By Willie Howard
Florida fly fishermen find excellent sport with these compact, hard-charging tunas.
Captain Scott Hamilton of Jupiter-based Hamilton Fly Fishing Charters (www.Flyfishingextremes.com) has led his clients to many 20-pound-plus blackfin tuna in the waters off Palm Beach County in recent years.
A recent notable catch came after a late afternoon rainstorm in June. Fishing at dusk by himself, Hamilton boated a 33-pound blackfin after a 45-minute fight using a 12-weight fly rod, sinking line rigged with 20-pound tippet and an olive-and-white Eat Me fly.
Hamilton’s blackfin on fly would have set a world record if his 20-pound fluorocarbon tippet hadn’t actually broken at 22.5 pounds.
Hamilton’s favorite months to target blackfins on fly in the waters off Palm Beach County are May through October. When choosing where to fish, he looks for current, structure (reef edges or wrecks) and clear water.
Hamilton chums up blackfins using a variety of live baits—pilchards, sardines, menhaden, finger mullet and glass minnows— or chunks of dead bait. He selects a fly that imitates the chum baits and drops it down on sinking or intermediate sinking line. When using live chum, strip the line to make the fly mimic a fleeing baitfish, Hamilton advises. When chumming with dead bait, let the fly sink in the current like a chunk of dead fish.
Captain Chris Trosset of Reel Fly Charters in Key West (www.Facebook.com/ReelFlyCharters) uses similar methods when targeting blackfins for his clients, though his anglers are more likely to fish the winter months for blackfins off the Lower Keys.
The abundance of pilchards in the Keys during the winter make October through February good months to fish for blackfins using live chum in the Atlantic waters off Key West.
“We catch them every morning,” Trosset said, referring to the pilchards. “We like to have 50 pounds.”
Trosset fishes over wrecks and reef edges and might run 40 miles or more to underwater ridges off Key West to find blackfins. His clients usually catch a few blackfins on spinning rods while he pitches out live pilchards to work the tuna into a steady feeding pattern near his boat, Reel Fly. When the time is right, his anglers cast and strip, usually with 12-weight rods, intermediate sinking line and 8 to 10 feet of straight 40- to 50-pound fluorocarbon leader.
When fishing for blackfins around live pilchards, Trosset recommends a deceiver-pattern fly tied on a 2/0 Gamakatsu SC 15 hook. Stout leader is important “so we can put the heat on them when the sharks come,” Trosset said.
As temperatures rise in the spring, Trosset heads northwest from Key West into the Gulf of Mexico to meet shrimp boats clearing their nets at dawn. He usually swaps a case of drinks for shrimp trawl bycatch (mostly dead pinfish and crabs) used to chum up the blackfins.
Trosset recommends orange shark flies when fishing in the shrimpboat chum to discourage strikes from bonitos. Some of his clients’ bigger blackfins (over 20 pounds) are taken from March through May around the shrimp boats in the Gulf.
His personal best: a 33-pound blackfin taken on fly near the shrimp boats while fishing with his dad, veteran Keys charter captain Robert “RT” Trosset. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine October 2016