Heading into the holiday weekend we heard rumors of another body of fish spotted within our range. Words like “acres”, “little”, and “jumping” were used to describe the scene and, of course, everyone’s favorite—“epic”. I now had a devil and an angel on my shoulder with a choice to make.
Saturday I had Greg and his buddy Jim out from Ohio. Greg is a professional fisherman, and Jim a well-traveled hunting editor. Both had tuna on the brain and were looking for large. Given the “little” adjective thrown into the rumors and the fact that it was still a rumor I was on the fence. I’m skeptical by nature, call it a character flaw if you want, but very few know better than me in my own opinion so I am usually not one to chase down a rumor even if it was from two independent, reputable sources. There was one additional noun that caught my attention for obvious reasons, but I’ll get into that later. The decision between large or small, rumor or known was pretty simple for Saturday… the request was for large “or we would have come in the fall” so known and large it was.
Anyone that has ever seen tuna on halfbeaks knows what they look like. They are the stuff that dreams are made of, fast-moving, aggressive feeding behavior that usually leads to a dramatic aerial show.
We left the dock at 5:00 am and flew across a glassy Cape Cod Bay. Halfway out, acres of mackerel speckled the surface for what seemed like miles. It’s a surprise that tuna are not in the bay consistently tearing it up. They have been there, but sporadically and certainly not Saturday morning. Not even a bird harassing them while they danced on the surface. Shortly after we rolled up on the first signs of life—a fleet of about 100 boats. Nothing attracts a crowd like a rumor of fish seen the day before. We circled wide and came in the southern edge of the life. Seconds after I dropped off plane, several groups of shearwaters started working over bait. Some were moving over bubble-feeding humpbacks, but were tough to hear over the roaring outboards and diesels within spitting distance. The third flock moved in a more subtle fashion, pushing slowly in an organized direction rather than the bubble-feed type chaos. As soon as the first little brown head looked down, I spun the boat and then the lead edge saw its first push of water. Greg and Jim got off great long-distance casts to the leading edge and got their first sight of tuna as 200-pound-plus fish came high out of the water, sending shearwaters tumbling out of the way. Two casts later and the show was over as the kite boats rolled in with baits in tow, troll boats descended, spotter planes circled in and stick boats were on plane, all moving in a collision course. Staying on my feet became a chore from all the boat wakes. There are a few times when leaving fish to find fish is a good idea, and this was one of them!
Jim and Greg knew the drill. As I had told them the night before: Tuna are always feeding somewhere. You just need to find them. Over the next few hours I ranged farther than I had the past few days. By early afternoon I picked up a return on the radar that looked suspiciously like a group of birds. However, when we got to the area, nothing was going on. As I started to make the swing back toward the flee, I caught some motion out of the corner of my eye. Smaller, 100-pound-class fish started tearing up the riplines over deeper water. This is what I was looking for—slot fish on bigger, fast-moving baits. Bigger is always better in my opinion. Tuna will spend the energy to chase down individual baits and stay aggressive. We followed the fish for several miles, playing leap frog as we tried to get within casting range. Smaller fish along riplines is a common scenario; you can try to play whack-a-mole, but you are typically better served to gauge their direction and move ahead of the school in the hopes that they pop up near you. Sounds more difficult than it is: your position is usually a calculated decision. This is where placing waypoints on your plotter is key to watch the pattern. We never came tight, but Greg and Jim got some solid opportunities at breaking fish of 2 distinctly different size classes and 2 very different feeding styles. They also got one of the better “shows” I have seen all season. Nearing the end of our fuel range and a bit tired after covering approximately 190 miles, we decided to head for the barn. Jim and Greg had a great time, and are dying to try it again. I warned Greg that this would ruin fishing as he knew it, and now there is a professional angler in Ohio looking to make a change to tournament bluefin fishing. Walleye just don’t cut through bait like that often.
That night, another confirmation of the aforementioned rumor came in. Typically we take the holiday off because of boat traffic and the usual associated hassles but looming intel had our attention. Like I said, I rarely like to follow rumors because unless I see it with my own eyes, I don’t believe it. I mentioned above a noun that had my attention more than anything else in the rumor, not even “epic” carries as much weight in my opinion. One word: halfbeaks. With Capt. Terry off the water, I grabbed Capt. J.C and Fish Chick (Stefanie) and put the honey-do list aside for anther day to make the long ride to chase ghosts.
Anyone that has ever seen tuna on halfbeaks knows what they look like. It is the stuff that dreams are made of: fast-moving, aggressive feeding behavior that usually leads to a dramatic aerial show. I was as excited to take my camera as I was to bring a rod. We got a lazy 10:00 a.m. start to let the boat traffic die down a bit on the holiday weekend and had no trouble slipping quietly past the “guards”. An hour later we were in range and started to hunt. A quick look at the weather gave us an idea of how much time we would have before the storm rolled through and sea surface temps helped narrow our search area down. An hour into the recon work and there is was: a nice big carpet of halfbeaks with tuna airing out among them. After a couple of opportunities on nearby fish, J.C. let the Terez fly and nailed a boil. A few twitches later he yells “tight” and I turn my head in time to see a flash of blue and a hole in the water. As soon as it hit it was gone but that would be the start. Not long after Fish Chick says,”Hey, there are some little fish jumping over there.” Instead of pointing with her finger, she used the rod and launched a plug in the direction of the fish. Cast first, talk later! Halfway to the boat, her line came tight. J.C. and I cleared the gear out of the way and Fish Chick got to work on the fish. After a couple of runs, I reached over to give the drag knob a half turn. Most people would have accepted my advice, and maybe adjusted their arm placement slightly under higher drag. Instead, a high volume string of obscenities that made seasoned Capt. J.C. blush came my way. You may remember that last year Fish Chick was battling a 200-pound-plus fish when I decided to adjust the drag an hour into the fight. Shortly thereafter, the fish popped loose. That was her first fish, and I still haven’t heard the end of it!
This time the slight increase was enough to break the tuna’s spiral, and in a couple minutes Stefanie stepped back. I got leader in hand, and J.C. sunk the gaff. The fish was 45″ to the nose. It had hit an Ocean Lures Ballyhoo (the halfbeak go-to). We started playing with assist hooks off the nose of the Ocean Lures to improve the hookup ratio so I was happy to see both the big single hook and the assist hook dug deep; there was no losing that fish—unless of course I went for the drag knob again! With a happy crew, increasing wind, and a storm approaching, we decided to head in. Although we never saw the “epic bite” described in the rumors and the acres of fish, we did find what we were looking for in a predictable area.