Cape Cod's Flourishing Bluefin Tuna Fishery

By Captain Ryan Collins

It's difficult to beat bluefin tuna fishing on Cape Cod. The tuna fishing over the past few years has been nothing short of spectacular.

The sheer amount of tuna in Massachusetts Bay over the past few seasons has been staggering. Impressive schools of juvenile tuna, along with giant tuna visit the Cape each season. They feed on the plethora of mackerel, herring, sandeels and whiting (to name just a few of the many prey items) that are plentiful off Cape Cod. Many of the tunas are caught in places accessible by smaller boats. Fish over the 500 pound mark are caught each year from boats more suited for striped bass fishing.

There has been a lot of hype in the media about bluefin tuna being depleted and on the verge of extinction. However the population of tuna off Cape Cod has only increased in recent years. Spotter pilots, recreational and commercial fishermen have observed more fish now than at anytime in recent memory.

Fortunately for Cape Cod anglers, the action is usually only minutes away from the harbor.

Large schools of bluefins could be found within just a few miles of the Barnstable coastline during June of 2010. These fish fed heavily just north of the Fingers. Being so close to shore, it was possible for smaller boats to target the tuna, even if the wind was blowing at a moderate pace.. These tuna were fussy, and difficult to fool. However the topwater feeding frenzies proved to be quite the show in and of themselves.

On certain mornings, hundreds of bluefins could be spotted across the horizon, whipping up whitewater and crushing baitfish on the surface.

The fall of 2011 has the potential to be epic for Cape Cod tuna fishing. If the weather cooperates, there is no reason why many big tuna will not be caught. As is typical, the bait is here and it is plentiful. Cape Codders are crossing their fingers that the tuna fishing will break wide open throughout September, October and November.

Throughout this fall, my crew and I will be targeting giant bluefins. If all goes well, we hope to latch into a tuna greater than 72 inches in length. Our go-to technique will be drifting live bait. Bluefish, pogies, and mackerel will be our go-to live baits. We'll use balloons and kites to present the baitfish to the bluefins.

Juvenile bluefish make one of the best baits for the biggest of bluefins. Catching 12-18 inch bluefish around Cape Cod is, regreattably, not always easy. Juvenile bluefish should be plentiful in Cape Cod's back bays and estuaries this fall. The most challenging dilemna is devising a method of transporting the bluefish to places like Stellwagen Bank and the area east of Chatham. Luckily the effort, energy, and gas required to procure live blues is often times worth the effort.

Pogies may be a more realistic bait source for many anglers. These filter feeders can be gillnnetted or cast netted in many of the Cape's back bays and estuaries. Expect to put in many hours of searching and trial and error before locating and perfecting the art of catching live menhaden.

Artificial baits will still produce plenty of tuna for anglers who would rather not deal with the complexities of obtaining live bait. Squid bars are always popular with captains who like to troll. Some fishermen target tunas by way of spinning gear. These fish are generally smaller, however the style of fishing is often more exciting. However, fighting tuna on spinning gear can be very taxing on an anglers body. Being in decent physical condition is a necessity when pursuing bluefins on spinning tackle.

There are many different ways to target bluefin tuna. The best way to go about it is determining a method that works well for your boat and crew.

Fall is an exciting time to be on Cape Cod. The striped bass fishing and whale watching off Cape Cod can be equally dramatic as the bluefin fishing. Bass blitzes are common along the Cape's many beaches, as stripers "beef up" for their southerly migration.

Switching tactics and pursuing stripers is always a viable alternative if the tuna bite slows. On some trips 20-40 pound bass are caught on the same pogies and squid bars meant for tuna.

If the weather cooperates, the fall of 2011 has the potential to be one of the most productive times of the season for anyone wetting a line off Cape Cod.

The fishing opportunities off Cape Cod are truly endless.

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