“The only constant is change” -Heraclitus 500 B.C
The tuna fishery on Cape Cod like many other locations changes year over year. Only a few years ago there were large surface feeds with the fish staying on top, allowing anglers to effectively use a variety of floating stick-baits. For the past few years there have been less surface feeds, as the fish stay down deeper, due to higher pressure on the fishery, and changes in feeding habits. The need to get the bait down to work the water column has led to jigging and sinking stick-baits being the most effective method for targeting large Bluefin off the Cape last few seasons. The following techniques have been effective for us. All this means is that they will do something completely different next year.
Know your strategy
Some days the fish are finicky and you may only get 1 to 2 good opportunities at a school so you need to make each cast count. All anglers need to be aware of the surroundings. Are fish milling and not staying up on the surface? Are fishing chasing halfbeaks but are only staying up for 3-5 seconds? Are you marking bait and fish 50, 100, 150 ft deep down? Know and execute a strategy before letting it rip.
If fish are not staying on the surface or marking down deep get those baits down deep and work the water column. Don't cast to where the school was, rather where its going.
Maximize time in the zone
Positioning the boat is critical to success and you want ideally get downwind or in front of the directly the fish are heading. Anglers should intentionally cast in front of the direction the school is heading and let stickball sink too target depth. Sinking stick-baits average around 2 ft decent per second across various brands. If fish are down 60 ft, count it out (30 seconds) to get bait down. Anticipating where the fish are heading and depth will maximize your time in the zone and increase hookup potential.
Slow it down
There are large bluefin tuna torpedoing out of the water 100 ft from the boat, your adrenaline is spiking and you could probably run through a wall. In this moment the angler is his/her worst enemy. Bluefin self regulate and prefer cold water and reason that are in the Cape Cod area. They prefer a SLOW presentation. If you think your retrieve is slow, then slow it down more.
With Sinking Stick-baits there are basically two primary techniques. Most popular is the Sweep (both long and short) and pause. Prefer to keep a bow in the line so the next sweep will pull the tip of the bait down and dig, which creates a realistic wobble as you continue through the sweep motion. At the end of the sweep make sure to pause! The bait will sink horizontally and flash which produces most of the hits.
Second technique is the Twitch. Short twitches will produce an underwater walk the dog, as the bait slides side to side. There is no wrong version, the key is to try both until you find what is working for those conditions.
You're trying to mimic an injured baitfish so the pause is key here!
Fish the Water Column
At the Cape it's all about working the water column. This is not a popping fishery as the fish are typically down deep. It is key to work different depths in water column, with different rods (1 rod 10 ft, 1 rod 50 1 rod 100ft).
Stop and blind fish indicators
Birds working an area, shearwaters searching underwater, riplines, slicks; these are signs of life that should be investigated. Boat activity especially outboards push fish down. Take the engine out of gear and work areas that are showing signs. Will be surprised at how many fish you can pickup his way.
Go with singles
Most stickball manufacturers design the swim action for use with trebles. From our experience using all single assist hook does not negatively impact the action of the lures. Our observation is that singles actually increases catch ratio, as fish can use the leverage of a treble to pop the hook. Additionally using all single assist hooks are a lot safer, and aid in releasing fish.
The only thing you can count on in when targeting tuna, is that when you think you have it figured out, the fish will change. These techniques have aided us over the past three years and hope it will have an impact on your next trip. Please let us know what works for you. It is important to learn through trial and error, and share amongst our network of fisherman to better this amazing fishery.