This summer we will start fishing for bluefin tuna adding a new technique that was developed on the West Coast long range tuna trips called “Rail Fishing”. Right now I am on my computer instead of my phone, where I can type with my hands on the keys properly. That throw back to Mrs. Goldman’s typing class in 1984 aside, it does feel good to type. Hell, they don’t even teach handwriting anymore. But that’s a rant for another day.
People come from all over the world to fish for tuna on Cape Cod. It is one of the best places on earth to chase tuna. Period. People travel to the Outer Banks for a winter tuna fishery. People travel to the other end of the world, Canada’s maritime provinces for a shot at a giant tuna. Here, on Cape Cod, we have an amazing fishery for tuna of all sizes, great lodging options, we are convenient to get to, and you don’t need a 50′ boat to handle the seas. And for much of the year, we have great possession limits of these awesome and delicious fish.
Since we caught our first tuna on the Black Rose in 2005 I have been hooked on taking people tuna fishing. You know how big it was? 33″ long. It was a 20# bluefin That’s all it took. We caught it trolling a Penn 114. In 2006 we trolled a lot for them and did amazingly. We were keeping 3 fish a day and the fish kept coming. Tons of fish that were all 40-47″ long. Some were in the low 50’s and that made a difference. In 2007, something changed. Trolling still worked. Guys started selling live pogies at $100/dozen. (mackerel weren’t yet plentiful by us). Bigger fish were getting caught; some guys were catching big fish on live bait, while they were targeting the 50″ fish. It started the change of how we fought these fish starting with smaller fish and mixing in bigger fish we learned..or rather, our mistakes were amplified and shoved in our faces….More importantly, I got a call “we want to use spinning gear for tuna.” I dare say the rest is history.
But it is history for me. As that year class grew, we stayed on them… We used gear that wasn’t meant for bigger fish. It worked most of the time. Big fish blew up the reels. Reeling against the drag ruined gears.. Long rods turned too inefficient for the bigger fish. As the fish passed 65″, the battle changed completely. We could no longer just horse the fish to the boat. As the fish topped 73″ and we were catching sales-worthy fish, the game changed. Our techniques improved every year. Our experience fighting tuna proved very valuable. We are targeting fish 70″ long, 80″ long, and 90″ fish don’t scare us anymore. Now we have seen guys land 100+” fish. Verified stories of a 110″ fish caught on spinning gear. There are some beasts out there. In the water and in boats fishing for them. It’s the ultimate challenge.
The fishery became the crack cocaine of fishing. It still is. Fishing for bluefin tuna with spinning gear means that the hunt becomes the rush. The adrenaline of the chase fuels the first cast into blitzing fish. It gets guys to drive up from hours away, fish all day and drive home. Some guys are lucky and hook into fish. Some guys aren’t so lucky. They go home, not defeated, but rather with a “I’ll get them next time” attitude. I have had several guys hook fish on their first cast to tuna EVER. I’ve had guys go four or five times in a row without fish.
The ride from the port is all about anticipation. Guys talk; they ask questions. They tell stories. Fish that you lose haunt you forever, but ones that you land become mixed with other memories. I get excited. When I see birds working or something fishy, I brim with anticipation. We know that the second a fish hits that plug all of this will change. Time will stand still. A memory will be burned into your mind that will keep you up dreaming for years. I love it. I love this fishery for all that it is and all that it can be.
And I hate it. All that we have done over the years to get us to this point downplays the fact that most fish are hooked on blind casts. That’s not sexy by itself. Casting into a seemingly lifeless ocean seems pointless to some. When all hope is lost and there is one guy who just keeps on casting blindly. “That” guy hooks most of the fish. It doesn’t sell tickets, so they say. We, as captains and “sellers” of fishing trips have have done such a good job of promoting the excitement that there are times that fish will blitz and then stop, 150′ away, and guys won’t cast. They are like “I’ll wait til they come back up.” They literally will only cast if there is a splash around them that they can reach easily. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s tough to nip that attitude in the bud after a decade of blitzing fishing videos have been circulating! Like the show Wicked Tuna, often the action is culled from hours of blind casting, miles of reconnaissance, waiting, and hearthbreak.
As these fish have gotten larger and our experience has us in front of more and more big fish, there USED TO BE that question, “how big of a fish can we target with spinning gear?” Big fish do their damage to the anglers. Any flaws in the tackle, line, connection, or lure will often mean the end of the battle, negatively. The battles are now team efforts, with the rod passing from person to person. No longer are the battles over in minutes (on the big fish). We still love the smaller fish, but the big fish break souls sometimes. I have had many heartbreaks.
For me there is hope, of course. Have you ever met me? I’m the most optimistic guy on earth. There are like three or more ways that I still have lots of hope. Before I even start counting with the easy ones, let me say that the number of fish around over the past couple of years is incredible. So remember that of all things. It’s a very strong fishery and they show themselves! They tend to arrive in June and are still around well into November and December. Awesome numbers of fish.
First, I have great customers who understand the game and how much effort that we captains put into getting them in front of fish. For the most part, they are ready to cast and bring their spinning gear fishing to a new level. When we leave for tuna, some guys say “tuna or bust” and other guys say “what if we try and then do something else if we don’t have luck?” Know thyself. Those are not my words, but they are appropriate. Know what it takes for you to feel like you had a great trip. We can do that. If you think you’ll want to fish for haddock after three hours of tuna fishing, great. We can plan accordingly. I like to warn people how many times we are heading to the haddock after throwing in the towel that we hear “we’re tight!” from another captain. Plus, shortening both the tuna effort and haddock effort often limits success in both manners. IE, getting a limit of haddock after chasing tuna might not happen, but you’ll have actions nonetheless.
Secondly, as spinning gear fishing for tuna is not for everyone, over the past three years I have done more and more “giant tuna fishing.” This is the way that most charters in the area are run. Here, we set the boat up with live bait and wait for the fish to come to us. We anchor up (or drift) and get our lines in the water. It’s the same fishery as people see on Wicked Tuna. My boat is set up really well for this fishery. For many anglers around the world, this is big game fishing. Go big or go home! Until something bites, this is the time to just enjoy being on a boat with your friends/family. Relax. Have patience. Patience? Yes, I feel like I can muster up enough if I have guys on board who understand that giant tuna fishing is all about anticipation. And waiting. (also, there are times in which we can fish for haddock at the same time, so there is that going for us on those days, for those guys.)
Thirdly, and the reason I am writing this article today, is combining the two—the mentality of run and gun fishing with gear and methods imported from the West Coast Long Range tuna boats….RAIL FISHING. In Southern California, they target 200#-300# yellowfin with this method, so when I spoke with the guys at Okuma fishing about it, I said “I want to target giant bluefin tuna with rail rods.” They said, “Perfect. It’s about time.” We are talking about fishing for tuna of all sizes on gear that is made specifically for this method. I can’t wait for 2020.
What is “RAIL FISHING?” Well, simply put, it’s like using a long jigging rod and a “heavier than jigging-reel, reel”. We would be doing it a few different ways.. I think universal will be having the attitude of the run and gun fishing. Let’s run around as we normally do to find the fish. Instead, however, of casting artificial lures at the tuna, we pitch live baits with the conventional gear. The Okuma Makaira Special edition reels are designed to cast live bait (so we have to watch backlashes, I can see some disasters now, but we’ll power through them.) Of course, we can also just let live bait out quickly instead of casting! We can also jig with these combos, especially if we are marking fish down deep.
The rods are typically longer than jigging rods, with a very long foregrip to rest on the rail of the boat. The boat becomes a fulcrum and the weight of the angler is one side of the seesaw. Some guys even sit on the rear grip. Some put it under their shoulder. But the upside is that you don’t have to “hold” it. You don’t need giant arms and a strong back to fight these fish. A flexible tip and strong backbone does the heavy lifting. Using the rocking of the boat and the bend of the rod, matched with a well-timed “crank”, the reeling part is easier than it should be.
My boat is awesome for this in a few manners–the bow rail is the perfect height to fight fish using this method. When the fish is away from the boat, you can easily sit down and fight it conventionally. Also, on the back of the boat, my 250qt YETI on my transom is the perfect resting point. And finally, take a knee! Taking a knee puts my low gunwhales at the right height to get on top of the rod and not worry about the fish getting stuck under the boat. Unlike a normal jigging rod, you don’t need to have tons of arm muscles!!! You use your body. I think that we will be much more successful using this method in landing bigger fish, faster.
AND IT WILL BE FUN. For a few years now, I have wondered about this method. I always tell my customers that Plymouth is a great place to stay for our tuna trips because we are never sure where we will depart from, but Plymouth is centrally located. Plus, it is fun. A million restaurants and bars and a great center of town. Plymouth Plantation for the tourists and historians as well. Call or text me about lodging options locally. I can point you in the right direction with some good options. As I said, people travel from all over for this fishery. Many of these people make it a “several days of fishing” event. Bring the family, explore the area as well. In 2020, Plymouth celebrates it’s 400th anniversary, and they are expecting millions of people to visit. Make your reservations soon as fishing dates and lodging availability are taken. See you soon, Capt. Rich Antonino