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A new "Spin" on stand-up tactics for giant bluefin.

Giant Bluefin on a Spinning Rod
Story by David Dodsworth
Photographs by Capt. Dan Rooks and David Dodsworth


12/2003 

Tuna Duck Sportfishing with Captain Dan Rooks. Fishing the gulfstream out of Hatteras, NC for giant blefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, marlin, sailfish, wahoo, dolphin, and king mackerel.With the holidays fast approaching, the bluefin bite heating up off Hatteras, and the temperatures outside plummeting, I found myself frequently daydreaming of past winter bluefin trips with Capt. Dan Rooks on the Tuna Duck. Hatteras NC has always been good to me, and there is no better place on earth for a chance at a giant bluefin tuna. For these reasons, I couldn't think of a better place to spend the Christmas holidays!

The seeds for this trip were actually planted on Cape Cod the previous August. With the peak of the NE bluefin season fast approaching, I contacted my good friend, Capt. Eric Stewart of The Hook-Up! Bait and Tackle about a rod and reel setup for school bluefin tuna. Being a charter Captain and commercial tuna fisherman, Capt. Eric had designed a spinning rod for school tuna that had routinely handled 150 lb. fish. The set-up consists of a custom rod built on a stand-up, 30/80 lb. class E-glass blank with a slick butt, metal gimble, Fuji saltwater reel seat, and Fuji silicon carbide guides. This first class rod sported a Penn 9500 SS spinning reel loaded with 300 yds. of 80 lb. PowerPro braid and topped with 50 yds of 80 lb. Momoi Diamond mono. This was exactly the big fish rig I was looking for!

With the rod ordered, I finalized my plans to be on the Cape in early September to try my luck at school bluefin. To make a long story short, I saw fish, but never hooked up. The rod was put in the basement, held captive until the following bluefin season would hopefully present another opportunity.

Fast forward to December.......As I was kicking around ideas for a Christmas trip to Hatteras, It dawned on me that this would be the perfect opportunity to break in my new rod. I also began to fantasize of landing a giant bluefin tuna on spinning gear. All research indicated that this has never been done (and probably for good reason!). A quick call to Captain Dan Rooks and dates were set. It was decided that we would try for December 28th and 29th, with the 30th being a weather day. I told him what I wanted to attempt, and he said he would put me on the fish, but the rest was up to me (I also heard "crazy" in there somewhere!).

December 28th dawned clear, winds out of the NW at 10 knots, and temperatures forecast to be in the mid 50's. Capt. Dan Rooks, mate Barry Peele Jr., and I headed off to the SE in search of a pronounced temperature break that Dan had seen on the satellite image that morning. We fished some pretty water along an 8 degree break for most of the day. All the signs were there, but nothing showed other than a constant stream of albacore. We decided to cut the day short and regroup. There had been fish caught a few days earlier off Cape Lookout, 50 miles to the SW. It was decided that we would gamble on the fact that the fish would still be there. The bite off Cape Lookout had been a morning bite, so we agreed to leave at 4:15 am the next day for the 2.5 hour trip. This would get our lines in the water by daybreak.

As we eased through Hatteras Inlet in the dark the next morning there was excitement in the air in anticipation of what we may find come sun-up. The winds were light out of the NW, and forecast to swing SE later in the morning. The temperatures were forecast to be in the low 60's. The day looked promising, and the fact that there had been fish there in the preceding days was enough to get the adrenalin going. During the long ride to Cape Lookout we formulated our plan of attack.

We decided we would start by fishing the spinning rod off a planer at 30 feet deep with a ballyhoo dressed with a pink and white, custom tied, sea witch. At the same time we would run a 130 off the port rigger with a ballyhoo dressed with a blue and white Ilander. As we neared our destination, the rods were readied, baits rigged, and deck cleared. As daylight approached, Barry and I went over all the possible scenarios and what our actions would be. As Dan throttled back, we set the lines. With both lines set, and darkness turning to dawn, we checked our set-up one more time. Something told me that I should take my sweater off, and soon!

Hooked up!Our first indication of something going on was when a boat "went off" about 1/4 mile to the east of us. As we were watching this, Dan yelled from the bridge that there was a big fish all over the rigger. Barry and I turned in unison in time to see the line snap free from the rigger clip and start melting from the Penn 130. Fish on! Barry headed for the rod as I headed for the chair. He made it to the rod, but before I made it to the chair, Dan yelled "spinning rod!" I lunged for the spinning rod and hurriedly backed the drag off a hair. We had to set it tighter than we would have liked to initially in order to run it off the planer board. With this accomplished, rod in hand, and line screaming from the spool, the fight was on! As Barry fought his fish, I nervously reminded Dan that we only had 350 yds. of line to work with. I looked at the spool, looked up at Dan, looked at the spool again, and began to sweat. At this point, Dan spun the 51' Tuna Duck on a dime and started running parallel with the fish. This allowed me to gain back a portion of what we had lost, but only a fraction of what was out. After 15 minutes of give and take, Barry's fish broke off. With the 130 cleared, we all could concentrate on doing what we could to land the fish I had on. It became apparent from the beginning that if we were going to have any chance at all of landing this fish, we were going to have to cool the reel with fresh water as the big tuna made his runs. It was also clear that boat handling would be a huge part of the outcome. I was glad I had Dan at the helm when the fish attempted numerous times to head under the boat. More than once we made evasive maneuvers under lots of throttle and tight quarters in order to get away from the charging fish. Thirteen times I had the top shot on the spool, only to have the fish run again. After 1 1/2 hours, Barry had a wrap on the leader. The fish, at roughly 83" and an estimated weight of 350/400 lbs, had been landed on a spinning rod! A quick jerk of the leader completed the release, and high fives were initiated all around.Giant bluefin tuna caught 12/29/03

The feeling of having accomplished this is hard to describe. But, there were fish to be caught yet, so I stowed the spinning rod in the cabin and we brought out a second 130. We ran both rods off the riggers, and soon doubled up again! You didn't dare turn your back in fear of missing the strike! I took the chair, and Barry fought his out of the rod holder. Again, Barry's fish broke off, and I landed the second fish. This fish was in the 90 inch range with an estimated weight of 475 lbs.

We set the lines out for the third time, with the same results, a double! I headed for the chair to do battle with my third giant of the morning. Another fish to the boat, tagged, and released to fight another day. This fish measured 100 inches, with an estimated weight of 550 lbs!

At this point we decided to fish only one rod. We no sooner had the line set when chatter on the radio indicated fish feeding to the NE, with 500 lb. fish going airborne, crashing bait. We looked off the starboard bow and saw a mass of white water. Words cannot describe what we saw as we eased up on the commotion . There was a bait ball of menhaden packed so tight that you could have walked across it (see photos below). All around this seething mass were giant bluefin tuna, slashing and crashing bait with abandon. When I said 500 lb. fish were airborne, I wasn't exaggerating. These fish would charge up from the depths like a largemouth bass after a bug! It did not bother these fish one bit when a boat approached. They were literally in a feeding frenzy. 

Bluefin tuna feeding frenzy! Picture taken by Capt. Dan Rooks, Tuna Duck Sportfishing, Hatteras NC Bluefin tuna feeding frenzy! Picture taken by Capt. Dan Rooks, Tuna Duck Sportfishing, Hatteras NC  
Bluefin tuna feeding frenzy! Picture taken by David Dodsworth    
Click on images for a full size view

One pass around the edge of this and we hooked up again. This fish didn't even know it was hooked, and stayed among the crazed giants. The number of fish involved in this frenzy was incredible. I actually got cut off by another fish!

In 5 hours of actual fishing, we hooked 7 giant bluefin tuna, landing 3 (350 lbs, 475 lbs, and 550 lbs), with one being landed in a spinning rod! We were tight almost 4 of the 5 hours we were fishing. This gives the phrase "It doesn't get any better than this!" new meaning! Add to that the incredible feeding frenzy we witnessed, and you have a day on the water that none of us may ever experience again.

None of this would have been possible without the dedication and team work of all. If you would like to experience nonstop action like this, I would highly recommend that you contact Capt. Dan Rooks, of  Tuna Duck Sportfishing. The Tuna Duck fishes out of Hatteras Harbor Marina in Hatteras Village, NC. You can reach Dan by calling (252) 995-3076.

 

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Fishing the waters of Cape cod Bay for striped bass and bluefish
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Capeshores Charters with Capt Bruce Peters. Light tackle striped bass, bluefish and offshore bluefin tuna.
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Rock Harbor Charters - New Englands largest charter fleet. Fishing cape cod bay for striped bass and bluefish from Rock Harbor, Orleans.
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Mass Bay Mass Bay Guides - Scituate Harbor.Deep Sea Charter Fishing for Giant Bluefin Tuna, School bluefin Tuna, Shark,Stripers, Blues, Cod, Haddock, Macks, Fluke and Halibut. We also offer Whale Watching trips.
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Big Fish Spotlight
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900 lb. Giant blefin Tuna caught aboard the maverick with Capt. Jack Riley, Capt. Randy Black, and David Dodsworth
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Woody with a 700 lb giant bluefin Tuna
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Big Giant Bluefin!
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1038 lb giant caught aboard the Hindsight with Capt. Brett Wilson and first mate Woody Wood
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A beautiful pair of Giant Bluefin Tuna!
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Capt. Brett Wilson hauling a nice bluefin tuna aboard!
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