Can you think of anything more exciting than a hundred pound yellowfin crashing the water?s surface twenty feet from your boat? It sure is a sight to see, something that you are unlikely to see trolling - but chumming is a different story.
Just the thought of chumming up a school of tuna gets my blood boiling, but the chumming part is easy. Now-a-days it?s finding them that?s hard. It was only a few short years ago that we had all the tuna you would ever want twelve or fifteen miles from Montauk Point.
Whether it was fishing the west bank of the Butterfish Hole to the south or Six and Eight at the tip of the hole to the southeast, there was never any better tuna fishing - ever. Yellowfins, minis, schoolies and giants - we had them all, and it was a chunker?s heaven. This is where we cut our teeth and put together some of the most impressive catches of tuna ever seen.
Catching tuna chunking is a lot less complicated than catching them trolling, and to many, a lot more fun, mainly because all the fishing is done standing up, one on one, just you and the fish. You don?t need a multitude of lures, birds, outriggers and rods. All you need to get by is a boat, a couple of good rods, a box of hooks and a bunch of chum, and you?re good to go.
The trick is where to start chunking. Before you leave the dock talk to other fisherman and try to find out where to go. Although most guys are close lipped somebody will usually take you aside and give you the lowdown, and remember nothing is etched in stone. Even if you have the exact numbers of where they bit yesterday, it doesn?t mean they?ll be there today. But, that?s always a good spot to start looking.
Once you?ve gotten to the spot, its time to become a fisherman. You must constantly be on the look out for birds, slicks, temperature breaks, draggers culling and tuna feeding on the surface. Once you are in the right area, use your depth recorder, your eyes under the water. Use it to pinpoint your exact starting point. If you?ve got a good one it will show you the tuna and the bait the tuna are feeding on.
Now that we?ve found the spot, do we drift or anchor?
Chunking can be done either by anchoring or drifting, and the results of both can be devastating. Knowing when to drift and when to set your anchor is the key. My own opinion is that I prefer to drift, but when its blowing twenty knots or more, the drift will usually be too fast, and sitting at anchor, with your bow into the sea is a lot more comfortable than rocking your guts out in the trough. I?ve got a very slow drifting boat and pulling the anchor in 200? of water is a lot of work. A poly-ball to float your anchor up makes it easier, but it is still easier to have the anchor and line safely stowed off the deck and not have to pull it at all. Wind and tide conditions sometimes make the choice for you.
If you?re following a dragger, a good rule of thumb is to try a drift first as you?ll probably be moving more than once during the day. Another reason for drifting is economic. If you anchor within a fleet of draggers, there is a decent chance that you will lose your anchor. Half inch nylon is no match for one inch cable. Many an anchored tuna fisherman has suddenly found himself drifting after losing the battle with the doors of a dragger.
Your tackle has to match the size of the tuna you?re fishing for. If it is school size fish you?re looking for, 30?s and 50?s will do the job; if its giants you?re after, only a 130 will do. Remember, although David brought down Goliath with a sling you don?t go hunting elephants with a BB gun.
Giants or school fish, the techniques are basically the same. Get your baits in the water and start chunking. It is as easy as that if you know how to do it.
How much chum do we need, how do we cut it, what do we use for bait, how do we rig them and set them.
You cannot have enough chum! A minimum of two flats of butterfish might get you through a day if the tuna are thick and stupid. Most of the time you?ll need a lot more than that. Remember fresh is always better than frozen. If you?re in an area where the "heavy metal" is working, you will need dip nets to scoop up the draggers discards, consisting mainly of whiting and ling. If you get to them early enough, the draggers will provide you with chum and bait for the day, but don?t count on it. The supply can be pretty sparse when a couple of dozen boats are in competition for it. A tote or two of the culls should give you enough bait and chum to get you through the day. Cut your butterfish into 2" pieces. You can do the same with the discards or you can throw them overboard whole and let them float away. Think of yourself as trying to imitate a dragger, with a line of floaters on the top, butterfish sinking into the depths and your baits in the middle of this mix. If you see a tuna crash one of your floaters throw the chum heavy. You want them eating out of your hand. Thick and stupid is a good thing. You cannot over-chum tuna.
The presentation of your bait is the key.
Presenting your baits to the tuna is an art in itself. I usually start out the day with beautifully rigged baits and when the tuna go crazy a simple hook job will do. Believe it or not, I?ve had the yellowfins so crazy at the boat we put a hook in a tomato and caught one. To rig the perfect bait, the technique is basically the same whether it?s a butterfish, or a whiting. Pick out a nice looking butterfish or whiting. Ling are better for a floating bait rather than sinker. Use a hook to match the size of your bait. For school fish I like an Eagle Claw #116 6-8/0 tied with a palomar knot directly to 80-pound test Berkley Big Game line. My color preference is clear. Take the point of the hook and put it in your baits mouth passing it though and out of the fishes gill. Opening the gill with your thumb work the hook back into the body cavity of the fish. If it?s a butterfish the hook should be completely buried, if it?s a whiting I like to have the point of the hook just breaking the skin between the pectoral fins. You can finish rigging the bait by sewing the mouth shut with waxed dental floss, securing it to your line with several half hitches.
Don?t worry about the hook up. When a tuna strikes your bait he will demolish it. Now a days there is a lot of talk about circle hooks and fluorocarbon leader. I?ve never used circle hooks, however some guys swear by them. What ever hook you are confident in works. As far as fluorocarbon leader, I?m not a great believer in it. I can?t tell you how many times I?ve heard guys say they had to go down to 50 pound fluorocarbon to get a bite. If fluorocarbon is invisible why aren?t you using 500-pound test. Invisible means it can?t be seen so it shouldn?t matter what pound test you are using. I?ve fished fluorocarbon along side of mono and noticed no difference, although I do like my line to be new and shiny not old and milky.
Always fish your rod out of the holder, never out of your hand in free spool. Many an experienced fisherman (including myself) has been the victim of a backlash caused by a reel in free spool. Fingers have been lost, and are frequently damaged. The question is, how do you get your bait into the water without being in free spool? Easy. Place your bait on the gunnel with the reel in free spool, with the click on. Peel off 50-60 feet of line, and let it go right into the water. Put your reel in gear and flip your bait away from the pile of line that you just stripped off. When a tuna picks up the bait go for the reel, not the rod, and turn the handle as fast as you can, taking the slack out of the line and setting the hook. This is the fastest and safest way to get a hook into a tuna. You don?t have to give a tuna time to swallow the bait. In fact, the more time he has it before the line comes tight, the better the chance that he will be hooked deep, with the result being the mono chaffing on his mouth. You prefer that the hook lodge in the lip. When he grabs it he is already thinking about more food.
If you can?t get the fish up to where they?re visible, you have to put the bait down to them. Rig the bait the same way as you would for floating except now you going to put it on a hook that?s tied to a 6? leader tied to a black barrel swivel. Tape a sinker to your line above the swivel. Don?t be afraid to go heavy if the tide is running hard. I?ve gotten bites with 16 ounces taped to the line. Check your depth recorder and watch at what depth the tuna are coming through. Put it at that depth and float it away from the boat with a balloon, all the while keeping at least one line working with a floating bait. Sometimes all it takes is one tuna hooked down deep to bring the school up.
Nothing that I?ve told you is hard and fast. What works on my boat may not wok for you. The real trick is to get out on the water and be in the right spot at the right time. Consistency is the mark of a good fisherman, and don?t ever count out luck. Many a day that started out a disaster ended up a success due to a lucky drop out of desperation. When I was breaking in, one of Montauk?s top charter boat captains, as well as one of my heroes was Captain Walter Haab of the Seacon. Walter has passed on many years ago but I?ll never forget one of his favorite lines. " I?d much rather be lucky than good".