Bahamas: Yellowfin Madness
Making the run to the Tuna Grounds from Bimini in the early morning hours, in total darkness, relying only on radar navigation, can test most seasoned navigators. The night still, the seas calm and the only evidence of life your prop wash and navigation lights amongst the starlit sky and ocean. The run must be made in total darkness as the bite is at sunrise or near it. The two best times are early morning and at dusk. Occasionally, I have encountered them on overcast stormy days throughout the day.
The trick is to run to the Tuna Grounds between Grand Bahama Island and the Bahama Bank, north of Bimini. Almost near the middle, between the two Islands, you will find the canyons holding yellowfin tuna, blackfin and the occasional bluefin tuna.
The methods of fishing are diverse; from trolling with cedar plugs, tuna teasers and tuna teaser chains, to live and dead baits. You can ask many captains and fishermen, and likely a distinct opinion will flow to a heated conversation on the best approach to target these fish. The key that no one disagrees with, is finding birds! Find the birds and you will find the tuna. Know how to fish the birds and you will end up with nice sized yellowfins.
I see many people fishing the tunas going directly for the birds. I avoid these people at all costs and will find my own group of birds without the racing boats attempting to gain on the tunas. If I see several boats on tuna I’m out of there!
Nothing causes a shutdown of surface feeding tuna faster than multiple boats congregating right on top of the fish, from novice to experienced, throwing baits, trolling and sheer pandemonium. In addition, in my experience, I have generally caught bigger tuna away from the center of the school of tuna. I believe this is because the larger ones hang outside the school like other larger predators, similar to marlin and other large pelagics.
My tactics are numerous; from drifting to the fish with engines off, to either chunking or drifting with live baits. I seldom dump pilchards on tuna as I can generally catch larger isolated fish with a single live bait presented at the right depth of where the sounder shows the school. I can often catch many nice sized tuna with 2-3 dozen live baits in the well.
Another tactic I employ is running two long lines with cedar plugs or tuna lures/feathers 200 and 250’ back and two lines off my flat corners, running a tuna chain consisting of smaller tuna lures ending in one large lure and, on the other, a spreader bar with teasers followed by a large lure at 100 and 150’ back. This 4-line spread is great to use as a searching spread once the birds have dissipated or are absent. Once I locate the fish, I mark the area and begin the process above to get the larger fish.
Lure selection is another area of multitudes. I generally like bright green lures, like a Green Machine, or Green Squid Spreader Bars followed by a Green Machine. Black Bart Lures have tuna assortment packs that are excellent and have proven very successful in a variety of colors.
Cedar plugs vary in size and color. I have found that a 4-6” plug works well in Naked Cedar and Purple. I troll these to create a commotion on the water. Trolling speeds vary, depending on if you are trolling upwind or in a following sea, or upcurrent or down current. I do not rely on speed. I rely on the “splash” effect of my pattern. This has taken me many years to perfect when fishing off of Mexico and Costa Rica, and the Bahamas is no different. Try different set-ups and speeds and when you get consistent action, then duplicate this at the speed to get the desired effect in your spread.
Although you can catch tuna at nearly any time in the Northwest Providence Channel, spring and summer is the best time of year for many reasons. First, the fish are there in abundance. Second, the seas tend to be calm, making the run and fishing much more comfortable. Bluefin can occasionally be encountered during the early spring months as they make a migration north and often will deviate into the Channel. Although never as numerous as the spring migration off Cat Cay and Bimini, you can find the occasional straggler schools. Just as you can find yellowfin in fishable numbers right outside Bimini, there are areas these fish prefer following migration routes and other staging areas.
People often ask if it is better to fish from Grand Bahama side or Bimini side. It depends where you travel from. If you are from north of Miami to West Palm Beach, fishing West End and off Grand Bahama, while lodging in hotels on Grand Bahama, is the way to go. Traveling from the Keys, as we do from Islamorada, making runs from Bimini is my preferred method. First of all, its closer. In addition, the fishing is very good in most areas throughout the Northwest Providence Channel. The added bonus is that blue marlin are more plentiful near Bimini, in my experience, than off South Grand Bahama Island. My usual day consists of a run for the early morning bite and heading back mid-morning, to early afternoon trolling for blue marlin and wahoo back to Bimini. That way I get to fish three different kinds of fish in optimal areas. If one is going for yellowfin tuna only, West End is a favorite as the proximity of runs is closer overall and fishing generally very good.
Another great area, possibly the best in the Bahamas for yellowfin, is “The Pocket”.
“The Pocket” lies in the northwest corner of the Tongue of the Ocean, in close proximity to Chub Cay. This is big game territory in the spring. Several days of a good southeast wind will stack up the tuna, marlin and mahi in good numbers, fairly close to the island pocket formed between Chub and Andros Island. This is truly one of the best places to fish in all the Bahamas, excluding the eastern most islands bordering the Atlantic. Travel to Chub generally takes two days there and two days back in a leisurely timeframe. On calm days, one can make the long trip from Islamorada or Miami to Chub in one day, weather permitting.
Yellowfin tuna fishing in the Bahamas is excellent to outstanding. Only Mexico and Costa Rica have exceeded my experience. With the proximity from my home base in Islamorada, on a calm morning I can be fishing yellowfin by late afternoon in one of the best places on earth to catch Yellowfin Madness; an illness you will surely look forward to every year and will most definitely have to miss work for.
Capt. Jorge Piñero
Capt. Jorge Piñero has fished worldwide in search of his specialty game fish--the Marlin! He has caught and released over 400 marlin personally, and has had the honor of receiving 4 World Marlin Slams on Fly Gear. He calls Islamorada home and charter fishes the Bahamian offshore waters and Islamorada in search of big game fish. He can be reached at 305-304-7573 or online at UpperKeysSportfishing.com.
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