Winter gales keep anglers onshore
The fishing scene offshore is a bit academic at the moment. The unreliable weather and the seasonal distractions mean that there is very little sport fishing and nowhere near as much commercial fishing as there might be.
The regular passage of winter gales does little to help the situation. At least, at this time of the year, there is some predictability to the weather. It goes from calm to a light breeze out of the northeast, followed by a gradual increase in wind velocity as the direction of the breeze moves around the compass, into the southeast and then picks up as it swings into the southwest and finishes up a howling gale out of the northwest until it blows itself out and goes north and drops out almost completely. The cycle then restarts.
There are two imponderables here. One is that although the wind may have dropped to a calm, the offshore seas might be still really nasty and not conducive to any fishing at all. The other is the calm period could well be in the middle of the night, so that by the time dawn breaks, the tell-tale signs of an impending change in the weather are apparent. Not the sort of thing that is going to get anglers to hurry down to their boats in the sure and certain knowledge that they will have a rocky road back in the afternoon.
For those willing to throw caution to the wind (what a euphemism to use in this case!), there should be a few wahoo around and there are still some school-sized Allisons out there. Getting decent conditions to chum in can be a problem but trolling appropriate lures and baits might entice a tuna or two.
Keeping an eye out for any surface activity is another good tactic. Schools of some kind of bait are often seen “bibbling” on the surface at this time of the year and although they tend to go deep when a boat approaches, they are likely to be closely followed by larger predators. Trolling in their vicinity is probably going to mean that there are wahoo or Allisons lurking nearby and if the mood takes it, your rod may keel over.
What we call an Allison is, in fact, a yellowfin tuna. How it got the Allison moniker is a bit of a story in itself. Back in the 1920's when Louis Mowbray was classifying the fish in local waters, he thought that he had encountered a new tuna species. He named it in honour of his friend, a Mr. Allison, who was curator of an aquarium in Chicago. It was later discovered that it was in fact the same species as the yellowfin tuna which is found in just about every tropical and semi-tropical ocean worldwide. It is this species which is of interest right now.
Most locals who follow the international angling scene will have heard of the record-sized yellowfin tuna caught off Mexico's Baja Peninsula. This particular fish weighed in at 405.2 pounds and that is a lot of yellowfin. Not surprisingly, it is to be submitted to the IGFA for a world record as it bettered the previous record of 388 pounds. Just to show how exceptional such a fish is; is the fact that the existing record was set back in 1977.
Conventional wisdom set the maximum size for yellowfin at 300 pounds but larger fish have been produced with some regularity off the Pacific coast of Mexico and the Atlantic cost of West Africa. Anglers seeking such a challenge have fished out of San Diego on long range party fishing boats that spend as much as a week at sea. The waters that these boats normally fish are in fact Mexican and it is in these areas that fish over 200 pounds are caught fairly consistently.
Trolling is the preferred method for catching large yellowfin although chumming with live bait (anchovies or other bait fish) certainly gets results. If you think about it, scooping a net full of live bait fish into a school of hungry tuna is certainly going to cause some mayhem and that is a method that is often employed by the American long range boats.
Despite the seasonal abundance of yellowfin in Bermuda waters, their size has always left something to be desired. All in all, there are not that many tuna in the 100 to 200 pound range caught here in any year. Schools of large fish do occur from time to time but the norm is usually significantly smaller. It was mid-sized yellowfin that turned Bermuda into a light tackle hot spot with most of these fitting into the 40 to 60 pound category.
Larger fish can and do occur here but there has never been a 200 pounder caught. Having said that, the largest, a 199 lb 12 oz fish, came awfully close. Anyway, there is a target that is waiting to be achieved and, doubtless, some day it will happen, particularly as so many boats are now carrying heavy tackle.
Something else that has never been accomplished locally even though there have been opportunities and enough skilled anglers to do the business is that no one here has ever caught a 100 pound yellowfin on 12-lb test line. There is no doubt that it can be done since the men's 12-lb record is a 163 pound fish caught off Australia. The women's 12-lb record also exceeds 100 pounds, again caught off Australia. One of these days, there will be a summer run of larger than usual yellowfin here and some light tackle aficionado will have the good fortune to catch a nice tuna that weighs just enough to tip the scale at the three-digit mark.
Something else that might have added to the confusion generated by fish names, Mowbray also thought that the blackfin tuna was unique to Bermuda (this is, after all, almost 100 years ago and science has come a long way) and named it the Bermuda chunky tuna for its shape. Probably nobody ever calls it that and the name only pops up in old books about Bermuda fishing or certain relatively obscure scientific writings.
With the menu pretty well set for most people over the next couple of weeks, should you manage to actually get out a bit of bottom bouncing may be called for. Coneys, barbers and the occasional hind will make for a change of pace and there really can be too much turkey and ham around. Fresh fillets or even a whole baked fish can make a nice change and all you have to do to have it is to get some Tight lines!!