The jaunt from Plymouth to Stellwagen Bank’s legendary southwest corner had been rather uneventful. Fortunately the seas had been smooth and the sun was shining, yet as we pulled the Miss Loretta onto the Bank, the apparent lack of life proved rather disappointing.
The eight tiny bluefish that we had caught the day prior were still trucking along in the bait tank. We soon had one of the toothy critters dancing quite nicely under the kite. An easterly breeze swept across the bank as I began to doubt the accuracy of the weather forecast.
A few minutes passed, and soon the glass calm surface of the ocean kicked up into a slight chop. The kite bluefish was frantically swimming now. Figuring his change in behavior had something to do with the change in wind; I calmly went about my business of setting a balloon bait off the starboard side of the boat. Just then a gaping hole opened up underneath the bluefish.
“What just happened?” I asked. The bluefish was swimming wildly now and we could sense that something dramatic was about to occur.
Just then a massive giant bluefin tuna crushed the hapless bluefish. Whitewater and froth shot into the air as the line came taught on the Penn 80W. Line began screaming from the reel as the fish took off to the west.
For a second my crew and I stood still in a state of awe and disbelief at what we had just witnessed. None of us had ever seen a giant tuna smack a bait before. Our first tango with a giant had begun.
With seas building we followed the fish west off the Bank into the deeper water of Massachusetts Bay. The fish fought hard for over two hours and made several drag sizzling runs, stripping hundreds of yards of fresh dacron from the reel.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the beast came within harpoon range.
“Stick him!” I yelled to the crew.
The first attempt missed high, yet the second shot hit the goliath just behind the head. A tail rope and gaff job later, and we had our first ever giant tuna.
The four hour ride back to Plymouth, with tuna in tow, was the best ride back to port any of us had ever experienced. The waters off the Plymouth coast had once again relinquished a fish of a lifetime.
This past winter proved to be a difficult test of patience for many Plymouth anglers. Yet the wait is now over as more and more bluefin tuna invade the waters around Stellwagen Bank and Cape Cod Bay.
A few of the region’s top captains tied into school tuna this past week. Reports from the south tell a tale of larger bluefins heading north. Stick boats fishing Massachusetts Bay are consistently taking 80-plus inch fish. The stage is set, and the tuna fishing could very well break wide open sometime over the next few days.
June is a prime month for tuna anglers departing from Plymouth Bay. The weather is becoming more stable and reliable. Mackerel, pogies and bluefish have now settled into the area, providing anglers with a reliable source of live bait.
Now is the time to use those sick days you have been saving up all winter.
The School Tuna Bite
The school tuna bite off Plymouth has been remarkable over the past few seasons. Locations around the globe have sighted decreased landings of bluefin tuna, however the numbers of bluefins off the coast of Plymouth has increased annually.
Most of the action on school sized fish will be centered on Stellwagen Bank. Yet the 19-mile trek to the Bank is not always necessary for a chance to tie into a decent fish.
The area 3-10 miles off the Plymouth coastline has supported impressive tuna action the past couple seasons and there is reason to believe that it will happen again this year. Keeping your eyes peeled for signs of tuna during the ride to and from the Bank can pay big dividends.
Some of the more popular methods for catching school tuna in our neck of the woods include jigging and popping using “beefed” up spinning gear. When the fish show on the surface, nothing beats the excitement generated from a slob tuna destroying a top water plug.
Yet often times the fish are not showing on the surface. During these times jigging for tuna, as well as trolling squid bars can be the ticket. The key is developing a game plan around your boat, crew and budget.
The Giant Tuna Bite
Numerous reports of giant bluefins being taken by harpoon have trickled in over the past few days. For most anglers, one of the best ways to target these bigger fish is by using live bait.
Mackerel should be available throughout June, although it may take a bit more searching to find them as the month wanes into July. Live lining mackerel under balloons as well as fishing the colorful speedsters under a kite is always popular amongst the fleet.
Live pogies can be cast netted or gill netted in the back waters of many of the area’s bays and estuaries. Expect to put some serious time in if you hope to procure a live well full of menhaden on your own. Another option is to befriend one of the region’s talented live pogie suppliers. For a reasonable cost these guys will fill your livewell with menhaden--granted they are able to find the pogies in the first place.
Another option is to fish with live bluefish. Bluefish are probably the most desirable of tuna baits, but they are also probably the most difficult to catch and transport to the tuna grounds.
My crew and I have had success catching bluefish before a trip at Race Point in Provincetown and in Buzzards Bay. However the extra mileage and time spent making the run to Provincetown for bait really puts a dent in the gas tank, as well as eating up valuable tuna fishing time. Transporting snapper and juvenile bluefish from Buzzards Bay to Stellwagen is an entirely different matter; however it can be done and has paid off big for us in the past.
This is Just the Beginning
Things are just starting to heat up this month in the waters off Plymouth. In the past few seasons the tuna have stuck around in our region right through the month of December. The next six months promises to be an exciting time for Plymouth tuna anglers.
Along with tuna, striped bass and bluefish remain top targets for anglers heading out on the water over the next few weeks.
It is a great time to be a fishermen.