Bluefin tuna are the biggest, fastest, baddest fish you can target in the northeast. What makes them even more sought after is that they don’t feed on the surface very long like other Tuna fisheries. Every feed is unique and special because you may not have another like it. Finding the “right” feed, where they don’t spook from the boat, on the right forage, and stay up long enough to get a fly in there, is something we dream about. This doesn’t happen very often, and it’s because you have to be a little crazy to push off the dock to go miles offshore to cast feathers at 100-plus-pound fish, but that’s the only way to make it happen. This is a fish that deserves 100% commitment and dedication.
The best way I can describe this is that it’s a pipe dream, but one that is attainable. I’ve caught my fair share of fish on a spin rod. It’s absolutely electric. There is only one direction to go after that though, and it’s getting one on fly. All we can think about when we are getting them on spin is strip setting into one of them, clearing the line, and having that surreal moment where you realize that you just fed a bluefin tuna a fly.
We’ve come a long way in understanding every aspect of how to prepare for this. It’s an opportunity that you might not get ever again, so you need to be 100% dialed in for the occasion. We are using 14-17wt rods with 600-800 grain sinking lines. Casting these rods is an art form and workout of its own. You need to be able to make a 60-100ft cast consistently. We are using 80-100lb fluorocarbon leaders. The right backing is essential, 60lb hollow core. We test every knot, create our own line-to-leader connections and try to eliminate any risk of breakage. We’re trying to take every controllable aspect and make them into a constant. There is no tolerance for any gear failure.
With no tolerance for any gear failure, this is my workhorse for chasing these fish from cast to landing. Still with this gear, you still have to win the fight…
The Colton Leviathan 14wt: Plain and simple, this rod casts. It’s a rarity to find a big game rod that can actually load and deliver a fly. This rod is a great balance between castability, fightability.
Redington Grande 14+ reel: This reel has amazed me in every way possible. From what I thought being a budget reel has exceeded my expectations time and time again. We’ve landed multiple pelagic species exceeding 200lbs on this reel. You need maximum reliability in this game.
Cortland C-16 hollow core braid: Backing that is low in diameter allows you to tack on as much as possible. 16 carrier braid is also crucial with chafing, you can lose a few strands from a simple rub on the boat, regular dacron or 8 carrier braid will have a high percentage of strength lost from small altercations.
We’ve fished a lot of different flies for tuna and have had success on various patterns.
The key is to fish a fly that the fish won’t second guess. A fly that can cast, won’t foul, get into the zone, and move immediately. I’ve decided that natural materials like saddle hackles and bucktail with a little flash are a very durable option and simply just works. The hook is extremely important. A heavy wire hook like a Gamakatsu sl12s or AHREX bluewater is going to ensure a solid hold and won’t bend out. We caught this fish on an sl12s and it bent slightly, if i were to do this again, I would have thrown an AHREX bluewater instead.
It’s been a foggy, rainy season. The weather has been extremely unpredictable. Sometimes the fish do the thing at first light; sometimes, you need to grind all day to find one feed. Being dry and comfortable is crucial to concentrate and be on top of your game. Grundens Charter Gore-Tex Bib and Charter Gore-Tex Jacket have kept me dry through ridiculous rain and splash, this day especially.
Finding these fish is a battle of its own. It’s not easy to find a small body of fish in hundreds of miles of open water. Intel from other captains and doing your own scouting gets you away from the crowds. Finding what we call “Happy Tuna” is hard. Trying to find a virgin feed that hasn’t been run over by other boats is going to make the difference. Small feeds are easily approachable with spinning gear because you can run and gun, and have the reach to get to them. It is very difficult to get a fly cast into them while the boat is moving, and reach them. A tuna’s behavior is determined by what they are feeding on. Certain forage can stay up on the surface longer and create those happy feeds. We’re looking for sandeels typically, one better than that is half beaks. We don’t want butterfish feeds that happen in the fall, it’s doable, but the tuna feed on them very sporadically and quickly. We found potentially the best feed we’ve ever witnessed here.
Feeding the fish is one thing, the battle that comes with it will be one of the most enduring, brutal fights of your life. It’s a mental and physical game. The fish is fought by both the angler and captain. You cannot fight these fish up and down like you would with a spinning rod, no matter what the fly rod is, it will never have the same lifting power. Maybe for smaller fish, but at this size class, you will need to wrench on the fish at an angle so you can get it up to the surface. Low rod angles allow you to maximize pressure by using the butt section of the rod. We grab the reel and pull back on the fish using your body weight walking back. This strategy also helps your endurance but your captain needs to be on the same page as you and know when to back the boat or bump it forward. It’s a strategy that needs flawless execution on both ends. Once we got this fish into a pinwheel, it took us 6 attempts at getting this fish to stay up on the surface. Ian’s knowledge of giant fishing was applied here where we use the thrust of the engine to pull the fish up to the surface and then pounce on it for the end game. When we got that fish up long enough on the surface, Ian came in and got a perfect gaff shot to the head. Fish came through the tuna door and we knew that we finally did it, we made the pipe dream a reality. It’s something that we’ve both dreamed about for years, It’s what we view as the pinnacle of our fly fishing careers. It’s hard to describe the feeling after winning that fight, relief, joy, solace. So many things should have gone wrong during it, but it all came together properly, something to be thankful for because you’re at the mercy of pure chance doing this. I didn’t think we would be blessed with a feed like that EVER. It happened and we capitalized on it. I am forever grateful to this fishery for giving us this opportunity and experience. 61”x41” bluefin tuna, 80 minute fight time.
We want to keep doing this so it’s important to know what you’re taking from this fishery. Spin and fly fishing for Bluefin tuna fishing can be lethal because of the length of the fight, and the unhooking process. It made sense for us to harvest this fish, so we did, but it’s important to not over take. It is important to take into account the number of people and size of fish when deciding whether to release or harvest. Even one small 50 inch bluefin will have enough meat for 3+ people to have plenty in the fridge and freezer for many sushi nights to come. Exchanging the gaff for a big game grip or other non lethal landing tools will help insure these incredible pelagics will return season after season for all to enjoy. If you are having many successful offshore trips and continue to chase tuna for recreation, it is your responsibility to prioritize the fish’s health and the overall health of the ecosystem.