While the following story isn't exactly a fishing report or forecast, it does represent what should be happening off our NC coast right now. Our springtime tuna fishing is usually very good and can be exceptional at times. The following story should give a working overview of the two types of trolling for springtime yellowfins. This story was written for theCCA-NC Undercurrents spring 2000 publication and is a very condensed version of two articles that I wrote for Carolina Adventure Magazine. If you would like a more in-depth look at them, the article on Trolling With Rigged Ballyhoo is in their April 2000 issue and the Fast Trolling article will be in their May 2000 issue.
As an added plus, the marinade recipe, fromdonna's Kitchen that is currently on our Monthly Recipe page is excellent on fresh tuna steaks. After the fishing tips work well for you, take time to get the whole treatment by using the marinade too.
Two Ways For Tuna
When someone mentions tuna in the springtime, I just automatically think of those schooling yellowfins that are swimming by our state. Even though I would like to go on some of those pretty January and February days, I would have to say that the middle of March is usually the beginning of our most productive tuna fishing. From then until Mother's Day it is usually pretty good, but tapers off as the water warms into summer.
While there is no way that I could say that I am not thrilled with fresh tuna steaks cooking on the grill, in this instance I am one of the people that enjoys the chase more than the meal. There is something special to me about intercepting a migrating school of tuna and having six or seven rods bending and reels screaming, at the same time. Earlier in the year, this is usually the case too. The tuna are schooled tight and moving hard so if you have a strike, it is usually a multiple hookup. If this doesn't get your adrenaline going, then you need to see a doctor.
For years I only fished for tuna by trolling rigged ballyhoo. We caught well, but were sometimes frustrated when we saw a school, or flock of birds, that were moving too fast for us to intercept them. These experiences were like throwing gas on a fire, as they fueled my desire to learn about fast trolling. Later in the season, I still troll a spread of rigged ballyhoo, but on those early days I am rigged to rock and roll quickly so I can intercept those travelling schools of tuna.
For those early days, I troll a, six or seven line, "V" shaped spread, that begins just off the transom and spreads wider to the rear. I am a believer in smaller lures for the school size (20 to 30 pounds) tuna. My favorites are the Tu-Nobs by Area Rule Engineering and the Sea Scoundrel "SCH" by Sea Striker. Both of these lures have a good swimming action and leave a good smoke trail. Their actions are just different enough that the spread does not all have the same movement. I will also usually mix in at least one subsurface swimming plug, such as a Boone Cairns Swimmer or a Yo-Zuri Bonita.
I consider 10 knots to be the lower end of the high speed trolling speeds. In my tackle, I have several lures that will handle speeds well up in the teens and a few that can handle over 20 knots. It is important to match the lures to the speed at which your boat sets up a good standing wake. This is because the lures need to be positioned on the forward face of the wakes.
Some of the newer and lighter boats never really produce a good standing wake, as they tend to fall over on plane at speeds of just over 10 knots. I have had some very good luck, while trolling at the supposedly unlucky speed of 13 knots. This is just where my boat makes its best wake before falling over on plane. If your boat falls over too quickly, you can add weight in the stern to help hold it down and create wake. Adding water to the livewell is one of the easiest ways to add weight and usually works very well on outboard powered boats.
One of the hardest things to do while fast trolling is to keep going after you have a strike. Of course the size and type of your equipment and the speed of the fish's run, will sometimes limit your ability to keep going. Keep going as long as you dare, as many secondary strikes come in those few seconds after the first strike. Once you have several fish hooked up, then slow and fight them as you would otherwise.
The more common method of trolling for yellowfin, at least off the Carolina coast, is trolling rigged ballyhoo. The ballyhoo are rigged into sea witches and many plastic lures, to be trolled between 5 and 7 knots. Here again, I prefer smaller baits for the schooling yellowfin and also for smaller dolphin, during the summer. This preference is based on the fish's ability to get the whole bait into its mouth. The smaller baits usually result in good hookups on the first strike, while smaller fish often can't swallow larger baits and don't hook up nearly as well.
When I troll rigged ballyhoo, I always have at least one bait that is rigged behind a planer or trolling weight, to get it below the surface. For trolling with rigged baits, one of my favorite bait spreads is an inverted "V" , with the wide end set just behind the boat off the outriggers and tapering in to the point, which would be the longest line. I want the closest baits to be skipping along the surface of the water, just behind the boat. If you've ever seen yellowfin tuna attack a "Green Stick Rig", you understand why I want some of my baits to be skipping along on the surface.
When trolling at this speed, I always have a dink bait or some sort of pitch bait rigged and ready to go. While occasionally I have to entice a tuna or dolphin to bite, this is mainly in the event that a bill pops up in the spread. I have found it much easier to react, with a bait that was rigged just for that purpose, than to reel in one of the other baits for a curious fish. My dink bait is also rigged differently, so I can jig it and make it move erratically in the water.
Whatever method you choose for trolling for tuna, the rewards are still the same. A heavily bent rod, a screaming reel, and the thoughts of fresh tuna steaks on the grill, should do wonders for anyone's attitude. As I said earlier, I live for the thrill of the chase. I won't lie to you either----I have never turned down a fresh tuna steak hot off the grill. This is a prime time for us in North Carolina. Get your gear together and get going.