Capt. Joel’s Fishin’ Holes

By: Capt. Joel Brandenburg 

Blackfin tuna is one of the hardest, fighting fish pound for pound in the Florida Keys. We target blackfin tuna many different ways offshore in and around the Marathon Humps and we also target blackfin tuna during certain times a year just outside the reef. Since January 2020 the bag limit on blackfin tuna has decreased to two blackfin tuna per person or 10 per vessel whichever is greater and presently there is no closed season on blackfin tuna. These are Florida state regulations that extend to federal waters.

Occasionally in the Florida Keys we’ll catch a bluefin tuna, Big Eyed tuna or a yellowfin tuna. Ana Banana Fishing, Company in Marathon, has only caught one yellow fin tuna this year the rest have all been Blackfin. We target blackfin, tuna, many different ways, depending on the weather, the depth and what the tuna are feeding on.

First, I’ll talk about how we like to target in Blackfin tuna at the Marathon Humps. The Marathon Humps is an underwater mountain range, and a world-renowned fishing destination off the coast of marathon Florida Keys. The peak of the Marathon Humps is at a depth of 483 feet and the ledge angles down to over 1000 feet deep on the backside of the peak. Tuna and other game fish sit under the peak of the ledge, waiting for bait to be swept over the peak by the west to east current. The top three ways to target in Blackfin tuna at the Marathon Humps is trolling, live, baiting or vertical jigging. When trolling for blackfin tuna at the Marathon Humps, we like to have one line long about 150 yards and another line short about 75 yards, so no matter how we turn the boat towards the schooling tuna, our lines won’t get tangled together. When your short line gets hit, get ready, your long line will get hit quickly following.

Our favorite bait to troll with is a plastic black sand eel. We use a 50-pound fluorocarbon 5-foot liter and troll at an average speed of 4 knots. I don’t know what the tuna thinks the black sand eels are, but they sure love them. The sand eels are most effective on overcast days. The best tuna bite at the Marathon Humps is very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon. If the tuna aren’t liking, our black sand eels then we will switch up to red purple or blue tuna darts.

Tuna darts with a daisy chain work well too. When large tuna are feeding at the Marathon Humps we sometimes troll with a mono rigged ballyhoo. While trolling with ballyhoo it’s not uncommon to get a mahi, wahoo or billfish to strike at the Marathon Humps. No matter what you’re trolling with when you get a tuna or other game fish on the line, remember to reel the game fish in quickly don’t play the fish, or it will get eaten by a shark at the marathon Humps. We also like to live bait at the Marathon Humps it’s best to come with a Livewell full of pilchers and start your drift west of the peak so your boat and your crippled Pilchard chum will both drift towards the peak. As we’re throwing out, dozens of crippled, pilchers, often blackfin tuna will start launching into the air and swirling on your chum.

When the tuna get fired up, we have Angler’s on standby with Hooks pilchers free lined with 30 lb test mono Flora carbon using a 3.0 “J” hook with the Pilcher Hooked under its pectoral fin. The anglers cast on the spots that they last saw the blackfin launch or swirl behind the boat. The reason we had them cast where they last saw the tuna is because many times the tuna will miss the chummer and swing right back to the same place to try to take another shot at the bait fish that they just missed and mistake the hooked bait for the chummed bait.

The other technique we like to use while blackfin tuna fishing at the Marathon Humps is vertical jigging. This technique works best on a sunny day and in the middle of the day especially when many boats are at the Humps all jockeying for the peak position. Sun and boat traffic drives the tuna down and causes them to feed deeper. I The shinier the vertical jig, the better. We do a similar west to east drift towards the peak of the Humps while vertical jigging. We typically only have two or three anglers vertical jigging at a time, so as not to get, our lines crossed.

We found the best way to drop the vertical jigs is have each angler count to 80 Mississippi then start violently jigging. Certain times of the year large blackfin tuna show up in 80 feet of water to 240 feet of water just outside the reef. We target these tuna a couple different ways when they show up outside of the reef. One way is a technique we call running gunning. When we are running and gunning, we are quickly driving up on schools of tuna and throwing spoons or plastic jigs into the school and reeling through the school as fast as we can.

We also like to slow troll through the schools of tuna. When trolling, we like to use a number three or four planer with a 30- or 40-foot leader tied to a spoon or a plastic on a jig head. We also like trolling with small Tormentor’s or lipped nomad lures. The colors pink, red and purple seem to be the number one colors preferred by the blackfin tuna.

If you like eating sushi many avid sushi eaters agree that blackfin tuna is the best tasting tuna in the ocean. After a tuna trip, we have our clients bring their tuna filets next door to Castaway Restaurant and Sushi Bar. Castaway will prepare the tuna many different ways raw and seared only for Ana Banana guests. With tuna season open year-round, Blackfin tuna is one of the most sought after gamefish in the Florida Keys. In my opinion nothing fights harder and taste better pound for pound.

Send this to a friend