Most people are familiar with tuna. I would bet most people have eaten tuna salad sandwiches, or eaten tuna at a sushi restaurant. One of the most popular shows on the National Geographic channel is “Wicked Tuna,” which has shown the general public the beauty and power of the bluefin tuna.
I wonder how many people realize that tuna fishing can be very good in the waters off New Jersey. Yellowfin, bluefin, big-eye and albacore tuna can all be landed in the Mid-Atlantic Region.
Tuna are some of the fastest and largest-growing predators in the ocean. The bluefin tuna can achieve giant status and reach nearly 10 feet in length and weights exceeding 1,000 lbs.
Normally we see bluefin arrive in the waters off N.J. in mid- to late April, depending on the water temperatures. They are voracious feeders and are looking for large concentrations of food.
The first wave is usually the largest, and the fish rarely stay in our waters. They have a one-track mind and are moving to summering grounds where there are greater concentrations of food to maintain the calories they need for their massive size.
The first really good tuna fishing comes when an eddy breaks off the Gulf Stream and brings the warm, nutrient-rich waters into the canyons.
This usually brings in a mixture of bluefin and yellowfin tuna. Trolling in the canyon edges around these temperature breaks is the most common way of targeting these fish. Trolling dead ballyhoo, cedar plugs, green machines, spreader bars and various other lures from 5-9 knots is typical.
Last summer we had one of the best big-eye tuna seasons in recent memory. Big-eyes are notorious for arriving in schools and decimating the trolling spread of many an angler. They are one of the most challenging of the tuna to catch; they reach sizes up to 400 lbs and are very powerful.
Tuna fishing is highly regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and bringing the wrong fish to the dock can result in very expensive fines. So, before you go looking for tuna, first make sure you have your Highly Migratory Species (HMS) permit current and on the boat. It is very easy to obtain, just go to https://hmspermits.noaa.gov/PermitList.asp.
Current regulations are as follows:
Bluefin tuna: 1 school BFT (27 to <47 inches) plus 1 large school/small medium BFT (47 to <73 inches).
Yellowfin tuna: 3 per person per day or trip. The minimum size for yellowfin and big-eye tuna is 27 inches curved fork length and the allowable catch is 3 per person per day or trip.
There are no recreational limits for big-eye, skipjack or albacore tuna.
The next thing is to make sure you properly identify the fish you catch. It can be very tough to distinguish tuna, especially when they are in the 30- to 70-lb range.
Here are a couple of helpful tips to identify the fish:
The pectoral fins on a bluefin are short and end well before the origin of the second dorsal fin.
Yellowfin have narrower pectoral fins that reach beyond the origin of the second dorsal but not beyond the base.
Big-eyes have stockier bodies and the pectoral fin is thicker and reaches the origin of the second dorsal fin.
There are more keys to identifying these fish. Stop by your local tackle shop and I am sure they will explain in more detail.
Robin Scott, of Ray Scott’s Dock, reported: “Flounder fishing continues to pick up steam as anglers hit the Margate bay to ply their favorite techniques. Father’s Day weekend conditions were the most favorable in anyone’s memory, with sunshine, cool breezes, no flying insects and flounder aplenty. The dock’s Captain Ed Giacomucci led the Margate Slatkin family team to victory with three flounder, one over 4 pounds. Bill Mendenhall and buddies Skip and Angelo from Downingtown, Pa., cleaned out the bay with eight keepers, two over 4.5 pounds. Bill has been a regular in Margate for over 40 years. Ryan and Cole Klein, of Ventnor, caught their dad Dan a 19.5-inch flounder for dinner, while Meghan Lelli, of Chester, Pa., boated a 19-inch flattie for her dad. Ten year old Nick Dimeo, a student at Slaybaugh School in Egg Harbor Township, landed a 22-inch flounder for his dad Doug’s Father’s Day dinner. One can only imagine the fish tales at school Monday morning.
“Jon McNichols, of Philadelphia, demonstrated how well his dad taught him to fish with his buddy Mike Dorris and his 4-fish bounty. Courtney Blunt, of Egg Harbor City, and Vance Ellis, of Marlton, were high catch on their Deck Boat trip with three beastly flounder, two of them at 4.75 pounds. Fatherʼs Day perfection was the name of the game on the bay behind Margate!”
Jessica Obermeyer, of The Jessie O Fishing Fleet, sent over:
“Jessie O Fish N’ Fun has continued to reel in generous-sized fluke up to the 6.11-pound range. Lots of fish weighing in and winning pools are averaging 3.5 pounds. Pool winners for the week include George Erskin of Somers Point, Frank Lacey of Ocean City, Tony Turtzo of Villas, Tony Lee of Somerdale, Grace Donahue of Cherry Hill and Kevin Smith of Cherry Hill. In addition to fluke, we have been picking up blues in the 4- to 5-pound range.”
Bill Wiggins at Finatics said the water temperatures are climbing, hitting the mid-60s along the beaches and approaching the 70s in the back. He said the fluke fishing is still good around Ship Channel. With the temps rising, look to deeper water 12 to 15 feet. The best baits are minnows and/or gulp on a 1- to 1.5-oz bucktail. There are still stripers out front but they are on the smaller side. Wiggins said the higher temperatures make the bigger fish less active. Weakfishing is still good at night. His tip of the week is to float bloodworms on a float rig around the 9th Street bridge.
Sea Isle City:
Mike Cunningham, of Sea Isle Bait and Tackle, said fishing was a little tough last weekend with the strong tides from the full moon and the steady winds, but anglers where able to have some success.
“The flounder are starting to bite in the ocean. Townsends Inlet reef and Ocean City reef both produced some nice flounder. Keepers where taken in the bay but the wind mad drifting difficult,” Wiggins said.
He had a customer come in Friday with a nice blue fin and mako from the cigar. A customer who fished the deep-water reef for sea bass said it was kind of a slow pick but ended up with eight fish per man all large and extra large fish. They also had a cod over 30 pounds and one that was just a keeper.
“Surf action was slow, with wildly scattered stripers and king fish. Some nice weak fish and stripers under the lights at night, small swimming plugs and soft plastics are working best,” Wiggins said.
Tammy Carbohn, of Avalon Hodge Podge Bait and Tackle, said fluke were biting nicely.
“Of all the fluke we weighed in this week, the largest was caught by a 13-year-old named Peter Campagna from Lancaster, Pa. His fish measured 24 inches and weighed in at 5.66 pounds caught using gulp shrimp behind Stone Harbor.
“Other inshore catches included bluefish, weakfish, kingfish and croakers. These fish were caught with a variety of baits and lures. Finally, the offshore tuna bite was hit or miss at best when the boats could get to the fishing grounds. Tim Kroh reported 10 bluefin trolling ballys at the Lindenhol canyon.”
Cathy Algard, of Sterling Harbor Bait and Tackle, said the fishing season is in full swing right now with many choices for anglers from inshore to offshore.
“Back bay boat and kayak anglers are still catching flounder up to 5 pounds with an occasional trophy weakfish. Jason Bailey, of Conshohocken, Pa., checked in with a 5-pound, 11-ounce weakfish caught on a Pink Glow Fin S while fishing the back bays on George Danley’s boat Liquid Asset out of Wildwood.
“Patrick Latham and son Carson, of Ewing, landed two nice Father’s Day fluke while first-time kayak fishing near Richardson Channel. There are still plenty of schoolie stripers in the back bays hitting on top water plugs, and the Northeast winds late in the week really turned them on. Surf reports were quiet this week, except we did hear of few kingfish being caught. Good catches of kingfish, flounder and weakfish have been reported from the ferry lanes.
“Offshore, at Reef Site 11 and the Old Grounds when the weather permitted, fluke fishing has been excellent, with spearing or mackerel strips being the bait of choice. Scott Wheeler and crew, of Wenonah, had a nice catch of flounder up to 5 pounds while fishing Reef Site 11 on his boat Big Bone out of Wildwood.
“Citgo Ed, of Erma, stopped in and reported where not to go; he reported no action at the Wildwood Reef. Sea bass action is good on the wrecks along the 20 Fathom line. Offshore, shark fishing remains excellent with many mako sharks, brown sharks, threshers and blue sharks being caught. In the canyons, both yellowfin and bluefin tuna action remains good, with a spattering of mahi-mahi in the mix.
“Crabby Jack said a big, bright moon shone down from the sky and made for good catches of crabs.”
Sterling Harbor’s 21st annual Duke of Fluke Tournament is scheduled for Saturday, July 12. Call the shop at (609) 729-1425 for more information.
Rusty Ziegler, of Off the Hook Bait and Tackle, said flounder fishing is heating up on the offshore structure.
“The local wrecks and reefs offered some nice flatties. Bucktails with strip baits, gulp, spearing and/or smelts are the baits of choice. The back bays from Cape May to Avalon are still producing as well. Spearing, minnows and gulp rigged with a bucktail or a jighead from .25 oz to 1 oz is best.
“The tuna bite in the canyons is getting good. The Poorman’s Canyon is the hot spot for now, with 40- to 60-lb yellowfin and some bluefin mixed in. Trolling ballyhoos behind witches and Joe Shutes are the hot rigs.
“The weakfish bite along our jetties is
still good (if you are the early bird) using bucktails and jigs. Guys are catching them on bloods and shedders throughout the day. The weather has made it tough for boats targeting drum. The westerly wind has kept most at the dock, but the boats that have fished saw fish; not huge numbers on the deck, but fish are being caught. The drums are there but seem to be in breeding mode.”
Off The Hook just announced its Cape May Flounder Tournament to be held July 31 to Aug. 2. Call the shop at (609) 884-0444 for details.
Matt Slobodjian, of Jim’s Bait and Tackle, said they are getting better reports on fluke fishing.
“Some of the local boats have tried Delaware Reef Site 11 and have had some half-decent catches. Other guys have run to the Old Grounds and have had double-digit catches.
“Fran Carter, of Upper Township, took his crew of four to the Old Grounds and brought home 13 fish to 6.4 pounds. John Cranston, of Belleville, also fished the Old Grounds and managed to boat nine nice fluke. The throwback ratio from both guys seemed to be around 4:1. There are some fish at the Cape May Reef. The fish are hanging close to structure at all three places; short drifts work best.
“The drumfish are still biting in the 20 foot Slough off North Cape May. Some days are slower than others, usually due to water conditions and wind, but double-digit catches are still happening for some of the local charter boats.
“Bait will become a little harder to get as anglers start to fish for other species, so call your local tackle store to check the availability ahead of time.
“The striped bass bite has slowed down on the beaches. A few were caught this week but the water temperature has brought things to a crawl. The best time to target bass now would be early morning or at night around the rock piles.
“The offshore bite continues to be good this week. The water moved into the Poorman’s canyon and the yellowfins were there. Water also moved into the Wilmington, but the fish weren’t as cooperative there. However, good catches of dolphin were reported on the pots.
“The bluefin are starting to show up on the Lumps around the 20- to 30-fathoms range on the troll. The fish we saw were in the 20- to 40-pound class, but I’m sure the larger fish will be mixed in, if not now very soon.”
To send in fishing reports or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @OffTheHookTKL
Chuck Hinchcliffe is proprietor of Off the Hook Bait and Tackle at 989 Ocean Drive in Cape May.