Fall Tuna Fishing in New England

By Mike Christy

Special thanks to Jerry Nettik for additional photos.


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Mention tuna fishing to a New England saltwater angler and it will most likely bring to mind the Giant Bluefins of summer. As elusive, powerful and formidable fish as the Giants are, their smaller cousins, Yellowfin, Albacore and Big Eye tuna are just as worthy opponents. It would not seem that these fish are readily available to us here in New England, but those anglers willing to put forth the effort can find them in great numbers.


The Gulf Stream is a virtual river within the ocean featuring temperatures of over 70 degrees. It's dazzling blue water is like an oasis of life in the surrounding cold Northern Atlantic. This warm water has all the essential life sustaining characteristics for our target species; tuna. The problems is, the Gulf Stream is not easily accessible from most of the New England coast. So how does one find it or get there?

Point Judith Rhode Island, is one point of land that is within reach of the warm Gulf Stream waters. Cruising approximately 90 nautical miles due south from this small sea side town will bring you near the 100 fathom mark and the edge of the Gulf Stream. This area is teaming with life, including pods of dolphin, schools of Mahi Mahi, squid and tuna. Occasionally Mako shark and swordfish are caught in the area. To get an idea of the destination, one can think of heading due south from Block Island until you are positioned off the center of the New Jersey coast.

This fall tuna trip was provided by the Frances Fleet of Galilee RI. It's a two-day excursion leaving the dock at 6AM Saturday morning and returning at 6PM Sunday night. When booking a trip, let owner and captain Frank Blount know you heard about the Frances Fleet on this website. Frank captained the 105? Lady Frances loaded with all the necessary equipment and amenities to the edge of the gulf stream in less than 7 hours. Most anglers try to sleep during the long seaward cruise since this style of tuna fishing is most successful at night. Even with little or no sleep, there is enough activity and action to keep you awake throughout the night, especially when your line could be next to go off.

Once at anchor, a chum slick is established by ladling a fish slurry containing chunks of butterfish from a large garbage can. This process continues non-stop throughout the night. Looking closely at the photo on the right you may be able to see the beginnings of the chum slick off the stern.

Rigging for tuna is fairly straight forward. A 9/0 hook is tried directly to the main monofilament line. One fathom above the hook a rubber band is attached then to it a lead bank sinker. Frozen butterfish are used for bait. To rig them, the hook is placed through the mouth and out a gill. The hook is then placed inside the gill opening and buried inside the bait's body. The monofilament is pulled taught from the opening of the mouth. When done correctly, the end result is a butterfish with only mono coming from the mouth.

After attaching your bait to your hook, your line is lowered to a depth between 40 and 250 feet. Everyone is encouraged to set their baits at different levels for optimum results. Once your rig is set, it becomes a waiting game, sometimes action is immediate, other times it can be down right boring. Checking your bait for twists and squid attacks can keep you busy, as does adjusting the depth at which you are fishing.

The procedure for lowering your rig into the water is probably the most critical part of this type of fishing. There is 6 feet of line between the sinker and the hook, as such, it can easily wrap around the main line if you lower your bait too quickly. If your bait becomes wrapped, you have no possibility for a strike. Setting your line to the correct depth is done while the rod is in the holder and the drag set fairly loose. A length of line is slowly pulled from the top eye down toward the reel and a pause is taken to allow the bait to catch up with the sinker. The length of line is noted. The process is repeated until the desired depth is reached. The reel clicker is set on and the drag is set light. The reel's free spool lever is not used, all tension is controlled by the drag setting. Tuna hook themselves, there is no need to set the hook.

As darkness falls a surreal atmosphere encompasses the boat. Flood lights mounted on the super structure above illuminate the crystal clear water of the Gulf Stream. Patches of Sargasso weed are carried along side the boat with the tide. Watching closely one may see Mahi Mahi sometimes swimming under it. Schools of squid drift by on the surface, sometimes a single individual, sometimes groups of 6 or more. Tuna love to eat squid. Anglers with squid jigs rigged on spinning rods cast for them, and when lucky, will catch one. The live squid is quickly rigged on a tuna rod and lowered over the side.

When a tuna takes your bait, there?s no mistaking it. There's no click-click-click of the reel clicker. Its more like one loud and long Zing that alerts everyone on board, even those cat napping. I know first hand as this angler was rudely awakened at 3AM in that manner. Tuna take line and do not stop. Everyone on your side of the boat must pull up their lines as not to become tangled. Tuna will go where they will and often times will take a bait fished on the bow and run right down the rail to the stern. When that happens, the mates do a incredible job of weaving your rod in and out of the obstacle course made up of rods and gaffs that line the railing.







Suddenly loud splashes are heard and seen on the water! Albacore Tuna are under a school of squid and are propelling themselves straight up out of the water as they attack them. If you watch a squid long enough on the surface, you may actually see a 50lb tuna rocket up from underneath and grab the squid in it?s mouth, fly up into the air, then nose dive back into the water with an incredible splash. You don?t see that everyday walking down the street.

Fighting and landing a 50 or 60 pound Yellowfin tuna requires strong arms and team work. Team work among anglers is emphasized by the crew right from the beginning. Keeping pressure on the fish at all times is key. Often times a fish will swim right towards the boat and you must reel like a crazy person to keep up with it. After a 15 to 20 minute battle (typically), with great coaching from the mates, the fish is secured with two or more gaffs and hauled five feet up over the rail. The head is immediately removed , the fish is tagged and put on ice.

On the cruise home the trip?s catch is removed from the iced fish box and placed on the deck. Each tuna has a tag on its tail which identifies the owner. The mates make it look extremely easy to carve out and skin four large fillets from each tuna. Ill have you know, sushi has never tasted as delicious as straight from the filleting table. A fifty pound tuna will yield 30 pounds of fillet. Those fillets, which represent a huge beef roast more than anything else, can be steaked out and vacuumed sealed in freezer bags.



Tackle:
6/0-9/0 Penn Senator Reels
100lb test line
16/20 oz bank sinkers
Rubber bands ( for securing sinkers to line)
8/0-10/0 hooks