• Published:September 23, 2020
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Some think that chunking for big tuna in the canyons is an easy endeavor, it is not.

Die-hard tuna crews head to Northeast canyons like the Hudson, Tom's, Lindenkohl, Wilmington and Spencer for overnight trips to fish with bait for yellowfin, bluefin, bigeye and longfin albacore tuna. Fishing with chunk bait sounds simple, but you can easily tell the top guys by the fish in their cooler. Experienced crews routinely score limits of fish while others get blanked or may be lucky to catch one.
Capt. Mike Bogan of the party boat Gambler based out of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, runs 24- to 36-hour tuna chunking trips from September through November. According to Bogan, the first key to successful tuna chunking is picking the right spot. “We always access the water temp charts and see where the eddies are spinning off on FishTrack. We run 80 to 100 miles offshore. You need to know exactly where you will find the best results,” he says.

One of the most important indicators is sea surface water temperature. Bait will congregate along convergence zones where colder water meets warmer water.

“It’s all about the temp break,” Bogan says. “Ideally, if we see where 65-degree water meets water that is up to 71 degrees, that’s a hot spot to set up on. Even a one to two-degree temperature difference will work, but look for the dramatic shift first.”

Bogan says that he will even run 10 miles inside the canyon edges to fish if the temperature breaks dictate that it’s worth burning extra fuel.

“You can’t be so locked in that you just to run to the canyon edge and drop your baits. Go inshore of the edge if you have to. Be smart and read the water, as that’s where the tuna will be, along with reading bait schools in the immediate area.”

Bogan will sometimes anchor up on a good spot, but he prefers to drift, setting up the boat in the middle of the eddy, and drifting with the blue water. “When drifting, we can keep the chunks flowing with the prime water. Even if there is a current, the chunks will flow naturally without spinning or being stagnant if we are on anchor.”
"Tuna chunking is 70 percent anticipation and 30 percent mayhem..."
-- Capt. Todd Berger
Bogan’s general tuna chunk rig starts with the proper gear. A 50-wide class reel such as a Shimano Tiagara or Penn International is spooled with 80-pound monofilament line and matched with a stand-up rod like a Shimano Tallus or Penn International makes up the preferred artillery. Drags should be set with just enough pressure to pull the line off with a semi-strong pull, and when dishing line out, leave the clicker in free spool. From the running line, a proper egg sinker of 1 to 16 ounces is attached, then a plastic bead to prevent line chafe, a 300-pound Spro Barrel swivel, a 4- to 5-foot section of 80-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon line, to which a size 8/0 Gamakatsu Tuna hook is attached with a Palomar knot

Egg sinker weight is determined by the flow of the chum and current. You want to have your baits drifting right in the mix of the chum, not too far down and not above it. Mate and second captain Todd Berger expounds: “If we’re reading fish but the bite is skittish, we will scale down to 30- or 50-pound leader. You have to pay out the line accordingly with the current, always pulling off slack to let the bait flow back naturally. Once you get down to half a spool, then reel up and recheck the bait to make sure it isn’t helicoptering, washed out or getting cut up by squid or bluefish.”

Baits for chunking include the standard butterfish or sardine, but if you have the chance to jig up live squid, that is ideal. “Whatever bait you use, hide the hook,” says Berger. “Butterfish can be rigged through the mouth and out the gills with the hook buried right behind the gill plate and just piercing out the other side. You can rig sardines the same way. Squid can be hooked through the mantle and buried back in, with the hook point piercing out the other side.”

“Tuna chunking is 70 percent anticipation and 30 percent mayhem. When a tuna takes the bait, the line will really be spooling off the reel, engage it and set the hook,” Berger says. “I can’t stress enough to always be holding the rod and minding it. Too many guys get caught up in the Wicked Tuna mindset and have the rod in the rod holder with the drag locked. That doesn’t work. You need to be actively chunking and minding your baits. You will see the results of guys doing it right and not doing it right.”

When hooked into a tuna, battle it to the side of the boat and right at the end game when you see the tuna circling, take the rod from out of your belt and slip the butt under your arm so you're ready if the tuna makes a run under the boat. This way the line doesn’t get cut on the hull or running gear of the boat. The gaff man should be right next to the angler to end the fight.