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Tips & Tactics: Chasing Sushi in southeast Florida

“Closin’ down the hangout,

air is turnin’ cool

Shuttin’ off the super slide,

kids are back in school

Tourists traps are empty

Vacancy abounds

All most like it used to be before the circus case to town

That’s when it always happens

Same time every year

I come down to talk to me, when the coast is clear”

By Jimmy Buffet

By Grant Gisondo

September has officially begun in South Florida. The humidity is dropping, the wind is becoming more consistent and mid-week the ocean is once again empty. Fall is a special time for us east coasters. The fishing really gets good with excellent opportunities for black fin tuna and dolphin.

The black fin tuna run doesn’t hold a prayer against the tuna fishing in the north east, but black fin taste just as good as their larger cousins.

Tuna fishing is easy. From my home port of Palm Beach, Florida, I start the morning with a pre-dawn run to Juno Pier (Juno Beach, Florida) and fill the live well with 2- and 3-inch baits in just a few throws of the cast net. Once the live well is full, its time to go fishing. From Juno Pier, I head east to 100-feet of water. More times than not,  I don’t make it to 100-feet of water as the back fin are usually on the surface crashing and thrashing large schools of bait. If you see the water boiling,  forget the depth you were trying to reach and start fishing.

The author with a typical southeast Florida black fin tuna.

The author with a typical southeast Florida black fin tuna.

Be careful not to run over a school of fish, give them plenty of room as the sound of boat will drive the tuna down deep as well as the bait. Once you reach the area, take about 10-15 live baits and throw them in the water. If possible, lob them into the ocean so they make a faint splash when they touch the water. This is the official “tuna call” and really gets the interest of any game fish around. Once the bait fish hit the water you will typically see them quickly school up and swim under the boat, which is exactly what you want. Ideally, after a few throws of bait fish, you will have a nice school of baitfish attempting to seek cover from the open water. The tuna will begin striking the baitfish within a few feet of the boat – if you keep their attention with live bait. Every few minutes throw some more live bait in the water.

If you can’t find any live bait, I would pick up about 3-4 boxes of frozen glass minnows and start chumming. The chum slick will also bring in dolphin and the occasional kingfish.

With a nice school of bait around your boat – time to start fishing. I always start with an intermediate clear fly line from a 7-weight up to a 9-weight depending on the conditions. I choose clear fly line because all tuna have excellent vision and any color fly line will typically scare them off. From the fly line to the fly I use straight 20-pound fluorocarbon – about 10-feet long. A long, light leader is essential to catch black fun tuna as thy’re terminal tackle shy so scale your presentation way down. Personally, I’d rather lose a few fish and keep getting bites than get no bites at all.  Fly selection is even easier. Any fly that resembles a 3- to 4-inch baitfish with a white belly is an excellent choice.  I have had the most success with pink and white, and chartreuse and white fly’s.

Allow the fly to sink at various depths and begin a twitchy fast retrieve than STOP than start again. The pause or stop in the retrieve is key as the black fin will hit a bait while its sinking.  If the tuna re on the surface crashing and splashing cast to the edge of the school and begin a fast retrieve. If you make five casts into a splashing school and don’t get a bite, try another fly.

The black fin range from 2 to 15-pounds so either you will have a quick fight and release or you will have a nice fight on your hands. Landing a lit up tuna with a 10 foot leader can take some skill. So here are some tips for you. Do not grab your fly rod by any part of it other than the grip, grabbing the rod above the handle may cause it to break so simply ask a friend to help you land the fish. If your friend is hooked up and can’t help than get the tuna nice and tired and gently grab your leader and hand line the fish in close enough that you can grab it. Once the tuna is landed hold it belly up. Holding a tuna belly up will cause the tuna to lay very still and not thrash around while you remove the hook.

Back fins are very resilient and will quickly regain their energy when released. If there are any sharks around, be sure you are releasing the fish in good shape. If you harvest the fish, be assured you’re in for a table fare treat. I prefer them lightly seared and crusted with Poppy seeds. Delicious!

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