Offshore: Coldwater Bluefin - The Fisherman

Offshore: Coldwater Bluefin

Molly Christensen cools off with her catch after battling this 626-pounder from the chilly waters of the Gulf of Maine.

When the weather gets cold, it’s best to make doubly sure that you’re ready for that big bite.

Like many Northeast saltwater species, the giant bluefin fishery has changed dramatically over the last 25 years. There is now much more interest in these behemoth speedsters for many reasons. As a result, more and more anglers are outfitting their boats, purchasing tackle, safety gear, and fishing later and later into the season.  As the October winds blow, the water cools off, and sea conditions become increasingly challenging. Tackling a giant bluefin tuna is not only thrilling but can be extremely dangerous under the best of conditions. There are a few items that are necessary before you venture offshore.

Giant bluefin tuna are considered a highly migratory species by the National Marine Fisheries Service and are federally regulated.  Make sure you have applied for and possess the correct federal permit before you leave the dock.  Three possible permits apply to most vessels participating in this fishery; Angling Category, Head boat/Charter boat Category, or General Category.  Visit to research and obtain the correct permit for your vessel.  You must have all of your paperwork onboard and available for inspection by federal or local authorities when actively fishing. If you plan to sell your catch, your boat is also required to be inspected by the Coast Guard to ensure you comply with all the federal commercial fishing regulations. There are different safety gear requirements depending on how far offshore you plan to fish.  Safety gear is essential, especially when fishing during the cold-water months. Check and then recheck every life-saving appliance on your boat.  It might just save your life.

Once you have all your paperwork and safety gear in order, ensure all your fishing equipment is serviced correctly, tuned up, and ready to go.  Whenever you battle with a gamefish, you always want to have all the odds in your favor. Make sure you have fresh line on your reels and that your drags are set to the desired poundage. If you are fishing for giants out of the rod holder or fighting chair, a minimum of 80-pound tackle is required, preferably 130-pound tackle. You will need a good supply of clean, stretched fluorocarbon leaders that are secured to the swivel and circle hook with the correct size crimps. It is not uncommon to be harassed by sharks that love to get you all excited when they strike, then break your heart by stealing your precious live bait and destroying your terminal gear, so be prepared.

Most fall fishing is done from an anchored boat, so you must have an adequate or preferably more than adequate-sized anchor, with plenty of chain and rope. Once your anchor is down, make sure it is holding. Extra chain will help hold the bottom. You generally want to anchor up over or right on the edge of structure.  Anywhere there is a peak, a ledge, or a hump will tend to hold bait. If a spot holds bait, the tuna will find it. Many of the premiere tuna fishing spots have names like Jeffrey’s Ledge, Stellwagen Bank, The Mud Hole, Butterfish Hole, Cape Porpoise Peaks, Tuna Ridge, The Triple Wrecks, and the wreck of the Atlantic Princess. Notice the names of all those places refer to the presence of structure. Study your chart and find your own hotspot.  You don’t have to be in a large fleet of boats to catch a tuna.

When you go fishing, your time on the water should be optimized by doing just that, fishing—not setting your drags, or spooling line on your reel, or anything that is nonproductive to the task at hand.  Check all your gear before leaving the dock. If you don’t have the time have a member of your crew do it the day before.  Make a checklist of all the necessary things that need to be tended to and have it taken care of so you can enjoy your day of fishing.

When you decide to spend the day on the tuna grounds, you are committing to anchor on a spot that you are relatively sure a tuna will swim by during the course of the day.  Have a plan for where you want to anchor and then execute your plan. Sometimes the just a few hundred feet will mean the difference between getting a bite or not.  Study your chart, keep an eye on your sounding machine, pay attention to what’s going on around you and under you.

Every item in the cockpit should be laid out, cleated off, and ready to use. You don’t want to be rigging up harpoons, gaffs, or adjusting the fighting chair after you’re hooked up.  Everyone should know their job and stay calm.  The last thing you want is to have everyone running around the cockpit screaming at each other.  What happens in those first critical moments after hook up and the way the crew responds sets the tone for the entire battle. Many fish have been lost after being harpooned or gaffed.  The battle isn’t over until he is tail roped and cleated off.  A tail rope can be as important a piece of equipment in the final stages as a harpoon or gaff.  Give one person in the crew the responsibility of getting a tail rope on the fish immediately after gaffing.

Things can happen quickly fishing for these giant fish.  Don’t be caught off guard; preparation leads to positive results. Cover all the bases before you leave the dock. Tuna fishing is serious business, but the rewards can be great, and the memories will last a lifetime.



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