16 Jun Tuna Time – Mitch Buck
Growing up on the Great Lakes I was spoiled with some of the best freshwater fishing around including world class smallmouth bass, walleye, musky and steelhead trout to name a few. However my dreams were filled with tuna and billfish! Things began to move into place when I moved to Cape Cod a couple years ago and then I bought a 20ft center console last fall. I knew I could chase tuna in my boat if I did my homework and pick my days. I spent the winter reading up on bluefin tuna fishing and picking people’s brains here on Cape Cod. Spring brought the bass the blues and the tuna weren’t far behind. As the reports trickled in of tuna I began to prepare. After several busy weekends finally the day came. I assembled a crew including Kevin and Arden, who had the tuna experience I was lacking. We had planned on casting and jigging with heavy spinning gear and couldn’t wait.
We planned to meet 2:30am in Bourne so we could launch for first light down cape. We arrived at the ramp just before 4am. The tide was getting close to slack low and this would prove to be troublesome. I had to back my SUV far into the water just to get it off the trailer. Then I realized that my GPS didn’t have the Harbor bathymetry or channel mapped out. Most of the Harbor is extremely shallow at low tide, 2-3ft or less in many areas, and this made things difficult. The channel was poorly marked and zigzagged throughout the length of the harbor. We took it slow knowing full well we had several miles to go in poor light before reaching the inlet. I followed my GPS towards the inlet trying to stay within the channel. As we came around the bend we looked hard for the inlet, however, we could not see it! We realized the water wasn’t moving here as well. At that point it dawned on us that the inlet could have moved some time ago and my GPS had an old map! After making a phone call confirmed that and found out that we needed to backtrack and follow tight to the markers.
We finally started making headway downstream the current picked up. Then inlet appeared along with the breakers at the mouth of the inlet. This was going to be an interesting. As we headed through the inlet we looked down and noticed the stripers, some pushing 30lbs, stacked up in the skinny water! It was very tempting to stop but today was not about bass. Unfortunately we got caught in the wrong part of the inlet and the current dragged us in the shallows. I tried turning the boat around but the lower unit was stuck in the sand! Breakers started rocking the boat violently and everyone was shouting. I knew I had one chance and put it in full reverse and my new prop tearing through the sand giving us momentum. We pulled back into the channel and regrouped, barely. Just then we noticed a small whaler come flying through from the inlet and crash through the breakers, and we all lowered our heads a little bit. We decided we had to do the same thing and once a set of waves to passed we charged wide open towards the surf! We pounded through the first wave and rode over the second wave to free us from an hour and a half of misery.
We headed over some gorgeous water as the wind was SW at 5-10knots. We soon began seeing signs of life as the birds and whales showed themselves. Then we saw the scattered splashes of tuna! Initially the fish were scattered and were not staying on top long enough to get a cast out. Finally, we got on a group of fish that were raging on the surface. I had never seen tuna crashing the surface and it is a sight to behold. The fish were immense, anywhere from 4-6ft long and over 200 lbs, and many were porpoising completely out of the water. I felt like I was at Sea World! Almost right way Arden’s popper gets nailed in the middle of melee and the drag starts screaming. He goes to work on this fish without a harness and fishing 20lbs of drag on his van staal. His rod was doubled over but he worked the fish to the boat in about 7 minutes or so.
We thought the fish was small because Arden had tamed the fish so quickly, but it turned out that it was tail wrapped! I leadered the fish and tried to bring it boatside but we missed the gaff shot. Just then the fish became untangled and takes off. Angler #2, Kevin, takes over and the fish gets a second wind after being freed from entanglement.
Eventually Kevin started gaining line on the fish slowly as it began the infamous death circles. We brought the fish boat side and secured him about 20 minutes after missing the first time. It was a large fish and reminded more of a dolphin or marine mammal than a fish. The tape read 69″ and unfortunately NOAA NMFS had changed the regulations earlier in the week so that fish from 59-72″ were off limits. Sadly, we had to revive the fish boatside and released it. The regulations had gone into effect on Saturday, and if we had gone out on Friday we would have had fresh sashimi! The popper that Arden had used, which was in the package that morning, was devastated after that on fish! A large section of wood splintered off and the hooks were bent. The day was ours though as we had accomplished what we had set out to do and I was still in disbelief… still in disbelief that we had made it out of the inlet alive!
We continued to run n gun for the surface feeding tuna and the sings of life were all over in the form of birds and whales, and tuna on their heels. After seeing several fish break in the area, we cut the motors and staked the area out. Shortly thereafter another pod of fish began to feed close by and we rushed over to meet them. We tossed our poppers into the mayhem and on my second cast a tuna exploded on my popper coming halfway out of the water! The rod loaded under weight of the fish and I set the hook only too feel the rod go limp. The fish was off. Oh well, so she goes.
We searched around a bit more and found another pod, but the fish were becoming increasingly finicky. Arden had a boil behind his popper and I had a massive boil about 20ft from the boat on my plug but I never saw the fish, just a huge hole in the water. We chased tuna the rest of the day but the tuna became more evasive and finicky due to the high sun, calm conditions, and pressure from boats. And there were tons of bass feeding on the surface closer to shore all day but we ignored them to chase tuna! I had never left breaking bass before. On the way in we did stop to take a few bass on topwater, which was an great end to a an epic day!