February 6, 2012

Outer Banks Angling: Time for some bluefin tuna


It’s February and that time of the year again -- bluefin tuna season.

Overall, it has been a mild winter around these parts, but that hasn’t hampered the tuna season.

Over the weekend, I had the chance to try my luck at some offshore fishing for the first time this year. While I am always happy to catch just about anything, I was hoping to luck into some tuna.

The last time I went out wasn’t that pleasant, as I spent the day in the parlor fighting sea sickness.

I took no chances this time and downed some Dramamine the night before and the day of the trip to help insure I wouldn’t repeat.

I met up with some friends at the docks pre-dawn and we were welcomed by a slight chill and almost no wind. The forecast was calling for a mild day with plenty of sunshine.

We boarded the Big Tahuna at Teach’s Lair Marina and headed out for the rock pile.

As soon as we arrived, we started marking some fish, so we sent down some butterfly jigs to test the action.

Instantly, we were hooking-up fish on light tackle and battling away.

It’s fun to have four, five, or six people standing shoulder to shoulder struggling to raise a fish and stay untangled.

After a while the first fish began to surface and they were a mixed bag of amberjacks and false albacore.

It wasn’t tuna of any kind, but we had fun pulling on them nonetheless.

Captain Kenny Koci was marking blackfin tuna on the fish finder, but they were mixed in with big schools of amberjack and albacore, and it’s difficult to catch these tuna when they are surrounded by so many other ferocious feeders chasing your lures.

And to add some extra challenge to our fight, there were some mighty large sharks on the hunt -- and plenty of them.

For the next couple hours, we battled a fair amount of albacore and amberjacks, while occasionally losing a fish or two to a large shark.

I thought I might be getting a good bluefin tuna warm-up when I hooked and landed a large shark that was well over 250 pounds.

Shortly after that, my buddy Brian got a good run on his jig not far from the surface. The fish was running fast and was fighting unlike anything we had caught that day.

Sure enough, a few minutes later we were gaffing a small wahoo and throwing it in the box.

Those who have used butterfly jigs will tell you that there is no telling what might bite the lure at any given moment.

The fact that butterfly jigs can produce just about anything that swims in the bluewater is the reason I love them so much and why I don’t mind catching amberjack or albacore nonstop on them. I know at any moment I could hook a fish more than worth eating or bragging about.

After a while of jigging and being unable to land a blackfin tuna, we decided to pick-up and move towards the rest of the boats chasing bluefin tuna that day.

We had heard over the radio about some large schools of fish that were around, but it sounded like they were mighty finicky about eating a bait or jig.

The bluefin tuna were an hour from us, but this is what we were out for, so we didn’t care about the additional ride time.

After enjoying a nice cruise on very calm water, we arrived at our destination.

There were a fair number of boats from a variety of local fleets, and they were all trolling around trying to hook a fish.

A few boats were hooked up and fighting fish, but they were few and far between.

The weather seemed just too pretty to catch tuna. A lot of captains have told me that pretty weather and good tuna fishing do not generally go together.

However, it was beautiful day and those of us on the boat knew that you can’t always catch fish. We were just happy to have a chance.

We passed over several large schools of bluefin tuna while trolling baits with no luck.

We eventually passed over a school of tuna when Captain Kenny yelled out for us to deploy a few butterfly jigs to see if we could hook a fish that way.

However, before our jigs ever got deep enough in the water, one of the ballyhoo baits we had been trolling was picked-up by a tuna.

The 80- wide offshore reel took off screaming under the pressure of one of the ocean’s fiercest fighters.

The burning reel was music to our ears. We had a fish on.

Sadly, our joy was short lived because the fish broke off within 60 seconds.

Likely the line was struck by another tuna in this large school, and the combination of the tight line and a slight graze of another large fish was all it took to cause the line to pop.

We hung our heads in disappointment, but we all know this is fishing.

We continued to troll around the schools and occasionally dropped jigs into them, but we never hooked another.

Such is the game.

After a while, we packed it in and started the long journey home.

While we never caught any of our target species, we did catch fish and had a beautiful day on the water enjoying one another’s company.

None of us could think of anything else we would rather have been doing.

At this time of year the pier and surf fishing is generally very slow, but offshore fishing can be very exciting.

You do not have to suffer through winter doldrums waiting for warmer weather and other fishing action to begin its start.

You can gather up some family or friends and book a trip with one of the area’s many charter boats. (Click on the marina ads and the charter boat ad on the Island Free Press to locate a boat.)

The Big Tahuna and other area boats even offer 36-hour overnight trips.

You could be chasing tuna and other offshore species by day, while trying your luck on some mako sharks and swordfish by night.

Bring along a trout rod with a few squid jigs, and you may be leaving with a variety of fish and some fresh calamari to boot.

I know that offshore fishing is not one of the cheapest forms of fishing, especially in today’s economy.

But if you can split a trip up amongst four or five of your friends, then it’s probably doable for most.

In the winter, it’s easy to find affordable, discounted rates for accommodations at area motels and rental companies if you need a place to sleep.

While you are down, you could even pop your head into one of your favorite, local tackle shops and find a winter deal on a new piece of equipment or two.

Don’t sit on the couch -- go fishing.

(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 www.FishMilitia.com)

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