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Capt. Domenic Petrarca

Capt. Dom Petrarca runs Coastal Charters Sportfishing, specializing in light tackle jigging and popping for bluefin tuna in Southern New England.

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June 14, 2013

Insane start to the 2013 Bluefin season!!

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

The season is really only just begun, but a season of catches, dare I say a lifetime of catches for some has occurred in just a short span of 9 trips thus far, each of them productive except one, all of them with amazing sights, sounds, and marine life of all sorts. The fishing we are experiencing right now in Cape Cod is what dreams are made of....huge bluefin tuna, just a short run from the dock, crushing vast schools of herring, mackerel, and sand eels. The fishing has all been done with light tackle spinning set-ups, with artificial lures worked by my anglers trolling, no live baiting, and no easy fights! Amazing teamwork and incredible will has been successful in hooking and most landing "wicked tuna" sized bluefin, all of them over 200 pounds, and several over 400!! The amount of other life such as basking sharks, dolphin, turtles, and whales also being spotted on every trip makes the trip worth it alone, but the fishing....For a change I will just let the pictures do talking.

Gear used:

Shimano Stella 18000 and 20000 SW reels
Van Staal VS 275 reels
Jerry Brown Hollow Core 100# braided line
BHP Tackle 100# and 130# Mono wind-on casting leaders
Spro 240# power swivel and #7 Power split rings
Strategic Angler Custom Lures Cruiser V2.0 and Frantic series in mack and herring
Siren Lures Sorry Charlie and Bad Mon 250F in white and herring
Daiwa Dorado Sliders in sardine, pink, and black
Got Stryper 11" pintails rigged on Gamakatsu Live Bait HD 9/0 hooks

These pictures should get your blood boiling!

May 20, 2013

Waiting Out the Offshore Bite...

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

Every year, regardless of how the winter goes, there is always a few weeks to a month or so of fishable weather right at the start of each season here in southern New England before my boat ventures out looking for tuna. With the offshore bite being a very, very distant possibility(Late April canyon runs are not out of the question) due to weather constraints especially in a center console boat, I often look inshore to satisfy the need to get out on the salt. The light tackle jigging and popping opportunities have been few and far between in April of late due to the spotty squid runs of the past 5 seasons. When they show, they do provide amazing fun on micro-light tackle from either the shore or boat, and make excellent table fare as well as future baits from everything from fluke to tuna. This spring, the squid run was extremely late, just starting to get going in most places after a spotty early run. With Tautog being a very brief season in most states early on to allow for the spawn, most anglers don't focus too heavily on them, just a few forays to start the season and bend a rod for the first time in a while. Tog is traditionally a fall and winter fishery, but there are a few weeks at the beginning of every season in mid to late April when good catches can be the norm, and they often respond to small jigs tipped with worm or a rubber bait. Seems that the tog jig is becoming popular, with many different designs now out, great fun on light tackle and a different way to target the almighty white chin, king of the wrasse.

Once May rolls around, the first striped bass and bluefish begin to show up, and it is then that I become a bit more anxious to start looking for weather windows to run offshore. The weather is still a bit spotty most years, and although most would say too early, I feel that with the right conditions bluefin or yellowfin could be a strong possibility in the month. The first two weeks, however, the water and air temps just aren't kind enough, so that timeframe is a great place to start getting in some casts and drops with both topwater selections and jigs of all sorts, as the striped bass begin their northward migration. I love the early bite, as it typically involves very light spinning set ups and small artificial lures. The sizes of the fish to start are often quite small, but by scaling down the tackle it is the best way I know to keep the demons at bay that demand larger quarry and blue ocean water far from the coves and back bays that begin each season of fishing. I use a 2000 size reel with 10 pound test mainline and a 12-15 pound fluorocarbon leader, combined with various soft baits and small poppers or stick baits. It doesn't take long for the larger fish to show up, and the same gear becomes a serious a challenge when a 15-30 pound striped bass takes your offering. The bluefish are thicker and in more sizes from cocktail up to double digit demon this spring than I have seen in a long time, and they are extremely aggressive of course.

Over the past week here in Narragansett and Buzzard's Bay we have seen a huge influx of striped bass to 50 pounds as well as legions of bluefish of all sizes. The bait is stacked up all over the nearshore waters, and the action has been consistent and sustained all on the light gear. Hot lures have been the Daiwa SP Minnow and the YoZuri Hydro poppers, along with Got Stryper pintail soft baits in 5" and 7" either on a small weighted jig head or specialty hook, and of course the RonZ in 6 inch has had it's fair share of fun. Because the bluefish are so thick, the soft plastics were put away after the first few sessions, the bluefish are just too thick where I have been fishing to bother. All this activity has lessened the painful wait for tuna to show up in numbers, as it always does each and every spring. The first reports of sightings are already coming in, and with the full moon phase coming in next week we should see a big push of bluefin to our nearshore waters quite soon. My next installment will be focusing solely on them, and hopefully the catches have already begun.

March 26, 2013

Advanced Jigging and Popping, Part 3

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

For those of you who have been reading the first two parts of this blog series, you now have almost the entire system starting with the angler themselves up to the leader system employed on the light tackle spin or conventional combo. For those of you who haven't....go back and read it now! I will complete the series by detailing the terminal tackle I employ in my system, including the artificial lures and jigs along with how I set them up. There are so many different types and brands available now, I would need a whole other series dealing with just these however there are a handful of lures that I will relate which should greatly up your odds at fooling that fish of a lifetime on light gear. If you have been waiting or hoping that I might get into where and when to find them, I will make it easy on you right now and give it to you straight away. I start my charter fishing trips in mid-May for bluefin with early season scouting combo trips dedicated to tuna with a bunch of huge striped bass on light gear as a bonus. As soon as June rolls around, I concentrate on one thing, tuna,and go after them hard until the end of November, right here in beautiful southern New England aboard my Dusky center console... I just couldn't resist a shameless plug for myself, and the amazing light tackle fishery we have here. Anyone knows that the best way actually is to get out as often as possible whenever time and weather allow, nothing replaces time and experience both hunting and fishing for elusive gamefish.

Close-up of Coastal Charters Sportfishing's rigging system, with a Siren lure ready to hunt.

Terminal Tackle

I use a very simple, straightforward, quick-change system comprising of a barrel swivel and heavy duty split rings to connect to all of my artificial topwater offerings. This same connection process also serves for all my jigging outfits, with the addition of a solid ring to attach an assist rigged stinger hook. This system allows for an easy, extremely quick changing of lures and jigs, and the same split rings also serve to connect the many different hook configurations I employ for various lures to the plug itself. I use only Spro power swivels(non-ball bearing style) in size 2 and 4, along with the Spro power split rings in sizes 6, 7, and 8. This configuration is not only super strong, it has a very small profile and because they are made to be rigged together, the rings slide all the way through the gap in the eyes of the swivels. I have found that this is extremely important for proper lure movement, and also prevents any leverage after hook-up. By minimizing the gear at the business end and going with the smallest yet strongest possible connection, you also decrease the visibility in the water making fish less shy around your offerings. I connect my swivels via one knot, good for leader up to 100 pound test strength, and that is the Palomar. Any time I need to use any leader above 100# test I will crimp. That is another topic I could spend a whole article devoted to, but the simplest way to view this is that there is only one way to crimp, the right way. This takes all the knots completely out of the system when dealing with fish that will expose any weakness in your joins. All of your terminal tackle should be readily accessible, and you will need quality crimping pliers or hand swage, dykes to cut leaders, scissors for braid, and a good set of split ring pliers that will open a variety of sizes.

Having all your tools and terminal gear organized is key.

Topwater Lures

I pay very close attention to rigging of all my artificial lures, as often times different hook combinations or styles will produce either favorable or negative results. I keep all my terminal rigging items in one handy case on my boat, as it gets accessed quite often in this fishery. Any lure that is to be brought into play needs to be super-engineered just like the rest of the gear to withstand the punishment these fish dole out. Heavy duty through-wire and the same Spro split rings attach my hooks, and I look for ways to rig as many as possible with single hooks. This helps get a much better hook set, even if it decreases the chance of finding a purchase, it holds when they penetrate much better than a treble hook would. It is much easier to deal with the fish boat side for release and safer for all involved as well when avoiding trebles. Many lures are designed to run with particular hooks, the challenge becomes creating a well balanced lure with the preferential hooks without making the lure ineffective in it's action. I use a style developed by the Nomad charter fishing outfit, taping or tying two single hooks shank to shank, as well as using different size and color dressed single hooks, predominantly Gamakatsu HD live bait 7/0 through 11/0 sizes. Use only tinned or similar finish hooks that will rust out quickly, never stainless steel, as lures are commonly broken off still attached to fish.

A good selection of different hooks, including dressed stinger hooks with lots of color

The most common question I get aboard my charters is hands-down "How do I work this plug, Cap?" and my tongue in cheek response is always the same, "There isn't really any wrong way to work any artificial, but there is definitely a right way, which may be different on any given day." Probably a more sarcastic and cryptic answer than they were looking for, but my charm aside the point of the statement is that you will need to play with a lure boat side before getting it into play to see how it swims, then watch your lure as you work it back to the boat, varying your retrieval rate from fast to slow, stopping and starting, as well as outright burning it across the surface sometimes. The fish will let you know when you have found the right action, by rewarding you with a visual, often violent display of aggression. Whenever you are targeting fish with hard mouths and good survival instincts, you need to drive the hook home with a solid hook-set, often several times, to be sure you get a good connection. There are too many effective lures specifically geared towards this style of fishing available today to go into too many, but I definitely have a short list of must-have lures that I never leave the dock without. In no particular order, the top 5 on my vessel over the past few seasons have been the Diawa dorado slider 187S, the Tattoo's Tackle Sea Dog and Sea Pup, in addition to the line-up available from Ocean Lures, Strategic Angler Custom, and Siren lures; all but the Diawa are handmade right here in the USA.

Just a small example of the many lures needed to chase big fish with light tackle.


Jigging has been around for a long time, only the styles and designs have developed to accommodate modern techniques like speed jigging and bigger quarry is now targeted on a regular basis. There may be even more options when it comes to jigs, with various shapes and sizes, with different descent rates, flash, flutter or wobble. I prefer mainly 180-300 gram jigs of 4-8 inches, and rig all of them with a single assist style hook to a solid 400# solid ring. I tie my own using 500 pound Kevlar Cord in various lengths being sure to choose the right hook size that will not foul on the the body. These assist-style jig hooks are very easily handled DIY, and will allow you to have a number of different sizes and lengths without breaking the bank. I use the same single hooks as I rig the top water lures with, having a high hook-up to bite ratio, and usually getting them buttoned in the corner of the mouth. Because the jig swings free and the fish is attached to only the hook via the cord and rings, it helps avoid any leverage situations, cuts a very small hole usually right in the latch or upper jaw, and keeps them on the line more often then any other rigging method I have tried. I have seen so many different brands catch fish here and there, but I have found another local manufacturer with a winner for the tuna I chase, Pt. Jude Deep Force jigs. These have such great action on both the drop and the retrieve that they will get bit over other jigs in most situations. The jig bite is one that relies on the predatory instincts of gamefish, and by following the same principles as topwater fishing by finding the right depth, speed, and rhythm needed to induce that strike.

Close-up of a Pt. Jude Deep Force jig attached via a solid ring to split ring configuration, with assist rigged Gamakatsu 9/0 HD live bait hook.

I would be remiss without mentioning one of the top ways to get a bite on my boat; throwing soft plastics. Both unweighted as well as on a sinking jig-head, the natural look and feel of a poured plastic is irresistible and can mimic a number of natural bait sources. The RonZ system accounts for a good majority of my fish each year when worked in a variety of ways subsurface. This method along with Got Stryper Pintails with longer shanked HD hooks worked on top will get bit in most situations, but especially when the fish are finicky or spooky. Color does seem to matter in many instances here in cape Cod, and I am sure to always have blues, pinks, whites, and mackerel patterns of almost all my lures. I check the hooks and inspect for dulled or folded tips often, either sharpening or discarding to help combat hard jaws, gill plates, and nasty head shakes so often experienced. Once a fish grabs an offering, I encourage a few solid snaps of the rod to seat the hooks, and then a few more for good measure after the initial run. Keeping the rod squared up to your center line is crucial, and gaining the head of the fish by applying good pressure at all times while not exerting too much energy is key. There are definitely tricks and tips that one will pick up after fighting a few fish, but by remembering to allow the drag and bend of the rod to tire the fish out instead of pulling on the fish at inopportune or ineffective moments will go a long way in getting you better at handling a fish once you are good enough to fool one. Again, nothing will make you a better angler than getting time on the water, and time on the rod. By preparing your body, mind, and gear ahead of time, you will greatly improve your catch rate, while enjoying your time more in a productive and successful manner each and every time you are fortunate enough to get your line wet in a hopefully productive area.

A nice bluefin hooked on a RonZ soft bait landed aboard Coastal Charters Sportfishing.

I hope you found the series insightful and helpful, and as always thank you for checking out my content. If you would like to see firsthand the latest and greatest gear and have a shot at what I feel is the baddest fish that swims, in one of the best places on earth to tangle with one on light tackle, please look further at for fishing reports, charter information, and some amazing photos.

March 04, 2013

Advanced Jigging and Popping, Part 2

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

In just a few short years, the light tackle jigging and popping game has seen a major improvement in the available gear that this specialized sport has to choose from. By minimizing the bulk and mass of the rods and reels, jigging and popping has allowed anglers to fight the fish comfortably and effectively without fighting the gear itself. Both the rods as well as the reels were developed to handle heavier drag systems, incredibly strong low-stretch braided lines, and heavier artificial lures while tangling with what some considered too big of a fish for such light gear on a regular basis. The pressures that can be placed on terminal tackle and the associated connections is extreme, and new systems had to be developed for not only withstanding the bigger fish and stronger runs, but also streamlined enough to fit easily and smoothly through the guides of the rod while casting or jigging all day. Even the lures are sporting heavy-duty 500 plus pound strength through wire and seriously upgraded hooks. After much trial and error over the past 4 seasons, I have adopted what I feel to be the very best system for just about any skill level of angler that may climb aboard my boat. There is no question that the gear itself has to be up to the task, as any inferior products or those not designed for the extreme nature of this genre of fishing will quickly be destroyed during battle, be retired after a brief tenure due to fatal problems caused by repeated use, quickly put up for sale, or left in the corner to collect dust with all the other bad purchases made in haste by an excited angler.

Before You Buy

The first piece of advice I have for anyone who has been bitten by the jig and pop bug, but has yet to dive headlong into the purchase phase is to wait! There really isn't any "starter" outfits or cheap, entry level gear that I have seen that is worth getting into as of yet, it just isn't up to the task and certainly isn't able to handle large tuna or similar fish on a regular basis. The amount of gear now claiming to be worthy yet not up to the task is staggering, as is the amount with actual merit that will suit an angler well as they get into the more advanced stages of the disease without becoming just more piled up useless gear in the garage. Just like the more traditional methods of chasing large pelagic fish offshore, the gear must be up to the task due to the sheer size and power of these fish. The price point on these specialty reels is inherently more, however these same pieces of equipment are built to last; there are thousands of Penn and Shimano 50-130 class gold reels with 20 or more years of hard use on them that are still getting it done like the day they were first spooled with line, and still hold value if looking to resell. The proper jigging and popping rods and reels are also extremely well made, and hold their resale value just as good, if not better due to the limited numbers available units out there. Don't scrimp, it isn't good on you or that fish of a lifetime lost because you came under gunned or with inferior tools.

A trophy bluefin is always possible on every cast, be sure your gear is ready.

The easiest way to play with a bunch of great gear is to find a qualified jig and pop captain who has the gear available for you, that way you can test out some quality gear without having to buy while in real world fishing situations. By heading to a shop with a good selection you can physically inspect, touch, and even bend rods, examine reels, lures, etc. There are so few specialty shops that have the complete understanding and product inventory to accommodate this highly specialized method of targeting large pelagic fish, it is very much like trying to get a good selection and quality of fly fishing gear at your average corner bait shop in most circumstances. Other than a few of the larger tackle houses like TFT, Edge Angling and Tackle Direct here in the northeast which have a decent selection you will generally not find much what you will need at most stores. I suggest to most of my clients that they get in touch with and Sami and Paul at Saltywater Tackle, who have everything under one roof, and will be in tune with the current technology and hottest equipment on the market. The winter fishing shows are another great time to check out these products, as most of the manufacturers in the game today are on display, and have knowledgeable reps that can talk to you about the features of each while allowing you to do same day comparisons. There are volumes of threads online with reviews and opinions, and one should research as much as possible before making the investment.

Popping Rods

The gear manufacturers have really stepped up to the plate and pretty much industry-wide have come out with some incredible rods. In the popping world the trend has turned to fast action, seven to eight foot rods that are well balanced and amazingly light-weight with some impressive materials and tapers. Everything from stock rods to custom rods with several offerings from many of the industry players mostly in two-piece models that join at the butt section are available for just about any tastes and style. These rods can handle some incredible loads, all while being long and tapered well to allow for long casts and proper action for working a variety of different weight lures. The minute differences from one rod to the next is nothing short of amazing as builders constantly tweak the guide trains, ferrule sizes, and grips to cater to the many different sizes, shapes, and fighting styles of today's modern angler. Blanks can be sourced quite readily these days, so many opt for building a custom rod that is exactly to their specifications for around the same money a stock rod would run . I favor several different lengths from 7'4" to 8'1" from Spinal Rods aboard my Dusky, as well as the full line of Race Point Rods from Saltywater Tackle. I have Travis at Spinal build my popping rods as one piece models, with the heavy version at 7'4", the medium heavy version at 7'6", and my light set up at 7'10" which with his aggressive tapers makes for extremely light and powerful sticks that shut-off around the midsection but not bending into the fore-grip area, which has very thin EVA lathed down to provide the utmost contact and sensitivity to the rod. Any longer than 8'2" it becomes too difficult to fight larger fish, and anything under 7'0" will cut down dramatically on casting distance. With the myriad of choices out there, this again stresses the need to research and also to hold and bend as many of them as possible.

Spinal custom 7'4" taking a severe angle in stride, with a Van Staal 275

Jigging Rods

Jigging isn't really all that new, many anglers all over the world have been dropping hammered diamond jigs and buck-tails for a long time with deadly results. However modern jigging has evolved to incorporate a few different techniques, namely speed jigging. This new style was developed in Japan, and quickly caught on here in the US and abroad, featuring dropping flutter and knife style jigs weighted to match the rods' tip action to a desired depth and quickly working the jig through the water column with rhythmic pumping of the rod in varying cadences. Anglers can rapidly work the water column with this style, preying on the reactionary strikes that many gamefish exhibit, and also focus properly on the depth where fish are holding and feeding. Speed jigging uses short rods of 4'8" to 5'6" with extra-fast tapers and incredibly sensitive tip sections, these rods also have the stopping power by creating a very efficient lever, while constantly working the fish's head upwards and towards the boat throughout the water with ease. The same holds true of the jig rod choices as with the popping rods in that there are so many choices out there more than capable of handling very large tuna or other pelagic gamefish. I use 5'4" to 5'6" Spinal 400-500g rods, as well as my "monster hunter" OBX 500g which was developed to handle the larger winter tuna encountered off North Carolina in the winter, a size that we also regularly see up here in southern New England. Once bluefin reach 300 pounds or better they are much more likely to hit a jig than a topwater plug, so I make sure that the rods are capable of stopping the larger models.

Spinning Reels

I use spinning reels for popping but not for jigging, and the choices for capable models unlike the rods are extremely limited. I have seen too many failures and witnessed to many common problems in most of the spinning reels that made their way into my rotation to bother with anything other than offerings from Van Staal or Shimano. Most of my reels are VS 275 and VS250 both with and without bails. They are bullet proof, lightweight, and hold plenty of drag and line capacity to stop a big, angry bluefin under most situations, especially in a center console like mine where the fish can be chased down until enough line gets back on the spool to stand and fight. They have waterproof drag systems and very few moving parts which makes for little to no maintenance. The Shimano Stellas are also built "tuna" tough, and because of their popularity amongst my anglers are up in the T-top each time I leave the dock. I just haven't had any other brand or model reel win me over as of yet, so these are the only two choices I can recommend thus far, although I understand a few of the players have redesigned and reworked their offerings for 2013, so I am excited to get my hands on a few and see if they can be added to the bullpen for this season and beyond.

Shimano Stella 18000 and 20000 SW models

Conventional Reels

The choices in the overhead reel world are vastly greater when it comes to small, powerful, and light-weight and comfortable to jig with. Many different manufacturers have both star-drag and lever-drag models that are more than capable of packing enough line and power, and because of the wide array most jiggers although moderately pricey will not break the bank. Again it boils down to personal preference and budget, as long as the reel is comfortable and up to the task at hand. I use both single and two speed reels aboard my boat from several different manufacturers. Jigging Master PE-8, Okuma Makaira 15 and Cedros 15, as well as Shimano Talica 16 and Trinidad 40 saw action last year, and all handled the fish with relative ease and few if any issues(which were minor anyway) on numerous tuna throughout the year. I do not like to use spinning reels as many anglers miss the bite on the drop, and it can be dangerous in the heat of the moment to try and get a bail shut if a big fish hooks himself and takes off at mach one...not a good idea to get fingers near sizzling braid! With a conventional set-up the angler can stay in contact with the jig throughout the drop, feeling the hit and also engaging the drag instantly by hammering the strike lever, something not easy to feel or react to with an open bail on a spinner. The fight is also much more enjoyable and less work on the angler overall as the spinner leaves the pick up at 90 degrees to the water while the overhead is naturally in-line with the entire lever action of the rod.

Saltywater Tackle OBX 500 with a JM PE-8

Line and Leader

This is where most anglers run into trouble, figuring out the line and leader connections with thin diameter braid and heavier monofilament or fluorocarbon. I spool both my spinning and conventional reels with Jerry Brown Hollow Core. The first 300 yards on my spinners get 60# colored line spliced to white 100# to the top. The jigging reels get a top-shot of JB decade metered line, so that my anglers can tell what depth they are at by watching the colors come off the reel. I fashion a loop in the end of the mainline, and use a single cat's-paw loop-to-loop connection with a pre made wind-on leader. I started out making my own when none were readily available but now source mine from Basil at BHP Tackle in both casting and jigging styles. I use 60# to 130# fluorocarbon for my jigging purposes, and 100# to 130# monofilament for my popping outfits. Unless the lure is subsurface, I typically do not feel fluorocarbon makes that much difference, and the softer, more supple mono many times gives the lures better action. Anything over 130# strength and I feel that the action on your offerings begins to suffer, especially with lighter plugs. Just about every knot or other leader system I have worked with makes the join getting in and out of the guides a nightmare, casting difficult, and the constant slapping against the guides each and every cast weakens most others substantially. If my water was a bit deeper and had lots of current, I would most likely switch over to solid braid as hollow core will flatten underwater and provide resistance, slowing you down and imparting incorrect action to the jig. When using solid braid I use a 50 turn bimini in the braid to join the leader in a loop-to-loop connection.

100# Jerry Brown Decade hollow core line and a BHP #100 fluorocarbon wind-on

Next installment will cover the terminal tackle, lures, jigs, how to set them up, and tips on hooking and landing big fish on light tackle. I will be at the RISSA Saltwater Expo at the RI Convention Center this weekend March 8-10th in the Pt. Jude booth 1011-1012. Stop by and say hi if you happen to be at the show! Once again I thank you for checking out my content, and hope that you tune in soon for the final, and most important part of this series.

February 18, 2013

Advanced Jigging and Popping, Part 1

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

I often get asked to do a "complete" rundown of everything that encompasses light tackle jigging and popping for large pelagic fish, but seldom have had time or patient enough audience to get through too much in one sitting. Now that winter has fully gripped southern New England there is ample time to go through what makes an angler become successful with light tackle, using strictly artificial offerings both top water and subsurface, or as modern enthusiasts refer to it "jigging and popping". Knowing that there is always more than one way to skin that proverbial fish, there are a few other systems and styles that work on large pelagic fish like the bluefin I predominantly target. However I have tried all of the latest rigging, set-ups, strategies, and approaches; through much trial and error finding my system works as good if not better, in addition to being extremely straight-forward and easily learned by every angler regardless of skill level. I get anglers of all shapes, sizes, and skill levels, and have seen too many times the common factors which cause fish to be lost, or simply not hooked at all. When targeting species that are smart, wary, fast, unbelievably strong, and often elusive it is important to have every piece of the puzzle in place to increase your odds of success. Every portion of the tackle from the jig or lure, all the way to the rod is tested by the popular trophy hunters; angry GT's, big broom-tail snappers, rooster fish, tunas, and billfish of all sorts. It is tough enough to get the bite, but when you do it is best to have the right equipment that is rigged properly, and a strategic overall approach to fighting and landing them that can be repeated each time you fish.

Long days with lots of casts sometimes!

I will be detailing tackle and rigging in part 2, and technique on top waters, dropping jigs, and fighting large fish on light tackle in part 3 as I do it on my boat here in Southern New England and my numerous visits to international fisheries chasing big-game fish on light gear. In this installment, it will be about the most important facet of the light tackle artificial game, the angler himself. Nothing is more important than putting in the time getting practical experience, by going fishing in real life scenarios as much as possible you satisfy both the need to scratch that fishing itch, but also becoming a more complete angler. However, there are things both on and off water that can be done when no fishing is possible to vastly improve your game.

Many people view fishing as merely a hobby, but it is very much a sport, and as with any high level sport, one must practice and train the body, as well as the mind. One of the more obvious and also beneficial things an angler can do would be to get in shape physically. Good diet combined with exercise as a general life rule holds true here, but there are other less obvious things that I do to improve my skill level, strength, and stamina. Being on a hard deck of a boat all day, sometimes in less than ideal conditions, will require good balance, and a good core of legs, back, stomach, and torso. Focusing on strengthening these areas in addition to your wrists, hands, and arms will really pay off with all fishing related body movements. Gripping a rod during a long fight can be grueling, especially freestyle with no harnesses to aid in combating fatigue and gaining mechanical advantage. By remaining active and doing the above basics, even reasonably fit anglers will help their overall game by stepping up a bit in these areas.

Fighting a bluefin freestyle with no plate or harness

Jigging can pretty much only be done in deep enough water to get a rhythm going and play with different size, shape, and weight jigs. Thankfully there are techniques which work well requiring little more than a rod lift and a crank or two, but speed jigging certainly will take a bit of getting used to. However casting is one of the most important part of topwater fishing, both distance and accuracy, in addition to endurance. It is highly unlikely that on a touch bite with finicky fish requiring hundreds of casts in one day with slightly heavier gear than your average trout rod an angler who is not in practice will be able to score, or for that matter come back for round two or more when on a multi-day excursion. The best way I have found to get really good at casting both with accuracy as well as distance is to head to a local football field in the off-season with a few of your set-ups and a beach towel. Standing in the end-zone, put the towel out ten to twenty yards, at different sides and have at it with a hookless popper or stick bait of decent weight that may have a few scratches on it already. Try and put the lure right onto the towel, and pay close attention to how you need to adjust your plug mid flight sometimes by stopping or feathering the line. Adjust the distance, and begin focusing on the back cast, and following through after loading up the rod properly. Get in the habit of throwing 50 or 100 casts in succession, this will build your stamina on those days when the topwater bite is picky, or even more-so when the bite is wide open and you are into 20-30 hookups! Being comfortable and also safe is another advantage to practicing a few casts at regular intervals, besides vastly upping your odds of putting that plug right in front of a single, charged up bluefin working halfbeaks 40 yards off the port bow when it matters most!

Placement of cast is important when the fish are only up briefly!

Another highly important skill is being able to work your offering in a manner that will induce a strike. I often get asked the question "how do I work this plug, cap"? The answer is always the same..."there isn't really a wrong way to work any plug, but there is certainly a right way on any given day, the one that scores a bite!". There are numerous ways to start, pause, twitch, speed up, or even stop a lure that will induce a strike, and by being comfortable with a particular plug will increase confidence, which transmits down the line to the fish, and results in more hook-ups. Confidence that your offering will get bit when you throw it is of the utmost importance, no sense in playing with a new lure you have never thrown in a game-situation. In winter time or down time any lake, pond or even pool that is unoccupied and large enough to get a few cranks with different lures will be the best way to learn what makes it dance and swim. I like to head down to one of the marinas with a long finger pier up here, and in the crystal clear water we get in winter I can watch how all of the plugs swim, and even change hook configurations to see which ways I can rig the lure. This will insure the lure tracks and swims as it should while trying different configurations for different species, as well as using single hooks whenever possible. Single hooks penetrate and hold much better, and are also less damaging to fish you intend to release, as well as easier to get off the hook. I use bright colored versions of the lures I employ that are subsurface so I can see them better, and if the water is deep enough with no obstructions you can even get some jigging in like I can.

The last thing I stress to my anglers when they ask what they can do to become a better angler with artificial lures is to study their quarry. By watching all of the latest and highly available go-pro POV videos of fish all over the web strike or track plugs back to boats, and by gleaming as much information as is available you will increase your success rate by understanding your prey. Becoming a self-taught ichthyologist and learning the biology, habitat, behaviors, and most especially feeding preferences will help an angler to better approach any given situation encountered when targeting that day's trophy. This will also greatly increase the confidence level I mentioned earlier, which again will definitely translate to getting bit with more regularity, and with more ferocity from the fish. There is nothing in the fishing world as exciting as watching a big fish blow up on a popper or stick-bait being worked back towards the boat, especially when it happens right at your feet from the elevated bow of my Dusky!

Part 2 will be all about the tackle, which has come such a long way in a very short time. Modern light tackle rods, reels, artificial lures, jigs, even line and terminal tackle has advanced very rapidly, and I have played with more of it than most. I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the manufacturers and their equipment during development and production, as well as have had anglers from all over the world get onboard my Dusky with amazing gear witnessing first-hand what will work and what to look for in choosing the right gear. As always, thanks for checking out my content, and stay tuned for the next installment. In the meantime I hope you are warmer than I am as you are reading this, and somewhere that has tuna swimming close by! May can't come soon enough.

November 28, 2012

Time to head south!!

by Capt. Domenic Petrarca

The 2012 bluefin season is officially over for me, with my last trip of the season on "Black" Friday. Thankfully there are no shortage of hearty, intrepid anglers out there, looking for one last stab at a light tackle bluefin. I had one international client studying here in the states who had the Thanksgiving week free, so we opted to take a chance. He arrived on Wednesday afternoon, and the wind had not laid down along with some large swells from yet another large ocean storm east of the Cape, and dreams of bluefin would have to wait. With the offshore grounds out of reach, we opted for a day saver and took advantage of my mobility with a center console vessel. The Tautog, or Blackfish as it is more commonly referred, is an amazingly fun fish to target with light tackle, and the bite in Rhode Island is among the best on the entire coast. With a bucket of crabs and some old numbers, we fished all day on Thanksgiving with little to no company, and a lights-out 'tog bite. Yet another reason why southern New England is such a great place to come to fish, the options are world class.

The weather has been extremely unstable for the better part of the month, so the intel dries up and each mission becomes an exploratory foray into the unknown. With water hovering around 49 degrees and shortened daylight we pushed off the dock with frost covering everything including the passengers, knowing we had only a brief window to make things happen. There was even a question as to whether the tuna would even be around in any kind of catchable numbers, if at all, as we watched yet another spectacular sunrise.

I wasn't all that confident as we neared the southwest corner of Stellwagen Bank, reading a steady 49 degrees on the sounder and seeing little in the way of visible life above the waters surface. As the sun crept just a touch higher, we spotted a few gannets and gulls hovering over one spot. There was only one other boat on the grounds, a commercial boat on anchor with gold in the corners looking for a late season giant, sure to bring a hefty price if they are lucky enough to connect and land one or two. As we approached the area the birds were hovering, they came together a half mile out and sure enough, a telltale splash or two meant something was feeding below! We raced over, still not sure if it was tuna, or the abundant atlantic white-side dolphin that from a distance can fool many a seasoned captain. As we approached the feed and got within striking distance, it was then apparent that old Chuck was in attendance, and feeding on some hapless mackerel that had caught their attention. My client Young placed a perfect cast into the fray, and had a 150 pound class bluefin blast his plug just yards from the bow. Unfortunately the fish missed the lure entirely, spraying a bunch of cold, green water and eliciting the all-too-familiar "DID YOU SEE THAT??!!??!!"

The feed went by the boat at a good clip, and the fish pushed out of range. We repositioned a few times and could not get the slightest look from the working pod, which was moving towards the eastern edge of the high ground at close to 9 knots. With only a few moments before the herding frenzy of fins and tails ran off the edge and more than likely disappeared, we got in front of them for one last shot. This time another fish broke off the natural bait and chased the artificial offering, but unfortunately this one was blind as well, completely missing the lure not once, but twice before we ran out of water at the boat.
Once the surface feeds went down for the last time, we switched to the metal. There were no marks on the sounder and desperate to try and grab a lingering fish that may have been moving with the school I had Young get to work speed jigging. He complied, and surprisingly on just the second drop, Young came tight on an absolute demon of a fish! The first run dumped almost the entire spool, and after 30 minutes of chasing at considerable speed we were able to get enough line on the spool where we could fight the unseen monster from a dead boat. Young gave it everything he had, but unfortunately the fish was just too big for the light jigging outfit employed and it sawed through the 130 pound leader after another 40 minutes.

And as if by script, that was the end of the show, despite hanging in the mackerel and herring infested area for over 5 hours, we never saw or marked anything even resembling a predatory fish for the rest of the day. Despite losing the only fish he hooked, and the frosty temperatures, Young was glad he got one last shot at a bluefin before the season was all over. It often times leaves one wanting more when the fish makes it's escape, and typical of many of my anglers, promised to be back next summer for another stab at a light tackle tuna from the bow of my boat. On our way back to the dock, with the wind building, I snapped a weld on my T-Top where my masthead light attaches, and coming out of the parking lot blew a tire on the trailer....a surefire sign that it was time to quit for the season. 2012 is in the books, look for a year end review to come in my next installation. With the cold winter about to lock me to land till April, I will be covering a bunch of rods, reels, lures, jigs, and terminal tackle that I employ on my vessel. I will also detail a few tropical destinations that light tackle enthusiasts should make a point to try and get to. Thanks for checking out my content, and stay tuned for more!

November 14, 2012

Mother Nature has the helm...

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

Once the calendar rolls around to the end of October, the weather here in southern New England becomes the main player out on the fishing grounds. There become far fewer windows to leave the dock in search of tuna offshore, and often times with the cold and residual sloppy seas left over from fast moving and powerful low pressure systems we do fish in less than ideal conditions. Up until mid October of this season we had for the most part been blessed with very mild air and sea temperatures, and very little in the way of large storms. That all changed last week, with the landfall of Sandy, a very large tropical system that slammed into the entire northeast coast of the US, followed by another strong northeasterly storm just one week later. I was fortunate enough to have my Dusky up on trailer already, so was able to move my boat out of harm's way. Many around me were not so lucky, as the storm took it's toll on many marinas in this area. There was a brief weather window where we managed to sneak out, and we were greeted to slick calm conditions and unbelievable marine life. Vast pods of dolphin with piles of sea birds over them greeted us this amazing autumn day, but had zero signs of any feeding tuna mixed in with them. We played with the dolphin for quite some time, as they were very curious about the people aboard watching them swim around the boat. After some great photo opportunities, we reluctantly left our mammalian friends and headed off in search of some hungry bluefin.

Still water is good for viewing marine mammals, but not so great for tuna fishing. Great visibility on a calm November morning aboard Coastal Charters Sportfishing.
The mackerel have shown back up in huge numbers, joined by many menhaden, shad, and herring which are coming out of the rivers and harbors where they lingered all spring and summer long. This creates a bounty of large, fat- packed forage meals for the bluefin tuna, and a great opportunity for anglers to score a fish on the jig. Dropping a slab of metal down and fooling a difficult predator like the bluefin tuna into committing on a strike has to be the ultimate challenge in fishing for pelagic species. With the proverbial "calm before the storm" glass-slick water there would be very few if any signs of surface feeds of tuna, as both bait and predator prefer to stay deep when the visibility is so good. Once we located a good spot away from the rest of the fleet, we positioned the Dusky on drift and got the jigs moving through the water column. The bluefin were marking well on the sonar between 60-90 feet under the Dusky, and it didn't take long before we were tight to a tuna.

After a spirited battle, the bluefin was landed and iced down in the box for consumption later, and we reset on the same drift. The jigs I have been favoring over the past two seasons has been the Pt. Jude Deep Force series, made right here in southern New England. These jigs have a tight, fast wobble on the drop, and really flutter and surge on the retrieve, especially when really whipping the rod during the jig motion. Rigged with a single assist hook, the point gets right into the hardest part of a tuna's rather tough mouth, the corner of the jaw. The fish is unable to get any leverage on the jig, as it swings free from the line while the prseeure is direct to the bitter end of the line. This makes for a difficult fight with nothing to slow the fish down or hurt it in any way, and also serves for good releases on fish not intended for the kill box. This day we were able to fool another three bluefin, all on the metal. These fish were tagged and then swum boatside for a healthy release.

Days like this will be fewer and far between, as yet another system unleashes heavy winds and large waves throughout the fishing grounds. It takes several days minimum before the water settles enough to fish, sometimes more. There aren't that many days left on the calendar before the bluefin disappear from these waters in search of more favorable winter waters. Despite the challenging weather and very cold days, there are some intrepid anglers that refuse to give up and take advantage of the few breaks mother nature allows. I will have the Dusky fueled and ready, for at least until after Thanksgiving, hopefully longer. During this time to reflect on what we are grateful for in life, there are those who were not so fortunate to have escaped the wrath of the recent storms path. Please consider donating whatever you can in way of food, clothes, or monetary donations to those less comfortable and in need. Thanks for checking out my content, and stay tuned for the next update, which hopefully includes more bluefin tuna action before it's all over till next season!

October 15, 2012

Autumn run has begun!

by Capt. Domenic Petrarca

The air has finally gotten a bit of cold and rawness to it, the daylight hours are waning fast, and the weather is once again the big factor for light tackle bluefin fishing here in Cape Cod. The wind has really come on from the constant barrage of low pressure systems followed by brief and fast moving unsettled highs from the north, making it difficult to leave the dock in an open center console vessel, or any water craft for that matter around these parts. The fishing has done anything but cooled with the season, remaining lights-out for the most part anytime I can manage to get a crew off the dock. Bad weather is often the only thing keeping us from fish once the annual fall run kicks in. The bluefin, along with many other migratory fish that visit our waters in the temperate months, will begin to feed in earnest as they pack in fat reserves in preparation of the journey to other, more favorable winter water. Many of the juvenile baitfish that remained in the safety of protected rivers and harbors all summer long begin to spill out into the bays and nearshore waters, providing additional prey to the already abundant stocks that the resident fish have found and been feeding on the past couple of months. This often brings even more schools of hungry tuna to the nearshore grounds, increasing the odds of getting a hot bite anytime the weather gods allow it. Thankfully the fish get more cooperative, as often when the winds die out, the fog rolls in making surface feeds difficult to spot. This is when using radar and sonar to locate both above and below surface indicators will score fish, as their presence is given away by modern technology and a bit of local knowledge. Bluefin often feed at the surface, but when foggy or low light conditions prevent seeing too far with the naked eye or binoculars, radar can often pick up birds over feeding fish, allowing the anglers to get topwater lures next to aggressive fish. The other technology that can be used to successfully locate unseen fish is the sonar unit, which reads the water column from the boat to the bottom and back, marking fish on the screen which indicates what depth and often what species may be present. This allows anglers to drop jigs and soft plastics like the RonZ which are favored on my vessel, scoring fish down deep that would not come up for a surface-worked offering.

There are still the occasional clear, calm, and comfortable days, but many intrepid bluefin angler knows that generally the more uncomfortable they are, the better the fishing will be for the elusive tuna. With proper clothing management of thin breathable layers, good foul weather gear, and a hearty spirit, fall can be the best time of the year for pelagic pursuits here in southern New England. The effort and additional challenges make the catch all the more satisfying…Despite the weather constraints, there is still 6-8 weeks left in the season until the tuna are gone from these waters, and with a bit of lucky weather a few shots each week to get out and tangle with a bluefin. Using light tackle becomes easier during the latter part of the season, as fish not only feed heavily but more often, but more susceptible to the aggressive approach my anglers take in targeting them. Fish that once languished in the heat of summer, are now charged up in oxygen rich, colder water, often schooling together and aggressively herding shoals of bait to the surface, or corralling them down deep in tight balls. When they are bunched together and in a feeding mood, competition increases the chances to score a solid, violent hit on your artificial offering. The fish often hook themselves instantly, and then will fight much harder in the cold water as they have more energy to expend and less factors tiring them out.

Bluefin tuna will often feed all day long once the light spectrums switch to the fall colors of reds and yellows, instead of just at sporadic intervals providing a much greater chance to score multiple fish in one outing. It is not all that uncommon to have 10-20 chances in the fall, compared to the average of 3 or 4 per trip during the summer months. The jigs are becoming the weapon of choice, as fish feed in the midwater depths rather than at the top or bottom, and larger baits like herring and halfbeaks become predominant instead of just the typical smaller squid and sand eels. The subsurface offerings allow the angler chances to score a hit on the drop, and then again while working the jig at various depths and varying speeds to entice a strike as the metal is retrieved back to the boat. Modern jigging gear is light and comfortable, yet durable and powerful enough to land fish of considerable size.

Once the fishing slows, I will be incorporting a lot more gear information as well as techniques and methods into my blogs. For now, the focus is still on getting out on the water and tight to a bluefin aboard the Dusky anytime mother nature allows. Stay tuned for the next few weeks of fishing, it should be action packed!

September 19, 2012

No signs of slowing down....

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

Not much has changed in the world of light tackle bluefin fishing here in Southern New England since my last update; The sunrises are still spectacular, the daily whale shows unreal, bluefin are around in amazing numbers, and are still providing bunches of shots to intercept one and subdue him via rod and reel. The majority of the fish we are encountering are in the 60-100 pound class, perfect size for the light tackle spinning set ups I employ. These fish do not have the power or weight to get too far into the spool, most runs are short and fast and easily handled without having to increase the drag or chase it down. This has allowed for even lighter set ups lately, with 40 pound braid on smaller spinning reels and fast action, light rods being the popular option. I haver been able to drop down to 60-80 pound fluorocarbon, without too much issue...the risk of going shy on your leaders is chaffing off or taking far too long because the pressure cannot be applied. There is still the outside risk that a larger model will inhale your offering, but unless it is a true toad of giant proportions, with a bit of skill and patience, can be successfully brought boat side even when using scary-thin leader diameters. These size fish are also making it a lot easier on the less experienced anglers who are trying the light tackle bluefin game out for the first time. The fight is still quite challenging, but because they are not over sized freight trains the anglers do not get tired too quickly, and the fish do not pull so hard that one cannot take a few seconds to regain composure during the fight without passing the rod off. This has provided a great chance for those wishing to try this style who were uncertain that they could manage to land such a fish with spin gear or light conventional reels. There is nothing quite like hand feeding some wood or plastic to a pelagic predator like the bluefin tuna, then setting the hook and fighting him to the boat completely solo with no outside assistance.

The bite has been predominantly subsurface and early morning only with the abundance of sand eels and the hot, lazy summer days. Over the past 2 weeks, the nights have gotten colder, the days noticeably shorter, and the light spectrums have started shifting to the fall orange and reds. This has improved the opportunities throughout the day, with fish actually feeding at the surface again at random times throughout the day, instead of just at the low light periods and with such subtlety. Now they are aggressively pursuing the larger baits in abundance like mackerel and halfbeaks, smashing at the surface, throwing a ton of water around, and generally making their presence known; this top-water show is what angling dreams are made of, watching a hard tail destroy a plug on the surface, or seeing several tuna compete for your offering right at your feet from the raised bow platform on my boat. The subsurface bites on jigs and soft plastics fills in the slow periods between the top-water show, scoring even more chances at a bluefin for the crew that is willing to put in the effort. These fish do not jump into the boat, so the harder the crew will work during the course of the day, the more results will show in the tally at the end. Because light tackle jigging and popping requires total user input, it is a more difficult task than using live bait or trolling around a spread actively fishing the entire time. An angler has to actively, and persistently cast or drop their artificial plug or jig and attempt to fool a fish; so much more rewarding in the end. The bluefin present in our waters already will most likely not be moving very far, as the fall run starts and the need to put as much fat on as possible dictates they stop traveling and start gorging themselves. Our Autumn run will be in full swing shortly, and with a bit of decent weather could last well past Thanksgiving. What are you waiting for, get up here and try your luck with some very light tackle against some amazing fish.

August 16, 2012

Hot August, Hot Tuna!

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

August has been hot weather, accompanied by some incredibly hot tuna fishing. Every day this month has seen numerous shots with light tackle jigging and popping gear on bluefin. Some days they are very visible on top, splashing, flashing, and throwing water as they chase the abundant bait. Other days they don't make their presence all that obvious, but the sounder has given away their location in the water column beneath my Dusky, and dropping a jig or a RonZ, or even blind casting with surface offerings has been a great way to keep the bite going strong even when it seems that the fish are not feeding or cooperative. My anglers have been treated some amazing weather this month, the winds and temperatures have been on the hot side, but thanks to the rains in the evening the surface temperatures have stayed at a nice 65 degrees or so, some spots slightly cooler or warmer, right in the bluefin tuna preferred range, making them happy fish willing to strike an artificial offering.

The sizes of the fish continue to be a surprise every time one is hooked; fish from 39" up to 70" have been landed by my crews this month, all on the light tackle setups, making for great sport and excitement! This is a great indicator that we have a very strong population of mixed year classes showing up here in Cape Cod on a yearly basis, signs that indeed our stocks are rebounding quite nicely. It is my firm belief that the bluefin is a highly fecund animal, and has managed to take advantage of the very strict quota and regulations we follow here in the west, proven by the abundance of healthy smaller fish. These smaller fish are a lot more likely to take a surface offering than their larger brothers and sisters, making the surface shows pretty incredible as they smash top water plugs worked back to the boat.

Some days the tuna are very visible on top, smashing bait and throwing water. Other days they are very subtle, and only swirl or flash just under the surface, moving at speed and feeding on an incredible array of various resident baits. Because there is so much natural prey, it is extremely important to place a cast accurately and quickly when an opportunity presents itself, and work the lure according to how the fish are feeding and acting; some days slow with stops and twitches, other days burned across the surface or through the water column. They aren't jumping in the boat, rather acting a bit like a spoiled child, only playing when they want to and how they want to. The schools of fish present are large and will often get together in the afternoons to sun themselves and digest. They will be very frustrating when they are acting like this, but will sometimes feed during these times.

Getting in and around bluefin tuna is the best way to increase your chances, and by sticking in spots that hold fish, when they light back up, the "right place-right time" occurs and the boats who stuck it out will be rewarded with the best chances. With some skill, patience, and a bit of luck, there are numerous opportunities to hook and land a bluefin on artificial offerings. The fishing should only get better as we head into the fall run in another couple weeks.

July 29, 2012

Cape Cod Bluefin madness!!

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

Things have really turned around since my last installation; July was somewhat of a frustrating month until the ides rolled in on the 15th. The bluefin that had been so elusive and firmly parked a bit too far offshore for our liking have finally moved into the nearshore grounds, in some more manageable depths where we could successfully use the entire arsenal of jigging and popping methods. The success rate has skyrocketed, with numerous fish being hooked on every trip for the past 12 days, some successfully fought to the boat and landed, some making their getaway at various stages of the battle, and many getting tagged and released to fight another day, and hopefully provide a bit of information to the scientists that study these amazing animals. The weather that had been pretty stagnant with no rain and little water movement got a much needed shake-up with some easterly winds and a bit of rain to stir the water up, and this was the trigger that got the fish moving towards shore and turning on their feeding pattern. The early morning bite has been the hottest as many fish have been fought in the low light before or just at sunrise. The bite sometimes stays active through morning with typical mid day lulls most days, but what a backdrop many crews were greeted to; amazing sunrises and the constant whale shows that are the norm this year, as well as tuna crashing bait with flocks of birds going berserk above them.


The fish have been responding quite well to many different topwater lures, as well as even more aggressive on the subsurface offerings like RonZ soft plastics and Pt. Jude Deep Force series jigs. Now that he fish have filled in, going deep to get a strike can be a very effective way to increase your odds at scoring. There are bluefish, striped bass, and dogfish to work through, and a bunch more effort on the fish with increased boat traffic, but by working the depths where tuna spend the majority of their lives a reaction strike can occur after the early morning feeds have waned and the life seems to have died. By getting in an area that tuna are lingering in, the sounder can provide the clue that there are fish in very close proximity to the boat; dropping down a tasty looking offering will often result in a fish piling on as it drops, or after a few strokes off the bottom.

The sizes of the fish have been very nicely varied; fish from the low 40 inch class all the way up to the upper 60 and low 70 inch class have been landed, making for very good sport, and ample opportunity for some crews to get the once rare over/under fish, taking home some nice meat for friends and family. We have also been placing a bunch of archival tags in released fish, getting them under control, lip gaffed, and then swum for a bit to ensure a healthy tag and release. Hopefully these fish will get bigger and stronger to please another angler in the future, while providing some much needed data for the scientists that study these amazing animals.

The amount of fish present along the immediate coast of southern New England right now is staggering. Bait in abundance, and more stable water conditions should equal a very fun month on the bluefin. Now is the time to capitalize on any opportunity to get out on the salt water up here, and get your shot at one of these mighty speedsters. The weather is typically the best of the year, and the bite is red hot. Stay tuned for an update on what August will bring....

July 12, 2012

Strange July so far....

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

July has been one strange trip! The fishing really showed signs of busting wide open at the end of June and first 4 days of July, but has since been unstable at best, with lights out action for very brief flurries, rewarding the boats in the right place at the right time, and frustrating the vast majority of others. It has decreased the number of boats on the grounds each day, as few reports other than from the regular sharpies have come out with any favorable outcomes. The fish are definitely around, but are acting a lot more like fickle tuna than the guppies we wish they would act like! My days have been up and down, with no rhyme or reason, and nothing resembling any kind of a pattern. The other members of the food chain have been regularly putting on a show, with vast schools of various sized bluefish showing along with the previously mentioned striped bass, whales, dolphin, seals, and legions of birds. My clients have been treated to some of the most amazing aerial displays by the resident humpbacks, and the two-tone dolphin have been a daily visitor to the Dusky, often getting everyone onboard into a red-hot mess when they see them throwing water in the distance!

The tuna have been seen in numbers in various offshore haunts, but very few in any concentrations in the usual inshore hangouts. Right after the moon, we had a decent day where we hooked several nice bluefin, and managed to get another rather large specimen for the gear we employ, a lean 79" fish, weighing in at roughly 260 pounds or so. My crews also managed to get one other smaller fish on a jig, a healthy 60" model, the first jig caught fish of the year.

The only really reliable thing about the fishing of late as been that very early in the morning, and then again in very late afternoon; the resident fish will make a showing better than just subtle hints, with many single and double crashes and small, wolf-pack type feeds for those who can track down where they may be that particular tide. The skills required are more of the hunter than the angler of late, being able to sniff them out and get near them will often provide a shot or two at getting a bluefin to commit. The bite is certainly not on fire, but for those that venture out, and work hard to entice a fish to mistake, the day can be quite rewarding not only for tuna, but an incredible day spent on the water with like-minded people.

June 25, 2012

Starting to heat up

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

The weather has been the big story in June, with hellacious easterlies and heavy swell, along with fog. I have cancelled 14 trips already this month, but the weather finally broke this week, and the school tuna have made a strong showing, seemingly pushing out those large 400 plus pound through 900 pounders out of the better part of the grounds. While many wish to try their hand at a large tuna on light tackle, especially after the 400 plus pound fish we landed aboard the Dusky on June 8th, the real target for the jig and pop light tackle crowd are the 50-200 pound fish that have been prevalent the past few years.

The week started out slow, but there were many pods of pushing fish just lazily running at the surface, not responding to much of anything. Typical of first arrivals, they begin to show more aggression once they have spent a few tides getting the lay of the land. We saw our first real feed on Friday, but couldn't get close enough to try and hook one. Saturday was a whole different ball game, and the first area we stopped at had fish crashing all over the place.

My crew this week flew all the way from Denmark to try their shot at a bluefin on topwater, and I was worried, but without cause. Within an hour of arrival, on maybe their 4th or 5th group we rolled on, Nikolaj Bielecki came tight to bios very first Bluefin. The fish took a custom topwater plug built by Strategic Angler Lures, and the fish piled all over it. The hit was intense, with the fish committing from down deep and absolutely hammering it just as it was 15 feet from the boat. The fish lit up, threw some major whitewater, then peeled of a 200 yard run on the Shimano Stella reel. Nikolaj worked it like a pro, and had it to the boat for an easy gaff shot within half an hour. The fish taped out at 68 inches and weighed around 150-160 pounds of pure muscle. The week long adventure had started out with a bang, but they weren't finished there. They enticed two more fish into making a critical mistake, and they trellised the next two fish which were in the same size class or a bit smaller.

Day two we got off the dock even earlier as the show had died really early the day before, and were greeted to even more fish, and they were making their presence very known, with several large schools feeding with reckless abandon. The guys came tight at the same time in the first feed we moved on, and were tied into two fish that were not very happy.

Doubled up and feeling pretty good, the guys worked both fish like pros and we were able to keep both buttoned up. The first fish in was Nikolaj's and measured at 69.5 inches, about 185 pounds, and it was quickly dispatched with a tail rope at the side of the boat. My other angler Jakob Lindberg brought his up, and we realized immediately it was a bigger fish. After a few short runs, we were able to control the fish, got a good measurement and decided to take that fish as well, as it was right at the 73" mark and around 215 pounds, allowing us to harvest it as the one trophy category fish allowed on my vessel yearly.

The guys were totally stoked, but got right back to work and managed to hook 3 more, one single fish which spit the hooks after 15 minutes, and another crazy double that had one fish cross the other and get tangled up in the lines, losing one but landing the other for a nice clean release, a healthy 63 inch class fish. These anglers are amazingly skilled, making my job so much easier, just hunting down a few fish and letting them go to work. They really like to have fun, and joked and smiled all day long, the way it is supposed to be done!

I am very fortunate to have this fishery right here in my backyard, and am excited that it is getting notice from the international angling community. Weather once again kept us off the water today, but we will be back at it tomorrow and looking to better the previous two trips if possible....stay tuned.

June 15, 2012

400 plus pound bluefin on a spinning rod?

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

If you have been following my recent blogs, in my first post I had hinted that the fish were a bit bigger and the gear a bit more capable, and begged the question of just how big a tuna could be bested....Well I can say we got a chance to answer that right out of the gates.

After a trying start to the season, despite seeing a bunch of big fish, it took until June 8, 2012 to keep a solid connection to one of these early season bluefin. Big fish don't get to be that way unless they are wary and difficult to fool. The larger bluefin are a challenge to those using live bait and other more traditional methods, but to actually force-feed a slob like that a piece of metal, wood, or plastic is a much more lofty goal.

My crew of the day consisted of one repeat client Robbie who had plenty of time on bluefin up to 170 pounds on spin gear, with two anglers Brett and Jim that had plenty of time on southern species like grouper, sailfish, and Tarpon, but had never tangled with a tuna of any sorts. I often find that less experienced crews are favorable when a monster gets hooked up, and that is exactly what happened this day. After a long morning in the fog with plenty of signs of life to work on, we had zero luck until the noon sun finally got a foothold on the surface layer and burned it off. With good visibility for the first time in a long time, I was able to put the Dusky up on plane and do some serious hunting. After several feeds in the distance that we never got close to, we headed back up to the best area of life for the 11th hour. At about 1:30 pm, a half hour or so before we would need to pull the plug, Jim connected solidly with a bluefin after I marked a pair under the boat down deep. He cast a pearl-colored RonZ lure out away from the boat, and let it sink to the bottom 90 feet down. After two short strokes and a couple cranks of the reel handle, the fish piled on the lure and solidly hooked itself in the corner of it's mouth.(The lure is designed specifically for this, and perfectly did it's intended job!) After a few real nutty runs under and around the boat, this fish finally figured out that something was terribly wrong and dumped 3/4 of the spool on the Shimano Stella 18000SW spinner, and headed up onto the high ground and of course into the lobster gear. The fish thankfully took the wrong path, splitting the uprights between two high flyers about 300 yards apart right at the surface, and then continued on running away from us down seas in the building SW afternoon breezes.

I was forced to stay in gear for the first 45 minutes, while my crew gave it everything they had on the rod. This fish was a whole different animal than anything the guys had ever encountered, and as they wore down from adrenaline and the fight they took turns that became shorter and shorter in duration on this beast. These guys gave it everything they had, and listened to each and everything I asked of them whenever the fish got a bit squirrely. We fought the fish from the bow of the boat, and even I hopped on the rod in the rotation after the first hour as the guys began to tire, and we knew it was a big fish after it did a drive by. The fish towed us 5 miles from where we hooked it. We got the fish up into range within 2 hours, but the crew was gassed, and the fish was so heavy that every time I ran forward to stick the fish, he just fell down into the water column and the grueling task of lifting him began again. I got on the radio without any shame and asked a buddy of mine to hop on and either drive up on it while I stuck it, or let me get on the rod and have Robbie follow the fish while he stuck it. Capt. Billy Maja of Maja-Day charters was the only boat left and I knew he would drop everything and lend a hand. His mate took the helm while he hopped on and decided he wanted the dart. He stuffed the fish less than 5 minutes in after I worked the fish into range with rod, passed off, and got it tailing away right on the surface. Brett, the smallest guy by far, doubled the rod over while sitting on his ass and held the fish while I drove right up on it and Billy drove the poon home. This war was far from over even then....The initial dart pulled, we fought the pig for another 30 minutes until I was able to get it planed up into range and Billy took the fish easy with the second dart to the head, and the ropes were secured.

The fish turned out to be 88" curved fork length, weighed 393 pounds on the scale. We won't ever know the true weight as I was more concerned with bleeding and preparing the fish so that it would be quality A-1 condition upon arrival at the dock, but figure somewhere in the 415-430 pound range with prepping loss. As far as we know this is the largest bluefin on a long spinning rod set up caught using strictly artificial lures and no plates, belts, or harnesses. The new bar of 400 pounds has been raised and set, now begging the question of whether one man can accomplish this on a fish of similar or greater size? I would say it isn't out of the realm of possibility.

The gear used to land the fish:

Saltywater Tackle Race Point 250 rod
Shimano Stella 18000SW
Jerry Brown 100# Hollow Core braid
BHP Tackle 100# mono leader
RonZ 4x pearl

June 05, 2012

The elusive bluefin tuna....

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

The 2012 bluefin tuna season up here in New England has begun in a rather frustrating way. Essentially every week this winter the rumors would fly about bluefin being spotted off RI, NY, NJ, and even MA occasionally, and most likely due to the warmest winter anyone can remember they probably did not go very far. It is quite possible and even likely that many fish decided to linger and remain year round residents gorging on the staggering amounts of bait present all over the eastern seaboard. There is more bait of various species around in vast herds, all over the much so that anywhere these fish decide to swim they will have food, predominantly sand eels, mackerel of many different sizes, as well as huge schools of menhaden, more than has been seen up this way in a long time.

After two weeks covering major ground in all the usual haunts, the rumors are no more, and the fish are indeed here. School fish of 30-50 pounds, all the way up to true heavyweight class have been seen by my anglers just about every trip, but in extremely quick fashion, and never in enough concentration to get anything done. Because the jig and pop game requires either strong presence and activity at the surface, or good numbers holding in an area down deep, when the fish are scattered and in no hurry to bite anything other than the easy, live meals it becomes near impossible to score a solid connection to bluefin. The mackerel are absolutely ravenous and in huge schools, my guys were able to drop down at anytime and fill up a few buckets for future use as bait or chum, or even some nice fresh sashimi!

Despite working very hard anytime there were even small signs that tuna were present amongst the vast shoals of bait, being eaten with glee by the pods of whales, dolphin, and seals we only had 3 or 4 close calls where tuna either exploded on a plug and missed, or were on the line briefly before spitting the hooks. The set up is better than anything I have ever seen south of the Vineyard and RI, east off of Chatham and the backside of the Cape, as well as Cape Cod Bay and the areas on and around Stellwagen Bank. Moving the boat to areas far east in deep water or up north on Tillies Bank and Jefferies Ledge did nothing but confirm that 2012 has shown a vast improvement in the amount and variety of bait present; a factor probably helped by the serious lack of ground fish present after the first winter of catch shares in the Northeast Multispecies categories.

The whales are thick all over the grounds in many different depths, providing quite the show for any boats transiting the grounds in search of gamefish. The herds of bait get balled up pretty tight, making it difficult to predict when or where the tuna may decide to briefly show and feed, providing any captain no shortage of head scratching and mumbling under the breath as it will be difficult to use the normal indicators to increase the likelihood of success. The striped bass have also invaded the grounds, along with some early bluefish, and will compete for offerings intended for tuna, causing even more trials and tribulations for the intrepid tuna hunter.

The bottom machine has been lit up everywhere the boat has traveled, making me optimistic that as soon as the main body of tuna decide to show up it will be good times. The weather of course turned pretty sour up and down the eastern seaboard, with heavy rains and strong easterly winds, it shut down anyone's hopes to get out and even try. The full moon tides should have everything moving around anyway, so it will be quite interesting to see what the fish have done after almost a week with nobody on them.....stay tuned, I have a feeling it is about to get very interesting around these parts!

May 10, 2012

Cape Cod Bluefin on light tackle.

by Capt. Dom Petrarca

Jigging and Popping in Cape Cod; A style that has quietly become an addiction for a select group of adventurous anglers, and a fishery that has quickly become a mecca for those who pursue one of the baddest fish that swims; the mighty bluefin tuna. Modern jigging and popping, or casting, is not your garden-variety way of enjoying the popular sport of fishing, but is quickly gaining a following and silencing most non-believers with its success and obvious enjoyment of the participants. Many international anglers travel to the area specifically to target bluefin using these methods, showing it's broad appeal to anglers from all over the world. Boarding a 24-30 foot center console vessel early in the morning, with nothing but spinning rods and light tackle jigging set-ups, then rapidly covering ground for 100-200 pound bluefin tuna is the basic premise,but this approach to tangling with large pelagic fish is anything but basic or boring....

angler Jakob Lindberg from Denmark battling a large Cape Cod bluefin on spinning gear

What used to be considered ridiculous and futile using "tiny" rods and reels, has become the norm in and around the waters off NH, MA, and the entire southern New England coastline. Traditionally targeted by "heavy" tackle consisting of conventional(overhead) 50 through 130 pound class rods and reels, using trolling, live, and dead baiting, the Atlantic Bluefin provides nearshore opportunities every late spring through very late fall for the intrepid angler. This fish can reach sizes in excess of 120" and 1500 pounds, but the school and medium-size class fish of 35-70" and 50-150 pounds are the predominant quarry for the recreational fleet. It is these bluefin, often located just 2-40 miles off the shoreline that the "new" selection of jigging and popping gear has made available a very exciting and unique method to target and successfully land these apex predators. In 2011, using strictly artificial offerings, my clients brought 135 tuna to the boat in 95 trips, 7 of which were over the 73" and 200 pound mark including 2 over 300 pounds, during a season many considered substandard. By moving the boat and creating the best opportunity on active fish, the success rate of this style has proven to rival if not outright better the more traditional means employed by the majority of the fleet. The gear has been rapidly improving over the past 5 years, and modern spinners and tiny overhead reels now possess the drag and capacity to regularly hook and land bluefin of considerable size; more and more documented catches of fish exceeding 300 pounds have been registered in the past 2 seasons up here, begging the question of just how big a tuna this gear can land?

angler Rheinhold Meyer of Germany using a "light" conventional jig outfit

240 pound 75" bluefin fought free-style using no belt or harness

I run a 29 foot Dusky center console, trailering from Hampton, NH all the way to Newport, RI and many ports in between, but predominantly Green Harbor, MA. This allows me to access the fish from the closest port to where the fish are to maximize fishing time and minimizing transit times. Over the past 5 seasons I have dropped all my other fisheries focusing solely on bluefin and running between 90 and 110 trips per season, specializing in using light tackle with artificial lures and jigs. I do not troll or use bait, which requires moving around quite a bit, locating signs of actively feeding fish earning this style the nickname "run-and-gun". This is a much different approach than what has been done in the past, getting the angler right into the action, and actively teasing a bluefin into striking something that is metal, plastic, or wood. This particularly appeals to the DIY and more experienced angler, which has led to some amazing numbers being put up on some trips, and throughout the season. This method of targeting bluefin can often provide multiple chances at many different points in the course of one trip, and hooking 5-10 fish or more is not unrealistic when the bite is on! Multiple hookups frequently happen, and it is not all that rare to have 3 or 4 going at once. Due to the fact the angler has typically hooked the fish very near the boat, the reels possess large capacities of braided line, and the boat is set up to be easily maneuverable, it becomes almost impossible for the fish to get too far away or at a poor angle for fighting. I have taken great pains to rig my charter boat to maximize the space available for both jigging and popping, with a raised forward deck and custom T-top that has no overhang past the helm, and cut short on the back end as well to mitigate any obstructions to the view or the back-cast. Most of the captains chasing bluefin in this fashion run very similar set-ups. This style of hunting bluefin rather than blindly fishing for them is a great way to avoid the boredom that often accompanies other methods of fishing, especially trolling. By keeping active and working the lures or jigs, the angler gets to feel every bit of the take, and the ensuing battle....not being handed a rod with a fish already attached, and more importantly comfort while fighting the fish, instead of the gear.

29' Dusky twin outboard center console, set up for "run-and-gun" tuna

The fish typically show up sometime in mid to late May, with the larger models making a strong showing early, and will often really light up as they come off their winter grounds and start to gorge on the sand eels, herring, and mackerel that are present in huge numbers. Whales, dolphin, and legions of gannets, gulls,petrels, and shearwaters provide clues that tuna are often lurking. Sometimes the bite is subtle in the lower water column only showing fish marked on the machine, but often it is a wide open feed that erupts, providing a world class opportunity to the lucky anglers on scene. I begin my search each season sometime in mid may, and usually find the fish a few days to a week before we can get them to bite. As they arrive, they usually are in smaller pods, and will be seen near the surface moving slowly and methodically. We call these fish "runners" and are extremely frustrating to target as they will usually not even look at whatever is offered. After they come in and settle down, they begin to get into a comfort zone, and start feeding, often like a light switch was turned on...then the fun begins. They are very aggressive early on, and with an abundance of larger baits present, will readily take large surface lures, providing the angler a bird's-eye view of his offering getting destroyed by a lit-up bluefin.

Lit-up, 150 pound-class tuna hammering a topwater lure very close to the boat

The topwater action is usually very good through the end of July, when sometimes the water warms and the fish retreat to cooler depths. By mid to late August, the locally designed and made subsurface plastics like RonZ and metal jigs like Pt. Jude Deep Force have become the most effective way to target the fish. High surface temps can make the fish tough to locate, they usually stay at depth, sometimes sulking right on the bottom refusing to come anywhere near the surface. The days can be mill-pond still, and the heat and sun are extremely oppressive to both angler and quarry. By dropping down to the fish, a reaction strike can often be triggered on lazy fish. When fish are located in abundance, they are often feeding on sand eels near the bottom, and using metal jigs and soft plastics worked at or near the bottom, great days can often be had while the rest of the fleet struggles. Trolling on these type days is often pointless, and with the numerous challenges presented with live or dead bait fishing, most acutely the gin-clear water and pesky dogfish, the only way to get a bite can be to get to where the fish are, which is deep. By using a good bottom machine, you can dial in the depth the fish are at, and even watch the fish interact with your jigs tight on the screen. I can often stay right over the fish by back-trolling, or using the engines in and out of forward or reverse to keep the lines vertical and in the strike-zone. Bluefin will often hammer anything that triggers their predatory response, not giving them time to check it out before committing.

Tuna showing deep on the sounder with the angler's jig in the center of the screen

The bite stays active through late November, and the jig action remains good for the duration. Once autumn rolls around and the fish start to feed with urgency for the fall migration, it is almost always a lights-out bite, but the weather can often keep an open boat at the dock due to strong prevailing winds. However there are many days that can be taken advantage of for those willing to plan last minute, perfect for the anyone within a reasonable drive and the willingness to not quit or give up before the fish do. Typically my last trip is at the end of November each year, as the fish disappear in any sizeable numbers once the water cools past 48 degrees or so. As of this week, there are various confirmed reports from the commercial scallop fleet that there are loads of bluefin all over the 40-50 fathom line, just bunched up and cruising. It is only a matter of a few tides, no more than half a moon phase before they begin heading west in decent schools. The first bluefin should be spotted in about two weeks somewhere to the east or south of Cape Cod, possibly sooner, and I plan on being there to greet them when they do....hoping to answer that question of just how big a tuna can be tamed.

I will update this blog regularly with detailed updates on how the bite is progressing, with pictures of course, as well as detailed information on hunting tuna down, technical advice, rigging up for them and everything in between. Thanks for taking the time to check out this installment, and looking forward to sharing more of the incredible fishery and the exciting way I target them.

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