I arrived to Sheepshead bay around 8:30pm on Sunday after a relatively easy 1-hour wide from Westchester and went straight to Soup ‘N Burger to grab a bite in advance of the trip. I enjoyed a fantastic burger and fries, and then took a walk down Emmons avenue to take in the atmosphere. There was a palpable energy in the air, which was a great distraction from the number games i was playing in my head after hearing reports of ridiculous numbers of tuna fish being caught.
About 10 minutes into my walk (which was more like a waddle after how much I ate), I saw the perfect parking spot directly in front of the HUNTER. My inner George Castanza couldn’t let me continue my exploration of the bay if it meant passing up this spot, so went into a dead-on sprint back to my car to get it. As any New Yorker would know, getting greedy looking for a parking spot can be a dangerous game because the spot could be taken by the time I get there (and then i could loose mine) in the process; however, i am happy to say it all worked out .
Fast forward to 11:00, and Captain Mike is giving us a quick speech to let us know the plan: we would be fishing around 6:30 am, there have been fantastic reports, so we would go check things out and see if we could get a bite going on the chunk during the day.
He also emphasized to everyone the importance of not going too light too quickly. He would allow people to fish at light as 60, but strongly urged to consider 80 lb test mono. If we absolutely had to go lighter we would, but that’s only after confirming it’s absolutely necessary. I’m more than happy to explain why that approach needs to be taken and the reasoning behind it if anyone is interested. As we shoved off, we did make a quick pit stop at Stella Marris to pick up bait and ice before heading offshore.
Because we would be fishing early, I straightened my 100-yard mono topshot out (let it all out behind the boat and put it in the rod holder for a while) before bed as the New York City skyline faded into the distance. Since the bites have mostly been on the flat line, I don’t want my mono bunching up like a slinky when i give slack to let the bait sink. I also checked my drag with a scale after setting it by hand, which everyone should do at this time as waiting until you start to fish can lead to unattended consequences when you do hook and are fighting a fish.
Fast forward to 11:00, and Captain Mike is giving us a quick speech to let us know the plan: we would be fishing around 6:30 am, there have been fantastic reports, so we would go check things out and see if we could get a bite going on the chunk during the day. He also emphasized to everyone the importance of not going too light too quickly. He would allow people to fish at light as 60, but strongly urged to consider 80 lbs. If we absolutely had to go lighter we would, but that’s only after confirming it’s absolutely necessary. I’m more than happy to explain why that approach needs to be taken and the reasoning behind it if anyone is interested. We then shoved off, and made a pit stop at Stella Marris to pick up bait and ice before heading offshore.
Because we would be fishing early, I straightened my 100-yard mono top shot out (let it all out behind the boat and put it in the rod holder for a while) before bed as the New York City skyline faded into the distance. Since the bites have mostly been on the flat line, I don’t want my mono bunching up like a slinky when I give slack to let the bait sink.
I also checked my drag with a scale after setting it by hand, and I was a little light (18 lbs) than I should have it set at (20-22 lbs) with my rod fully loaded since I fish with 80 lb test (with 100 lb main line since it gives better abrasion resistance). To my surprise my muscle memory was spot on with strike being at 22 lbs (with the rod fully loaded - not straight off the reel). I strongly suggest you do this before you start fishing.
After getting situated, I nuzzled up in the corner of the cabin on the padded bench, put on some eye shades and was passed out cold as my headphones drained out the humming of the boat’s engine. I was suddenly awoken from a deep sleep, and took off my eye shades to see 6 foot 5 boat regular Bobby standing over me trying to get me to consciousness because we already had a few tuna in the boat. My stomach hit the ground because i was so well-rested (and jaded after so many years of dismal fishing offshore), I assumed that I slept halfway through the trip. Bobby cheerfully updated me that we were only fishing for five minutes. and I couldn’t believe it!
I grabbed my rod (rigged up with 80lb flouro and 6/0 Gamakatsu live bait), and hooked a sardine right through the eyes and set it off to float away along with a few split shots on the line. I barely got 200 yards off my reel before I was bit, and a few minutes later I was standing over a beautiful 60 lb class yellowfin tuna.
I’m not sure where to begin when it comes to describing the rest of the day. The fishing was absolutely insane, as more than 2 out of every 3 sets of working my bait down down to my backing, and then slowly reeling it back in through the chum slick resulted in a 60-75 lb yellow fin. There was a two-hour window where it was a yellowfin at will, and I would get a bite within 5-10 minutes of setting out a bait.
From this point on, I will give you some of the highlights, tips and insight of what turned out to be a memorable tuna trip, one of the best I have seen and been a part of in years.
• About 90% of the fish I came tight with were yellowfin vs. most other which had a higher percentage of skipjacks. That was because I was very very deliberate with how I was presenting the bait. Letting it out quickly to first get down below the smaller skippies schooling at the surface.
Then once it was in “the zone,” slowing it down a bit to stay in the slick, then quickly reeling it back in (sometimes the slow retrieve works, but never got any skipped on the quick retrieve, and when I did, they couldn’t swallow the whole sardine so they barely got hooked, which saved my the time of messing with them).
• The fishing was so good, that I took some time to experiment with different hooks. The fancy ones (ranging from Owner to other custom brands) seemed to pull a lot. I also hated fishing with the circle hooks because I couldn’t do a fast retrieve with my bait through the strike zone (because I need to let the fish run with the bait to let the hook get settled). When I did get bites while letting it out, all I did was have to work extra hard to gain back all the line that the fish would have otherwise had to work for and peel off drag to get.
The west coast is far more advanced in tuna fishing than we are, and they are sold on circle hooks; however, I wonder if that’s because they’re using so much drag that they need the hook to be set perfectly. Since we’re not fishing with 40 lbs of pressure, we can get away with imperfect hooksets.
• I need to applaud Michael for how dedicated he is to putting fish in the boat and how hard he was willing to work. He used a tremendous variety of baits, and had a special concoction for chum - herring, sardines, peanut bunker, butterfish, etc. which I believe absolutely had an impact. For example, many of the peanut bunkers were floating because they were still frozen.
Throughout the day, we were seeing skipjacks swim up to these, and then turn away at the last second (most likely because they aren’t part of the regular diet). But even if the skippies weren’t eating the baits, they were still having an important impact. It was causing some activity, or commotion which signals to other fish that something is going on.
• It is super important to trigger this commotion and get the fish worked up because it increases reactionary bites - which is something I learned form my uncle who is a former university professors (studied Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, which a PhD in Ecology). He explained that most of the time when a fish bites a hook (jigs in particular), it’s purely reactionary, and they’re eating it because that’s what nature tells them to do when something that looks like food is moving in front of them.
The decision for a fish to bite a hook and when they actually bite happens in a hundredth of a second (think about how quickly a fish has to react if a stray sardine happens to swim in front of its face in the open ocean). It doesn’t have time to think about what it’s eating.
• So When you get the fish schooled up, they start biting because it’s their reaction to seeing a bait in front of it because if it doesn’t act quickly it’s either going to swim away, or another fish will eat it.
• Towards the middle of the trip, we were having yellowfin and skippies crashing the surface eating our chum. Bobby then started throwing in some pierces of chicken cutlets and meatballs which were getting eaten up right away! Often times, one would take a bite and spit it back out; however, after spiting it out it would then get absolutely inhaled by a fish right behind it.
This reminds me of a piece of advice Steve Martinez of the VIKING Fleet taught me... “When you see a tuna fish, and you cast a jig at it, that’s not the fish you’re trying to catch. It’s too late for that one. You’re really targeting the fish behind it because they never swim alone.” Now I witnessed where that comes from.
• Michael spared absolutely zero expenses in helping people get their fish in. He provided flouro-carbon free of charge, and the baits were absolutely pristine. Better than anything i could have purchased from H Mart.
• I saw something I of which I have never seen before. While collaring one of the tunas, Nicky the mate found a jig in its stomach. I have never noticed a tuna with an old hook in its mouth before, let alone a jig! Unreal...
• Captain Mike's son, Michael Jr. was an absolute monster in bringing in fish. Here is the story on why I made this last statement - I hooked into a tuna and handed off the rood to him. We started fighting him and he took off to the bow, but then the fish turned and started going towards the stern, so we put the pressure on and were able to get him straight up and down in the corner. Mike was starting to get tired, and we were at a stalemate where we weren’t gaining any line I was using one hand to take out a tangle, and used the other hand to reach around and try to put the reel into low gear.
After clicking the button, I told Mike we were on low gear and it was time to put even more pressure on the fish. He then cranked him in to where he was a few feet under the boat, and I helped his father gaff the fish. I was beyond impressed; however, the kicker to the story comes later. While fighting a fish, my drag started to slip. Turns out, the reel never fully engaged when I tried to put it in low gear. Which meant, when Mike was turning the handle and making progress, he was actually doing so in high gear. What a monster!
I will again repeat that I was a little light (18 lbs) than i should have it set at (20-22 lbs) with my rod fully loaded since I fish with 80 lb test (When I fish with 100 lb main line, it does give better abrasion resistance when fishing on a party boat with a number of fishermen along the rail).
Finally I want to pass along that YFT fishing this good - as in having at least one fish on during the trip does happen, but has not been this way for a few years. Captain Mike of the HUNTER only needed two long drifts to put together a limit, and we had to repack and make room in the fish boxes more than a few times. Due to all the fish we had, I helped the crew collar the fish we had in order to make more room in the box before we made the final icing-down for the ride in, and then as you can see, loined-out a number of YFT while we were tied to the dock.
Everyone not only went home with full bags of loins and steaks, but had one really memorable party boat tuna fishing trip.
Here are my favorite pics from this trip...