OFFSHORE FISHING- Gulf Stream Trolling and such....

At the Ocean Isle Fishing Center it is our goal to help you catch more fish.  We pride ourselves on working with the area's best captains and having the most knowledgeable staff.  However, it is one thing to know, it is another thing to tell, and that is where the OIFC comes in.  See the below articles, videos and links that will hopefully help you have more success fishing the offshore waters.

 
Videos:
 
 
Links:
 
 
Articles On This Page:
 
Carolina Off-Season Wahoo- originally printed 2006

Carolinas? Spring Yellowfin Fever: Top Skippers Trade Tips to Take Tuna- originally printed 2003

Gulf Stream How-To- originally printed 1997

Mahi to Marlin- originally printed 2004

Rough Weather Gulf Stream Tactics- originally printed 2004

Scoring a Carolina Slam- originally printed 1999

Tips & Techniques- Albright wire to mono for more bites

Trolling for Yellowfin Tuna- originally printed 1998

 

Carolina Off-Season Wahoo- originally printed 2006


Carolina “Off-Season” Wahoo

by Capt. Brant McMullan

It was a fateful January fishing trip some three years back that opened my eyes to the viability of the Carolina’s wahoo fishing.  I had received a ROFFS sea surface analysis, which showed a huge warm water eddy pushing inshore across a well-known area of bottom structure in 30 fathoms of water called the Steeples.  I knew this was a fairly rare occurrence for mid-Winter, and given the equally as rare good weather forecast, I decided it was worth exploring.  Departing from my homeport of Ocean Isle Beach, NC and accompanied by my wife, brother and father, I set off for the bluewater to see just what happens offshore on the edge of the Gulf Stream during the “off-season”.  Upon arrival at the Steeples we found water temperatures in the 72-74 degree range with lots of rip activity as the Gulf Stream eddy pushed across the 30-50 foot tall “steeples” on the bottom.  We were thinking yellowfin tuna and thus deployed a spread of ballyhoo, which were rigged with fluorocarbon leaders.  It didn’t take but just a few minutes before we had lost several hundred dollars worth of tackle and figured out tuna would not be on the menu for the day.  Instead it was an all out wahoo blitz.  The wahoo had piled up over top of the steeples and were feeding on squid and small tunas.  We rerigged with wire and put out a couple of swimming plugs, and the day’s action was nonstop.  The wahoo were so thick that while angling a fish at idle, it was frequent to hook additional wahoo on the remaining baits still left out.  By noon we had boated eight wahoo with the smallest at 35 pounds and the largest at a very respectable 68 pounds.  We had discovered a virtually unknown wahoo fishery, and opened the door for future exploration of Carolina’s “off-season” wahoo.

 

Wahoo frequent the entire Carolina coast with equal concentration.  Their preferred water temperature range seems to be in the 72-80 degree range, and although they are a Gulf Stream pelagic, they differ in their habits from their counterparts Yellowfin Tuna and Dolphin in that they are a much more residential and structure oriented fish.  So long as the water quality conditions are acceptable, wahoo are happy to set up camp over structure as they feed on a variety of local fish including snappers, small tunas and flying fish.  Capt. John Jenkins is a well known charter captain who fishes the northern Carolina coast out of Morhead City, NC where he frequently runs his charter boat Calucutta for Wahoo.  Capt. Jenkins prefers to fish blended blue/green water in the 72-76 degree temperature range.  He notes that the most important factor he has found in finding wahoo is the presence of bait and in particular, looks for schools of small tunas as a tell tale.  Most times Capt. Jenkins will focus on fishing the edge of the break from 30-60 fathoms, but he says that if the action is not happening in this range, he has often found the wahoo holding in depths over 65 fathoms along rips, temperature edges or around floating debris.  Particular wahoo hotspots where the Calcutta typically heads include the 40 year rock, Big Rock and Swansboro Hole. 

Capt. Jay Weaver fishes his charter boat Ali L out of Charleston, SC where he covers the wahoo fishing grounds off the southern Carolina coast.  Much like Capt. Jenkins, Capt. Weaver prefers water temperatures in the low to mid 70’s and notes that crystal clear, blue water is not a requirement when looking for wahoo.  Capt. Weaver typically narrows his search for wahoo to the 30-50 fathom depth range where the edge of the continental shelf drops abruptly and forms ledges and rock formations.  Above all else, Capt. Weaver believes that the presence of baitfish, in particular small tunas, is the key to finding good wahoo action.  When heading out of Charleston, SC for a day of wahoo fishing, the Ali L will likely fish the Southwest Banks or the Edisto Banks.

I run the charter boat ShowTime out of the Ocean Isle Fishing Center at Ocean Isle Beach, NC, which is situated in the central Carolinas.  Similar to Capt. Jenkin’s and Capt. Weaver’s approach, I concentrate my efforts along the 30 fathom curve, preferably where water temperatures are in the 72-76 degree range.  However, if bait is present, in particular small tunas such as false albacore or bonito, I have caught good numbers of Wahoo in water as cool as 69 degrees.  My favorite fishing holes are all located along the edge of the continental shelf in 25-40 fathoms of water where the shelf has particularly high relief in the form of ledges, rocks or live bottom.  Local wahoo hotspots where you are likely to encounter the ShowTime fishing for wahoo include the Steeples, BlackJack hole, MacMarle’n hole and Winyah Scarp.

      

In recent years, wahoo fishing off the Carolinas has become a regular seasonal fishery.  September through April is when wahoo are in greatest abundance, which is a direct result of the schools of small tunas that migrate to and winter off the Carolina coast during this time.  Given the right conditions, the wahoo fishing is absolutely phenomenal with double digit catches of wahoo frequent, many topping the 60 pound mark.  Within this wahoo fishing season, there seems to two distinct patterns.  September through November the Gulf Stream is typically still in its “Summertime” flow as it pushes over the 30 fathom edge.  As this warm, clean water covers the 30 fathom edge and all it’s associated structure, the wahoo move in to feed on the abundance of baitfish. Once Winter officially kicks in and the strong west winds become frequent, the Gulf Stream shifts to a “Wintertime” flow that pushes it’s edge offshore of the 100 fathom curve.  However, warm water eddys frequently spin off of the Stream and push back inshore against the cooler water and over the 30 fathom edge.  These eddys usually only cover a small section of the 30 fathom edge, thus creating a concentrated area of wahoo feeding activity.  Though this occurrence is rare, it is the time when fishermen will encounter the most numbers and largest average size of wahoo. 

 

There are two themes that seem to be consistent no matter where you’re fishing for wahoo.  The first is to fish you baits at depth.  Wahoo prefer baits fished below the water’s surface, and in many cases, the deeper you can get a bait will be the more effective it is.  The other theme is speed; and wahoo are not afraid of it.  In the Bahamas, the most popular fishing technique has boats pulling artificials at up to 20 knots in an effort to cover ground and stay away from the Barracuda.  In the Carolinas the Barracuda are not typically a problem, but covering ground to find fish is certainly effective.  Under this “search” scenario, pulling artificial swimming plugs and lures at speeds between 7 and 12 knots has proven very effective for not only finding packs of wahoo but also catching them.  This technique of fast trolling artificials is my particular favorite when targeting wahoo.  Typically I put lines in the water when I reach 25 fathoms and troll at 8 knots while working across the continental shelf break between 25 and 35 fathoms.  A typical spread consists of 8 lines with 3 swimming plugs such as the Yozuri Bonito or Braid Marauder run from the back of the boat on flat lines, all rigged with #10 wire leaders.  Always on my flat lines and some times on my rigger baits, I will run a custom designed trolling sinker that I created called a “wahoo bomb”.  A wahoo bomb is a cigar shaped trolling lead that has a hole through the center, like an egg sinker, instead of the traditional swivels on each end.  I slide the wahoo bomb onto the line before tieing the #10 wire leader with rig to the line.  I then hold the wahoo bomb between my fingers, keeping it at the boat while free spooling line through the wahoo bomb, thus pushing the lure or rigged bait some 50 to 75 feet behind the wahoo bomb, which I feel helps the bait draw more strikes.  I then simply take a small #8 “dental style” rubber band and half hitch it behind the wahoo bomb and then take the loop and run it over the head of the wahoo bomb where a groove in the head of the weight catches the rubber band and thus locks in place.  It may sound complicated, but its incredible simply and amazingly effective.  What I am achieving is getting my bait at more depth while also not adding a stand alone leader which will force me to have to wire a fish from a long distance.  Once the wahoo bomb surfaces, the mate need only pop the rubber band loop off the head of the wahoo bomb and it will slide down to the wire leader, only feet from the wahoo. The wahoo bomb takes the bait down another 10-15 feet below the water’s surface and the weighted flatline positions are by far the most productive in drawing wahoo strikes.  From the two inside rigger positions I will fish a C&H Wahoo Wacker or similar cone weighted head lure, either with or without the wahoo bomb, and then from the outside riggers I’ll typically fish cedar plugs which serve a dual purpose in that wahoo and tuna love them equally as well.  Down the center of the spread and furthest back, I will run a blue/plumb Ilander rigged with a large ballyhoo. 

Wahoo fishing aboard the Calcutta, Capt. Jenkins prefers to go with an all-natural spread.  He trolls medium to large rigged ballyhoo behind Carolina Gentleman skirts on #10 wire leaders and prefers to use red/black and blue/white color combinations as he trolls at speeds of 7-8 knots.  Capt. Jenkins notes that part of the fun in wahoo fishing is the incredible aerial strikes that he often encounters.  If the fishing is particularly good, and he wants to spice up the trip, Capt. Jenkins will often deploy a 9” purple/black Moldcraft Super Chugger and fish it from the flatline closest to the boat.  According to Capt. Jenkins, the wahoo go crazy over the “Bonito-like” lure and crash it with added intensity right behind the boat.  Conversely, if the wahoo fishing is slow, Capt. Jenkins will deploy a #32 planer from an 80 pound rod/reel outfit with a 20 foot, 200 pound mono “spacer” behind the planer and then use either a Drone Spoon or rigged ballyhoo as bait.  He notes that the depth of the planer is determined by how far behind the boat it is set and that you should experiment to find a particular depth that may work better than another.

       Capt. Jay Weaver of Charleston takes a completely different approach to his wahoo fishing aboard his Ali L.  Capt. Weaver uses 130# fluorocarbon leaders on all his baits and no wire at all.  He feels like the fluorocarbon generates more strikes from leader shy wahoo and notes that he rarely loses wahoo due to a cutoff.  In fact, in the past two years Capt. Weaver has boated wahoo over 90 pounds, both caught on 130# fluorocarbon leaders.  Capt. Weaver says that hands down his favorite and most productive setup for wahoo is his wire line.  Capt. Weaver uses a #6 planer run from wire line and heavy, bent butt rod.  Behind the planer, he uses a 60 foot “spacer” of 250# monofilament which then connects to his fluorocarbon leader via a 200# SPRO swivel.  He does make one slight change with his leader on this outfit in that instead of using his typical 130# fluorocarbon, Capt. Weaver will use 200# flurocarbon leader as the drag must be set very tight on the wire line rod in order to keep the planer set in position.  He also notes that in adjusting the distance of the planer from the boat, there will typically be a “sweet spot” which presents the bait at the desired depth for the wahoo, so it is important to regularly adjust the wire line to find the perfect depth. The remainder of Capt. Weaver’s spread consists of an assortment of ½ - 1 ounce Sea Witches rigged ahead of medium ballyhoo with standard trolling speed at a relatively slow 6 knots.  Capt. Weaver’s typical spread includes a blue/black Sea Witch on the shotgun at 300 yards, plumb/black or pink/white Sea Witch on the long riggers at 250 yards, crystal Sea Witches on the inside riggers at 150 yards, a green/black Sea Witch on the inside shotgun at 125 yards, the wire line run as a flat line at 50-70 yards back and a naked, split billed ballyhoo on the other flat line at 40-50 yards .

Wahoo are known for their spectacular strikes and line sizzling runs.  They are one of the fastest fish in the ocean, and when 50+ pounds of wahoo hits your bait doing 50+ miles per hour, it is certain to deliver a strong dose of fisherman’s adrenaline.  However, just because you’ve gotten as far as the strike does not mean the catch is a guarantee.  In fact, in my experiences, wahoo have the lowest catch to hookup ratio of any fish I encounter when trolling.  Once a wahoo strikes, it will typically peel off line for a few seconds then do a 180 and head back at the boat.  This is when the majority of wahoo are lost.  It will likely repeat the procedure several times as it lunges away from and then back toward the boat.  During this time it is up to the angler and the boat driver to work together to keep the line tight.  The angler must be prepared to wind like mad the second the wahoo turns to the boat while the boat driver must also be prepared to move the boat ahead to help the angler keep the line tight.  Assuming you’ve made it out of this first stage, the wahoo will begin its second highly effective means to escape, head shaking.  As the angler, you will almost certainly be able to feel the wahoo slashing its head back and forth as it attempts to throw the hook.  If the line is not kept absolutely tight, the hooks will drop.  The boat driver can assist at this time as well by moving the boat ahead, again to help the angler keep the line tight.  And finally, once you’ve gotten the wahoo almost within gaffing range, it will attempt its last Houdini maneuver.  Just as the wahoo is being brought to leader it will throw a double whammy on you by combining both lunging and head shaking at the same time.  The angler must be extra weary at this time to keep the line tight, and the boat driver should keep the boat in slow ahead while turning the boat toward the fish.  This turn is what is referred to as “getting the fish inside your circle” and is a big help in keeping fish out from the under boat.  Then finally, once it’s all gone as planned and the gaff shot is delivered, beware of the razor sharp teeth that are coming over the side.  I can attest to this danger from personal experience as the first wahoo I ever boated gave me a big thrill and 25 stitches across my ankle.  A smart way to handle wahoo on the gaff is to have the fishbox open when the fish comes over the side.  The gaff man and the angler should be the only ones in the cockpit and the gaff man should swing the wahoo aboard on the side opposite of the angler.  Throw the wahoo in the box, have a seat on the lid and congratulate your fishing buddies on a job well done.

 

Until recent years, Carolina fishermen looking for dolphin and tuna considered wahoo a coincidental catch.  Spring was thought to be the only “peak” bluewater season, and by Fall, the bluewater rods should be turned in for King Mackerel outfits.  But who wants to catch a 30 pound silver bullet when you can catch a 50 pound crews missile?  The wahoo fishing off the Carolinas is world-class during the Fall and Winter months, and given the right techniques and location, fisherman can experience a thrill from the first sizzling wahoo run to the last sizzle as the wahoo steaks come off the grill

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Carolinas? Spring Yellowfin Fever: Top Skippers Trade Tips to Take Tuna- originally printed 2003


Carolinas’ Spring Yellowfin Fever:  Top Skippers Trade Tips to Take Tuna

 

By Capt. Brant McMullan

 

 

 

If you’ve never been there, you ought to try it. If you have been there, you know the oh-so-sweet sound of “snap, snap, snap” followed by the captain’s cry, “Flat line, insider rigger, long rigger -- got ’em on!” 

No fooling. That kind of sweet confusion gripped a charter I had out of Charlotte, North Carolina, last April 1 on the MacMarle’n. My clients – a father and two sons -- had done some inshore fishing, but had only heard tales of the great yellowfin tuna fishing just a few hours away from home. As we plowed the 30-fathom curve some 55 miles offshore, I spotted three petrels hovering low over a slick. I spun the MacMarle’n toward the action and anxiously awaited the action to come. Almost as if scripted, the left flat popped from the gunwale clip, then the right flat, then the inside right and the long, until all seven rods doubled over as line poured off the reels. Under this full-scale attack, the family froze, not knowing which way to go. It’s the type of cockpit chaos I can never get enough of. Fortunately, it comes frequently. It’s classic early-spring yellowfin tuna fishing off the Carolina coast. 

Yellowfin tuna range up the East Coast from south Florida to New York, but the Carolinas enjoy some great fishing. North Carolina and South Carolina’s thriving sport-fishing industry owes a good part of its success to yellowfin. Top charter captains use a lot of the same tactics to cash in on this annual rite of spring. Studying what they do can improve your tuna tactics from good to outstanding.

 

WHEN

Yellowfin tuna action throughout the Carolinas consistently peaks in mid-April. Typically, captains begin catching good numbers of pup yellowfin of 15 to 25 pounds in March. By the middle of April, the fish become plentiful and average 30 to 40 pounds. In May and June, when the water begins to warm into the mid- and upper-70s, average size reaches 35 to 55 pounds, but the number of fish begins to decrease until the spring run ends in mid-June.

Capt. Pete Manuel of Beaufort and I usually get to enjoy excellent yellowfin action a bit earlier, during mid-February, while Capt. Robby Garmony of Charleston, South Carolina (about 130 miles south of Ocean Isle, where I live), prefers to wait until after Easter before he looks for yellowfin. Capt. Rom Whitaker of Hatteras notes that his area gets a good fall run of yellowfin, lasting from late October through December. Although yellowfin are not quite as plentiful then as during the spring, the fish tend to run a bit bigger, around 50 to 60 pounds.

The Gulf Stream and its warm-water spin-offs, called eddies, profoundly influence the movement of yellowfin. The Gulf Stream tends to kick off eddies in the central Carolinas between Morehead City and Myrtle Beach earlier in the season than it does to the north or south. The Big Rock, 38 miles southeast of Morehead City, and the Steeples, 60 miles southeast of Ocean Isle, are not only great fishing spots. They act as huge roadblocks that interrupt the flow of warm Gulf Stream waters and spin off southward-flowing, fish-producing eddies.

 

WHERE

Many captains fish in about 50 fathoms or more of water. They typically focus their initial effort on areas with good bottom structure, then begin to look for visible signs of life like temperature breaks, weed lines or schools of baitfish. Charleston’s Garmony tends to fish a bit deeper, working structure in 75 to 100 fathoms. He also prefers to fish blue water from 72 to 74 degrees. Manuel and Whitaker prefer to fish blended, blue-green water from 69 to 75 degrees. And they both fish deeper -- in 100 fathoms or more -- to find bigger yellowfin. I like to troll in blended water from 69 to 73 degrees in the early season and blue water later in May and June. I tend to fish a bit shallower than many captains, focusing on 25 to 40 fathoms, where I find the most bottom structure and yellowfin.

Although targeting depths between 25 and 100 fathoms or more can cut down the immensity of the ocean, there’s still a lot of water left to fish. Whether it’s blended or blue, you still have to know what to look for. Most captains agree that the presence of baitfish like squid, mackerel and flying fish is the most important indicator of yellowfin. Manuel really tunes into his fish finder to look for clouds of suspended bait with the telltale red dots that signify yellowfin below. I like to fish around scattered grass, where I often encounter yellowfin gulping weed clumps to filter out the sea life. I also always look for standard signs like birds, current rips and color changes when hunting yellowfin.

 

HOW

Discovering how to catch yellowfin tuna in the spring can prove to be the most interesting part of the puzzle. Nearly all captains use the standard technique of trolling small, 8-inch ballyhoo rigged naked or behind Sea Witches. I like to add a couple of baits with C&H Alien heads. Garmony adds an Ilander Saillure to his spread. Trolling speed ranges from as slow as Garmony’s 5.7 knots to as fast as Whitaker’s 7. Most captains use wind-on leaders to help entice wary fish. Besides making tuna easier to handle at boat-side (because there’s no need to wire the fish to gaff), 30 to 60 feet of wind-on leader keeps the swivel well away from the bait, prevents it from interfering with the bubble trail and allows a more natural presentation to wary yellowfin.

Long used in California for tuna fishing, wind-on leaders have become very popular in yellowfin fishing in the Carolinas during the past couple of years. They keep the swivel away from the bait -- eliminating the possibility of a swivel leaving a bubble trail -- and save crew the tedious task of wiring yellowfin to the boat. Our Carolina captains all use 40- to 50-foot leaders attached to their main lines with SPRO Power or Heavy swivels. SPRO swivels are very small relative to their strength and can easily run through standard roller guides. (For more information, contact SPRO, 3900 Kennesaw 75 Parkway, Suite 140, Kennesaw, GA  30144; www.spro.com; 770-919-1722.)

(Q1. TYPICALLY WIND-ONS BRING THE SWIVEL CLOSER TO THE BAIT THAN WITH THE TRADITIONAL IGFA-ALLOWED LEADER SET-UP. WHY DO THESE PUT FARTHER AWAY? AND WHY USE SWIVELS INSTEAD OF TYING MAIN LINE DIRECTLY TO WIND-ON LEADER)- maybe our definitions of wind-ons are differrent- In the correct sense, I think a wind on is where you splice leader to main line then have snap swivel on leader then snap in short leader with rig attached- however, what I’m referring to as a wind is I guess maybe a hybrid version- Rather than go the trouble of splicing the main line and leader, we attach main line to leader with a wind-on swivel (ie. One that runs easily through guides), but instead of having snap swivel at end of that, the actually hook is attached- therefore no swivel anywhere close to bait- actual wind on swivel may be 30-40 feet from hook- get it?

Standard tackle usually means 50- to 80-pound Penn Internationals or Shimano TLDs or Tiagras. Leaders range from 80 to 130 pounds, depending on the size of the yellowfin. Each captain seems to have his own opinion about the best type of leader material to use -- fluorocarbon or standard monofilament are most  popular. Garmany and I like to use 100- to 130-pound Sufix Invisiline fluorocarbon leaders on all of our baits, while Manuel prefers 80- to 130-pound Momoi Diamond line because of its small diameter and high strength. Some captains, like Whitaker, say that they get no more hookups with fluorocarbon than with wire. Whitaker prefers to use wire leaders in many instances, particularly when it’s rough, because the wire leader helps him troll his baits deeper.

Garmany and Whitaker often pull at least one spreader bar as they troll, using 10- to 12-inch artificial squids. As for skirting ballyhoo, blue-and-white seems to be the all-around staple color, although most captains like to throw in one or two different ones, including a darker skirt, usually blue and black, and one skirt with pink. For teasers, the artificial squid daisy chain, followed by the standard Ilander rigged hookless with a horse ballyhoo, produces great action. I like to throw in a twist, exchanging the squids on my daisy chain for 8-inch Yo-Zuri Flying Fish. The Yo-Zuri flyers swim deep and are particularly effective on rough days.

 

SPECIAL SITUATIONS

When Manuel spots the thumbnail-sized red marks on his fish finder indicating yellowfin, but they won’t come up to feed, he deep-drops diamond jigs for them. He throws the boat into neutral while the mate drops an 8-ounce, silver diamond jig to where the fish were marked. The mate works the jig once it reaches the desired depth. If no bite comes within 30 seconds, the mate winds the jig up fast, drops it down again and repeats the procedure up to a half-dozen times. If a fish is hooked, Manuel immediately brings the boat back up to trolling speed. The school almost always will follow the hooked fish and attack the bait spread. [Q2. WHAT HAPPENS IF NO FISH HOOKED WITH DIAMOND JIG? MOVE TO ANOTHER SPOT? AND WHY DON’T ANGLERS JIG TOO?]- IF no fish is hooked, then pick up and keep trolling- that’s just a fun and different way to produce strikes- Anglers can jig too, whatever- its more like, see the mark, have a rod rigged, Capt. yells to mate and mate drops down- most charters don’t function quickly enough- not to say some don’t

Garmony likes to throw a little excitement into his yellowfin fishing with a kite. He waits for wind speeds of at least 12 to 15 knots and then deploys a spread of three naked rigged ballyhoo on 60-pound fluorocarbon leaders attached to the kite. Garmony trolls his kite baits at 4 knots. He prefers that the baits spend 50 percent of the time in the water. This technique can produce incredible strikes, and is particularly effective when yellowfin are busting the surface but won’t take standard trolled baits.

I’ve found a couple of other tricks handy for catching yellowfin. I use a lot of high-speed trolling lures like Cedar Plugs, Green Machines and Zukers to locate the schools. Unlike tuna fishing off Hatteras, Beaufort and Charleston, where it’s not uncommon for charter captains to have to run from hordes of boats chasing yellowfin, Ocean Isle is unique in that there’s little competition for tuna. Most anglers where I live don’t have the big boats commonly used to go 50 miles offshore.

It’s fun to fish away from the crowd, of course, but when it comes to hunting down a school of yellowfin in a large expanse of water, it helps to have other boats covering ground. I often troll artificials like Cedar Plugs and Green Machines at speeds of 8 to10 knots to locate yellowfin. This technique proves particularly effective during the early season, when flying fish typically aren’t present and the tuna often seem to prefer the look of Cedar Plugs. Once I find the yellowfin, I either stay with artificials or switch to naturals, depending on whether the tuna get smart and begin shying away from artificials after seeing them a few times. One of my favorite formulas for success includes the technique described above -- but I slow-troll live menhaden, pinfish or cigar minnows rather than switch to dead ballyhoo. Nothing beats live bait for getting fish to strike, and the thrill of watching a yellowfin crash a panicky baitfish on the surface is awesome.

In fishing, the little things can make average anglers outstanding. Doing their thing for many years has made the captains I’ve cited among the best. Day in and day out, they prowl the deep waters off the Carolina coast in search of the school of yellowfin that will bring down every line and send all aboard into a frenzy.

It can be a demanding and often frustrating chase. But follow these captains’ prescriptions for yellowfin tuna success, and you could find yourself on the outstanding list.

Capt. Brant McMullan runs Capt. Brant’s Fishing Adventures charter service, which includes  a 32-foot Albemarle and a 27-foot Contender, out of the Ocean Isle Fishing Center at Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. McMullan also operates two large Carolina king mackerel tournaments, the Jolly Mon King Classic and the Fall Brawl King Classic. For more information, consult his Web site at www.captbrant.com.

[SIDE BAR #1]

Local Spring Yellowfin Hot Spots

Hatteras area:

·        The Point: 35 31.80N/74.50.25W, 700 fathoms.

·        SE Rocks: 33 05.50N/75 12.50W, 300 fathoms.

·        Rock Pile: 34 51.405N/75 31.344W, 35 fathoms.

Beaufort area:

·        Big Rock: 34 09.94N/76 10.79W, 40 fathoms.

            --Swansboro Hole: 33 51.822 N / 76 25.766W [Q3. DEPTH OF THIS ONE?].- 40 fathoms

 

·        900-Line Bottom: 34 36.29N/75 45.24W, 35 fathoms.

 

Ocean Isle Beach area:

·        Steeples: 33 14.99N/77 16.00W, 40 fathoms.

·        Black Jack Hole: 33 09.964N/77 30.865W, 30 fathoms.

·        100/400: 33 08.317N/77 40.334, 30W, 30 fathoms.

·        Winyah Scarp: 32 50.48N/78 15.51W, 30 fathoms.

·        Capt. Pete’s: 33 46.600N/78 07.200W, 100 fathoms.

Charleston area:

·        SW Banks: 32 29.16N/78 49.31W, 30 fathoms.

·        Georgetown Hole: 32 32.63N/78 34.85W, 80 fathoms.

·        380 Hole: 32 07.61N/78 56.70W, 380 fathoms.

·        Ammo Dump: 32 08.32N/78 58.03W, 220 fathoms.

[SIDE BAR #2]

Wind Up with Wind-Ons

Wind-on leaders have become very popular in yellowfin fishing during the past couple of years. They keep the swivel away from the bait -- eliminating the possibility of a swivel leaving a bubble trail -- and save crew the tedious task of wiring yellowfin to the boat. Our Carolina captains all use 40- to 50-foot leaders attached to their main lines with SPRO Power or Heavy swivels. SPRO swivels are very small relative to their strength and can easily run through standard roller guides. 

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Gulf Stream How-To- originally printed 1997


Off The Deep End:

The furtive waters of the Gulfstream are far offshore, but with the right preparation and precautions, anyone can fish these “untouched” grounds

 

            I believe I was 13 years old the first time I fished in the Gulfstream.  I remember the day very clearly:  the weather was postcard material; flat seas, blue skies, and short sleeves.  Jamie Milliken, my father, my brother, and I were fishing about 30 miles offshore on our ’28 Mako enjoying success with Grouper, Snapper, and Kings.  It was midmorning and we were all ready getting tired when my dad proposed we pull in the lines and ride out to the deep waters of the Gulfstream to see what we could find.  He had been reading the latest issue of Saltwater Sportsman, and according to Mark Sosin, the Gulfstream was home of some of the best sportfishing in the world. 

                We ran the boat for about an hour and pulled the throttles back when we reached our destination, the mysterious “Steeples”.  We had heard of the spot before; tales of mountains rising from the bottom of the sea where giant marlin, tuna, dolphin, and wahoo swam.  As I peered over the side of the boat and took my first glimpse into the cobalt depths, I was instantly transformed.  No longer was I a fisherman, I was the Captain Kirk of the high seas; “going where no man had dare gone before”. 

            I have to chuckle a little at our first ever spread of deep water baits.  I can only assume my dad did not get that far in Mark Sosin’s article.  Anyway, we feebly deployed six baits, and began trolling them around, not knowing where to go or what to do, just that this is where the “big” fish were supposed to live.  One hour had gone by and we had not seen or heard a thing, the ocean was dead, and we began to question Mr. Sosin’s fishing knowledge.  Suddenly it happened, our first “Gulfstream” fish.

            The tiny Shimano TLD 15 let out a scream and the live-bait rod buckled under the pressure.  I grabbed the rod and handed it to my seven year old brother, Barrett.  Our king mackerel tackle was severely outmatched, but Barrett fought hard; battling almost thirty minutes before getting the first glimpse of the fish.  A huge yellow-green forehead broke the surface followed by five feet of pure gold, thrashing and fighting to free itself of the hooks.  Barrett fought another fifteen minutes before finally bringing the big bull dolphin along side the boat.  Jamie gaffed the fish and drug it over the side where it came to rest in the middle of the cockpit floor.  We stared in awe at our triumph, we truly had discovered a new world. 

            Upon return to the dock that evening, we strutted around like we had just brought back the first rock from the moon.  The dolphin was weighed-in at 42 pounds, and earned young Barrett a North Carolina Citation catch award. 

            Today, what was once a trip to the edge of the world is now within arms reach. Many people have since discovered the rewards this offshore playground offers, but still many others question the sanity of traveling 60 miles offshore to catch a fish.  I can only offer this advice when attempting to jump the mental hurdle:  What goes on out there is often beyond words: jumping billfish, skyrocketing tuna, and swarming dolphin to name a few.  Do not let your anxiety stop you from exploring a new world.  Enter slowly and take all necessary safety precautions, it is not necessary to beat yourself up in a six foot sea the first time out.  There will be plenty of postcard days that offer the perfect opportunity to explore the fishing grounds beyond the horizon; and once there, I guarantee you’ll be hooked for life.

 

HOW DO I GET STARTED FISHING THE GULFSTREAM?

First and foremost in your mind should be safety.  You’ve had a bad day when you’re 60 miles offshore with no power, no communication, and nobody looking for you.

            Before leaving the dock be sure you have:

1.      Enough fuel to carry you 200 miles.  This is the average distance travelled on a 14 hour day to the Stream ( 60 miles there and back plus or minus 80 miles trolling).

2.      A good radio, one that has a range of at least 20 miles. 

3.      Several bottles of water, just in case you end up staying longer than planned.

These are the bare bone necessities.

 

It is preferable to also carry:

1.      A cellular phone

2.      EPIRB- Radio Beacon that can be turned on to help Coast Guard in locating you if there is an emergency.

3.      Life Raft

 

Probably one of the most important safety precautions you can take is to be sure someone knows the area where you will be going and what time to be expecting you back.  Better yet, there are lots of fishermen who would love to have another boat to travel with in case of problems.

 

WHAT TYPE OF FISHING GEAR DO I NEED?

 

There are a lot of different routes to take when choosing the right gear to use when attempting to tackle these oversized fish.  Your decision will be strongly influenced by the width of your wallet.  Basically you need a reel that can hold at least 400 yards of 50 pound line and a medium to heavy action rod.  There are of course fish out there that could be caught on less, but I assure you there are also fish out there that floss there teeth with stuff bigger than that.  All and all, you should be able to handle most anything you encounter with this size rod and reel. 

If you have lots of money to spend and want to look particularly shiny, the Penn International reels are probably the right reels for you.  If you have to search under the couch cushions before buying your tackle the old 6/0 Penn Senator will get the job the done.  My favorite setup is a compromise between the two.  I like a Shimano TLD 25 with a Penn Stand-Up Slammer rod.  The price is middle of the road, but I  most like the outfit because the Shimano graphite reel is much lighter than the International or Senator which make it better suited for stand-up fighting.

            Speaking of stand-up fighting, as far as I’m concerned it’s the only way to go.  With the exception of a Bluefin tuna or a giant marlin, you ought to try to catch all your fish standing up.  It will give you a little more respect for the strength of the fish and also keep you from catching more than you need to eat.  With this in mind, I suggest purchasing  two if not three gimbal/harness belts.  The kind that have an insert for the butt of the rod and shoulder straps that attach to the eyelets on the top of the reel.  With this setup, you can strap yourself into the fish and let your whole body do the work, not just your arms and back.  The reason I suggest at least two belts is when you get in a school of tuna and all six rods go down, you want the fight to be man versus fish, not man versus other man for rights over the belt.

            The last piece of equipment you want to have is a gaff.  Not your 3 inch king mackerel gaff; a good strong, reinforced six to eight inch gaff will get the job done best.  I’ve seen it happen many times where a nice fat tuna will get stuck with a whimpy gaff only to have the hook come back looking more like an “L” than an “J”.

 

HOW SHOULD I MAKE MY RIGS  ?

 

            Good question.  The age old dispute of wire versus mono comes into play when making this decision.  Do you risk having an 80 pound wahoo skyrocket on a bait rigged with mono only to have the line cut by the razor sharp teeth or do you risk having the wary tuna see your wire under water and shy away from the bait?  This is a question I have beat myself up over for a long time, but I have to say that as of today ( subject to change tomorrow), I use strictly mono.  My theory is based almost solely on my love for catching billfish.  It is much more effective to freeline a bait rigged with mono to a billfish than one rigged with wire (this technique applies mostly to Sailfish and White marlin, Blue marlin will usually crash a bait regardless).  It is also much easier to wire a billfish, and for that matter any fish, with mono than with wire.   As far as wahoo go, yes I do occasionally lose a rig to a wahoo, but amazingly enough I catch probably 80 percent of the wahoo I hook with mono.  I think the reason is that the wahoo strikes the back of bait and instead of getting the mono in his mouth just gets the hook.  The wahoo you will lose, however, is the one that attacks the bait head first:  for me an 80+ pounder comes to mind immediately, but I can only hope for losing that one fish to mono I have caught ten more because of the mono.

            Just because I use mono do not think it is automatically the way to go.  I know lots of very good fishermen who use exclusively wire and do really well.  It’s simply a preference thing, whatever you have confidence in is what you should use.  One thing to consider, sometimes when I’m fishing in areas known particularly for big wahoo, i.e. the “Steeples”, I will put out a couple of baits rigged with wire to target the toothy critters ( baits that use either blue/white or black/red skirts and are weighted with more than two ounces).

            Getting past the wire versus mono dilemma, when targeting tuna, dolphin, wahoo, and small billfish, I like to use a 12’ leader made with 100# - 150# test mono.  I will then crimp on a 7/0 Mustad hook ( don’t use some cheap smooth finished hook, they will bend out under pressure), slide whatever skirt I like onto the line and over the hook, and finally crimp a loop in the other end of the leader for the snap swivel to attach to.  As far as skirts go, I like blue/white, black/red, and chartreuse for my colors and usually use an assortment of weighted and unweighted lure heads, my favorite all around definitely being the blue/white Islander Saillure.

 

HOW DO I RIG MY BAITS?

 

This is a question that is best answered by watching and not reading.  There are lots of good videos out on how to rig baits, and there are lots of good fishermen who would be more than happy to give a lesson.  What I can tell you is the size and kind of bait you buy for offshore trolling is very important.

For catching your tuna, dolphin, wahoo, and small billfish, a twelve pack or eight pack of ballyhoo is just about the perfect size.  A common misconception when fishing for these fish is you need a giant bait to catch a giant fish.  Well, it is true that the bigger bait may draw more attention, but I guarantee your hookup ratio will be poor if your bait is too big.  It’s like trying to eat a Hughes Marina cheeseburger in one bite.  Instead of using horse ballyhoo or six packs, try using the smaller baits and see if your hookup ration doesn’t get drastically better, especially on tuna bites.

The brand of bait you use is also very important.  There are several companies that sale frozen ballyhoo, but I guarantee they are not all the same.  In my opinion the two best brands (meaning most fresh and well preserved) are Bait Masters and Calcutta.  They soak their baits in some sort of secret solution that makes the ballyhoo meat tough and preserves its natural color.  These baits will troll a lot longer without washing out ( a term used to describe what happens when a bait begins to disintegrate because of the water pressure caused while trolling), and they will appear more natural than other brands.

 

WHERE AND WHEN DO I GO FISH?

 

            Your best bet for finding good fishing spots is to buy a Maps Unique chart at your local tackle store.  Simply look for areas that have good bottom structure (ledges, live bottom, wrecks) and are in at least 110 feet of water.  The water depth is probably the thing that varies the most when trying to find fish offshore, but by trolling between 110 and  300 feet of water you should be able to locate at what depth the majority of the fish are holding and concentrate on that area.

            Gulfstream fishing is really a year round sport, the water temperature is fairly constant and there are always fish to be caught.  On the other hand the fishermen are not always so easy to find come January and February.  Undoubtedly, however, the best month to fish for tuna, dolphin, wahoo, and billfish is May.  The prime migration of tuna and dolphin passes offshore of our area from April through July, but May is for sure the best.

 

There is so much more to be said about “Stream” fishing, but frankly I don’t have the rest of my life to explain.  You just have to get out there and experience it yourself.  My suggestions come from time spent on the water, but do understand that much of what I preach is merely opinion, I will never claim to even come close to knowing it all.  Just remember: be careful and take your time- you might even want to consider chartering a Gulfstream trip just to get an idea of what to expect.

           

Since I’ve got your mind on tuna, dolphin, and the such, let me take this chance to make you aware of the Far Out Shootout offshore bluewater tournament to be held May 23-25 out of Ocean Isle Beach.  The tournament is a tuna, dolphin, wahoo, billfish rodeo that offers anglers a chance to compete against eachother for cash and local bragging rights while also providing the security and comfort of fishing offshore with friends that can help if there is a problem.  This year I will be hosting the tournament and after the Captain’s Meeting will be answering any questions on how to get started Stream fishing or maybe just how to improve.  In addition, during the awards ceremony on Sunday evening, there will be a cookout for anyone looking to get a good meal of grilled tuna, dolphin, and wahoo.  The event is meant to be fun and I hope you will consider making it part of your fishing schedule.

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Mahi to Marlin- originally printed 2004


We are enterring the high point of our Gulf Stream season for Dolphin and this is the time of the year when you can actually catch all you want. When this happens early in your day ofshore the question is..what do we do now? When we've had this good luck and are looking for a new adventure in the Gulf Stream, this is where we say..let's go "hero" fishing and try to catch the meanest,baddest fish that swims..the mighty Blue Marlin. And the timing is perfect because the favorite food fish for Blue Marlin just happens to be Dolphin so if you're catching lots of dolphin, chances are good "Mr. Blue" is close by.

We use 2 completely different approaches to target Blue Marlin. The first is to switch over to high speed large plastic lures. I prefer Mold Craft Soft Heads because since a Blue typically crashes a bait, if he feels a soft lure verses a hard plactic lure I believe he is less likely to immediately try to spit out the lure. This allows for a better opportunity at setting the hook.  My most productive Mold Crafts have been "Red Bailey" and a similar one in purple.  We rig these with 250lb test mono with a double hook 12/0 tandum hook set up. 

The second approach is to catch a dolphin[10lbs or less] and fish him live just like King Mackerel fishing. In this case I use 12 feet of 200-250lb  flourcarbon, and a 12/0- 14/0 circle hook.  I slow troll this bait just like King fishing and I can assure you when we refer to a "nervous" bait in King fishing, if a Marlin gets interested in your Dolphin, you will know it.

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Rough Weather Gulf Stream Tactics- originally printed 2004


Rough Weather Gulf Stream Tactics

By Capt. Barrett McMullan

 

Throughout this spring the weather has been nothing less than perfect, which has permitted both experienced and newcomer anglers to venture to the Gulf Stream in search of the glory species that reside some 60 miles off of our coast.  However, over the past week the typical summer time southwest winds have picked up and now anglers finding themselves faced with new and maybe unfamiliar conditions for fishing the Stream.  With such a long ride out to the fishing grounds one would think that having flat calm conditions is a must.  Flat seas certainly make the long run easier and probably more enjoyable, but due to the direction we travel to the fishing grounds in relation to the wind direction a less than perfect weather day is no excuse to stay at the house when we know the fish are out there waiting on us.  The southwest wind, which usually is what we are faced with for the next couple of months, allows for easy travel in a southeasterly direction like towards the Black Jack Hole or Steeples when leaving from Shallotte inlet.  By traveling southeast when hit with a southwest wind you are able to run in what is called the trough, meaning side to the waves as oppose to directly facing the waves.  You are likely to take a good bit of sea spray but just take your time and Cadillac on out to the blue water and the ride will be better than you would expect. 

 

Now that we have convinced ourselves to leave the dock on the less than favorable weather report and we have run the trough out to the blue water it is time to go fishing.  Fishing in rough sea conditions certainly adds a degree of difficulty to the entire Gulf Stream fishing experience.  Once you get your sea legs under you and can actually make your way around the cockpit fishing your typical calm water trolling spread should produce bites.  The one trick that I have found to be very effective for rough weather Gulf Stream fishing, and this week’s tip of the week, is to add some weight to each rig.  When fishing in a heavy wind many times you will get a strike, and because of all the slack in your line created by the wind you will not achieve a sufficient hookup and the fish will escape.  In order to avoid this scenario I will take between a 4 and 8-ounce egg sinker and slide it onto my main line before tying the leader to the main line.  Then, when letting out the trolling rig I will hold onto the egg sinker in my hand while the line slides through until the lure is about 30 feet back.  Finally I will tie a rubber band around the line below the sinker to act as a stopper for the egg sinker.  Now I have achieved my objective of adding weight to the rig to take the slack out of the wind blown line but I have not taken away any of the performance of my lure.  This windy weather tactic will increase your strike to hookup ratio and help turn those dreaded bad weather fishing days into some of the most challenging and rewarding fishing trips you will ever experience. 

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Scoring a Carolina Slam- originally printed 1999


Scoring a Carolina Slam

By Capt. Brant McMullan

 

Carolina Slam-  When an angler catches a combination of Yellowfin Tuna, Dolphin and Wahoo.  A highly prestigious accomplishment, the Carolina Slam is most often achieved during the months of May and June.

 

            There is nothing like the thrill of big fish on the end of your line.  The sound of the reel, the bend of the rod and the ensuing chaos;  all are tell tale signs of a successful day fishing the Gulf Stream.  There’s the Yellowfin Tuna that often run in packs and result in not one but many simultaneous strikes.  There’s the Wahoo who hits and runs with such speed the clicker on the reel wines for relief.  And finally there’s the Dolphin whose brilliant colors, acrobatic leaps and strength leave the angler first gaping in awe then gasping in pain.  Yes, all are fine prizes and absolutely delicious on the dinner table, but a day of fishing which results in the capture of all species is worth noting.  Stand by as I will explain particular tactics pertaining to each species that will put you closer to accomplishing the Carolina Slam.

 

YELLOWFIN TUNA:

 

            The basic technique for targeting Yellowfin is to troll rigged Ballyhoo at 7-8 knots.  The rigs consist of 10-12 feet of 100#-150# mono, a ½oz. egg sinker, 7/0 Eagle Claw 9011 hook and a pink or blue/white skirt- I particularly like the C&H Alien and Lil’ Stubby lures.  The preferred water temperature is between 72 and 76 degrees, but a little deviation on either side is acceptable so long as baitfish are present.  Water depth should be 140+ feet deep.  And yes, the baitfish are the key ingredient.  Yellowfin will always be close to food, and there is nothing they love more than Flying Fish.  In addition, if you’ll watch your fishfinder for clouds of bait suspended in the water column, it is a good chance you are marking Squid which Yellowfin happen to also love.  One other note to help you catch more Yellowfin; once you get the initial hook up, continue trolling for at least another 15-30 seconds to allow other Yellowfin in the school to spot your baits, increasing your chances for multiple hookups.

            A tactic that I often use when I see Yellowfin crashing on Flying Fish but not hitting my Ballyhoo is to deploy a spread of natural color Cedar Plugs and Black/Red ¼oz. and ½oz. C&H No Alibi feathers.  I will then pick up my trolling speed to 12 knots and chase the Yellowfin schools.  This technique is very effective for locating scattered fish or chasing fast moving schools that you can’t catch while trolling Ballyhoo.

 

WAHOO:

 

Wahoo are a really neat species to fish for because your success in catching them is very technique oriented.  Sure you may catch a few while fishing for Yellowfin or Dolphin, but the terminal tackle and lures you choose to fish with can drastically increase your results.  For starters, you can only use wire as leader material.  Wahoo have teeth like razors and will bite through mono in a second.  My basic rig consists of 8 feet of 80# Malin wire, ½oz. egg sinker to be rigged under the Ballyhoo’s chin, 7/0 Eagle Claw 9011 hook and a dark colored, weighted lure head- I prefer the 4oz. and 8oz. C&H, Black/Red No Alibi feather, 1oz. Black/Red Sea Witch, or a Blue/Pink Islander.  Preferred water temperature is 71 to 77 degrees, but I’ve caught them in as cool as 68 degree water.  The key to locating Wahoo, however, is much more predictable than Yellowfin or Dolphin.  Simply look to fish structure in the 120 to 300 foot depth ranges.  Wahoo are a migratory species, but as long as water conditions are favorable, they will reside over bottom structure- ledges, mounds, and wrecks…  In fishing for Wahoo, the key is to present your baits at depths.  That is why I prefer heavily weighted lure heads.  In addition, the use of planers, downriggers and deep swimming plugs will increase your results.  I have had awesome success with a diving plug called the Stretch 30+ by Mann’s lure company.  The colors of choice have been blue/white and hot pink.  Trolling speed should be 7-9 knots, and the boat driver should continually work the areas with good bottom structure.

 

DOLPHIN:

 

            The Dolphin fish is also known as Mahi-Mahi or Dorado.  They are migratory fish that move up and down the Gulf Stream in massive numbers following a seasonal pattern that puts them off our coast from mid May until August.  Dolphin, like Wahoo are very structure oriented but not in the same sense.  Dolphin love to hang around floating debris.  Whether it be a weed line, board, barrel or Coke can, if the debris provides shade and has at least a little marine growth, chances are it will be holding Dolphin.  The Dolphin are simply keying on the baitfish that use the flotsam for cover and feed off the barnacles and algae that grow on it.  Fishing for Dolphin is very similar to fishing for Yellowfin.  You will again use a 10-12 foot 100#-150# mono leader with an Eagle Claw 7/0, 9011 hook, but this time you will not need the 1/2oz. sinker and the color of choice is chartreuse.  The Dolphin prefers chartreuse because one of their main foods is eating small Dolphin.  Troll your rigged Ballyhoo at 6-8 knots around floating debris in 72 to 80 degree water of 100+ feet deep, and you will soon be hooked up.

            One particular tactic that I use to increase my catches of Dolphin is to fill my live well with live bait before I leave in the morning.  I have a Pinfish trap that I set off the dock and catch 2 to 4 inch Pinfish as easy as I want.  Then, if I hook up to a Dolphin or am near floating debris, I will simply hook the live bait up on a spinning outfit and toss it behind the boat.  Any Dolphin in the area will spot the live bait in seconds and have to have it.  The technique is particularly effective for catching big Bull Dolphin that are sometimes hook shy.  Be sure your spinning tackle is at least 20# class or bigger.

 

            That is the handbook for achieving a Carolina Slam.  Yellowfin, Wahoo and Dolphin- all fun to catch, all great to eat and all together a very noteworthy catch.  And once you’ve accomplished the Slam, you get greedy and go for the Super Slam- Yellowfin, Wahoo, Dolphin and Blue Marlin.  Simply pull in your Ballyhoo and deploy a spread of big, artificial, chugging plastic lures and go to town.  Trolling speed is 10-12 knots and you should concentrate in 400-800 feet of water in water temperatures of 75-79 degrees.  One note, don’t mess around with these fish.  You’ll need at least 500 yards of 50# tackle and an angler that has had his or her Wheaties that morning.

            May and June are the magical months for the Carolina Slam, so don’t miss the chance to get out to the Gulf Stream and give it a shot.

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Tips & Techniques- Albright wire to mono for more bites


The age old question, “Wire or Mono?” is debated among top anglers on a daily basis.  Using monofilament leaders allows the flexibility of easily wiring fish, enhanced bait presentation and less tackle visibility; proving to be the choice leader material in the targeting of Billfish, Tuna and Mahi.  Using wire leaders protects against toothy critters and is an necessity if Wahoo are on your desired species list.  The problem, however, is that these pelagic species often are encountered in the same areas, and the thought of losing a $20 lure to the teeth of a Wahoo usually has anglers opting for wire leaders.

            One technique that I have adopted in my bluewater fishing adventures is using a combination of wire and mono leaders.  I generally use ten feet of 150# mono and connect it to 18 inches of 80#-120# piano wire using an albright knot.  This allows me the flexibility to wire fish more easily and is less visible while also protecting against the teeth of Wahoo.  The technique works great when targeting Tuna, Mahi, Wahoo and small Billfish at the same time.  However, the albright knot is the weak point in the leader and will not stand up to larger Billfish or Tuna.

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Trolling for Yellowfin Tuna- originally printed 1998


Trolling for Yellowfin Tuna

by Capt. Brant McMullan

 

            As a fisherman, I can’t think of many things more thrilling than the attack of a school of Yellowfin.  You’re sitting back admiring the scenery, watching your baits dance across the wave tops and slowly drifting off to the constant hum of the engines when WHAM!  The peace is shattered as the left rigger, no right rigger, no flat line- no every rod is bent double with line pouring off the reels.  The captain yells to go left, right, up, down, ….until you’re so dizzy you latch onto the nearest rod, explaining in a very calm manner that you can only do one thing at a time.  All the while, the only assurance you have that your hooks didn’t somehow find their way to the bumper of a Volkswagon are the foam scarred waves where only a few seconds earlier a series of explosions and a quick underwater flash led to the disappearance of your trolled baits.  No you haven’t hung a free floating VW, you’ve hooked into one of the oceans most sought after prizes, the Yellowfin Tuna.

            I have been fortunate enough over the past years to have had the opportunity to match my wits with more than a few Yellowfin, and in that time, I have constantly sought to improve my techniques.  In this article, I intend to share with you what I have learned, covering the how, where and when’s of Yellowfin Tuna fishing.  I will begin with the basics of what is required as far as boat and tackle and progress to the actual rigging, trolling, and catching aspects.  Please understand, for myself, fishing provides a continuous learning curve.  I don’t claim to be the Gooroo of Yellowfin fishing, I would simply like to share my experience in hopes that it may help you have a more successful fishing trip next time out.

 

BOAT:

                I’m going to start with the most basic element of your fishing arsenal, your boat.  They come in all shapes and sizes, but since we are going to be fishing long distances offshore (more information on location will be presented later), it is important you have a boat that is:1) safe in heavy seas, 2) operates dependably, 3) holds plenty of fuel, 4) provides enough room and amenities for a full days fishing and 5) has a good, smooth ride.  All five of these characteristics are a must, but special emphasis must be placed on the safety aspect.  You will be traveling up to 70 miles offshore in search of Yellowfin, thus leaving yourself susceptible to the constantly changing weather conditions encountered while fishing in or near the Gulf Stream.  Sure you plan your trip for sunny, calm days, but any number of factors can quickly turn a seemingly great day, sour.  A big thunderstorm, a squall line or a simple wind shift can leave you in serious danger if you don’t have a boat that can handle the unfavorable conditions. 

            As far as the other requirements go, they are pretty self explanatory.  You don’t want to ride offshore and have your engine die, nor do you want to run out of fuel half way home.  In addition, you would prefer to be able to move about freely in the cockpit and find a good spot to take a nap if you feel the urge (trust me, you will).  Lastly, it makes for a long end to the day if you have to get your brains beat out for 70 miles on the way home.  In the morning, you’re full of adrenaline and the waves don’t seem so big, but after a long day in the hot sun and hopefully pulling on a few Yellowfin, the waves sting a little more.  Just remember, you’re going to be fishing a long way from home, and special consideration will have to made if you plan to be Yellowfin fishing in the future.

 

TACKLE:

            As you may gather from my opening paragraph, hooking into a Yellowfin isn’t exactly like pulling Crappie out of a brush pile.  When you’re hooked up to a 40 plus pound mass of solid swimming muscle bent on going one direction, and you’re trolling in the other direction, something has got to give.  That something is your tackle, the combination of rod, reel, and line that is the link between you and the fish. 

            Let’s start with line.  I prefer to use Sufix monofilament in the 50 to 80 pound test range.  I usually choose the 50 pound line for spooling a reel with less line capacity since I can obviously get more yards of 50 pound line on a reel than 80 pound.  The reason it is necessary to use such stout line is to allow a good hook set.  As I will describe later, you will be using a fairly thick hook that will require a good amount of pressure in order to penetrate the fish’s bony mouth.  By using the heavier line, you can set your drag tighter, allowing for a firm hook set while ensuring the line will not break under the pressure.

            Considering the amount of strain a Yellowfin can put on your tackle, the rod and reel you choose to do battle with are very important to your chances of catching the fish.  What you want is a reel that has at least a 4 to 1 gear ratio and a smooth drag system that can withstand a smoking run under heavy pressure.  My favorite rod and reel combo for this particular application is a Shimano TLD 25 fitted on a 6’ Star, 30-80 pound stand-up rod with all roller-guides.  It is light weight combo that includes a reel that is very smooth and built for the sizzling runs of big Yellowfin, but also reasonably priced.   I also recommend the Shimano Tiagra 20W or 30WLRS models for the highest in performance in case you plan on tangling with big Billfish or other larger species.   

            One trick I use to help get the most use and highest performance out of my fishing equipment is to use a combination of braided line and monofilament line on my reels.  The braided line I use is 80 pound Sufix Herculine, and the reason I use it is because it has a very thin diameter relative to its breaking strength.  I will take my TLD 25 and spool 400 yards of 50# Herculine and then connect that to another 100 yards of standard 50 pound monofilament using an 80 pound SPRO Power Swivel.  The swivel is very small, and because my rod is equipped with all roller guides, it has no problem being wound right onto the reel spool.  What I have done with this approach is to nearly double the amount of line I can get on the spool while maintaining the low visibility and shock absorbing stretch characteristics of monofilament that I feel are important.

 

RIGS:

            The standard method for Yellowfin trolling involves rigging a dead Ballyhoo, usually with a skirt, and pulling it at a speed that makes it appear as if it is swimming.  The actual rigging of the bait will be handled in the next section, but the first part is making up your rig.

            When specifically targeting Yellowfin, I like to use a rig that consists of 30 feet of 100 pound mono leader with an 80 pound SPRO Power Swivel attached on one end, a ¼ ounce Sea Witch or C&H Alien, ¼ ounce egg sinker and a 7/0 Eagle Claw 9011 hook.  To put the whole apparatus together, I use mono crimps (note they are two sided, not just a single hole) that fit snugly over the 100 pound mono.  It is important the crimps are not too big.  Follow these steps:  1) make a loop on one end of the mono using your crimp,  2) slide your Sea Witch or whatever type skirt you prefer on the mono followed by another crimp,  3) run the mono through the eye of the hook coming from the top,  4)slide the ¼ ounce egg sinker on,  5) run the tag end through the crimp, 6) insert a ½ inch L shaped piece of 80# piano wire into the top of the crimp, 7) seal all crimps solidly.  The process may sound complicated, but once you get the hang of it, is very simple.  To secure the bait to the pin, you will use a small “dentist’s rubber band”.

            * Note that I tie the SPRO swivel directly to my main line on my rod which allows me to wind the leader right into the rod and avoid having to wire the fish.

            When making your rigs, it is important to understand that first there are many different ways to make rigs ie. with wire or mono, bait springs or copper wire, skirt or no skirt…. and secondly that Yellowfin aren’t the only fish swimming in the waters you’ll be fishing.  The teeth of a Wahoo will cut 100 pound mono in a snap and the bill of a Marlin will likely abraid through the relatively light mono.  You must fish accordingly to how you feel comfortable and what you are targeting.

 

BAIT:

            Choosing the right bait will be critical to the effectiveness of your trolling spread.  As I mentioned earlier, we will be trolling dead Ballyhoo, but not just any Ballyhoo.  The first thing you want is a small bait.  Ballyhoo usually come in packs of three, six, or twelve.  I suggest using the twelve pack baits for Yellowfin because the smaller bait will help to increase your hookup percentage.  Once you’ve picked a twelve pack of baits, it is time to pull out the magnifying glass and inspect its quality.  You’re looking for clear eyes, natural coloring and no skin tears.  When you get on the water and start trolling your bait, you’ll understand the importance of a fresh, sturdy bait.  You don’t want to have to be rerigging your baits every five minutes because your Ballyhoo keeps washing out.  For my offshore fishing, I like to use “Calcutta”, “Sea Drag’n”, or “BaitMasters” brands of Ballyhoo.  I have always found good quality in their products.

 

BAIT RIGGING:

            You’ve made your rig, you’ve got your bait, now you need to put the hook to the fish in a manner that when trolled behind the boat, the bait will appear even livelier than if it is was breathing.  First you must limber up the Ballyhoo.  Begin by flexing it back and forth.  Then, take the meat on its back between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze until you feel the meat pop away from the bone under the skin.  You should have a very pliable Ballyhoo.  Now, take the hook on your rig and lay it beside the Ballyhoo so that the wire pin is located even with the Ballyhoo’s nostrils.  Note where the hook would be exiting the bait’s belly and make a small mark with the point of the hook.  Take the hook and run it through the Ballyhoo’s gills and out the hole in the belly you have premarked, all the while flexing the Ballyhoo to enable yourself to work the hook to the premarked hole without tearing the belly.   Straighten the hook so that the pin is even with the nostril and run the pin all the way through the Ballyhoo’s head.  Lastly, take small “dentist’s” rubber band and hang it over the pin and then wrap it around the Ballyhoo’s head and secure by hanging over the pin.

            A couple of things you want to look out for are that 1) the Ballyhoo is not binded  in its movement by the hook being too far back in relation to its distance from the pin.  The Ballyhoo should pull from pin and not from the hook  2)  you keep the hole in the belly as small as possible.  If you tear the hole when placing the hook, water pressure will quickly enlarge the hole and cause the bait to wash out.

When you put the finished product over the side, it should swim just under the surface of the water in a smooth, fluid movement with absolutely no spinning.

 

WHEN:

            Finally, we’ve got everything in order, and it is time to consider going fishing.  But when should you go?  Historically, the months of March April, May and June are the peak months for catching Yellowfin off our coast.  It isn’t uncommon to run into acres and acres of schooling Yellowfin during these months, with boats catching an average of six to ten a day.  However, it should be noted that just because the Spring is the peak, it doesn’t mean that Yellowfin aren’t around at other times.  In fact, Yellowfin can be caught off our coast year round.  It is only a matter of finding good water temperature, whether it be cooler water in late Summer or warmer water in Winter.

            The other aspect of the when involves the wind, moon and currents.  I won’t even begin to claim that I’m expert at incorporating all these variables into my decision as to whether or not to go fishing;  I usually go fishing when the weather lets me.  However, I have found that Yellowfin will bite more consistent throughout the day when the moon is less visible during the night as it often happens that they feed during good light conditions in the nighttime hours.

 

LOCATION:

            As is true in business, so goes in fishing, “location, location, location”; you can’t catch the fish if you aren’t where they are.  So where should go, or better yet, how will you know when you get there?  There are limitless variables that affect my decision as to where to fish, but for the sake of practicality, I will address the four factors that most often influence where I choose to fish for Yellowfin:  temperature, structure, depth, and recent reports.

            I will start by reviewing a satellite image of water temperature.  I use C2C’s Bluewater Fishfinder system and access the water temperatures via the internet at www.bluewaterfishfinder.com.  I will analyze the temperature chart to try and find water temperature in the 72 to 78 degree range while also looking for areas with steep temperature change gradients.  Next, I can actually take C2C’s temperature data and lay it over a Map’s Unique chart, displaying a comprehensive picture of the relations between water temperature and bottom structure.  I’ve all ready found an area with favorable water temperature, now I look for a more particular spot with attractive bottom structures in the 180 to 225 foot depth range.  Lastly, I will take the knowledge I have gained from reviewing the temperature and bottom contour overlay and match it against recent fishing reports.  99.9% of the time, the fish are being caught in the same area I have pinpointed via my computer.  However, if there is a conflict in data, I always go with the fishing report.  You can’t argue with the facts.

 

TROLLING:

            You’ve done all the research, made the long run, and now it is time to deploy your spread of baits.  I generally set my speed at between 5 ½ and 6 ½ knots and start by deploying my longest lines first.  I set the shotgun line (150 yards), port and starboard long riggers (100 yards), port and starboard short riggers (75 yards), and port and starboard flat lines (40-50 yards) for a total of seven lines.  The placement of the lines is critical for your trolling effectiveness.  You must make sure lines are staggered so as not to get tangled, even on sharp turns.

            As far as what type of lure to put where in the spread, I usually mix things up and experiment with different baits in different positions.  It is, however, very important when targeting Yellowfin Tuna to be sure your baits are swimming and not flopping around on top.

  

HOOKUP:

            You did it!  You’ve done all the right things and your work has paid off.  The explosion happened so fast, and the reel is singing so loud.  You scurry around the deck but don’t know which way to turn.  STOP!  Don’t panic.  As long as you keep the boat moving, the line will stay tight, and the fish will most likely stay on the line. 

            When a fish strikes, whether it be a Yellowfin or any other variety of possible species, do the following things in a calm and precise manner:  1)  Keep the boat moving 2)  Have an angler(s) put on a gimbal belt and man the rod  3)  Bring the throttles back to a slow speed once you have waited at least 10 seconds to insure other Yellowfin aren’t still in your spread and attain idle speed so the angler can begin working the fish toward the boat.  Do not ever stop the boat!  4)  Have other crew members shorten up the longest lines, bring in the flat lines and clear any line crossings that may have occurred.

            The fish is in now under control with all hazards out of the way.  It is now just the angler and boat driver who must work together to keep the line tight and the fish in a favorable fighting position.  In my fishing experiences, we will generally work the fish off the back corner of the boat.  Since you’re using a wind-on swivel, it won’t be necessary to wire the fish.  The angler simply winds the fish within gaffing range, and as the boat is moving, the fish will plain out beside the boat and present itself for a gaff shot.  If the boat is stopped,  the Yellowfin will go under the boat and cut your line- guaranteed.

            There is one addition I wanted to make to the above procedures.  Often times a fish will strike and not get the hook.  In the past I’ve always been taught to immediately put the reel in free spool and begin dropping line back to make the bait appear as if it has been wounded and is sinking.  The fish is supposed to come back and pick up the remainders.  This technique works incredibly well when using live bait or dead Cigar Minnows for King Mackerel.  However, for bluewater applications, I picked up a trick from White Marlin fishing out of Oregon Inlet.  After the strike and miss, grab the rod, put your thumb on the spool, put the reel in free spool and hold the rod high over your head; the difference in this technique coming in that you are not allowing line to free spool off the reel.  Keep your eyes open and be ready, because the fish will often times become angered at this persistent bait and make another strike.  When you see the fish strike at the bait, immediately throw your rod tip down and let the line begin free spooling for a split second before engaging the reel and coming tight on the fish.  My reasoning for adapting this technique to Yellowfin fishing is that most times I use weighted baits.  If you free spool a weighted bait, it sinks toward the bottom in an unnatural manner.  By keeping the bait on top and moving, you are still presenting it in a natural manner and are likely to see the fish make another attempt.

            .

 

CHEF BOYAR-TUNA:

            Fish in the boat, but I’m not stopping here.  You’ve caught one of the most sought after game fishes and table fare the ocean has to offer, and preparing your catch for the table is just as important as the actual catching.  I have to admit that I am about as far from a  culinary expert as Bill Clinton from a celibate monk, so for this section, I have turned for advice from the head chef at the McMullan fish camp, Linda McMullan.

            Linda instructs that upon capture, the Yellowfin should be bled to purify the meat.  This is done by taking a sharp fillet knife and inserting it approximately 1-2 inches behind the Yellowfin’s pectoral fin.  Stick the knife straight in and jab around until the blood starts pumping out of the fish.  This may sound a little inhumane, but if you don’t bleed the fish, the meat will be red and full of blood clots.  In addition, once you’ve bled the Yellowfin, cover it with ice to chill the body temp quickly.

            Back at the dock, fillet the Yellowfin and cut ½-1 inch thick steaks from the fillets and place directly in marinade-

Linda’s Tuna N’ Terriyaki Surprise

Ingredients for marinade of 4-8 steaks

·        1 cup Soy Sauce

·        ½ cup Maple Syrup

·        1/3 cup Water

·        1/3 cup Olive oil

·        Fresh or powdered Ginger

·        Garlic powder

*  Do not use salt.  The Soy Sauce has all the salt flavoring you will need

 

Directions:

            Mix ingredients in glass baking dish.  Marinate steaks for 2-4 hours, turning at least once.  Grill marinated steaks over high heat until desired doneness.

***NOTE:  In our opinion, the Tuna steaks are definitely best when cooked medium-rare.  You basically just want to sear the outsides.  The meat cooks very quick and can get away from you in a hurry, causing the fish to be dry and flaky.

 

            That is the Yellowfin story from beginning to end.  I hope that by sharing my experience your next fishing trip will be more productive.  Remember, be safe, but don’t be afraid to test the waters beyond the horizon.

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