• Published:July 16, 2020
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Normally, by mid-July the mid-shore bluefin tuna bite off the New Jersey coast is going strong. But an uncharacteristic, incessant south wind that has been sitting on the area since mid-May, thereby dropping water temperatures as it continues to create unfavorable conditions of upwelling has put the big chill on waters that should be in the mid to high 70s. Water temps now sit mired in the low to mid 60s.
Thankfully, that all changed late last week and into this week as some westerly winds finally arrived and a high pressure system sat on the area, bringing both water clarity and water temperatures to near normal levels.
"Massive schools of bluefish have moved into the northern areas like the Chicken Canyon, Atlantic Princess and Glory Hole," said local tuna ace, Capt. Gene Quigley of Shore Catch Guide Service. "But I know the tuna are firing down south off Cape May at Massey's Canyon, the Hot Dog and other areas on the 20 to 30 fathom line. The good news is that as of last Monday, we are starting to see a defined thermocline once again, which hasn't been here due to the upwelling. We are set to fire off any day now up north." Quigley says his number one tool to find tuna are chlorophyll charts, such as those found on FishTrack.com, which help him determine clarity breaks. "Obviously we are looking for the defined thermocline which usually sits 70 to 80 feet down, but clarity breaks are where I start," he says. "Bluefin will be hanging on those breaks as the entire food chain hangs on its edge, right where the mint green dirty water mixes with the blue water." Sea-surface temperature charts are Quigley's second go-to tool. "A three-degree difference is good, and a five- to six-degree break is a cherry," he says. "Surface water temps are now about 75 degrees, but bluefin are a colder, dirty-water tuna, and they will be in that thermocline. Match the clarity and temp breaks, find a defined thermocline, and you'll find the bluefin."
"Match the clarity and temp breaks, find a defined thermocline, and you'll find the bluefin."
Make no mistake, bluefin have been around up north, and this week, it looks like they finally moved in with full force. Capt. Dave DeGennaro of the Hi-Flier has been finding bluefin tuna in the 180- to 200-foot depths outside Chicken Canyon. "On good days, we get shots at 10 to 20 fish," he says. "Those schools of sand eels from down south moved up into our area now, and water temps moved up to 74 degrees in the past week." DeGennaro has been finding most success trolling cedar plugs on flat lines, though spreader bars and small jets are also raising fish. "It's all about slicks and chicks. Look for storm petrels and chick birds picking away on the surface inside slicks," DeGennaro says. "Those slicks do not mean bluefin are pushing bait to the surface, but they are actually from the bluefin feeding on sand eels about 80 feet down below, and all the bits and pieces of the remnants are floating up to the surface. If you see that slick and the birds working, bluefin tuna are feeding right then and there." Most of the tuna caught this year are in the 27- to 60-inch range. Quigley's favorite method to land these fish is dropping metal jigs on them when marking them solid on the sounder. He usually starts out with a four-rod trolling spread with a ballyhoo run down the long middle on a Joe Chute head dropped 600 feet back. He sets the two riggers with the same baits 575 and 525 feet respectively off the port and starboard, and drops a 32-ounce planer ballyhoo bait 300 feet back. Other times, spreader bars and cedar plugs will get the bluefin biting. All of these are trolled at a mild 4.5 to 5 knots. Primary baits on the northern grounds have been squid and tinker macks, but the southern grounds are holding massive schools of sand eels, which Quigley believes are holding a lot of the bluefin tuna in that particular area. "Though the conditions haven't been prime down south, the presence of those sand eels are holding the tuna to the area," he says. DeGennaro confirms the reports of sand eels choking up the northern coast waters as well. "Every tuna we boat is spitting up sand eels on the deck," he says. "You can see them puking them up the entire way up the water column to boatside." In the past three weeks, the southern grounds off of Cape May, New Jersey have been smoking hot, but now, it appears that action has moved to the central and northern Jersey mid-shore grounds as well. Keep tabs on the chlorophyll charts and water clarity and look for SST changes along the 20- to 30-fathom lines up and down the Jersey coast to find the bluefin this week.