One would need an updated 2020 Thesaurus to comprehend the descriptions of this summer’s yellowfin tuna fishery at the Triple Wrecks or, more accurately, the area around the wrecks, most notably four-to-10 miles to the east. However, the common denominator is the site of a German submarine U-151 attack on June 2, 1918 that sent six vessels to the bottom of the Atlantic.
These included the 332-foot steamer Texel, the 381.51-foot passenger cargo ship Carolina, the 271.2-foot twin screw freighter Winneconne, the three-masted 160.3-foot schooner Isabel S Wiley, the 226.8-foot schooner Jacob M Haskell, and the 228-foot sailing ship the Edward H Cole.
A banner day for Kaiser Wilhelm II, the “Blut und Eisen” (Blood and Iron) German chancellor of WW I Germany who built up Germany’s navy and its infamous submarine technology and ultimate capabilities. Morbidly, it was to prove a boon to decades-later offshore anglers. Fortunately, a series of Allied victories on the war’s western front sealed the Kaiser’s, and Germany’s, fates at the time.
Actually, the name Triple Wrecks is a misnomer as suggested by Deb Whitcraft at the Maritime Museum in Beach Haven, noting that the remains of the six ships are spread apart, not clustered as the commonly accepted name implies. This leads to the location being a generic “50 to 60 miles” east of Barnegat Inlet. No matter, as the tuna fishing, particularly for yellowfin, has been on a scale not witnessed for many years. As you read this, it may still be going on if the Gulf Stream continues being kind. This, after a solid bluefin bite that started in the middle of May and extended through June.
The yellowfin appeared as soon as water temperatures nudged into 70s, approximately mid-June, and it progressed seamlessly from a trolling game to a chunking/jigging/popping scenario. The fishery reached heights that many a captain and recreational angler opined they had not seen in years, decades or, in the case of the younger guns, ever. The fish ranged from 30 to 60-plus pounds, with the 80- to 90-plus pound “sickle fin” specimens showing in early September.
Indeed, 2020 has been one for the books or, more dramatically, the ages. It was that incredible, especially after a so-so 2019 season, and one not that much better the year previous.
“This year’s fantastic yellowfin fishery is all about the habitat, the bait and the water quality, and by that I mean the clarity of the water,” explained Eric Buntz at the Reel Seat in Brielle, adding that the bluefin kin will eagerly feed in greenish water, but the yellowfin are more particular.
The aforementioned eastern area of the Triple Wrecks is primarily sandy bottom interspersed with a series of hills, lumps and edges. Says Buntz, “When there are rises from the bottom, up-wellings are created, and that’s where the food chain starts, from phytoplankton up to baitfish, and in the case of the Triple Wrecks area, this means sand eels.”
While sand eels were the primary forage, squid played a major role in attracting and holding the yellowfin. With clean water and abundant sustenance, it was easy to see why the tuna remained in the area despite the unprecedented boat traffic. There were weekends when hundreds of vessels converged upon and were probing and prying the Triple Wrecks, but the fish kept cooperating. Trolling the wides and the sides eventually led to the jigs and chunks, poppers and plugs, and all tactics put meat in the boxes.
“We were hand feeding them sardines 5 to 10 feet from the gunwales and stern,” mused Capt. Alan Lee from Mushin Sportfishing , this mind boggling scenario echoed by no less than a dozen or so private and for hire captains during weekly contacts.
To be sure, the late spring and summer-into-autumn tuna season at the Triple Wrecks will not soon be forgotten. For those who experienced it, either salt crusted veteran or wide-eyed newbie, you were blessed by the Thunnus gods. How this augurs for 2021 is anyone’s guess. After all, the fishing deities, especially those overseeing their offshore subjects, are a capricious lot. Find the Triple Wrecks on your Navionics app at 39° 38.463 / 73° 3.152.