Big Tunas Return To The Canyons

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The bigeyes are back!For the third year in a row now, I’m very happy to report that bigeye tuna are being caught in once unbelievable numbers in the canyons south of Long Island.

In the Hamptons Offshore Invitational, a tournament taking place this week, crews had already decked more than 30 bigeyes weighing between 100 and 250 pounds by Monday night, and Montauk boats accounted for another 20 or so over the weekend that I have heard of.

The bigeyes have been around for a few weeks—the Viking Fivestar landed more than 40 of them during a couple of epic commercial trips earlier this month—but they had not settled into the usual spots along the continental shelf, where recreational fishermen spend most of their time, until this week. The odd fish or two, or occasionally three, had been caught by the sporty crowd, but it wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that the kind of bite fishermen had been waiting for turned on. Starting late that afternoon, the big-game boats trolling the southeastern edge of Hudson Canyon were beset by a relative swarm of bigeyes. Bigeyes attack in packs, and some boats have accounted for as many as five or six of the big tunas decked on a single trip.

There have been more small bigeyes this year than in the last couple of years, lots of 80-to-120-pound fish mixed in with the more typical 170-to-250-pounders. The small bigeyes have caused some controversy at the scales of big-game tournaments, as some captains have tried to pass off small bigeyes as large yellowfin, which are similar but fairly easily discernible by the seasoned canyon angler.

If the hot action of the last few years is the start of a long-term upswing in bigeye numbers, the northeast canyons could once again soon be counted as one of the top spots in the world where one has a very good chance to catch big tunas on rod and reel. Along with more swordfish, the prospects of landing some really big tuna has made the mountainous expense of running the 100 miles or more offshore to the canyons a much more inviting endeavor. And there is no question that the hot fishing has been good for the tackle business, with new sets of stout tuna rods flying out of local rod builders’ wrapping rooms as fast as they can be spun together.

The crew of the Rebel, captained by Mark DeCabia, were in the lead of the HOI with a 241-pounder as of Tuesday morning. With 25 or so boats expected to be returning to the scales on Tuesday night, that lead is definitely vulnerable. But whoever holds the lead in the tournament after Tuesday’s 7 p.m. deadline will be sitting pretty, since the easterly breezes that are expected to kick up on Wednesday and last through the weekend may quiet down the scales for the remainder of the tournament, which ends at noon on Sunday.

As is typical, where there are bigeyes there are longfin albacore. The longfin have been thick enough that it’s almost a guarantee that a trip to the canyon will put some tuna, often a lot of tuna, in the box. Unlike last year, though, there are good numbers of decent-sized yellowfins mixed in with the ’eyes and longfin. The night chunk bite has been fairly good, and everyone is eagerly anticipating the huge numbers of yellows that have been biting farther south making a move north as the cool weather sets in with fall, which could spark a terrific chunk bite.

Closer to home, the fluke fishing has been steady as she goes. It’s not red hot anywhere, really, but putting together a decent bag of keepers off Montauk or Shinnecock is fairly easy if you put in some time. There are still fish being caught in Gardiners Bay as well for those with small boats or even kayaks.

Striper fishing out at the deep rips off Montauk is still fantastic, both day and night. Wire line trolling is producing the best catches during the day, and at night eels are still the king.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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