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Bluefin right on cue

3/30/2010

Explosive!

That's how to describe tuna fishing in North Carolina right now. Big bluefin, with plenty of yellowfin and other pelagic, are hitting the decks daily.

Anglers across the country are descending upon Hatteras Village in North Carolina as tuna up to 400 pounds are foraging on schools of menhaden and bluefish.

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Captains are reporting numbers of 100- to 200-pound bluefin with some nice sized Yellowfin and a couple wahoo mixed in for good measure.

"You can troll them, jig them or live bait them," said Capt. Darrin Callahan of Over Under Charters, an east coast fishing operation with several offshore boats. "That's what makes it so exciting.

"I can't get the fourth rod out, fishing has been that good. It gets complicated when we have all the rods locked up tight with potential giant tuna. Things get broken and well, chaos erupts."

North Carolina, more specifically Hatteras, has long been known for its exceptional winter fishery of bluefin tuna. It is arguably the Giant Bluefin Capital of the World.

In recent years, however, the winter fishing has been tough on the charter business due to lack of consistent tuna fishing. The recent spring fishery however has rebounded with four consecutive years of strong fishing.

Callahan said he has found major success in trolling a Sea Witch skirt in front of ballyhoo. This is a deadly combination when flat-line trolled behind the boat.

Depending upon the captain, this rig is strategically placed 100 to 200 feet or more behind the transom. It's a highly effective tactic for all pelagic species roaming the area.

Adam LaRosa, owner of Canyon Runner Sportfishing based in New Jersey, said on board this charter were six experienced jig fishermen who came to town just for this bite. His gang was tight with their 30th tuna of the day when I spoke with him.

Using Japanese style jigging techniques and topwater lures, their fares fished the entire water column in an efficient manner while watching 200-pound tuna forage on schools of 10-pound bluefish. Poppers and shallow diving lures have been working wonders on tuna along the coast, but some operations find equal success in trolling slow such as Callahan.

Most captains would agree that the bluefin migration typically occurs along the 20- and 30-fathom lines. But these fish are holding on temperature breaks more than contour lines right now.

"This North Carolina spring time class of fish seems to be the same body holding off the Cape May and Maryland lumps last July. The size is right," Callahan said. "If these in fact are the Cape May and Maryland class of fish, we should be in for some exciting fishing this summer."

The class of fish experienced in North Jersey and south of Montauk last summer do not appear to be the same fish here in North Carolina. Even the Cape Cod body appears to be a different group of bluefin. There appears to be several good bodies of bluefin along the east coast right now.

Anglers should expect a good season; it's already shaping up that way

Editor's note: Capt. Chris Gatley can be found with his fishing clients chasing striped bass in front of the Statue of Liberty, or heading offshore to the Atlantic Ocean canyons off the NJ/NY coast for tuna. His articles on cutting-edge fishing techniques can be found in The Fisherman Magazine, and he's a regular presenter at key sports shows during the winter months (when he's not pursuing whatever he can find in East Coast rivers).