Chunking for Tuna
Starting in Late July in southern Jersey and early August in central Jersey the offshore tuna chunking
season gets started. It's a hardcore way to fish mainly because of the distance New Jersey boats must travel
to get to the canyons. You have to be prepared for anything, from huge fish that can't be boated, to strong
winds, surprise storms and 8 to 10 foot seas. Typically chunking is done during an overnight trip into early
morning, leaving the daylight for trolling and travelling to and from the canyons.
Once you have tested all systems on your boat, such as the GPS the backup GPS, the Loran the backup
loran, the spotlights the spreader lights the depth finder the sea temperature gauge, radar, the 2 or 3 radios,
the charge on the batteries the engines the hydraulics and checked and double checked all of the emergency
equipment such as the life jackets, life raft(s) and E.P.I.R.B. the only thing left to do is to make sure the
weather is going to hold at the canyons for you to make your trip enjoyable & safe, then to go buy the chum
bait, ice & tackle you will need.
At a minimum, 2 four gallon buckets of frozen mackerel chum, 2 or 3 flats of frozen butterfish, a few squid
lures and a squid net for catching live squid. If you don't have an electric chunker on your boat for the
butterfish, then it's a good idea to cut up a flat or two of the butterfish while they are frozen. The fastest
way to do this is to use an old circular saw. Just cut them into squares like so many “rice krispy treats”.
This is the smartest thing to do, because cutting up the chunks at the canyon most of the time results in a
cut finger or two, not a good time or place to be bleeding.
Some boats will anchor at the canyons, others will drift. I have not seen a difference in the fishing, although
anchoring is a lot safer than drifting. Many boats attempt to simply tie off to an unattended lobster pot,
which works great, but the lobsterman may be inclined to shoot you on sight, so stay aware that those pots
are part of his livelihood, and not your easy anchoring station. When anchored the chum and chunks drift
away from the boat, when drifting the chum and chunks drift with the boat. Drifting also can pull fish from
a wide range, but anchoring keeps fish next to your boat.
Hang the chum in a chum bag off the side of the boat. Splash the water with the bag every 15 minutes or so
to keep the chum moving out. Set out 4 lines – 2 3/0's 2 5/0's rigged with 30 – 50 lb test and 6 foot 60 lb
flourocarbon leaders with 5/0 hooks. You may find it easier to crimp the flourocarbon rather than tie it. Set
out your lines at various distances from the boat, baited with whole butterfish. Be sure that the butterfish
conceals the hook and crimp or knot. Tuna have keen sight and spook easily. The flourocarbon will be
invisible, so they will only see the butterfish.
Put the rods in the pole holders and wait. When the tuna takes the line don't let him run, set the drag and
the hook as fast as you can. Tuna can strip a reel in no time, since you have no idea what size you have
until you bring it in. Mayba a big bluefin 600+ lbs or a Bigeye 300+, maybe it's a 150 lb yellowfin, at the
canyon anything goes.