. You have to fight the fish from a fighting chair, you can’t use more than 130-pound line, and you have to use a nonoffset, barbless circle hook. But these rules are in place to protect the tuna, which are true jumbos.
Zappa Charters — Dale Tremholm
www.zappacharters.com , 902-386-2669
Tony’s Tuna Fishing — Tony McDonald
www.tonystunafishing.com , 902-357-2207
Giant Bluefin Tuna Charters — John Gavin
www.giantbluefintunacharters.webs.com , 902-863-1128
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Most people know Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, as one of the crew’s favorite stops on The Love Boat, and while passion may have run rampant on the fictional cruise ship, there’s nothing fake about the tremendous run of giant yellowfin tuna that swarm past this idyllic resort town during the late summer and fall. Cow yellowfin reaching weights close to 400 pounds frequent the offshore rocks and pinnacles that draw the bait and hold the fish.
Capt. Josh Temple first came to Puerto Vallarta 11 years ago, looking for a good surfing spot. On a 5,000-mile white-knuckle trip, Temple towed his 22-foot Grady-White all the way down from British Columbia. “The first few days I ventured out fishing, I came across massive schools of feeding tuna and marlin at Corbetania Rock, roughly 15 miles from Punta de Mita. During those first few years, we encountered quite a few really big fish that we didn’t have the experience, or the gear, to keep up with,” he says.
The best bait for these big cow tuna is another tuna. “My favorite technique for catching the largest yellowfin is trolling live skipjack. There’s no denying the effectiveness of a live skipjack trolled around the bank or Corbetania Rock. I’ve caught dozens of fish over 300, and trolling the live skipjack has produced probably 80 percent of them,” Temple says.
The kite is also very effective, as is chunking, but Temple prefers trolling large live baits around so he can get a shot at the huge black and blue marlin that also call Puerto Vallarta home.
Prime Time Adventures — Capt. Josh Temple
While I’m no tuna aficionado by any means, I’ve been lucky enough to see a few nice ones caught during my marlin travels. One of those, a 200-pound bluefin caught on a headboat off Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, surprised the hell out of me. I’d known about the good blue marlin fishing in the Canaries — that’s why I was there — but I didn’t have a clue about the large numbers of big bluefin and giant bigeye tunas that also frequent this European vacation paradise. The Canaries, a group of volcanic islands just off Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean, still hold the all-tackle bigeye record — a 392-pounder caught in Gran Canaria in July of 1996.
Capt. Jason Pipe started tuna fishing in the Canary Islands when he was 16 years old, and now, almost 30 years later, he’s pretty dialed in to the tuna around his home waters. “April and May probably represent our best months for tuna fishing. That’s right at the start of the season as the tuna pass through en masse, along with whales and baitballs. However, our tuna season can start as early as March. If the Cory’s Shearwaters start to turn up about mid-February, the tuna aren’t normally too far behind.”
Pipe says that bluefin and albacore are normally the first to show. “Bluefin from 300 up to 900 pounds have been caught in good numbers the last two years,” Pipe says. “Bigeye start turning up at roughly the same time, although sometimes a little later. The bigeye keep on turning up around the islands most of the summer, while the bluefin move off fairly fast, staying maybe only a few weeks. Yellowfin can start showing up from July onward, but in this ever-changing world, the arrival times seem to be changing as well!”
Pipe says that yellowfin are the hardest to catch here, with chunking taking the most fish. Bigeye, on the other hand, are easy, and you don’t have to be shy when trying to get a bite.
Bocinegro Fishing Charters — Capt. Jason Pipe
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Everyone knows that the Outer Banks of North Carolina make a great place to fish for school- to medium-size yellowfin tuna. Forty- to 80-pound yellowfin make up the bread and butter of the charter fleets during the long, hot summers, but it’s the influx of giant bluefin each winter that gets the blood boiling even in the cold.
One of the most appealing aspects of the North Carolina bite when it first started was that the fish were feeding in relatively shallow water — usually less than 120 feet deep, which kept them from sounding into the abyss. That allowed anglers to catch them in a hurry.
The best months to target these fish are December through April. During the last couple of years, there seems to be a better bite in December and January in the Morehead area, and then it usually gets good in February, March and April off Oregon Inlet.
Tuna Duck — Capt. Dan Rooks
www.tunaduck.com , 252-216-6160
Obsession Charters — Capt. Jeff Ross
www.obsession-charters.com , 252-480-0094