Christmas Tuna

100_0209I had the opportunity to go on another deep sea trip with my dad, David, my son, Matt, and a good friend of mine Chris Redline. We went on a party boat called the Scat Cat that runs out of Port Aransas, Texas. We have been on this boat before and had decent trips, but we have not landed the amount of fish as we did on this particular trip.

We left Kansas City the morning of Thursday, December 26 and drove to Texas. We made it to the boat for the departure time early Friday morning the 27th. It was about a 15 hour car ride from Kansas City. That is not the end of the travel, because once you get that far, we had roughly a 12 hour boat ride too. I was really hoping for calm seas. This was my son’s first deep sea fishing trip. He is only 14 years old, but larger than the typical 14 year old, about 6’1 so I figured he could handle himself ok. He did great.

P1090689We were fishing deep sea oil drilling rigs. We do most of our tuna fishing at night with a few different methods of targeting them. One form is to use deep drop jigs. Popular jigs are the Williamson speed jigs either in the glow/ chartreuse or pink. I have been successful with the chartreuse with a few fish.

My dad, Matt and Chris have never landed a legal keeping yellow fin tuna. I have a few to my credit so I was really hoping we could have a good trip and have the opportunity for them to get their first on deck.

The forecast for a trip like this is very important. With this trip being my son’s first trip and we were going 100 to 150 miles off shore, the last thing I wanted was for him to be seasick for 3 days on the water, with no opportunity to get away from it. The weather was supposed to be smooth sailing and clear skies. We received the opposite for the first day. We had some serious ugly waves and a lot of rain. I have been on these trips for many years and have never gotten sea sick. I did on this trip after a little too much lunch. My son, dad and Chris however, were fine, thank goodness!

The boat got to the rig around sundown on Friday night so we could start our fishing. My dad, David, started us off for the trip. We started deep since we figured the fish were deep yet and after a few hours of jigging, my dad hooked into his first yellow fin tuna! He landed that one by himself and did an excellent job. My dad is the maverick of these deep sea trips for us. He has been dragging my two brothers and I along on these trips for many years. I was elated when he finally hauled his first yellow fin over the rail and had a moment to snap a few pictures and enjoy the accomplishment. Go Dad!

P1090638Shortly after this one was boated, it seemed the tuna had moved higher in the water column. It feels funny to say they moved shallower because we were fishing over 6,000+ feet of water. I enjoy chunking for tuna and it is a great method to use when folks are new and learning to catch yellow fin tuna.

Chunking is simply taking a piece of cut bait and hiding hook in it and using it for bait. For my chunking rig, I like to use a stiff 6 ft. rod with roller guides that can handle at least 100 lb. power pro line. I use a Shimano TLD 2 speed 3.0 reel. I use 80 or 100 lb. power pro main line and I use a double Albright knot to tie about 4-5 feet of 80 or 60 lb. (depending on visibility) fluorocarbon line. Yellow fin have huge eyes and can see bright line and unhidden hooks, thus the reason for the fluorocarbon line (low visibility), small red hook which is light weight and blends into the often red chunk meat very well. Then I use use a uni knot and tie on a red Daiihi Bleeding bait hook size 10/0 number D95VP. This is a red circle hook. I have caught a lot of tuna on this hook. It looks small, but it will work fine on tuna up to over 100 lbs.

I like to use a piece of chunk bait that is about the size of my palm. I fillet part of it so it is just skin and take my knife and run it through the skin one or two times to create a couple of strips off one side of the chunk bait, about an inch or so long, while leaving the meaty part of the chunk intact and whole. I then take the piece of chunk bait, typically black fin tuna or other fish if available, and stick my knife through the chunk/meat part parallel to any fish skin to make a slit about the size of my hook. I then insert my hook all the way through it, curved bottom side first, and once through, turn the hook slightly and pull it back into the meaty part of the chunk. This helps ensure the hook is buried into the meat. I feel this is very important. I personally don’t like to have any skin or bones in the way of my circle hook. I don’t want them to get in the way of the hook sliding to the corner of the fish’s mouth.

I then prepare a short “chunk” line in the water. I don’t have the meat resources to maintain an expensive chunk line for miles so I take a simple ice cream bucket and get a few pieces ready. I drop about 3-4 pieces of tuna and if available, some cut up sardines or ice fish or anything silver, and mix them in with a few tuna chunks. I feel this helps add some flash to my small chunk mass as it falls into the water column. I throw about 3-4 pieces and let it sink about 1o-15 feet. Then I throw another 3-4 pieces. As that is dropping, I pull some slack line on my rod so when I drop my chunk bait with my hook into the water, I never have any tension on the line. This helps ensure my hook stays buried. I then drop my baited chunk in the water and throw a couple of extra pieces to fall with it. In all, I throw about dozen small pieces of chunk to attract attention.

Then I strip line to be sure I keep the line close to tight, but never direct tension on the hook/bait. I generally like to count about 100 – 140 roughly one foot strips of me pulling out line with my hand while the bait free falls. The clicker on my reel is on and the drag open at this time. If a fish picks up my bait and runs, I slowly engage the drag and hold on! I don’t jerk the rod and set the hook because with circle hooks, we just need to reel down to get the line tight and the hook will most generally set itself in the corner of the fish’s mouth. If I get out to 130 or so strips of line and don’t hook up, I lock in the drag lightly and hang on for 5 minutes or so while the line pulls tight. If nothing picks up my bait, I reel it in and start the process all over.

I worked with my son before we left for the trip at his school playground. We worked on casting the large tuna plugs and learning how to use the drop down reel and rod. He was up on the tower on the playground and I had him strip out line to me like he was chunking, then I would take off running across the playground with the line wrapped around my gloved hand and let him get used to engaging the drag slowly, learn where on the lever slide drag he was comfortable so the rod did not go flying out of his hands and what a max drag range was for him. Then he got to reel dad in! This also allowed him to learn how to comfortably and quickly switch between the low gear and high gears for line retrieval. We also discussed when it was best to use each gear to help with his tuna battle. This also let him get used to a couple of different ways of holding the rod, in his gut, gimbal cup, under arms and such. Of course we did this in Kanas City just after a snow and it was stupid cold out, but it sure helped.

All of that preparation paid off because on about the third or fourth chunking drop Matt did, his line took off screaming when a yellow fin grabbed his bait. He slowly engaged the drag and held on while the line pulled tight, and gave it a little more drag once he was comfortable to make sure the hook was tight on the fish’s mouth and the rod was not going to fly out of his hands. He held on for the first run and did great. Then, like tuna will commonly do, it turned and came directly at him. Matt felt the common feeling of anguish with a slack line and thought the fish had gotten off. I told him the fish was coming at him and to reel, reel, reel to catch up to it and he did. The problem with this is you are often reeling like hell with you catch up to the tuna and it may be going a different direction again… so hang on! After a couple more runs, Matt was able to bring the tuna to boat side and allowed the mates on board to gaff it and swing it over the rail. Matt never looked to dad for help or to rest his arms. He applied the only few practice runs he had from the school playground and put them to amazing good use in his first battle. He did great!

P1090668During this trip, my dad caught the one YFT on a jig and we caught all the rest on chunking. We all had our limits of 3 fish each the first night except for Matt, who was 2 short (because he was sleeping and out of the rain poke, poke) but Matt was able to get his 2 YFT back to back on the 2nd night chunking. We also caught some black fin tuna though they were a little difficult to get on this trip. In the morning Matt and my dad had some fun catching Rainbow Runners on chunk bait while the sun came up just as the rain seemed to let up a little. I had been up fishing all night in the wind and rain with Chris and was ready to drop, but Matt and dad had had some rest and were ready to go in the morning so I drug my butt out there and helped them with some chunking and some fun with the rainbow runners. I think they caught about 6 and likely lost as many. It was a good time for a while.

During the day, we rested mostly since I had been up all night. The crew trolled most of the day and picked up a few more YFT, a Wahoo and Dorado. They had a nice YFT on that we saw and guessed would have gone about 150 – 160 lb range, but it shook the hook about 25 yds from the boat after roughly an hour and 20 minute battle. ARG! It was fun to watch the battle though.

Captain and crew were excellent! I can’t say enough about them. Some of the gaff shots missed, which can happen in the dark with a moving fish and bouncing boat, but I will say they never once stuck any of our Yellow fin directly in the steaks, nor did we lose a fish at the gaff, which can be common. We had a great time with the other fishermen on the trip too. There were a few friendly faces we have seen on the tuna boats over the years and some new faces. There was a lot of technique sharing, knot strategies and other fishing tricks that helped myself and others to improve our odds for the next trip.

We had some rough weather to start but calm seas coming back in. Three of us landed our first YFT and we all 4 limited out. My dad, the Maverick, is credited with the large fish of our trip a nice 80 lb YFT. He continues to show me up! Catching quantities of YFT like this is not very common. Yes, that is a lot, lot of YFT. There are a lot of people in Kansas that like Tuna!

~ Jon

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