But oh how times have changed! Apparently fishermen have finally wised up and realized how much fun these fish can be. In the last decade tuna have become one of the most popular offshore targets. Looks like the word is out and fishermen are looking tuna in a whole new way!
Recreational tuna fishing is done from late June until early October anywhere from 20 to 60 miles offshore. Tuna may be caught in a variety of ways but most are taken by anglers either trolling or chunking.
Trolling for tuna involves towing artificial lures or natural baits like ballyhoo or mullet behind a boat. Because tuna are particularly drawn to the white water churned up behind a moving boat, trolling speeds for tuna are often faster than anglers might travel to catch other offshore species. Since trolling allows fishermen to cover large areas of water, this method can also help anglers locate fish throughout the course of their day.
Unlike trolling, "chunking" for tuna requires that anglers fish from an anchored or drifting boat. Chunking is a type of chumming. The name comes from the way anglers cut small fish (usually butterfish) into small chunks before throwing them overboard to attract the tuna to their hooked baits.
Different from "chumming" where the chum-slick might attract fish from miles away, chunking requires that the tuna be at least in the general fishing area. Fishermen hope that the tuna will see the chunks as they descend, eat and follow the chunks close to the boat where they eventually intercept the baited hooks. When a school of hungry tuna surround a fishing boat, you can bet that the action aboard gets hot and crazy really quick!
Most of the tuna taken off Ocean City are either bluefin or yellowfin. Bluefins typically make up the bulk of the catch in late June and July. Bluefin are the largest of the tunas and have the potential of achieving weights in excess of one thousand pounds. Extra large bluefins, known as "giants", and are not caught around here. However local anglers do land plenty of bluefins each season in the 20-200 pound range.
Bluefins are primarily "near-shore" fish that are usually found from 20 to 40 miles off Ocean City. The bluefin fishery is highly regulated by the federal government. Recreational anglers must abide by strict size limits and seasons. Maryland fishermen must also register and tag all bluefin tuna they bring back to the dock.
Yellowfin tuna also start to bite in June but traditionally the best action with them is from late July through September or October. While these fish will also venture inshore as close as 20 miles, they have a much wider range than the bluefins and might just as easily be taken 60-80 miles out.
Yellowfin tuna have the potential of achieving weights in excess of 200 pounds. But around here it's uncommon to get one over 100 pounds. Most taken by recreational anglers will average 30-50 pounds.
A different species altogether is the bigeye tuna which is somewhat of a common catch around here although in nowhere near the numbers of the blue or yellowfin. Bigeyes are almost always deep water fish and are seldom taken far from the edge of the continental shelf waters 60 miles out. Bigeye tuna are usually taken in the 100-200 pound range.
Anyone who has ever caught a tuna knows that they are tough fighters. They're the heavyweight contenders of the sportfishing arena. Tuna don't jump and carry on like marlin or makos, these fish are strong, fast, and determined fighters that just don't give up. Even on heavy tackle tuna are seldom caught quickly. They fight all the way to the boat and are very good at "putting a hurting" on their adversary up in the boat. That's why people like to fish for them so much!
Certainly the fact that fresh tuna tastes so good plays a big factor in the popularity of these fishes newfound popularity. For those who have never had it before, fresh caught tuna steaks are superb and taste nothing like the boiled and processed stuff that comes from a can.