May 12, 2023
I was thrilled to join Capt. Samy Arriaga and the Blue Tales Fishing Team, aboard their 39-SeaVee out of Miami, for a two-day trip to Bimini. There was discussion about mahi and some deep dropping, but what got me to sign on, no questions asked, was talk about the primary and preferred target, big yellowfin tuna. Only two hours away.
A Bahamian yellowfin tuna isn’t a guarantee, but there’s no better time or place to target them from South Florida than fishing the Northwest Providence Channel in May. With advancements in boat electronics, tackle and the boats themselves, catching a 50-plus pound yellowfin is easier now than ever before.
Our trip across from Haulover Inlet to Bimini Big Game Club is only 49 miles, just over two hours. But you can also easily fish the Northwest Providence Channel and canyons while fishing out of West End, Grand Bahamas leaving ports from Ft. Pierce to West Palm.
For this trip, we docked and cleared customs at the Bimini Big Game Club. It was only a matter of minutes between our arrival at the marina, and our departure to the fishing grounds, Northwest Providence Channel (N 26.24.723 W 79. 11.091).
The Northwest Providence Channel features major bottom peaks and valleys, as well as canyonlike depressions. While the channel isn’t influenced directly by the warm and swift-flowing Gulf Stream except along its western mouth, some internal eddying occurs well inside it. Some of the best fishing occurs when internal eddies push up against pronounced bottom structures and ignite the cycle of nutrient to baitfish to gamefish.
Day to day, depending on the water temperature, barometric pressure and nutrient fronts fishing conditions change. To keep tabs on these changes and likely fish congregations we’re lucky to have several public and proprietary services where you can get satellite imagery helping you get a starting point in your search.
Before we’d left Florida, Captain Samy had marked a temperature front with his Sirius Weather module and entered the GPS coordinates into his GPS.
With this said, however, weather changes, so you may start the day heading to a particular temperature break or spot selected in the channel like Samy did, but once you get within five to ten miles of the spot you’ll want to have your team looking for birds and debris. It’s not like you’ve entered specific bottom structure as your destination. You’ve entered colliding current edges, which change by the hour.
What to Look for to Find Tuna
To start with, you’re looking for birds, not fish. The best way to find yellowfin tuna is by locating birds which are feeding on bait being pushed up to the surface by the tuna. The more birds, the better. You’re not looking for singles or pairs of terns pecking at the surface or sitting on a weedline. They may help you find dolphin, but if you’re in search of yellowfin tuna, you want large packs of birds, hundreds of terns or seagulls.
And the best way to find large packs of birds, ten-plus miles away in any direction, is by radar. You can find them with binoculars or simply seeing them with a good set of eyes and a pair of polarized sunglasses. But without a doubt the best chance of locating birds in a poke-and-hope run into the middle of the ocean is with radar.
And lucky for all of us there’s an easy button to hit now. Samy has a new open array Halo Radar from Simrad. Press Bird Mode and, as the captain explains it, “By using pulse compression technology to provide an unprecedented mix of long and short detection range, high target definition, and minimal clutter, then adding the bird mode, the radar will automatically set the needed parameters to locate a flock of seabirds at 10 to 12 miles.”
It’s also important to have a good sonar because tuna spend more time well below the surface than on the surface. Samy added, “I use an Airmar Chirp Transducer with the 5100 Simrad Module which allows us to mark bottom all the way to 5,000 feet. Being able to locate them 200 feet and target them with a high-speed jig is a great option when you’re not seeing fish on the surface”
Tactics & Tackle for Tunas
Chunking is an excellent technique. Before you even get to your first school of fish, it’s best to already have determined the direction of your boat’s drift as well as that of your chum line. Stopping to take a few minutes with some test chunks to determine the direction of your chum is time worth spending. Ideally, when you find the birds and fish, you want your boat both upwind and upcurrent so you’re able to create a chum slick that will lead the school right to your boat.
Assuming you’ve located dozens of active birds diving on a school, in a perfect morning you’ll have fish blowing up the surface underneath free-jumping yellowfin tuna. It’s time to start chunking.
There are two schools of thought on how to approach this scene. One says go in hot, running right up to the fish and begin chunking; some who prefer this route even throw chunks before coming off plane. The other approach is more cautious, where you set up 50 to 100 yards away and begin chunking, in an effort to bring the fish to you.
Samy prefers the stealthier approach as he thinks it lessens the chances of pushing off the birds or spooking the school of tuna.“I’ve seen instances where a fast-approaching boat will scare the birds off or break up the bait ball,” he said. He’ll set up 50 to 100 yards away and begin chunking.
The chunking process is relatively straightforward, assuming you’re properly positioned. The ideal chum slick is a continuous stream of chunks, not massive dumps. More chunks don’t necessarily equal more tuna. The goal of chunking is to get the school to move closer and closer to the boat.
Having tuna close to the boat is beneficial for a few reasons; the main reason being a shorter fight. The longer you fight a tuna the poorer the meat quality becomes and the other reason being to minimize the risk of losing your fish to a shark.
Speaking of which, for whatever reason on this trip, sharks were less inclined to eat our skipjacks or blackfin tuna, but had a keen interest in our larger yellowfin. To help us get our big tuna past the sharks, Samy assigned an angler to hook a shark on the largest rod/reel on board to keep them occupied while the rest of the team was able to get hooked yellowfin tuna to the boat.
Other Tactics for Yellowfin Tuna
Trolling for yellowfin tuna, often you find bigger fish singled out from the pack, but there can be significant wait times between bites. A spread of ballyhoo rigged with weighted skirts works great, as does a spread of four to seven lures staggered at different depths and distances.
Throwing topwater popper/chugger-type lures is probably the most visual and exciting action you’ll ever have. Generally your best chances for hookups will be when you see tuna blowing up bait on the surface.
High-speed vertical jigging can also be a great way to catch tuna, especially if you’re not seeing fish on the surface, but are marking them 100 to 300 feet below. Another captain who fishes for tuna in the canyon quite a bit told me that if you see a frigate bird low to the water, the tuna will also be near the surface, but if you see the frigate flying 100 feet up, the tuna will probably be about the same depth down. Two hundred feet up, means 200 feet down for the tuna.
For chunking, the Blue Tales crew carries custom 6’5” medium/heavy rods with adjustable butts and roller guides paired with Alutecnos 30W Gorilla reels. The reels are spooled with 300 yards of 60-pound-test braid with 250 yards of 60-pound pink Ande monofilament top shot and an 80-pound leader. Finally, tied off is a Mustad 3/0 or 4/0 inline circle hook.
For pitchbaits, jigs or general casting, the guys have 6’5” medium/heavy spinning rods with Shimano Saragosa SW20000PG reels spooled with 200 yards of 50-pound braid and 150 yards of 30-pound mono topshot.
Bait supplies for a typical trip include four 5-gallon buckets of precut sardine chunks, chum baits and actual baits, two buckets per day. Live bait supplies might include threadfins, pilchards or goggle-eyes for chum and bait (easier to bring than to find local bait for two days of fishing).
THE FINE PRINT
BAHAMAS ENTRY PROCESS: “Click2Clear” is a new initiative which replaces the current EDI system being used to submit and clear declarations. The advantage is that once registered and all questions and information filled, you are assigned an online permit that you print and present while clearing customs. However, you’re not required to use the new service and can submit paperwork in person as usual. Search Click2Clear or go to the registration page via bahamascustoms.gov.bs
BIMINI: Hotels with marinas and boat slips are ideal. Some of the better ones are Bimini Big Game Club, Sea Crest, Weech’s and Bimini Blue Water. But, you also have a lot of availability for condos in Bimini Sands or by going directly to condo owners via AirBnB or VRBO, but make sure you check for boat slips as well.
WEST END, GRAND BAHAMA: Some quality hotels and marinas which cater to traveling anglers include Old Bahama Bay, Blue Marlin Cove and Bootle Bay Fishing Lodge.
FINAL TIPS & REMINDERS
- Backup handheld VHF
- Backup handheld GPS
- FLIR Night vision
- One gallon of water per person per day
- Don’t overpack with food, ice, water and supplies
Make sure to visit a local food shack for fresh conch salad, as well as don’t leave the country without a loaf of Bimini bread.
Bahamas fishing regulations state that boats may keep up to 18 pelagic species on board at any time, and that yellowfin tuna must be a minimum of 27 inches to keep.
Fish brought back to the U.S. must conform to U.S. regulations—which limit anglers to no more than 3 yellowfin tuna, minimum size 27 inches (curved fork length). Yellowfin must remain in whole condition. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2022