Giant Tuna Fishing from a Small Boat

Cape Cod's giant bluefin tuna can be caught by weekend warriors fishing from small boats. The right gear and game plan is all that is needed for a chance to hookup with a true giant.

Cape Cod sportfishing's most sought after thrill is to battle with a giant bluefin tuna.  For many, the drive to catch a giant tuna borders on obsession.  The tuna's beauty, the potential for big money, and the fish's sheer size have driven many fishermen to spend thousands of dollars, and devote years of their lives to the pursuit of world's most valuable fish.

Tuna in Massachusetts Bay can reach a length of nearly ten feet, and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. These massive tunas are capable of reaching speeds of 40 mph.  The fish's incredible power and unmatched level of endurance, make giant tuna the world's most difficult fish to tame-even when using the heaviest of tackle.

For the weekend warrior, catching a giant bluefin tuna may seem more like a pipedream than reality.  A small boat, restricted budget and limited amount of time on the water do certainly influence one's odds at bagging a giant.  However with the correct gear and game plan, catching a giant tuna from a small boat is possible.

The Right Gear

Targeting giants from a small boat means it is time to put away the spinning rods and conventional stand-up gear.  Utilizing swivel rod holders along with 80 or 130 class conventional reels make wrangling giants much easier.

Swivel rod holders, unlike typical rod holders found on small boats, allow a rod and reel setup to move 360 degrees.  This means there is no need to ever remove the rod and reel setup from the swivel rod holder.  The angler fights the fish by using the boat, instead of his or her body.

Ideally the swivel rod holder would be mounted on the bow of the boat.  Unfortunately, installing the swivel rod holder on the bow is not practical for many smaller vessels.  Second best would be at the corner of the stern.

Good communication between the angler and the captain is critical when fighting a giant tuna from a swivel rod holder.  It is often necessary to maneuver the boat in accordance with the tuna's death circles.  An experienced captain should be able to foresee boat maneuvers based on the angle of the rod and line. 

Nevertheless having the angler and captain on the same page is absolutely critical to landing a giant.

An 800 pound tuna exerts incredible strain on the swivel rod holder, especially when the fish is straight up and down beneath the boat.  Having a brute of a tuna beneath the boat is the ultimate test for the rod holder.  A poor job installing the swivel rod holder will result in heartbreaking equipment failure.  Backing plates are very important and if you are unsure as to what you are doing, it is best to ask a seasoned veteran before ever dropping a bait in the water.

We typically employ Penn International 80 or 130 setups when targeting giants.  Penn's ownership has recently changed hands, making it more difficult to find replacement parts for the Penn 80 and 130.  Thus many anglers are switching to comparable setups from company's like Shimano. 

Bent butt rods are an absolute necessity for fighting fish from a swivel rod holder.  The bent butt positions the rod nicely at around a 45 degree angle from the swivel holder. 

The Right Spots

It is no secret that the best tuna fishing in our region occurs in the waters around Stellwagen Bank.  Stellwagen's southwest corner is 8 miles from Provincetown, 19 miles from Plymouth and about 26 miles from Barnstable.  In tuna terms this is not a far run.  Yet when fishing from a small boat, even venturing just a few miles from the beach can get dicey if the weather makes a quick turn for the worse.

So for the weekend warrior, finding spots that are closer to home is critical for those days that are a bit too breezy to make the dash to Stellwagen.  Fortunately big bluefins routinely venture deep inside Cape Cod Bay-sometimes within just a mile or two from the beach.

Big tuna are seen each season at the "Fingers" outside Barnstable Harbor.  There are not usually many tuna hooked and landed in this area, however this could have more to do with a general lack of effort from the fishing fleet than a lack of tuna.

The entire stretch of beach west to Ellisville Harbor can also hold tuna.  A few October's ago tuna were spotted within 500 yards of Sagamore Beach for three or four days in a row.  The fish were so close to shore that they could have been reached in a row boat. 

The area around the Fishing Ledge in the center of Cape Cod Bay is another spot worth checking out.  Roughly half the distance to Stellwagen Bank, this small "hump" often attracts stick boats hoping to pursue giant tuna cruising just below the surface.

Just to the west of Billingsgate Shoals is an area known by old timers as "The Square."  While working at a bait shop as a youngster I heard quite a few stories about the big tuna that feed on Billingsgate's bluefish and striper population.  I did not 100% believe these stories until last June, when I witnessed tuna in the 250 pound range tearing up the surface in 90 feet of water west of the shoals.

The probability of an angler hooking into a tuna while fishing the above mentioned areas is no doubt lower than the odds enjoyed byseason while fishing snapper bluefish just off the East End of the Cape Cod Canal anglers fishing on Stellwagen Bank-however it can happen.

Last season, my crew and I hooked into a giant tuna while fishing on the Miss Loretta just a few miles from the beach.  The tuna inhaled a snapper bluefish and quickly tore through 100 yards of 200 pound dacron before wrapping the line around the prop and breaking free.

If the weather is less than ideal, or if you are short on time, dropping a line inside Cape Cod Bay can yield some impressive surprises.

What's Happening Right Now

A lot of folks this past week struck out on the tuna front.  Yet quite a few sharp anglers did manage to bring tuna back to the docks.  Some of these fish were well into the 200 pound range. 

I'm yet to hear of any "true" giants, 500 pounds and over being caught in our area.  However I do firmly believe that these behemoth tuna are out there on the Bank and deep inside Cape Cod Bay.

Jeff Taylor June 18, 2011 at 11:03 AM
Blue Fish Belt Buckles in Red and White Bronze can be found at Cellar Leather in Hyannis Ma. and at capecodbelts.com . Handmade Belts and Buckles sure would make Dad happy on Fathers Day . The Car Show is this Sunday on Main Street in Downtown Hyannnis 8:30-2:pm. Enjoy
Ryan Collins June 18, 2011 at 09:36 PM
Id imagine those belts are also good luck while on the water! Very nice work Jeff
Anthony Aldana May 26, 2012 at 08:38 AM
I want to purchase a boat and try Blue fin fishing someday. What is the best boat for the job
Me & You Canoe December 13, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Minimum 20-23 ft walk-around like a seamaster. 150 horse motor min. and 30 gal gas tank. Don't forget your safety equipment and a HMS tuna license from NOAA


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