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Fishing Trip Planner Safety and Etiquette Fishing Tips Flounder Fishing Striped Bass Fishing Shark Fishing: How To It's Tuna Time!! Doing Battle with Blackfish

It's Tuna Time!!
by Gerry Zagorski

If you've never been out to our states under water canyons you don't know what you're missing and now is the time of year to find out. The cobalt blue nutrient rich Gulf Stream water brings all bait up to the NJ canyons every year and the Tuna along with it. The largest, most popular and most northern canyon in the state is the Hudson.. There are also many other species caught there like White and Blue Marlin, Swordfish, Shark and Tilefish on the bottom. It's like a whole other world out there. No need to go to distant places to fight these fish. They're right here in our back yard.

The Hudson is a V shape bite out of the ocean's bottom that runs from it's narrow NE point and widens as it drops off into the continental shelf.. The tip of the Hudson lies about 70 miles due east of the Manasquan inlet. The Gulf Stream warm water eddies well up along the canyon walls and makes for the perfect spot. Much of the water surrounding the canyons tip is 200 feet and drops quickly down to 600 feet on its sheer walls. It then takes a fairly steady drop and widens out until it reaches 6000 feet. Best way to describe it is the Grand Canyon under water... Now that's what I call structure and your best bet is to fish its ledges.

How best to fish it? For many reasons, on a charter or party boat that is familiar with the fishery and suited for the task at hand. To do it right and safe on your own or perhaps someone else's boat here is what you'd need:

  • Survival raft
  • Sat Phone or Single Side Band Radio
  • 4 flats of butter fish
  • 4 5-gallon buckets of chum
  • 100 pounds of ice
  • Depending on the size of the boat 250 – 600 gallons of fuel
  • Nine 30 to 50 pound trolling rods and reels
  • Six 30 to 50-pound stand up rods and reels
  • Spreader bars
  • Squid jigs and poles
  • Squid lights
  • Out riggers
  • A min of 2400 feet of anchor line, a ball and a windlass
  • Various lures you will only use off shore
  • Most importantly a crew that knows what they are doing, where the fish are and have a circle of fellow boats they share information with.
A pretty tall order for most of us right? Even if I had a boat suited for the task it's a long tiring trip. I'm wiped out after a charter trip and I sleep most of the way out and in. I just can't imagine running the boat, staying on watch all night, fishing all day and night, setting the lines and the anchor, gaffing the fish, icing the fish down. When you get back in exhausted you have to clean the boat, quarter and wrap the fish... I'd rather spend the money and have an experienced crew that's out there all the time take me. My chances of getting on the fish will be much better and it will be a less stressful and more enjoyable trip.

So what is a typical trip? You can do a day troll or an overnighter chunk and troll. The day troll you leave the dock around 2 or 3 AM to get out to the Canyon at first days light and troll until 3 PM or so and head back in. The overnight chunk troll you leave around noon, get to the canyon at 4 PM, troll until 7 PM. Anchor up and chunk the entire night until sun up, Bring the anchor in and troll first days light for an hour or so and head back to the barn. If you have the time I'd go for the overnight chunk and troll because you get more bang for your buck and your chances of getting fish are greatly enhanced when you troll and chunk. I think about it like a vacation get away... If you had some vacation time would you drive 4 hours, stay for 7 or 8 hours and drive all the way back home another 4 hours ? Not me, if I'm going to burn all that gas and time I'm going to stay as long as I can.

So here's the Trolling drill...

Trolling can be very productive at times. This is especially true earlier in the season when it's likely to be the only way to get the fish to bite. It's also the best way to fish during the daylight hours while chunking for the most part is done at night... One of the things I like about trolling is you never know what your going to raise in the spread and that makes the anticipation of a bite that much sharper. In addition to all the species of Tuna, it's not uncommon to raise White and Blue Marlin and you can always count on Dolphin if you troll around pots. A lot of larger boats will run 9 lines. Each out rigger will have 2 lines (long and short) and a teaser. You'll also run 2 short lines off the line clips and one line down the center way back for the big guys.. That's nine right? You'll usually mix up the spread with naked or skirted Ballyhoo, some Islanders, maybe a green machine and some spreader bars. You'll troll 6 to 7 knots and concentrate on areas with structure and look for water temperature breaks.

You've been trolling for a few hours now and of a sudden all hell breaks loose in the cockpit. The clickers start screaming everywhere. Your captain just ran through a school of Longfin and your crew is filing out the salon door like there's a fire inside the boat. Poles are being passed to anyone standing near them and the fight is on !! Now it's a free for all in the cockpit... You and your friends are going under and over each other while the captain is screaming on the bridge and the mate is all over the deck making sure the lines don't cross. After 15 minutes of the most exhilarating tug of war you have ever had the mate screams COLOR and prepares to gaff your fish. One in the box and 4 more to go. Takes about 20 minutes for your crew to land the remaining fish and it's high fives all around.

You take a break and relax your pounding muscles as the mate puts the fish in the hold and hoses down the deck from all the blood. The captain turns the boat back towards the scene of the crime as the mate gets the lines set up in the spread again. In the back of your mind your hoping the next bite doesn't come to soon cause your still wiped out from the first bite. Turns out the fish have scattered a bit and you get a chance to relax. But your now watching the lines more intently in anticipation of another bite...

A half hour goes by and you start to loose your concentration on the lines... All of a sudden you hear the line pop out of the center rigger and the clicker start to scream!! Someone on the bridge yells FISH ON! This fish hit the spreader bar way back in the spread and the fight is on. The 50-pound class reel is screaming like it was hit by a freight train. Line peels off the reel as they strap you in the harness. This is a big fish, a Big Eye to be exact. All the other poles are cleared as you battle this beast. He's not going to come in with out testing your medal. The captain jockeys the boat around putting it in and out of gear to keep you pointed at the fish as he swims in all directions. The fish decides to take one last run but this time it's straight down ! Clouds of black diesel smoke billow out of the boat as the captain lurches the boat forward to keep the line away from the stern and props. The fish finally settles down and you start gaining line back. After 30 minutes you and the fish are spent. The mate sends the gaff into the fish you can finally rest. The Tuna door opens you all look on in awe as a 200 pound NJ Big Eye slaps on the deck.

Now for Chunking. Ahhhhhh Chunking... You've trolled all afternoon and right about dusk you head to the west wall of the canyon. The captain scopes out the area looking for good place to set up on the wall. He starts to mark fish on the sounder and stops the boat over the marks and you anchor up. It's dark now and you're on the ball (at anchor). The wind has subsided from the day and it's flat as glass. The mate has been throwing over chunks of Butterfish for a few hours but no takers yet. The spreader lights are on as is the underwater Squid light. The water surrounding the boat is lit up like a swimming pool as you peer into the water and watch all the creatures float by. On the edge of the darkness you start to see some white flashes dart in and out of the light. Time to catch the Tunas favorite bait Squid. The mate gives you a light rod and a squid jig. You drop the jig down and the squid approaches it slowly as you jig it up and down. You have some luck with the jig but once the Squid come up within reach the dip nets work better. You reel up one of the Tuna poles, take off the Butterfish bait and impale the live Squids mantle on your hook.

You're working the pole manually by paying line off the reel. You're about 50 pulls out and WHAM! You put the drag up to strike and as the line tightens you set the hook. This ain't no Striper... This fish is taking line like nobodies business. Your pole is practically bent over into the water as you struggle to straighten up and fight the fish. You're finally standing up and you bend you knees against the bolster for some leverage. As you drop the pole tip down, you reel to gain line. You pump the pole tip up and bring it down again as you reel. After 5 minutes of this you want a rest but you know if you rest the fish rests too.

You need to stay on him always keeping pressure on the fish. At fist he's taking more line then you want to give him but he's starting to slow down. It's more of a steady resistance now as the fish leans sideways to try and gain some leverage from you. You get his head turned to take away his leverage and reel line in faster until he leans to the other side. Not long after that your fish is in site. You yell “COLOR” and the mate readies the gaff. The fish is still a bit green when he comes over the side of the boat. The mate makes a few slits in the Tuna to bleed him out and he starts a nervous tremble on the deck flapping around nervously. Once he's bled out it's into the brine in the hold which is a mix of ice and kosher salt. A few minutes later another line goes off and 15 minutes later there's another Tuna in the hold. Not much happens for the next few hours. A few guys are working the rods while others are passed out in the salon resting up.

At about 2:30 AM a curious pod of Porpoise come into the slick. They put on a show circling around the back of the boat like a bunch of kids on their lunch break at school. The excitement got everyone back out into the cockpit and everyone starts working lines again. An hour passes as a few jokes are exchanged and some stories are told about the one that got away...As you're talking the captain sees a bunch of marks starting to form up 50 feet under the boat and instructs everyone to put their baits down 50 pulls. A few minutes later drags start to scream and the Chinese Fire Drill starts in the cockpit. 4 people are on fish trying to stay out of each other's way...This is what you're here for. The blitz is on and there is no time to waste. As the Tuna come over the side the mate makes a few slits to bleed them out on the deck and gets the lines back in. THE BITE IS RED-HOT NOW !! Every time you get down to 50 pulls there's a nice 70-pound Yellowfin waiting for you. This continues for an hour and it's sheer adrenaline that keeps you up at the rail fighting fish after fish. There so thick you can actually see them swirling around in the water. A few minutes later it's like someone turned a switch. The bite dies as suddenly as it came. You look and the cockpit looks like a scene from Friday The 13th. The deck is littered with Tuna and Blood and you barely have enough energy in your arms to raise the camera to snap a few pictures.

The rest of the night is uneventful. An occasional bite here and there, but nothing like the earlier blitz. About 5:30 AM you start to see sunlight on the horizon and crew pulls the anchor and readies the boat for some trolling at first days light. Your lines are in the spread for about 45 minutes when the mate notices a fin up behind the teaser. The teaser is reeled in and the mate drops back a rigged Ballyhoo. The fish misses it and goes for the rigged Hoo on the other side of the spread. Now this fish is pissed and lit up like a Christmas tree. He zones in on the Hoo, gets it in his mouth... The mate gives him some line to make sure he's got it and moves the drag up to strike and hope the hook sticks... The 80-pound White Marlin jumps 10 feet out of the water when he feels the resistance and sting of the hook and starts cart wheeling across the transom of the boat! You can tell he still has the hook because line is peeling off reel like you snagged a jet skier... All lines are cleared and the battle is on. A few more jumps and the fish has peeled another 100 yards off the reel. He surfaces once more and heads for the bow. You're reeling like mad to try and keep up with the fish. The captain maneuvers the boat to keep him on the stern. 15 minutes later you have this unbelievable majestic White Marlin up alongside the boat. The mate gets a hold of the bill with one hand and puts his other under the belly and carefully lifts the fish and invites you over for a picture. The Marlin is then put back in the water and the mate allows some water to pass over the gills to revive it. Next thing you know the fish turns it head and swims slowly out of site into the Cobalt Blue Abyss. Only 20 minutes has passed but the memory of those sites will last a lifetime.

If you've never been out fishing in our Canyons these types of things can and do happen regularly from July through November. A NJ canyon trip can be one of the most exciting and memorable trips you and your friends and family will ever take and you don't even need to board a plane. Besides the fishing you never know what you're going to see out there... I've seen huge Whales breaching, Pilot whales come right up to the back of the stern and look me right in the eye, Giant Sunfish basking up on top of the water... It's something you need to experience yourself because words can not do it justice. One trip out there and you'll be hooked.