Trolling for Bluefin Tuna with Sand Eel Imitation Spreads


Depending on where you fish south of the Vineyard, the bait upon which schools of bluefin feed can vary significantly depending on time of year, water temperature and location. When Capt. Terry Nugent & co. took Riptide out 40 miles south of MV on a foggy Sunday in mid-July, sand eels were the main forage, so choosing a color and spread profile that “matched the hatch” was a critical strategy for catching the attention of the many bluefin tuna in the area. Here are a few tips on how to catch your own bluefin when they’re feeding on sand eels.


Three of the most popular locations to look for bluefin tuna south of the Vineyard are the Star, Gordon’s Gully, the Claw and the Dump. One thing to keep in mind is that big schools of tuna move quickly. There have been many days when the fish move between these locations over the course of only a few hours. Be prepared to cover a lot of water while you are out there.

These spots are by no means to be fished like inshore structure, and mostly just serve as a reference point when trying to explain which area south of MV you are trying to fish to other anglers. Often times, the best way to find them is to work with a network of “buddy boats” that all scour different sections of 10 mile radius looking for fish.

Finding Fish

Preparation is key for finding bluefin south of the Vineyard. It always helps to start by looking at the latest sea surface temperature readings. Look for extreme temperature breaks where the water fluctuates 3 or more degrees over the course of only a few miles. This is about as much “structure” as there is south of Martha’s Vineyard, so it’s a good place to start.

There are a few sources for this data including Rutgers University Coastal Observation Lab and Terrafin Satellite Imagining.

An example of a Rutgers sea surface temperature chart.
An example of a Rutgers sea surface temperature chart.

Once you have steamed out to the area, you will want to start looking for signs of life. Whales, birds, and porpoises can all indicate that there are schools of bluefin nearby. Also pay very close attention to your temperature gauge in order to find the temperature breaks.

When you feel confident that there is sufficient life in the area, have seen schools of bait or located a distinct temp break, it’s time to deploy your spread.


When the fish are cued in on sand eels, Capt. Terry likes to deploy a spread consisting of machine bars, machine daisy chains, squid spreader bars and splash birds that all featured some level of green, white or silver colorations. “Matching the hatch” (i.e. matching the color of your baits to the bait in the water) is a logical technique for getting fish to attack your spread.

Flat Line Clips: 30" Machine Bar in Dark Sand Eel & 30" Machine Bar in Green Mack.Short Riggers: Machine Bar Daisy Chain in Dark Sand Eel & 40" Flexi-Bar Squid Bar in Sand EelLong Riggers: Pocket Splash Bird in Green Mack & Pocket Splash Bird in Olive.Shotgun: Splash Bird Bar w/ 5oz BlueMax.
Flat Line Clips: 30″ Machine Bar in Dark Sand Eel & 30″ Machine Bar in Green Mack.
Short Riggers: Machine Bar Daisy Chain in Dark Sand Eel & 40″ Flexi-Bar Squid Bar in Sand Eel
Long Riggers: Pocket Splash Bird in Green Mack & Pocket Splash Bird in Olive.
Shotgun: Splash Bird w/ 5oz BlueMax.

By creating this large “bait ball”-style presentation with olive, green and white colorations, Capt. Terry had a very successful mid-July trip resulting in multiple bluefin tuna from 45 to 100 pounds.

To contact Terry Nugent regarding charters to the offshore waters south of Martha’s Vineyard, send an e-mail to

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