Catch The Bluefin Blitz On The Outer Banks, N.C.


If you’ve got a goal to tangle with a giant bluefin tuna, you better start making plans to head to North Carolina this winter.
It’s the heavyweight brawl big-game anglers crave. Reaching weights of more than 1,000 pounds, bluefin tuna offer tackle-busting speed, strength and stamina that will test the heartiest angler. The largest North Carolina specimen on record weighed 805 pounds and was caught off Cape Lookout in 2011.

In the Western Atlantic, bluefin tuna move up and down the coast from Newfoundland’s Gulf of St. Lawrence south to about Cape Hatteras, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Yellowfin tuna are a year-round target off the Outer Banks, but each year bluefin tuna start showing up in numbers around January. The peak of the charter season is usually February and March, which sometimes lasts into April, depending on water temperature and the presence of bait. Just about the time those guys from the TV show “Wicked Tuna” are wrapping up their Massachusetts season on Dec. 31, things are starting to ramp up for anglers on the Outer Banks. It is no surprise the show has scheduled a spin-off for North Carolina.

The Outer banks are a prime jumping off point to reach the waters where the bluefin tuna chase bait. With a short 30 to 45 mile run to the Gulf Stream, anglers can be in the action quickly in comparison to most other fisheries on the east coast.
In recent years, the fishing has been good, with heavy concentrations of fish moving with the bait. Ocean color changes from blue to green, steam coming off the water and marks on the sounder can all tip off captains to the presence off bluefin tuna, which can move miles from one day to the next.

It seems the bluefins behave differently every season when they show up. Techniques for catching them vary accordingly, but many captains choose to start out searching for schools by trolling. Once a school is located, word can get out quickly, and 20 to 30 boats can converge on a location to begin chunking with cut and whole menhaden or butterfish to create a chum slick and keep bluefins in the area. Then baits are deployed, which can produce great numbers of fish.

Jigging and popping can also be remarkably effective once the bluefin are located. Drifting over the school, anglers drop jigs down beneath the fish and then retrieve through the school, varying the action and speed to draw strikes. This is done with short, stout jigging rods and braided line. Reels with line counters or line with interval color changes can be helpful in gauging the right depth to deploy jigs.
Sometimes, bluefins will be visible on the surface, and this is when things can really get exciting. Sight-casting a popper to a pod of fish and beginning a quick retrieve can entice fantastic strikes, with bluefins clearing the surface in pursuit of the bait.

The one thing about the Outer Banks in winter is the weather can be extremely unpredictable. High seas and winds ruin trips for many traveling anglers every year. So if you plan to make the trip, allot enough time there to catch a decent weather day. You might just find yourself hooked up to the fish of a lifetime.


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