• Published:January 31, 2018
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The explosion looked like a depth charge. The bluefin tuna have arrived.

During the frigid months of December, January and into February, when water temperatures drop to the magic mark of 50 degrees and fall into the high 40s, a body of 100- to 250-pound class bluefin tuna follow the bait schools down the Eastern Seaboard and set up shop on the inshore fishing grounds off the Jersey Shore.
“We’ll find the fish anywhere from 6 to 10 miles out, mainly in the 80- to 100-foot depths of the shipping lanes,” said Capt. Gene Quigley of Shore Catch Charters in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. “The key to success is locating the bait, running and gunning to search for concentrations of sand eels or sea herring.”

Finding bait and consequently feeding tuna doesn’t necessarily mean looking for the usual visual cues of wild bird activity punctuated by birds diving on bait schools in large flocks.

“Keep your eyes peeled for small groups of gannets or terns, maybe three or four, or even one bird moving quickly up high in the sky, peering downward as they follow the bluefin chasing the bait,” Quigley says.

Bluefin will boil and crash on the bait, but it’s usually a quick scene that’s over as soon as it starts. “These tuna are moving ultra-fast,” he says. “We may see one pop up, but I won’t chase that fish. The real deal is when you see a pod of them blow up on a school of bait for as quick as 10 seconds up to a minute or two. That’s when you want to start tossing lures at them.”
"The key to success is locating the bait, running and gunning to search for concentrations of sand eels or sea herring."
-- Capt. Gene Quigley
Quigley uses stout gear that’s set up to handle the bullish bluefin. He generally starts with a Race Point 100 or 150 spinning rod capable of tossing 200- to 400-gram lures. Other rods in Quigley’s quiver include Saltywater Tackle El Maestro spinning rods in the 7’7” med/heavy or 7’10” med/heavy action models. These rods are expensive but built with the components and backbone you need to battle it out with a 200-pounder on spinning gear.

“Go with rods that have the backbone needed to battle bluefin tuna, but also employ a tapered tip to allow for the sensitivity of throwing lighter 1-ounce or unweighted soft baits,” Quigley says.

The rods are matched with 10000 to 18000 model Shimano Stella Twin Power or Van Staal VSB 250 reels, spooled with 60- to 80-pound Power Pro Hollow Ace braid. He fishes an 8-foot section of 100-pound double line twisted monofilament, attached via a loop-to-loop to a 4-foot section of 80-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader. To entice a bite, he uses a heavy-duty lure designed to take the beating of powerful bluefin. Quigley’s go-to choices for top-water include stickbaits like the 150- to 165-gram Shimano Orca and Coltsniper, Britt Tackle House plugs, and the Siren 165-gram Deep Seductress. Soft baits include 3- to 6-ounce Hogy Harness jigs or Ron-Z rubbers.

“Try to pick out colorings in silver or dull white for the best shot at getting hits,” recommends Quigley. “Anything that gives off that mackerel or herring type of color will get more strikes.”

Water conditions will dictate which lures to use. “When the seas are kind of crappy and chopped up, I’ll throw a sinking stickbait as it won’t cartwheel and sinks down one or two feet below the surface for an effective presentation. If the water is slick calm, I go with a floating stickbait or a soft bait with no weight or very little weight like one ounce to let it sink just under the surface, then twitch it back, letting it break the water and sink a foot or so down so it appears like a wounded baitfish.”

Feeling the bite of a big bluefin as it whacks your lure is like hooking a bull at the rodeo. You better be ready for a fight. When buckled up to a bluefin, try to beat the fish with short, quick pumps to bring him to boatside, then prepare to sink the gaff in the head, or clip the line/dislodge the hook for a release depending upon the current tuna regulations.