Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Getting the right gear to fish for tuna
A LOT OF rookie tuna fishermen that haven't had the experience of fishing with a veteran tuna pro should know that it's more than just rod/reel/hook and line that is needed to bring a big bluefin onboard.
First thing that you need to do is to apply for a permit, which can be done by calling the National Marine Fisheries office in Gloucester, Mass., or going online. There are several categories of tuna anglers, so they will guide you through the process. Secondly, if you chose a category where you plan to fish commercially or just sell what you catch while out sport fishing, you'll also need a state commercial fishing license. The fines and penalties for not following the rules are very stiff and not worth taking a chance of just "winging it."
Are you going to fish with bait or artificials? Troll or fish at anchor or do it all? First, let's start with bait fishing, which a lot of new tuna anglers choose to do. Most serious saltwater tackle stores will help you pick your gear to the extent of your budget. If you are going to play your fish on stand-up gear, they'll help you with what is necessary for that, along with a rod and reel setup. If you plan on playing a fish with a special boat rod holder and some stand-up gear, you'll need a rod with a bent butt and that special fish-fighting rod holder.
Also, you'll need a harpoon or flying gaff to enable getting a tailline on the fish when it's alongside the boat but still lively if you plan on bringing the fish onboard. If you plan on releasing the fish, a sharp knife to cut the leader and leave the hook in the fish is often the best option. A tailline needs to be thick and very limber and soft so that it doesn't cut through the fish's caudal peduncle and actually cut the tail off.
Rigging your fishing gear isn't the end of the story. Your boat should be set up with enough anchor rode to fish deep water and you need approximately three times the depth of water for your anchor to hold on rough days. And anchor ball with your boat's name on it should be set about 50 feet away from you boat with a smaller pick-up ball and line attached that you tie onto your boat's bow.
When a fish is hooked, normally the best thing to do is to drop off your anchor by unhooking that short bow line that is attached to your larger mooring ball so that you won't let the fish wrap up in the anchor line. You should have marked your anchoring position on your boat's GPS unit in case fighting the fish takes you out of sight your anchoring position, which often happens when you hook a giant bluefin.
When the tuna gets alongside the boat, it's time to make your decision to keep it or let it go. If you decide to keep it and it's a big fish, a harpoon is usually the preferred option, but a fly-gaff and some rugged deckhands can do the job, although there's some danger involved. After the fish is under control, the faster you can get that tail line wrapped around in front of the tail, the better your chances are of a successful landing.
Smart boat captains fishing with inexperienced mates find that going over this procedure several times is the best way for a successful completion.
Trolling with natural or artificial bait is not so complicated and can be done with the minimum of boat equipment but if you want to go all the way with outriggers, downriggers or other trolling gear, expect to take a bit hit in your wallet. The actual fishing gear can be similar to the bait fishing set-ups but that's about all this is similar. Your tackle dealer should be able to set you up with trolling rigs that run from a simple lure to very expensive, multiple lure rigs. You'll still need all the gear for actually landing a fish that bait fishermen need.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.