My fascination with bluefin tuna began 13 years ago in a 12 foot boat about 300 yards off Sandy Neck beach. It was a flat calm, sweltering mid-August morning. The fact I had two more weeks of summer vacation, and a hefty bluefish on my line had me feeling ecstatic. But as I eased the toothy critter towards my beat up aluminum dinghy, I got a glimpse of a fish that would change my future forever.
In the crystal clear water behind and slightly below the feisty bluefish was a behemoth of a tuna, a true brute that looked to be half the size of the dinghy. With my heart in my throat I released the bail on my reel and let the nearly boat-side bluefish swim freely, praying that the tuna would engulf the hapless creature. However I was too late-hundreds of pounds of powerful sashimi had already disappeared somewhere into the abyss Cape Cod Bay.
I spent the next decade earnestly trying to catch a tuna. I was quick to learn that landing a bluefin from a boat more suitable for chasing striped bass is quite the challenge. Unless you have a substantial vessel, tuna fishing can be a hairy adventure in our neck of the woods. The trip to Stellwagen Bank can be a long, wet and even dangerous voyage for any size boat.
But the good news is that it is possible to catch tuna from a small boat more apt for inshore fishing-as I finally found out a few years ago. The great news for small boat anglers is that you may not have to travel all the way to Stellwagen Bank for a chance to tango with a tuna.
It is possible to find, and catch tuna while staying in sight of the shoreline, which we have slowly come to realize over the past few seasons.
During the spring of 2010, school sized bluefin tuna infiltrated the waters just miles north of Barnstable Harbor. A select group of anglers who bypassed the long steam to Stellwagen Bank played witness to pods of surface feeding tuna, slashing and molesting the vast numbers of tinker mackerel, and other baitfish that had taken up residence in Cape Cod Bay.
Having bluefin this close to shore opened up a whole new world for anglers fishing from smaller vessels. For us, the ride to Stellwagen can only be done safely on the calmest of days, and can be expensive, considering the current cost of fuel. Stellwagen can also turn into a “parking lot” on nice weekends with boats competing for fishing space. The tuna feeding off Barnstable during 2010 were ours for the taking, with very little competition from other boats.
Local recreational fisherman Todd Baranowski recalls the tuna blitz he experienced last June, just five miles from the Sandy Neck shoreline.
“We had fish busting all around us. It was nutty. It was my first experience seeing tuna like that inside Cape Cod Bay,” said Baranowski.
According to Baranowski, most of the fish looked to be in the 100-200 pound range. The tuna were very finicky and moved quickly, but fed aggressively on the surface, making for an impressive show.
However juvenile tuna were not the only visitors to our neck of the woods last season. Giant bluefins also made their presence known to a few lucky anglers.
Bourne native Jason Mazzola was one of the lucky ones. During a late afternoon trip just north of the Sandy Neck parking lot, Mazzola had a run in with a giant. According to Mazzola, who typically fishes more offshore locations, it was a spur of the moment trip on a picturesque day.
“It was late in the afternoon so we decided it would be best to just get out there, put our baits in the water and see what happens,” recalled Mazzola. “We let a bluefish swim out behind the boat a few miles off Sandy Neck, and 30 minutes later we were hooked up.”
Mazzola’s tuna broke off after a blistering run that peeled a hundred yards of 200 pound dacron from his Penn International 130 setup. Mazzola believes the tuna to have been substantially larger than the school sized bluefins that he too had seen within a few miles of the Barnstable shoreline.
“I think we were extremely lucky to have hooked up, but it just goes to show that the fish are around if you go looking for them,” explained Mazzola.
These sorts of fish tales give hope to small boat tuna anglers. It is feasible to bag a big bluefin from a 19’ skiff or a 20’ center console. Having a population of tuna closer to shore will certainly improve any small boat fisherman’s odds.
Let’s cross our fingers that 2011 will once again bring a mixed bag of school, and giant tuna within reach of Barnstable anglers.