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Bigeye Tuna — The Canyon Runner Way

Larosa Leadin

    Good fishermen and great fishermen are separated by one thing and one thing only: Details.
    There is no magic bullet. Remember that when reading through the details below – remember them all. But one point to note: remember who Canyon Runner is most of time – a boat trying to produce multiple bites for guys who only get to fish once a year. As such, while what we are about to walk you through works well for us, we are setting our spreads and fishing in a way that is conducive to charter fishing. There are many ways to skin a cat. There are many great bigeye captains, crews and boats out there that you’ve never heard of that produce just as well with completely different approaches. So as always, take what we are going over below and use it with what already is productive on your boat.
    Let's start with the seven tactical elements of bigeye tuna fishing: Bottom composition; depth; water quality; “THE FEED”; whale life; building the spread; and application of the elements.

    One of the most basic elements of fishing is working the bottom, whether it be small hills and depressions inshore or large offshore drop-offs. Over the last 15 or so years electronics have improved exponentially.
    They’ve incorporated highly detailed large-screen multiple-displayed black-boxed systems that include multiple layered charts and significantly enhanced functionality. Specifically, the use of bathymetric charts has become instrumental in identifying key areas of bottom where bigeye tuna can be found. These include areas with steep walls, hills, ridges and low depressions in the canyon wall and floor. bigeye tuna will trap bait in these locations to feed. By staying close to these areas, especially during peak time, you will increase your chances of a bigeye encounter. These areas include, but are not limited to, the northeast notches of the Hudson, Toms, Lindenkohl, Wilmington, Baltimore, Poormans, Washington, and Norfolk canyons. Offshore hills such as the 461 lump, the northeast corner of the Poormans and the northeast corner of the Toms are prime spots. Lastly, the tips of the Lindenkhol and Hudson also are great areas to fish when conditions are right for bigeye tuna.
    While studying the bathymetric chart, some other less-known areas will show themselves to be bigeye friendly, such as the Hendrickson and Hayes canyons. This is particularly true for the early season, April to late May, and late season.
    Water in of itself is an additional form of structure. It's very important for any captain to identify places of change: change in temperature and change in color. Once on site, it’s paramount that the captain work both sides of these changes, keeping in mind that sometimes the best-looking water on paper will not always produce the better fishing. Sometimes the cool side or the green side of the change will hold the baitfish and thus the larger predator fish as well.
    Generally speaking, water temperature of 60 to 83 degrees is ideal in the Northeast canyons, and this is the range the average fisherman will see when fishing from June to October in the canyons.
    The coldest water where we've caught a bigeye over the last five years was while fishing clean blue water that was 60 degrees; we were fishing during the last week of November. It's not always about water color or temperature, though; some of our most consistent fishing has come from green water in the high 70s.

    Analyzing the depth is immensely important to finding bigeye tuna. While the vast majority of bigeye tuna will be caught in 130 to 500 fathoms on rod and reel, focus on trolling areas from 130 to 350 fathoms, as that really is the most productive in targeting bigeye. After looking over his log book, Capt. Deane has found 275 fathoms to be the most common depth for bigeye tuna encounters.
    Canyon Runner’s shallowest bigeye ever was taken in 55 fathoms in North Carolina in mid-March 2013. Along the edge, we caught one in 85 fathoms on the west side of the Hudson in around the Letters area. But several years back – actually in 1991 – we caught a couple 100-pounders just to the east of the Texas Tower in only 35 fathoms.

    "THE ZONE"
    Locating areas with bait and staying in the zone is very important, particularly around peak times in the early morning as the sun comes up and late evening as the sun sets.
    The main advantage of evening fishing is the ability to stay with the bait; as the sun sets, the bait ascends in the water column. As the bait ascends in the water column, so to do the predatory fish. The timing is usually around 730 p.m. during June and July. In fact, keep trolling well into the dark as bigeyes will continue to feed aggressively during that time.

    In the last five years or so there has been an increase in awareness of pilot whales in the canyons. Pilot whales and bigeye tunas are friends, so stay with the whales and you may just got your shot at the tuna. Many times, the whales will excite the bait, leaving it vulnerable to attacks from bigeye tuna.

    The primary forage in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic canyons is squid, with an average size of 7 to 11 inches. When selecting our trolling spread for bigeyes I try to keep this in mind. I am seeking lures that have some weight to them, smething 5 to 10 ounces overall. Examples of these are Canyon Runner Bigeye Runner Lures, Green Machines, Streakers, Joe Shutes, bullet-head style lures and Melton Cherry Jets. I gravitate toward these lures so that during the bite the lure has enough profile to track and produce a solid connection.
    Additionally, our pattern is comprised of at least two Canyon Runner spreader bars, mostly, Canyon Runner Green Machine bars (either true green or rainbow) or Canyon Runner Mini Mamba Bars (in blue and silver or purple and silver). We have not found the fish to be color specific but there are proven colors over the years that are our old standbys. More often than not we will fish vivid-color spreader bars (green, rainbow, pink, white) and dark-colored single lures (dark green/black, blue/silver, purple/black). All of my trolling lures are rigged up on 200-pound fluorocarbon, never going lighter than 180-pound, terminated with 330-pound Spro power swivels.

    Over the past decade ballyhoo have become a mainstay in the average canyon fisherman's arsenal and have been one of the top-producing baits for bigeye tuna. Nine times out of 10 this will be a 3-ounce Joe Shute for the Canyon Runner boats. On occasion we will fish Ilanders, sea witches and/or naked baits. Select-size ballyhoo seems to produce the most bites for us but all sizes will work.
    Always remember what you are trolling behind the boat is what you are going to get bites on so troll what you are comfortable with and just make sure it’s tracking properly. If it is and you find the bigeyes, you’ll get the bite.


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