NBS Extreme Angler
Do Your Homework!
Some of the most important things you can do to insure successful tuna trips are done before you hit the water. Homework includes gathering recent fish counts, fishing locations, taking a look at the current surface temperatures and checking the weather. You can get a general idea of areas that are producing by calling sportfishing landings but they aren't going to give you any GPS numbers. The internet is an unlimited, much quicker source of information. As you become more experienced your network of sources will grow as well. A good SST (Sea Surface Temperature) map can really narrow down your search area or at least give you a place to start and/or fall back on. Current and temperature breaks are like walls that baitfish tend to stack up against which in turn attracts game fish. Kelp paddies collect in these areas also, which are very attractive to baitfish, predators and fisherman. Always keep an eye on the weather before heading out, nobody likes to get pumped up for a trip then have to turn around empty handed or beat up. Compare notes with fellow crewmembers then establish a float plan. Create and constantly ammend a checklist of all the necessities to eliminate mistakes. Once on the water what you brought is all you have.
On the way out it's important to keep an eye on the water temperature to give you an idea of the "lay of the land". Make a note of breaks or warm/cool areas worth checking out on the way back in. Remind everyone aboard to keep an eye out for jumpers, kelp, stopped boats or baitfish. One good stop can make the day so you don't want to miss any opportunities. Once you're in the desired area it's time to put the troll gear out & get ready for the much anticipated bait stop.
There are many different techniques and patterns that can be used while trolling and they will vary from boat to boat - Captain to Captain. We usually troll the W pattern - 2 long on each outrigger, 2 short on the flat lines and the longest line down the center. This works on boats without outriggers minus the center line. Use 2 long lines in the front holders and 2 short lines in the rear holders. I like a diving plug such as a Rapala or Yo-Zuri on at least one of the short lines - preferably in a flatline clip. A cedar plug or swimbait work well on the long center line and the rest of the lines will be rigged with various feathers.
Rigging the swimbait properly is critical in order to have it track correctly at the 7-9 mph trolling speed required for the rest of your pattern. Start with a 2.5 oz quality jig head, I prefer the plain Hammerhead jig heads because of the ultra-sharp hooks and large eyes. One thing all of our local baitfish have in common is very large eyes. I believe predators key in on the eyes. Pick a 5" or 6" swimbait that you have confidence in and carefully run your jig head through it. In low light conditions I like a darker bait such as Prizm Purple (#39). Once the sun comes out my options open up and I switch to a light colored solid bellied bait such as Pearl (#55), Pacific 'Chovy (#7), or Tuna 'Chovy (#61), or a "flashy" clear bellied bait such as Bluefever (#26), Silver 'Chovy (#44), or Green Sardine (#34). It's good to have a couple of these rigged with 4'-5' of 60 lb. leader topped with a high quality barrel swivel.
Turning a Jig Strike into a Quality Bait Stop:
When the lines are in everybody needs to be ready to go to work when a rod goes off. This starts with having the lid off the bait tank along with at least 1 net handy for quick chumming & easy access to bait. The gaff should be down on the deck in a convenient designated spot. Once everybody is hooked up no one will want to search for the gaff and in some cases you may be gaffing your own fish. The troll rods should have a predetermined, out of the way place to go so they are not left in the holders once baitfishing begins. This is not party boat fishing, each person has a designated job and must handle it quickly to help create a good stop. That means one person grabs the hooked up rod, one goes directly to the bait tank to get some chum in the water then gets a hooked bait in the water. The rest of the crew should reel in & stash troll gear quickly before pinning on a bait. You can rotate jobs if you prefer but once a pattern is developed you will see an improvement in the quality and length of your bait stops.
Fishing the Slide:
With some practice you will be fishing the slide with one hand as you crank in your trolling gear with the other. I always have a 25 lb. rig ready with a Big Hammer on a 1.5 oz. Hammerhead jig head for the slide. I drop it straight down as soon as a rod goes off - keeping it in my left hand with my thumb on the spool waiting for a tap or the line to start spinning off very fast. With my right hand I crank in the two troll rods on my side of the boat. If the swimbait isn't bit I put it in gear then place it in one of the holders as I put the troll rods away. Often when I get back to my slide rig it is bent over, if not I put on a bait, cast it out, put the clicker on, place it in the holder my slide rig was in and start retrieving the swimbait. By now either everything is getting bit and you have chaos on your hands or just leave your bait in the holder and help handle the troll fish. The main goal is to effectively work together, get chum and hooked bait in the water as quickly as possible, get the troll gear out of the way, and keep fish hooked around the boat to encourage the school to stick around. These are schooling fish and if a tuna pulls loose or breaks the line there's a good chance part of the school will follow it as it speeds away.
A little preparation and effort goes a long way when it comes to the quality of meat you bring to the table. This starts with bringing plenty of ice in your fish hold to keep the meat firm and prevent enzymatic and bacterial invasion. A quick shot on the top of the head between the eyes with a small bat helps to put tuna out of commission and is easily done while it's still hanging on the gaff. When the bite is over we cut the gills to bleed the fish then put them on ice. If the fish aren't cleaned aboard the boat we bring back a 5 gallon container of clean seawater to rinse the fillets in before bagging. Do not rinse tuna meat in fresh water until you are about to cook it! If you do you will actually see the meat change color as it becomes "mushy".
Be safe, enjoy your time on the water, and please only keep what you can use.
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