George Poveromo, who resides in Parkland, Fla., is a nationally-recognized sportfishing authority who serves as Editor-At Large for Salt Water Sportsman magazine, and the producer and host of his own television series on ESPN2: George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing.
The sound of monofilament line racing off the Penn International 50 sprung the team into action, on this dark and chilly October night. I was closest to the now bent over rod, so I grabbed it.
I reared back against the resistance at the opposite end, set the hook, and continued to hold on while line left the reel. The action was taking place some 72 miles offshore of Avalon, New Jersey, at the Wilmington Canyon.
Moments earlier, a Mako shark had been lurking about the shadow line created by our boat lights, apparently attracted to the chunks of butterfish and sardines we had been dispersing for tuna. Therefore, all bets were on my fish being that shark. Sure enough, a beautiful Mako was soon played alongside the boat.
I can still envision the shark's breathtaking and vivid colors against the black and eerie ocean water, its pointed snout and, of course, mouthful of impressive and mesmerizing teeth. This was one of nature's finest Apex predators, at the end of my line.
The shark was of legal length to harvest. Yet, Lady Luck was swimming alongside it that evening; We opted to cut the leader and release the fish, to thrill another angler. However, the very next Mako we hooked wasn't as fortunate. More on that later!
The Jersey boys
I was with Trey Rhyne, Captain Joe Trainor and mate Johnny Kauterman aboard the Over Under Charters 55-footer sportfishing boat — Low Profile (1-866-OUA.TUNA).
This trip was a victory of sorts. We had planned on doing a canyon show for three years and suffered adverse weather on all our attempts — even the back up dates. For you see, the best canyon chunking occurs during the fall and early winter, which, coincidentally, coincides with those early season and often nasty cold fronts. And being between 70 and 100 miles offshore when the wind is howling from the north isn't smart, no matter how hot the tuna bite has been. It's a game of precision in that you need to be ready to sneak out in between cold fronts, sometimes at a moment's notice.
And slip in between two cold fronts was exactly what we did this mid October day. It appeared we'd have a 48 hour weather window to work with, so we made the run to the Wilmington canyon, based on reports from Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service (1-800-677-7633) which showed several significant water surface temperature breaks along this major bottom structure.
We'd troll during the day, and then anchor and chunk throughout the evening. In the morning, we'd troll at sunrise, and then head back to Avalon, New Jersey, before the next big blow arrived.
On the troll
Once Joe Trainor located a "warm" slug of water along a specific portion of the Wilmington Canyon, we dispatched nine trolling baits. These consisted of Williamson Lures, Cedar plugs and skirted, medium ballyhoo.
Also in the spread were spreader bars and squid daisy chain teasers. The swath of water behind the Low-Profile looked alive, with lots of splashing and commotion. There would be no way a fish could avoid seeing this spread. I was correct.
Trey and I picked off a total of four yellowfins before the sun began to set, but we should have had at least a few more tuna in the box. For example, on one blitz, five rods went down simultaneously with yellowfin tuna.
Trey, Johnny and I each grabbed a rod, leaving two of the outfits with fish on in their holders. Almost as instantly as they hit, the fish pulled off the flat lines, and then the one on Johnny's rod was gone seconds later. It was now down to just Trey and me. My tuna was successfully landed. And just when we thought we'd get a gaff into Trey's fish, it shook off. Five fish on, and only one in the box! It happens!
Joe Trainor identified a spot along the Wilmington Canyon with a good water surface temperature break. The Low Profile was anchored, and the game switched from trolling to chunking. Flats of butterfish, sardines and even squid were cut into small and medium size chunks, and deposited into buckets and crates.
Then, a handful of these chunks were dispatched in the water, until they drifted from sight. Then another few chunks were tossed over. This is how it went all evening, as we hoped to lure in the yellowfins, and keep them feeding behind the transom.
A pair of Penn 50 Internationals filled with Sufix Superior Monofilament were rigged with 8/0 in-line circle hooks. An 80-pound test fluorocarbon leader was added to one outfit, while the hook on the other outfit was tied directly to the fishing line. Each hook was hidden in a bait chunk, which, in turn, was tossed over and freespooled with a handful of chunks.
With the chunking rods in the gunwale holders — and their reels in freespool with the clickers on - we stripped off line, to where the excess coiled in the water alongside the boat. This enabled our baits to drift back at the same rate as the chunks, so they would blend in. If the bait chunks drifted down too quickly, a smaller, lighter hook was used. To fool the tuna, it's important to make the baits appear just like the chunks, right down to mimicking drift and sink rates.
Because various big game fish prowl the canyons at night, we also deployed two Penn 50 International outfits rigged with wire leaders and 11/0 and 12/0 VMC hooks, for sharks. One outfit had a balloon float tied to its line some 15 feet up from the leader, whereas the other outfit had no float. These were baited with squid, bluefish or tuna filets. And the tuna filets were exactly what we caught our two Makos on. Also, a couple deep outfits were set in the spread for swordfish, which were biting pretty much all season long in the northeast canyons.
With such a diverse spread, we kept chunking — and looking for something to shake us out of the "funk" we had all now slipped into. This, of course, was brought on from the lack of sleep and long hours involved in loading the boat and preparing for this trip, running out to the Wilmington canyon, fishing all day, and then resetting our spread to fish all night. And, of course, all it took was one person to yell "Fish On" for us all to spring into action, as if we just heard the alarm clock ring! And one of these screams came from Joe Trainor, who coaxed a Mako into eating a freelined tuna filet.
I inherited the rod, fought the Mako, and thought long and hard about keeping this fish for the table. After all, Mako is excellent to eat. One reason is that it has a separate urinary tract; Unlike other sharks that excrete urea through their flesh, which, in turn, impacts the quality and taste of their meat, the Mako's flesh is "urine free" and very similar in taste to swordfish. It is simply awesome on the grill. Joe Trainor yelled "Let's gaff this fish!". Minutes later, we had a beauty of a Mako in the cockpit, and plenty of fresh Mako steaks to go around!
Back to Avalon
Well into the wee hours of that cold, dark morning, we fought several blue sharks. The Mako bite had ceased. No swordfish came to play. And, surprisingly, not one tuna was caught on the chunk! We racked the rods, pulled anchor and called it a trip, as the sun came up. We were successful in not only getting this trip in, but in boating four yellowfin tuna, releasing one Mako, boating another Mako, and tussling with a few blue sharks. We were tuckered out!
The canyons off the mid-Atlantic and Northeast are very popular haunts among the local offshore angling fraternities, because of the quality of fishing that could materialize out here. In addition to yellowfins, there are chances at hooking into big eye tuna, blue marlin, dolphin, white marlin, Mako sharks, swordfish and even wahoo. And some of these fish are of trophy proportions.
Knowing where to find action is contingent upon locating the edges of warm water eddies, especially those "breaks" that have been "parked" on top of good bottom structure for a few days or so. Because once the ensuing nutrients, bait and game fish establish mini ecosystems along specific zones, anglers know the big game fishing here can be off the charts. All they need to do is sneak out here in between the cold fronts, like we finally did!
For more on "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing," visit www.georgepoveromo.com.