Offshore Bluefin Foamer Fishing - Numbers, Lessons Learned and a Request for Cow-Fighting Tips

ryanhead

Almost A Member
Oct 19, 2009
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Ryan
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24' Skipjack Flybridge
Numbers
First off, and most importantly, recent numbers: Bluefin foamers everywhere in the general area of 5 over 35 (off Oceanside) on Thursday, from 4 pm until dark (even after the sun was below the horizon). 15# YFT just outside 178 that would not bite anything.

Lessons Learned
I've had an unusually good bluefin season. In past years, I'd hook one bluefin every 5 trips or so, and maybe find 1 or 2 foamers per trip. This year I've hooked bluefin on pretty much every trip, and had the chance to cast on 20-50 foamers per day. With all of those opportunities, I've had the chance to try many different techniques and found some that really work. I would love to hear some critiques or some things that have worked for the rest of you.
  • Small spots of fish that aren't foaming "hard" are boat shy and won't bite well, but if you give them a chance to really start foaming, you have a much better chance at getting bit. I used to always run toward any sign of breaking fish, slow down 100 yards out and idle into them. Schools of fish that weren't furiously feeding would typically sink out fast and we would get one cast into 50% of those schools and maybe get bit 5% of the time. I found that if I sat 200 yards off a mild foamer and let the fish get really crazy, you can ease the boat right next to the foamer and they'll stay up for several casts. I hypothesize that once the fish are going nuts and there's whitewater everywhere and it sounds like a waterfall, the fish don't see or hear your boat. It takes discipline to stare at foaming fish and not approach them, but if you can be patient, a significant portion of the foamers will get crazy. Sometimes you have to follow a moving spot of fish around for 10 minutes, but it's worth the wait.
  • Casting onto the backside of a smaller foamer results in more bites. If you cast at a foamer that's really going crazy, the whitewater between the boat and the fish on other side of the foamer prevents those fish from noticing your boat. If it's a small spot and you're the only one on it, don't just get into casting range of the foamer, get into casting range of the backside of the foamer.
  • Small jigs! The fish are feeding on tiny anchovies so fish small jigs. If you let the fish get crazy, you can get in close and cast smaller, lighter jigs. I've been throwing jigs from 18g to 40g and nothing with a bigger profile than a colt sniper.
  • Swap jig hooks to inline singles. We lost some nice fish on jigs with trebles because we got chewed off, even on heavier line. Inline singles are like circle hooks for jigs, 95% of the fish get landed with the jig hanging out of their mouth. I bought a bunch of flattened stainless split rings from China for $0.03 and black nickel coated 3/0 inline single hooks for $0.08 and I pull tested them and they held up to 25# of tension before significant elastic deformation. It's a worthwhile conversion, especially at $0.14 cents per jig.
  • Stay at least 1 mile away from any other boat. If there are a bunch of foamers in an area and some boats working it, just drive away. There's no reason that there shouldn't be foamers a mile or two away that you can have completely to yourself. Sometimes you have a drive for a while to find a new spot, but as long as you don't hit a hard temp break, you should be able to find some fish completely to yourself. I've left dozens of spots of fish because boats started coming into my general area and I don't think I've ever had to move more than 2 miles to find more fish.
  • Fish late. I've seen many posts in recent years of guys who headed out late and caught fish, and I always thought that was crazy to spend 4 hours traveling to and from a spot and only fishing for 2 hours. However, the fish seem to be most active from 5 pm until 7 pm, at least on the surface. I ran a few all day trips where we really only got fish in that late window, by which point we were low on bait and energy. With the fish at 30 miles, you can leave the dock at 3 pm, grab bait, and be on the grounds in time for that magical 2 hours when the whole ocean comes to life, and you and your crew are still alert and energetic. Another bonus is that the majority of skiffs that would chase foamers have already gone home by then.
Help needed
One thing that I've only done once in my life is fight a cow tuna on a bass rod, and the result was unsuccessful. I hooked a cow in a foamer just inside the 312 last Sunday on a Lexa 400 with a 3', 40# mono leader and a 40g jig with an inline single hook. We fought it from 6:30pm to 10:30pm and the fish was still upright and super pissed off, though we at least had it up near the boat. The problem with getting it close to the boat while it was still upright was that it ran under the boat, surfaced on the other side and broke the line on the outdrive or a trim tab. A few questions for those experienced in hooking big fish on the wrong gear:
  • 3 of us were constantly taking turns on this fish and we were really tired. Is there some sort of fighting harness you can attach to the foregrip of a rod? I saw that picture of a guy on a sportboat with a rope tied around his neck to the foregrip of a spinning rod, and I was thinking that wasn't such a dumb idea and have been thinking about how to make that work on a conventional rod.
  • I had dark green braid on my reel and once the sun went down it was nearly impossible to see the line and determine which way to maneuver the boat. Is there some sort of device that I could clip onto the line that would sit on the water, making it obvious where the line entered the water? I think connecting a small balloon to a snap swivel and connecting the snap to the main line would work, but just wanted to see if anyone had any better ideas.
  • If a fish is up high and dives under the boat and surfaces on the other side, what's the best thing to do? Try to turn the boat? Throw the reel into freespool and try to run around the bow? Or try to get the outdrive up quickly?
  • What's the best way to fight a fish that's not tired but is near the boat? Should we have just given it more line and let it tire some more? Or keep idling forward to keep it behind the boat? I was generally trying to position the boat to fight the fish in the corner, but it got dicey at times because it never settled into a nice spiral.
  • My drags got really sticky after the first hour of the fight. I thought they were completely shot, but they were fine the next day, so I'm thinking they just got too hot. Is there a way to cool down drags on a plastic reel? I've heard of guys pouring cold water on metal big game reels when fighting big billfish to cool the drags. Or does anyone have recommendations for better drag washers for a Lexa 400? (not that I want to fight a fish on a Lexa 400 for 4 hours ever again)
 

Predatormonster

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May 18, 2013
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Predatormonster
We run to the front of the boat with drag backed off a hair when that happens . All you can do is try to keep the line on the reel and off the boat . They get big for a reason . Wrong gear is usually a win for the fish . I had a 100 pounder on 30 test this season . I just pulled super hard on it and landed it . Pull like you know your going to lose it anyway . Save serious heartbreak .
 
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surfgoose

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  • Jul 29, 2010
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    whichever has the longest bunk
    Really excellent post! You gave lots of good ideas from your experience.

    I too cast small pinhead-sized lures with upgraded single hooks. I get them to go the needed distance by using a three foot fluoro leader to a 3 ounce torpedo sinker, which is the weight that I can cast on my heavy spin gear. Modern spin reels and rods can absolutely handle tuna up approaching triple digits.

    I have watched a number of excellent charter captains whip huge fish for their fishermen by keeping the boat in gear and always moving in a decreasing concentric circle. Make the fish always use the same side muscles to wear out faster. If he zig-zags in the other direction, run ahead and get him back into that same side circle. Keep a curve to the line in the water, it adds drag to the fish.

    This tactic also means that the fisherman doesn't have to keep moving around the boat. While it originated with fighting chairs, it works fine with either stern corner, and quite likely means that a rod holder might be used, which of course is a lot safer than a rope around the neck. If two or three people can trade off pounding on the reel handle while the captain stays alert at the helm, a fight can be greatly speeded up.

    Running gear is always a hazard, which is why sportboats have a gaff handle with a Y head on board, to push the line down and away from the gear. It is worthwhile to carry, I think.
     
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    Tunahead

    Long Time Tuna Abused Member
  • Aug 11, 2006
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    LOT of great INFO in these posts. My all time bluefin trick I saw was a guy getting bit 1 after the other on Indian. While re-tying my rig/new hook....I saw him pull small scissors out of his shirt and cut the tail
    tips off his dines....never seen such live baits
    WHAM LOL
     
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    walter heim

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    For big fish running under the boat, back off a little on the drag and stick the rod in the water up to the reel. Then reverse the boat turning to the side with the submerged rod. the line will clear the bow and the fish will be off the side. This maneuver requires good communication between the angler and the skipper. It works for me because I have a small boat. probably would not work as well on a larger boat. Also if the weather is up, you may take a wave over the stern. We did this several times with a sword successfully without dunking the rod.

    Good post. Its good to think things out to figure out what works and what doesn't. Thanx for passing it on.
     

    F.I.S.H.Y

    Fishermen.
  • Sep 27, 2019
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    My drags got really sticky after the first hour of the fight. I thought they were completely shot, but they were fine the next day, so I'm thinking they just got too hot. Is there a way to cool down drags on a plastic reel? I've heard of guys pouring cold water on metal big game reels when fighting big billfish to cool the drags. Or does anyone have recommendations for better drag washers for a Lexa 400? (not that I want to fight a fish on a Lexa 400 for 4 hours ever again)
    the older lexas, first gen, winn, and hd's have a non carbon fiber washer that keeps the rachet and the main gear seperated . They purposely made it sticky for the musky fisherman to help them set hooks without slippage. I would think this is the sticky drag problem. All the other washers are high grade carbon fiber, there is no reason for an upgrade.
    Also the lexa isnt plastic. the frame and handle sideplate are aluminum, the cast control sideplate is plastic. You wont damage it at high heat but it might get uncomfortable, water would help.
     
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    ssrmr2

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    Mar 15, 2006
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    17' montauk "Anger Management"
    remember the 100# yft at the lupe doing something like you had described.... they would circle and then 50’ from the boat they would swim upright under the stern to the opposite side of the boat. too quick for the push pole. no taxman chasing either

    tip down in the water free spool and throttle the spool with your thumb or back the drag off until you can clear the other side.

    heard of guys idling the boat with the fish. if it’s on the surface you can keep angle until it’s close enough to circle.
     
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    John S.

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    You need to have a guy at the wheel at all times to keep the boat at the proper angle. That is always your best bet on the bigger fish. You may still loose but if you get snapped off then fine. If you get snapped off because the line wrapped on your boat then that is on you. You just have to minimize the risks. You have an advantage on the smaller boats. You are nimble. Take advantage of it.

    John
     
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    Highwayman

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  • Jun 25, 2015
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    • What's the best way to fight a fish that's not tired but is near the boat? Should we have just given it more line and let it tire some more? Or keep idling forward to keep it behind the boat? I was generally trying to position the boat to fight the fish in the corner, but it got dicey at times because it never settled into a nice spiral.
    One thing I believe to be true is that you cannot tire a BFT tuna by giving it line. That only lets it rest. I don’t know the size of the fish you had but I have landed a 100 lb fish on 40lb. But I kept the rod fully bent the whole time applying pressure. It was on a party boat and we did not chase it or position the boat. The only line I gave it is when it pulled the line off the reel against the drag. My last three trips were on a Parker. One trip with a kite landing 4 up to 170 and the last one chasing foamers for only three in the late afternoon. Both trips I had to stick the rod into the water up to the reel as the fish circled under the boat and pull it outwards. We only repositioned the boat once, and idle away once as well. Again you cannot rest or let the fish rest if at all possible.
    Last thing, my buddy was fishing a Tranx 400 with 50lb braid and 50lb leader on our last trip. I tied the short top shot on for him. We casted into a former and he got bit. The BFT ended up to be 40+. But it was working him and I had seen them jumping before the sunk out. I said hey you have 50 to 50 button it down and let’s go. Long story short I ended up with the fish tighten the drag, we gaffed it and moved on. Know your gears limits too.
     
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    STEVE_P

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    Steve Pruchyanimit
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    I lost a 90+ Lbs fish on TN20 30lbs test almost max out drag see deep color 4-5 time
    the last 20 -30 ft I nail that star drag all the way still did not come up after 2+ hrs
    I was out off gas. I could not see where my line was too slow to react to the fish the line maked contace wit the boat os i lost it. I was tell my self not to get use the wrong gear at the wrong time . That was my 2nd time to do that the tiime before also 2 hrs but I got my fish . So iI win some and lose some . I'm 67years young with a bad back
    from now on I have to change the way I fish. Have to save my gas from fist hood up by use the boat rail so I can last a lot little longer
    I learn a lot myself hard way and learn it EZ way from all of you out here .
    Thank you for you story
    Go fishing
    Steve P
     
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    Adam helbert

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    Buying soon
    We run to the front of the boat with drag backed off a hair when that happens . All you can do is try to keep the line on the reel and off the boat . They get big for a reason . Wrong gear is usually a win for the fish . I had a 100 pounder on 30 test this season . I just pulled super hard on it and landed it . Pull like you know your going to lose it anyway . Save serious heartbreak .
    That's how I got an 80lbr last weekend in on 40lb. Fought it for hours and just kept taking whatever I gained. After some hours said ok either I loose it or I get it. Buttoned down the drag and got it in the boat. But before it's tired already don't think it's a good idea lol.
     
    R
    RuckTard
    Same yesterday. Several hours (like 5) then finally boated it. 75lber. 9’ 20lb rod on 40 lb mono. Completely gassed and thought it was going to be bigger than it was.
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    ryanhead

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    If you hook a cow on the gear you described it might be your best option to break him off and not waste the 4 hours. Failing that, you could always stick a sharp hook in your eye LOL

    We strongly considered that. Not too long after we hooked the fish, we had a raging, football-field sized foamer pop up a few hundred yards away and it stayed up for 45 minutes. We probably could've cut the line, made a quick move and limited out and gone home. Oh well.
     
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    ryanhead

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    That's how I got an 80lbr last weekend in on 40lb. Fought it for hours and just kept taking whatever I gained. After some hours said ok either I loose it or I get it. Buttoned down the drag and got it in the boat. But before it's tired already don't think it's a good idea lol.
    I measured the drag at 12# the next day with the spool full, so I'd guess we were around 20# with the spool low and friction from the guides. We got 3 good looks at the fish and we guessed it was between 150# and 200# based on the size relative to a 180# we got last year. I'm thinking that we couldn't tire it out because it was just too big. Even 20# of drag probably wasn't much for the fish and the only reason we got it up to the boat was because the fish voluntarily came to the surface and we were chasing it down.
     
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    ryanhead

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    Thank you all for the tips! It seems like the general consensus is to rely heavily on the boat and run circles around the fish. Again, I hope this never happens again, but if it does I'll be ready!
     
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    Highwayman

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  • Jun 25, 2015
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    I measured the drag at 12# the next day with the spool full, so I'd guess we were around 20# with the spool low and friction from the guides. We got 3 good looks at the fish and we guessed it was between 150# and 200# based on the size relative to a 180# we got last year. I'm thinking that we couldn't tire it out because it was just too big. Even 20# of drag probably wasn't much for the fish and the only reason we got it up to the boat was because the fish voluntarily came to the surface and we were chasing it down.
    #12 lbs at strike is a little over what I set my drag at strike for 40lb line. I use a minimum of #20 lb at strike for 80lb. That calculation was taken from the Penn International handbook. Some people use more. I don’t try and calculate the low spool drag. Typically the drag can be increased to get the fish to gaff.
     
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    thrasher949

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    First part was dead on! There is no replacement for time and experience on the water.

    Second part...

    I would never use bass gear for tuna.

    Not sure how big of a private boat you were one, but a center console you should work the rod around the boat with your tip down as far as possible. If you're on a bigger boat, cap should keep the wheel turned full lock in one direction, and either a quick forward or reverse idle will always free you up. I like fishing min 8' rods, it will keep the rod tip further away from the boat with a lesser chance of chaffing the line.

    As far as the fish tired but not near the boat.... abandon the bass gear and use a 2 speed. Just drop it in low when ur up and down and grind em up... they die faster this way also.
     
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