Bluefin from Kayaks E-mail
Sunday, 06 September 2009 21:36
tuna_thumbIt all started this winter when I decided it was time to give bluefin tuna a shot from the kayak.  The fishery has been broadening out with fish in numerous size classes.  Cape Cod bay has seen an influx of them in recent years.  Unfortunately these are fast growing fish and the Cape stocks have gotten too big.  Reports were that the fish were ru Read Morenning 150 pounds and bigger.  Too big to take on from kayaks at least not as a first try anyway. ;-).  I got a call from Joey.   Danny found a captain who was interested in exploring kayak fishing for tuna in New Jersey.
 
Turns out Rich, the captain, was working with Chris Gatley who I’ve known for several years.  Danny called Joey and Joey called me.  We were in.  The boat was a 29’ cat and it only had the ability to transport 2 kayaks.  Two Hobie Revolutions and gear were put on the boat.  The trip got cancelled twice and we finally got to go Monday, August 10th.  Unfortunately the weatherman had it wrong for the morning.  It was nasty and we were fishing near shore up slopes about 30 miles out.  It was too rough to put kayaks in the water.  We were butterfly jigging and caught a bunch of big bluefish, wrong kind of blue, and skipjack tuna, wrong kind of tuna.  We needed the first part of bluefish and last part of skipjack tuna.  The weather was worsening and the predicted 5-10 mph winds were now 15-20 plus.  When they were a sustained 20 plus Rich started heading back in.  He figured we’d hit some closer up slopes to see if we could still catch some fish, albeit not from a kayak.  We hit another spot and by the time we explored it the weather completely changed.  It got very nice.  The wind dropped and the seas calmed so Rich asked if we wanted to go out to the bluefin grounds.  We said yes and motored to approximately 50 miles from the beach. 
bluefin1
It was beautiful.  As soon as we put the first kayak in the chatter started on the radios.  It was comical.  Since it was all new to us the guys only wanted to put one kayak in to see what it was all about.   Everyone on the radios was talking about the kayaks.  Since Danny had set the thing up he went into the water first.  When Danny hooked up Chris thought it would make much better video if I helped him land the fish.  Since it was our first we were going to keep it anyway so Chris asked if I was comfortable gaffing it from a kayak.  I was.  When I lived in San Diego I owned a boat and our main quarry was long fin albacore.  Gaffing tuna was old hat for me.  Chris was funny because he said he was going to film the whole thing and didn’t want me to blow it on camera and look foolish.  His final instructions were to just get the gaff in the fish anywhere and not worry about the meat.  I had no intention of messing up the meat though. 
bluefin3_copy

Bluefin tuna, blue and black marlin and swordfish are all open water species that have a reputation of being very tough fighters.  They all tend to sound and are difficult to lift.  Of the group I had only tangled with a blue marlin, but that was from a boat.  However four and a half hours into the
fight the heaviest Saber tuna stroker rod I was using broke.  It was the weakest link in the system as the reel was an 80W, 130 pound line and 400 pound leader.  It was a humbling experience.  I had caught much larger fish from a kayak than the 30 to 70 pound school bluefins they were getting.  However the sailfish, tarpon, goliath grouper and big bull sharks were different critters.  These tuna were going to be big enough to offer a substantial challenge but not so big that they couldn’t be landed. 
Getting back to Danny’s tuna the fight lasted about a half hour or so.  The fish appeared tired but when it saw me it would sound again.  This went on for another 10 minutes and then you could tell it was near the end.  The fish was swimming near the surfaced and I swooped in and struck.  I got the fish right behind the head.  The tuna was about 40 pounds.  Chris took some pictures of Danny with the fish and then Danny decided he wanted to get in the boat so while I was sitting there with a bleeding fish that’s what they did.  I really didn’t want to sit there with a bleeding fish since there was little doubt in my mind that some sharks would get a whiff of it and come looking for a meal.   I had an encounter with a hammerhead that got a chunk of a dorado I had just lip gripped in Baja and that fish wasn’t even bleeding.  This far out I knew there were some big sharks around.  I was kind of surprised that they left me out there with the fish.  After Danny was on board they came and got me. 
bluefin2
We motored back to the spot and it was Joey’s turn.  He hooked into a bigger fish.  It easily took 40 minutes to get up and since this fish was going to be released it needed to be either gaffed in the mouth or tailed.  Danny elected the tailer after Rich showed him how to use it.  The biggest problem in securing the fish is they circle when tired and you’ve got to position the kayak to intercept them.  Pedaling makes it easier but it still isn’t easy.  Joey got the fish fairly exhausted and grabbed the tail and started pulling it onto his lap.  He had it about 3/4s of the way out when it struggled and got back in.  However it was very tired and Danny swooped in and with the first try got the tailer on it.  Danny wrestled the fish onto his lap and waited for Joey to come by and grab the fish for some pictures.  After getting the fish on board we worked our way to where all the marks were and Danny and I jigged for about an hour.  I had a hit on the way down and twice we saw a tuna porposing on the surface.  We didn’t get any more hits and it was time to head back.  We accomplished what we set out to do.  We got some bluefins from the kayak.
bluefin4

When I originally decided to pursue bluefin I was looking at casting to surface breaking fish in Cape Cod Bay.  I had seen a fishing show where the guys were using big Quantum Cabo spinners, jigging rods and butterfly jigs to cast to breaking blackfin tuna in Florida.  So I knew Quantum had the gear. At the Saltwater Fishing Expo I visited the Quantum rep as I like their gear and they take good care of me.  I told Bill what I wanted to do and one of the guys helping out was a charter boat captain who regularly fished for bluefins.  Rather than the Cabo 80 he said he was using the Fin-Nor Offshore OFS6500 and spooling it with 65 pound braid.  The reel retailed for a third less than the Cabo and had more line capacity.  Since I’m primarily a kayak fisherman they wanted to give me a bit more versatility in my rod choice.  They suggested a Boca jigging rod that was 6’6” and rated for 90 grams (a touch over 3 ounces).  They felt I’d use the rod for other things too.  Unfortunately New Jersey bluefin fishing isn’t a surface game at all and the jigs run 4 to 7 ounces.  The rod was a bit too light so I left it in the truck. 
The boat had plenty of gear consisting of Shimano Trevala Butterfly jigging rods in both conventional and spinning.  The conventional reels were Shimano Torsa, Tekota and Rich had an Avet.  The spinners were Shimano Saragosa and Stella.  The reels were spooled with medium weight braid (40-65) and leaders were 40 pound and varied from 8 to 30 feet.  I tried both spin and conventional and found it much easier to get the proper jigging motion with conventional gear.  The motion is what’s called walking the dog vertically.  The jigs were Shimano Butterfly jigs and we were using the smaller ones in a variety of colors.  The folks at Tsunami sent me a bunch of samples they had left as they had completely sold out of their version of the jig.  They call it the Knife Jig.  The Shimano’s retail for $19.99 and the Tsunami’s are half that, so I can understand why they sold out.  I didn’t get a chance to rig them so I didn’t bring any along.  I wish I had after I saw how easy it was to rig them and Chris wanted to try them out too.  Next time I’ll have them along.  Williamson also makes them.  They seem to come in two styles – one is relatively flat and wide; similar to a Luhr Jensen crippled herring.  The other style is long and skinny, more like an Ava jig.  We used the flat style.  The skinny style appears to be the choice for very deep water.
The motion is weird and they wanted to make sure we had it down before hopping in the kayaks.  You constantly stop and start the reel handle while doing a very short up action with the rod.  It isn’t any harder to do from the kayak but it’s a lot of work when you’re not hooking up regularly.  All sorts of fish love these jigs.   Any deepwater fishing situation they’re great. 
While this was our first foray for bluefins I can see many more.  It’s quite a fishery that’s readily available to a lot of kayak fishermen.  See you on the water.
 
 

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