December 17, 2010

Outer Banks Angling:  Tuna-rrific


It’s cold outside, and Christmas is almost upon us. The local businesses are closing for the season or the holidays. The sun disappears around five o’clock and, overall, the island is quiet.

However, the offshore fishing is pretty good. A mixture of blackfin and yellowfin tuna is being taken, and there are recent reports of bluefins being caught.

 At times it can be hard to get a good bearing on this bite, as the number of boats chasing these fish varies a great deal just before Christmas. It’s hard in today’s economy to spend big dollars on offshore fishing just before the holiday.

Yet, those who are chasing these fish are quite successful.

I recently hooked-up with my friend Ric Burnley from and his gang of fishing warriors to chase some tuna from our kayaks.

You are probably asking yourselves why anyone would want to chase tunas -- or any pelagic fish for that matter -- from a kayak.

The answer to that question is that we do it because of the adversity. Catching pelagic fish of any kind from a kayak is not easy, and it’s definitely not for everyone.

When you are fighting a pelagic fish from a kayak, you risk having the fish tip the kayak over or snatch you out of the plastic vessel.

You can almost be assured that there are ocean predators in the area and they barely fear a 60-foot boat, much less a kayak.

Also, the Gulf Stream currents can be strong and fast, so hitting the water could mean being rapidly separated from your kayak. And, the list goes on. So, yes, it’s just very extreme and that’s what we like.

Ric and I began to pioneer “mother-shipping” our kayaks into the Gulf Stream just over a year ago here on Hatteras Island. Hunting pelagic fish from kayaks or mother-shipping kayaks to pelagic hot spots is nothing new, but hasn’t really been done frequently along the East Coast and especially not in this area.

Since the very first time we tried this type of fishing, Ric and I have been working with Capt. Scott Warren, owner of the Big Tahuna out of Teach’s Lair Marina.  Together we have really gotten the hang of chasing after the different pelagic species in this unique manner.

On this adventure, we were targeting blackfin tuna.

Blackfins do not grow to be giants like their counterparts the bluefin and yellowfin tuna. They will generally run around 10 to15 pounds, with big fish being considered anything more than 20 pounds.

While they may lack in size and poundage as opposed to their kin, they are no less strong than what you would expect from a fish in the tuna family. Blackfins are very explosive and powerful.

Capt. Scott and his mate, Kenny Koce, have really perfected targeting fish using light tackle and butterfly jigs. This technique puts offshore anglers into the mix of things when chasing pelagic fish.

Rather then sitting on a boat trolling around marks, hoping something bites, the angler sends down a giant metal lure and vertically jigs right in front of the fish’s face.

Scott has his reels full of multi-colored braided line made by Daiwa, and each color represents 10 meters. Scott can mark the fish at a specific depth and then instructs his anglers on how many colors to let out in order to be in the middle of the school.

Sounds easy, right? But, actually, vertical jigging is a little tricky and a little tough on a beginner’s arms—practice insures more hook-ups.

Now that assessment is about fishing from a boat. Vertical jigging from a kayak is the single most difficult thing I’ve done in the fishing arena. Getting proper action from the lures while sitting inches from the water and rocking side to side is very difficult and demanding. There is a lot of pressure put onto the angler’s arms and lower back. But, like with the boats, it takes a little practice to get used to it.

Ric, Matt Shepard, Lee Williams, and I met at the docks around 6:30 a.m., said good morning to the rest of the guys on the boat, loaded the kayaks and headed out.

Since this was a fun trip that had been thrown together to catch some meat, Scott was not limited to six passengers like he would have been if it were a hired charter. There were going to be a few people fishing from the boat as the kayakers chased fish.

The weather was cool, with a moderate northeast wind and cloudy skies. The forecast was calling for a 90 percent chance of rain, and we were hoping to miss most of that. Overall, the day had an eerie, winter gloom about it.

After a little more then an hour of steaming along, rigging gear, and good conversation, we arrived at our destination. Scott immediately saw a mark of fish on his depth finder that he believed to be blackfin tuna and called out for a few of us to drop some jigs.

I lowered my jig the recommended amount of colors that Scott had hollered out. Several vertical yanks and WHAM—I was hooked-up.   I fought the fish out, and when it got close enough to see that it was a blackfin tuna, we knew it was time to deploy the kayaks.

All of us were already suited up in our waders and raincoats or dry-tops. The seas were 2 to 4-feet, and the sky was dark and threatening. Stepping down into the yaks was semi tricky, but it wasn’t very difficult.

Once we were in the water, the plan was simple -- drift with the currents and jig as the boat fishes and circles us, though, at times, the boat may have gotten as far as a quarter mile from us.

 Once in the water, it’s only a matter of moments before the four of us are hooked-up with fish and the melee begins.  It looked like there were four kayaks with motors that had lost their ability to steer. Once you hooked into a fish, you were at its mercy and were holding on for dear life. The blackfin’s ability to change directions on a dime had the kayaks doing donuts, and it almost looked like we were at an amusement park riding the bumper boats, as we would have to holler out and alert one another before to being dragged into another’s kayak.

It was a mixture of blackfin tuna, albacore, and amberjacks that we were hanging into. Each of them was very strong and explosive and had the ability to pin the rods into the side of the kayak for the first several minutes of the fight.

Getting the fish to the kayak and out of the water as fast as possible was a must. These types of fish attract sharks, and the ocean-feeding predators know no fear. With cloudy skies and a semi-churned up ocean, the water clarity wasn’t good, and if a predator approached your catch, you wouldn’t be able to see it until it was too late.

Getting the worn-out fish into the boat wasn’t much of an issue, as the butterfly jig made for a great tool to grab hold of and pull the fish into your lap. Once in the boat, the fish was easy to deal with because it had expended all of its energy trying to fight the angler and the weight of the kayak. You could simply toss the fish into the back of the kayak and proceed to re-lower the jig.

After an hour and a half of battling fish, Scott said it was time to load the kayaks and move back up current. I decided that I would be the last to load, so I could get some pictures of the process from the water.

I sat about 40 feet or so from the boat taking pictures, and I had a few fish in the back of the kayak. They were losing blood, which was draining out of the scupper holes. One fish that was not quite dead continued to flap and flutter. This was not a good thing to have happen.

Moments later, a huge crash of water exploded behind me, and it sounded as if someone had dropped a car out of an airplane into the Gulf Stream. I felt a mighty shutter through the kayak and into my spine, though the creature never touched my kayak. I was very happy to be wearing so much waterproof gear because the predator had soaked me with its massive splash. All the guys on the boat looked up in shock and awe. Scott yelled out that he could see a massive shadow darting through the water that was larger then my 14-foot kayak, but he couldn’t readily identify it.

Needless to say, I decided it was time to get in the boat.

We ran back up to our starting point and started over again. We continued to knock back the blackfin tuna and be dragged all over the Atlantic Ocean. The entire day, the area in which we fished was a giant slick and smelled of fish.

At one point, I looked up on the boat and saw 13-year-old Braxton Beaver hooked up and smiling ear to ear. The kid was hooked into his sixth tuna on a jig.

All the guys on the boat were hooking and landing fish, as were all of us on the kayaks. It didn’t take much longer before the fish boxes were overflowing, and it was time to head in.

On the way back to the docks, we recapped our accomplishments and nursed our sore bodies. Whether from the boat or kayak, this type of light-tackle fishing and these types of fish will turn your upper body into a limp noodle.

I have to highly recommend this trip, whether you are fishing from a boat or kayak. It doesn’t matter if you are 13 years old or 60 years old. This type of offshore fishing is a blast.

The blackfin, bluefin, amberjack, and albacore should hang out most of the winter. You can put on warm clothes, book a trip, and head on down for some good action. There’s no reason to sit around all winter thinking there are no fish, because there are plenty of fish out there right now.

You can follow Capt. Scott and Kenny on the Big Tahuna at

Until next time, tight lines and fair weather.

(Rob Alderman is the owner of the Hatteras Island Fishing Militia website and is a kayak fishing guide. Rob has 10 years of fishing experience on the Outer Banks, and is host of the “Outer Banks Angler” television show. You can follow more of his extreme adventures or contact him at

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