Tuna fishing from Central Florida’s East Coast has been coined the “Other Side”. The Other Side refers to the East side of the Gulf Stream and in my opinion, is still one of the few truly great fisheries we still have that is not over-regulated, under-regulated, or receives immense fishing pressure.
If you get nothing else from this article, take this to heart. There is no room to cut corners with any part of it! I want to mainly focus on the fishing side of things but the responsible, CYA disclaimer part of me feels the need to mention the following. You better have a boat that is capable to handle the unexpected, the fuel capacity to do 300 miles or more without stacking barrels or bladders. You need to have an EPIRB & some form of satellite communication in addition to all other basic safety gear. The sheer expense of doing the Other Side trip is a huge investment in time and money so don’t cut corners when it comes to ANYTHING.
An early morning start is key, so make sure you are fueled, iced, and prepped the day before. Like many things in fishing the prep work before the trip will play a huge factor in the success of the trip.
The morning bite can be on fire, so it is important to be there when it is happening so everything has to be done the day before.
Once we have our boat prepped, we make sure our tackle is on point. We prefer using 30-feet of 80# fluorocarbon top shot. We like to make our own sea witches and play with different color combinations of mylar and hair (I like shiny) in addition to the bulk of the witch (I prefer thin) and weight of the head. There are plenty of sea witches you can buy right off the shelf that are fantastic but building your own is great fun if you have the time.
Top shot of 80# flurocarbon, favorite sea witch, then an 8/0 Gamakatsu tuna hook rigged with 14″ stiff copper wire. That is our preferred setup. We do not pre-rig the ballyhoo, we only prep the ballyhoo. Make sure whatever ballyhoo you purchase are of good quality. We prefer medium to large ballyhoo and are not brand specific. We let our eyes be the judge when deciding what to buy. Slowly thaw your ballyhoo then make a brine of kosher salt, saltwater, and ice to soak them in or baking soda sprinkled on them to firm them up. I like my baits to look natural, so I keep the eyes in and that is where the stiff wire helps. Pre-rigging ballyhoo can save you time, but it also puts one more knot in the mix, so we don’t when tuna fishing. You can typically keep up with rigging baits between passes by having one extra tuna rod rigged and ready. If you do get the hook back be sure to check for any abrasion and be sure to cut back and re-tie. Typically, there is enough time to rig 3 to 4 others as fish are being caught and positioning for the next pass. We also like to deploy 1 or 2 heavy-duty deep diving lures for the short baits that are run off the transom. In addition to your tuna gear, you will want 3 to 4 heavy spinning rods rigged and ready for mahi. A 40# to 50# top shot (doesn’t have to be fluoro) with 6/0 Gamakatsu live bait hook is how you want them. You will also want to have at least a couple of vertical jigs with wire-crimped assist hooks ready to capitalize on any wahoo under the flotsam after you catch the mahi.
Heading to the Other Side you have a very broad search area, but satellite imagery like SatFish helps at least get a starting point. We look for pockets of cooler water and aim in that direction. Usually, we start seeing signs of life and picking up bird packs well before we ever reach the destination we have picked out. When you find your first pack, you will already have your baits ready to deploy with the backbone cracked so your ballyhoo has plenty of movement. The best way to keep the baits that are rigged and ready on the rods fresh is to wrap them in a wet chammy or have a small bucket of icy saltwater designated for each one. Never hook them to the rod or let them bake in the sun. Play with the speed and sound your engines make at what speeds until you find your sweet spot. The 6 to 12-knot range is ideal, and what speed that triggers the bite can be different day to day. I personally like to be in the upper end of that range most of the time. You don’t typically want to cut right through the fish but play a guessing game of what direction are they heading and how to make a sweep so your baits intercept the fish and not the boat. The first bait out is your long bait, basically, you just dump it and put it in the rod holder with the clicker on while it’s dumping. The rigger baits are deployed at the same time, and one will end up about half the distance as the long and the other about a quarter of the distance. You then have a short bait and a deep diving lure. Long bait almost always gets hit first but keep going, more often than not they all get hit. Be quick on any missed strikes, just start reeling and don’t drop back to trigger a reaction strike.
Rigging the baits, deploying the baits, landing fish, and then getting back around to make another pass is a dance. Your team on the boat is your dancing partners and the quicker and more efficient you dance with no missteps, the more opportunity you create. The more opportunity, the more strikes from your target species, and obviously this all leads to a better catch of bigger fish that are your target species.
Some days you might have a ratio of 10 Skippy’s, and a few blackfins to every yellowfin. This is where speed becomes a huge factor. A captain and a deckhand that work together daily get to a point where no words really need to be said because it just becomes a perfected dance. This is why you will consistently see the same crews come in with more fish and bigger fish. They create opportunity by having more time with bait in the water, extra passes on packs, and a better hook-up ratio with fewer missed opportunities.
Be prepared, don’t cut corners, and practice perfecting the dance. Once all these things come together, the Other Side will be a fishing destination that will produce phenomenal catches 95% of the time and leave you counting down the days until your next visit.