Problem Solving: Life, Birds and Bait, But No Tuna
Example situation: You have arrived at “your spot,” possibly based on a good fishing report, and you see lots of life but no aggressive feeding. Instead, you find lots of whales, birds feeding by the whales, many sitting and others circling high above. The air smells fishy and you see some slicks. You were a smart angler and arrived about 30 minutes before sunrise but also know it is two hours before slack tide, where you know that’s the best time to target tuna, especially on jigging and casting gear. You see bait fish all over the fish finder and maybe a few “tuna looking” marks on your fish finder but nothing amazing. You know from reports it was hot here two days ago. Your buddy was there and in addition to the spot info, he gave you the following intel:
- Time of bite: 5:30 a.m., Sunrise
- Time of slack tide: 5:15 a.m.
- Was the bite best at slack tide? Hard to tell, they overlapped.
- Bait they were feeding on: Sand eels and mackerel. The macks were chasing the sand eels.
- Wind direction and speed that day: 5 knots in the morning. Increase to 15 knots. SW.
The weather today is a bit different. The wind switched to the North and it has finally laid down after a blow. You have sniffed around for 30 minutes and neither you, or anyone else as far as you can tell, is hooking up.
What’s going on?: I think this situation is quite typical and is probably the most common way a trip starts out for me. You get a good report, but unfortunately, there is a bit of weather between the hot bite and when you can get back out there. The bite is different or not going on, yet. Maybe it’s also dated information or your schedule prohibited you from going out. Either way, you have to adjust. The good news is that if you follow the playbook for breaking down a situation, and if there are indeed tuna in the area, you are more likely than not to convert the situation into a productive day.
Game plan: The play here is to assess the information you have and make a decision to stay or move. If you decide to stay, investigate the situation deeply and allow enough time for the situation to develop. Lastly, you’ll want to think of coming up with a defined exit strategy to go find the fish and not get lost circling with the fleet all day with no fish.
- Stay or go?: Given this situation, I would stay. After all, the bite was good and the bait is still there. To me, this situation looks more like a waiting game than a “new spot” situation.
- Assess what’s different: Other than no biting fish yet, you have identified that the wind is from a different direction. This could mean that the fish have moved South, they’re running with the wind or it could also mean things just need time to settle. You also know that slack tide is 2 hours later. Perhaps the bite was a result of the slack tide, not the time of day. (Tip: Two best times are twilight hours and slack tide).
- Strategy: Now that you have decided to stay, it’s time to develop your strategy. Like running a business, a clear but adaptable strategy is paramount to your success. We have identified that the action is quiet at sunrise, which is the first strike. We have slack in 2 hours, which is your second important factor. I would say that logic suggests you stick around for the 2 hours. After all, it’s still early and your second key indicator is not too far off, time wise. You might argue that if you had a fast boat, you could do an hour search pattern to see if the north wind pushed the action further south but I would personally stay with the life signs.
- Exit Strategy: I would fish this spot to one hour past slack. There are so many signs of life paired with recent action. You are starting at sunrise at approximately 5:30 a.m. and slack tide is approximately 7:30 a.m. By leaving one hour after slack tide, you’ll have fished through the prime morning time and prime slack tide time, all while having ample time to investigate the immediate and surrounding areas
- Techniques: I would be ready for casting and jigging in this situation and change the two techniques up often. One method might be more effective than another but it’s no problem if you plan on sticking to just casting or jigging. The play is relatively the same.
- Casting: You know from your buddy that there are mackerel in the area, so a large subsurface puts you in the zone. I would focus on conserving energy for multiple casts (time in water = more eyeballs) and find a nice, easy cadence to work. I would likely put on a Green Hogy Slider on one casting outfit and a more visible color, such as a Bone Glow, on the other. I would also hedge the situation with a 9” Harness Tail Eel Dead Stick fished either just above or just below the schools of sand eels I am marking on the finds. Do not underestimate the power of dead-sticking. It is unreal how many fish have been hooked with the rod simply sitting in the holder.
- Jigging: If you choose to jig, I would fish at least one rod with a green 9” Harness Paddle Tail fast and a 9” olive Harness Eel Tail slow. The fast-moving green Hogy Pro Tail Paddle would imitate a mackerel and a slow moving soft bait would imitate a sand eel that has lost its way. If I had a third line in the water, either fished by a third person or dead-sticked, I would have a Hogy 9” Harness Paddle in highly visible Bone HDUV fished midway down as an attractor. Other things to try would be to fish a 9” Hogy Harness Paddle toward the bottom to simulate a mud hake or simply changing colors around on the slowly jigged harness eel tails. If your crew is getting tired, either switch to search and troll or set all the rods in holders at varied depths. Also a great lunch technique. 🙂
- Methods: In my opinion, you have three categorical options here, regardless of whether you are jigging or casting. I would be ready to switch between the various methods in addition to the various techniques, which would also help you learn more more about what is going on. Sometimes it’s just the subtlest of changes that opens the door to success and it’s a game of trial and error to figure out what that change might be.
- Fish blind: You can find a spot that has the most life and park it and either blind cast or drop and jig. Cast big sliders with visibility but don’t forget to swap out to a sinking lure like a Hogy Pro Tail Paddle to cover deeper water. Lastly, don’t forget send a down or a dead-sticker. I have caught so many fish in this situation but each one has felt totally random. Tip: Have faith in blind casting. It produces more times than not if fish are around and is hands down the most underrated technique in any situation.
- Search and ready: The “search and ready” technique here would be to cruise around at 8 knots or slower while looking for either targets or better signs. Here you would have your anglers holding the rods and ready so there are no delays when a fish is identified. You should always have at least one angler with eyes glued to the fish finder while all others are glued to the water looking for boils, subtle water pushes or v-wakes that are actual tuna. Of course you are looking for breaking fish and crazy birds, too! This is a good technique as you cover some ground allowing you to find tuna on your fish finder and if you do, you can immediately stop to cast or jig. For this method, I like to drop metal jigs or eel tail soft baits for the fastest drop time. I do particularly well with the 9” Hogy Harness Tail Eel in this situation in bone glow. Glow is a great color for this situation and chances are, the fish have moved well past your drop so you are either hoping for the fish to be circling back or swimming in a pack with a few others behind. Pros: Cover lots of ground to find deep-water fish. Cons: Less time spent with lures in the water, not going to get bit with lines out. 🙂
- Troll scanning: I tend to favor troll scanning over the “search and ready” method with my thinking being that you’re not going to get bit with all your lures inside the boat. Depending on the situation and what I think my prevailing fishing situation might be that day, I troll two casting or jigging rods way back at around 4 knots.
- Hogy Sliders: You can troll Hogy Sliders here, which would make sense if you wanted to crank them in quickly to fire off a cast. Situations where this would be appropriate are those when you are occasionally seeing milling fish, or seeing sporadic, quick feeds with very few fish that are impossible to run far distances. In either case, you want to be ready when you cross paths with these fish. You can drop on fish with sliders if you are trolling 4oz sliders and mark them in the top 30’ of the water column. You won’t necessarily get your lures that deep but you’ll get in the zone. You can maybe get down to 40’ if you are trolling with the 6oz version. If given the choice, I recommend the Hogy 6oz Slider for trolling –the extra weight will allow for faster trolling and minimize bird distraction
- Hogy Harness Jigs and Pro Tail Paddles: If you mark fish, you have the added benefit of taking the boat out of gear and having your lures swing toward the marks on the finder. If you don’t catch the ones you see, there are likely others in the area.
Conclusion: After pounding these fish for an hour or two and you went through a slack it would be safe to say that you either discovered fish (hopefully by catching one) or have concluded it’s time to move on.