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Party Boat Tuna
By Rich Johnson
Its no secret ocean waters are warmer than ever, as the El Nino of last winter and the hot summer we experienced this season soared ocean temps as high as 78 and 80 degrees. Unless severe storms drop these temperatures, October will also be above normal. These temperatures will offer bluewater anglers a later than usual, last shot at putting some tuna steaks in the freezer.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR. You spend lots of money and time preparing for offshore tuna trips so you want to be as productive as possible. There are very important things to look for when tuna fishing and if you can find a combination of these items such as water clarity & color, water temperatures with breaks and signs of life in the area you expect to fish, you can greatly increase your chances for success.
Water clarity and color are very important. Tuna are pelagic and seek clear, clean ocean water. As you leave an inlet, most inshore waters have that green color. As you move offshore, water continually clears and changes color. We look for blue or gin clear water when tuna fishing. If youve never been offshore before, there is nothing like the sight of blue water. It is unmistakable and easily noticed, besides being absolutely beautiful! While I cant say weve never caught tuna in dirty or green water, bait and tuna much prefer the cleaner water.
Find the right water temperature. Tuna prefer 70 degrees and up, with the 70 to 73 mark ideal. However, you really want to find a temperature break. Temperature breaks are the difference or break in surface temperatures between two pieces of surface water. While this break covers surface water, it also runs vertically, like a wall between two rooms. You may be looking in 70-degree water, and suddenly come upon a section of water around 71 degrees. This constitutes a break. Youve really hit a home run if this break is up around three degrees (70-73). Bait will congregate on the edge of the warmer water.
Look for signs of life such as bait breaking water or marks on the fish finder. However, in the deep, we look for shearwaters. This is a large brown bird that resembles sea gulls. These birds only settle on land to mate and when active out yonder, are on something or know something is going to happen in the area theyre working. We tend to ignore shearwaters sitting on the surface and prefer to see these birds working over an area. If you can combine all these items in one area, youre in for one fine tuna adventure.
PARTY BOAT STYLE. For those of you who may have put the boat away already, or have a fishing platform smaller than you might feel comfortable with offshore, you can still get in on the great tuna fishing October brings. All you need do is step aboard a party boat! Several party boats schedule offshore tuna trips this time of year. They may leave at 6 p.m. one evening and return around 8 p.m. the next night. Some even schedule three (3) day trips, such as the Viking Star Fleet (516-688-5700) in Montauk.
I called several captains for some insight on what to bring along for comfort and for some tackle choices. Most party boats venturing offshore for Canyon Tuna trips have some sort of sleeping accommodations, so a sleeping bag makes for a better nights sleep. Foul weather gear and boots are a must because a lot of the fishing is done at night and tuna fishing in general tends to be a wet kind of fishing with blood, chum, bait and spray from the ocean and the humidity of the night, the captain added.
Now that were in the modern age, most if not all party boats have microwave ovens and you should bring along more than a sandwich to last the 24 hour trip. The captain says, you want easily eaten foods that will sustain energy and possibly warmth. Soups and stews that fill you up, are easily stored and heated are great on these types of trips. Roast chicken, fruits and veggies are also an easy, yet filling meal.
TACKLE. If you have an offshore vessel and already tuna fish or plan on tuna fishing on a regular basis, then quality stand-up tackle usually includes a 5-1/2 to 6-foot tuna rod with a Penn International or equivalent size reel in the 30W, 50W and 80W size ranges. Most of you who already own tackle and fish tuna frequently probably use roller guides and a roller tip-top and are fully equipped with gimbals and harness. If you plan on following this calling yourself, follow their advice and use the same gear.
PARTY BOAT TACKLE. In my conversation with Capt. Gordon, he explained those taking advantage of party boat tuna trips may be first timers, or who fish for many other species during the year and their fishing vessel may not be large enough for the canyon experience. Most party boats will rent a quality tuna outfit for as little as $20 for the trip. If you want your own outfit, but dont fish tuna much and dont want to spend the high dollars for the Internationals, you most likely want the Penn Senator 6/0 (114) or equivalent sized reel.
As for the rod, a 6-foot stand up tuna rod is ideal, but unlike the tuna angler who chase this quarry on a regular basis, the party boat tuna fisherman should opt for the normal ceramic guides over roller guides. The captain explains, with the amount of people (25) on a party boat, the tuna experience can see line tangles, unpredictable fish and misdirection of fish as anglers try to avoid each other when the bite is on. For this reason, line takes less abrasion and theres less chance of something going wrong if line gets wrapped around ceramic guides than roller guides.
The captain also put emphasis on a quality fishing line for these trips. Youre fishing for the fish of a lifetime and you may only get a couple of shots at that fish. Remember, the only thing between you and the fish is the line, add to this the abrasion factor and the answer is quality is key! I would recommend nothing short of Berkley Big Game line in 80-pound test for these trips. You may have heard you need a lighter leader for finicky tuna, but the captain assures me this is not the case in the fall when the fish have really put the feed bag on.