Don’t leave the heavy tackle home when chunking for school bluefin
The inspiration for this subject was a newspaper article many years ago about Capt. Dave Bogan’s experience during a late summer trip on his Paramount at the Jersey Shore; what started out as a school bluefin tuna chunking effort would end up producing battles with ever larger tuna, ending with a giant.
Then I realized that I’d had the same experiences over the course of many tuna trips, the first of which while fishing with legendary Jersey Shore giant tuna pro, Capt. Bob Pisano. Pisano was so dedicated to giant tuna fishing that he’d throw rocks at schoolies when they took over his chunking slick. Yet, he had to take school tuna charters to make a living. Among his regulars was the Garcia Corporation where I was employed as director of field testing, and I took every opportunity to fish with him. One day we were hooking school bluefin which seemed to be getting ever larger; before long we had to break off every one in order not to strip the 6/0 reels which were the largest aboard. Of all people, the most famed giant tuna skipper along the coast didn’t have that heavier tackle aboard.
Years later I ran into a similar situation at Montauk on a press event with Lowrance, fishing with Ken Moran of the NY Post and Nick Karis from Newsday aboard Capt. Bob Rocchetta’s Rainbow Charters. The giant season was closed at that time, but we were able to fish for schoolies, which started well until the tuna kept getting larger and our Ambassadeur 10000 reels were being stripped. Rocchetta didn’t have heavier tackle aboard, but drove home to the north fork of Long Island that night to bring a couple of 80-pound rigs that we used in the same area the next day for catch and release giants.
It didn’t seem to make any difference what size baits were used; those giants, which were normally very fussy about baits and presentation, hit whatever was sent to them as they were in competition with faster schoolies. It was a perfect situation, and there was no telling how many giant bluefin we could have caught with the normal 130-pound gear.
Since then, the availability of thin braided lines has made it possible to use much lighter tackle as the spare heavier gear. A 50W rig commonly used in sharking or canyon trolling can serve that purpose when filled with 80-pound or heavier braid. Capacity isn’t a consideration after the first run as the skipper can stay on top of a giant should there be another serious run. With the angler in the bow and heavy drag applied, that shouldn’t be a problem as the giant wears itself out by towing the boat. While line capacity shouldn’t be a problem on the drift, you’ll have to be well-organized when chunking at anchor and ready to get underway when a bite occurs.
There seems to be no question about the possibility of having big bluefin moving into school bluefin chum lines, but I haven’t noticed that interaction while catching yellowfin. Whether there is some distinction between tuna species in that regard or just a matter of circumstances is a matter of conjecture. Those two species tend to feed with their own most of the time, but there was a late summer 1985 run in Butterfish Hole off Montauk when together with my nephews, Bob and Todd Correll, we chunked a mixture of bluefin, yellowfin and big albacore (which rarely are caught so close to shore) in the chum line from my Sheri Berri.
Large bluefin can be very fussy if competition with smaller tuna doesn’t cause them to be less cautious. I’ve had the good fortune to observe giants feeding in the slick several times, and was always amazed at how they can suck in every morsel at high speed — except for the one with a hook in it! In order to fool those giants it was necessary to time the sink rate of both the chunks and the bait plus leadered hook so everything would come together at the moment the giant made its next pass. That’s easier said than done; Eddie Murray once was able to make the connection with the use of bamboo fishing poles intended for snapper bluefish.
The unusual abundance of large medium and giant bluefin nearshore last year took the emphasis off chunking as those tuna were attracted to live bunker and small bluefish. Their availability in relatively shallow NY Bight waters made them ideal targets for anglers seeking IGFA legal giants.
Having a heavier rod aboard doesn’t take up that much space, but it may result in a memorable catch when conditions are right.