I started chasing big blue fin tuna off the Outer Banks of North Carolina a few years back and recently was feeling the itch to get back out there for some April tuna action.
I normally try to make it out there late March or early April but March was out of the question this time due to scheduling issues. Most years these fish migrate up the Carolina coastline and many years are gone by the first of April so I gave my buddy Adam LaRosa a call to see if he still had one of his boats fishing out of the Oregon Inlet. Adam owns Canyon Runner Sport Fishing out of New Jersey and sometimes has a boat down in the Outer Banks for blue fin tuna season. Oregon Inlet is about 50 miles north of Hatteras where I have been running out of on previous trips but the blue fin tuna sometimes hang around Oregon Inlet a little longer before jetting on up the coastline. Adam didn’t have any of his boats down there this year but recommended Capt. Dennis Endee on the A-Salt Weapon Charters out of Pirates Cove near Manteo NC. After a few phone calls and emails we had four days of fishing setup for the second week of April. I was stoked now were to stay.
In previous years we’ve rented large vacation homes at huge offseason discounts but those were farther down in the Outer Banks so this year we decided to stay at the Oasis Suites a nice small boutique hotel booking a two bedroom suite with a kitchen just off the living room. It was ideal for this trip since Megan Waltosz wanted to test her wits and grit with one of these big tuna. She was the only member of the “Team Bad to the Bone” tournament team who had not been properly introduced to these behemoths and Weddy and I owed her a trip. Accommodations were now set so onto to airfare.
Traveling from our home in Portland Oregon the easiest way to get there is to fly to Atlanta then on to Norfolk where we rented a SUV and drove 2 hours down to Nags Head NC.
It had been a week since the charter fleet had been out of the tuna grounds due to nasty weather so the first day of fishing we moved around a lot trying to locate the tuna. Hunting for these fish by yourself would be like looking for a needle in a haystack but out in the Outer Banks the charter fleet all hunt together and when one boat gets into them they all benefit.
Day one while on the hunt for big fish we practiced on the little guys catching four yellowfin tuna, one black fin tuna and a false albacore. Catching football size fish on 80 wides is way more work than using light tackle.
The next day the fleet had moved farther north and after catching a few more yellow footballs we hooked up on a big boy. Megan was new to the blue fin experience so we gave her the first opportunity in the fighting chair and after a little coaching, to get the technique dialed in, it only took twenty minutes before she had the 200 pound fish up to the boat. This one fit the slot length allowing us to keep it so it came on board. Exhausted with aching arms she succumbed to the mezzanine bench to get a drink and admire her trophy. Scratch that one off the bucket list.
We were fishing the choppy water where the northerly Gulf Stream met the southerly Labrador Current. This area is rich with sea life and sometimes you never know what might take your bait. On numerous occasions we reeled in a small Yellowfin tuna with a small 3-4 foot mako shark chomping on the back half and it would sometimes take a little persuasion for it to leave us with our fish.
The mezzanine bench seat was a great place to wait watching the rods but anytime there was more than 20-30 minutes between fish the gentle rocking of the boat would put one of us to sleep. It wasn’t long before a singing reel, with line peeling off at a blistering pace, would bring us instantly to attention jumping up to go into our routine. The next person up in the rotation would hop in the fighting chair while the others would help to entice another strike then clear lines.
Between the time change and rocking of the boat I got in a couple pretty good naps the first two days.
Day three Capt. Dennis went back to where we had caught the blue fin the day before and lines hadn’t been in the water more than 20 minutes before we heard that sweet singing sound of line leaving the reel at Mach speed. Weddy was first up in the rotation and found herself battling a 300 pound class blue fin tuna. Megan kept the chair pointed at the fish and Capt. Dennis maneuvered the boat to try to keep it behind the boat. After 40 minutes
Weddy had prevailed and the big fish came alongside the boat. All those four days per week workouts in the gym along with some nice rod handling technique made it a lot shorter battle than it could’ve been. I’ve seen guys with no technique take an hour to land a much smaller fish. Charter boats in North Carolina are allowed to keep one trophy fish per year exceeding 73” and our crew hadn’t taken theirs yet so we decided to keep her fish.
Barely 20 minutes had elapsed before things heated up again and this time it was a double. My turn in the chair and Capt. Dennis said it acted like a big fish. It dumped line off the 80 wide reel at an incredible speed and finally came to a stop leaving me with less than a ¼ spool of line. The power of these big fish is amazing to watch. The drags were set at 25 pounds at strike and eventually we’d have the levers pushed to 45 pounds to land them. In some cases we’d move the drags up to try to slow them down before being spooled. Most of the time they ran out instead of down even though we were in deep water. After my turn at a 40 minute workout we released a fish in the 350 pound class. It was warm out on the water that morning and I chose to start out with just a tee shirt which turned out to be a smart move. I was still sweating when the battle came to an end but nothing like my very first adventure with one of these monsters when I was way over dressed and not in as good of physical shape as today.
Megan had been sitting on the gunwale of the boat keeping the line tight on her fish while I played mine and once it was released she then moved to the fighting chair and readjusted the bucket harness to fit her. By now she had the technique down and soon we were releasing a 280 pounder.
The day was a blur of constant action. If it wasn’t your turn in the chair you were clearing lines, moving the fighting chair to keep the angler pointed towards the fish, taking photos and in some cases giving a warmed up angler a drink of water. Doing battle with a big fish is not just a one person job. It takes help and is very much a team effort or you’ll find yourself on the short end of the deal making it tough to successfully land these big fish.
Most of the action happened by 1pm making for a quiet afternoon allowing for a few more naps. By the end of the day we had each landed 2 fish for a total of 6 blue fin tuna. We had 3 fish over 300 pounds keeping one of them and another 3 fish in the 170-280 pound range. What a day. I couldn’t believe the size class of fish we were catching.
In previous trips out to Hatteras I had caught fish in the 100-300 pound class but it was rare to have one over 250 pounds. We had just caught 3 over 300 pounds and our smallest fish was close to 170 pounds.
Once back at the dock we took a few more pictures before heading back to the Oasis Suites where we cleaned up before venturing over to Ortega’z Southwestern Grill & Wine Bar in nearby Manteo. Later that evening I savored the end of a great day with a nice bourbon and good cigar out on the deck while reminiscing the events of a fantastic day. Tired but happy sleep came easy.
The next morning Capt. Dennis eased the big boat out of the slip from Pirates Cove as we made our way down the causeway to start the last day of our fishing. We passed Oregon Inlet and headed east to the Gulfstream. Rain was threatening but we didn’t care we were prepared to give it our all on the final day of what would become one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had on the water. We ran ninety minutes to the Gulfstream and Guy wasted no time deploying the lines. I was still putting on my raingear bibs when the reel started singing. Hopping on one leg and fighting a bobbing boat I made my way to the fighting chair and buckled in for the fight. I was first up in the fighting chair but right away I could tell it was a much smaller fish than I’d been tangling with the previous days and within 20 minutes it was alongside the boat. The smallest blue fin tuna of the trip and it was still 165 pounds. After fighting 300 pounders the day before this was a walk in the park.
Lines went back out and we were back on the hunt. I had just enough time to get a snack before the reels were singing again. This time another double.
Megan was first up in the chair so Weddy camped out on the gunwale and kept the line tight on her fish while Megan worked hers to submission before releasing another nice fish in the 250 pound class. Weddy moved to the fighting chair and we handed her the rod locking in the harness for what would soon turn out to be the longest battle of the trip. The fish had almost spooled her and didn’t seem to be showing any signs of letting up. Capt. Dennis backed up on the fish to reclaim half a mile of line that looked like it was running off over the horizon. Slowly the line winched back onto the reel and after a long 40 minutes we saw the monofilament topshot, now another 250 yards to go. She worked to gain more ground. The fish would move to the one side then the other and Capt. Dennis would maneuver the boat to keep the fish behind the boat. Back and forth side to side we’d go and another 20 minutes had gone by. Guy was constantly watching to make sure the line never touched the boat. Early in the fight Weddy had pushed the drag to 45 pounds and this fish wasn’t showing much sign of giving in. She’d gain a little then lose a little. This give and take went on for another 15 minutes before we saw the 130 lb Seaguar Fluorocarbon leader.
Once Guy was able to leader the fish he was able to put a little more pressure on the fish working it to the side of the boat where we were able to get a measurement and a few pictures before releasing the 600 pound bruiser.
By noon we had landed a small 165 pound fish which would eventually be donated to the Nags Head food bank and had released 4 others including the big bruiser Weddy had battled.
The ocean was turning ugly on us and the seas were building so we decided to call it a day and run for home.
Four days of fishing just off the outer banks of North Carolina had produced some incredible action landing 15 Yellow Fin Tuna, 12 big Blue Fin Tuna and a few new friends taking home some incredible memories.