March may have come in like a lamb, but tuna fishing on the East Lump has definitely been more like a lion lately.
Capt. Joey Davis, with Voodoo Fishing Charters out of Venice, said triple-digit yellowfin action has been the norm — including a 213-pounder landed on another boat Sunday.
On Monday, Davis and Capt. Chad Pique's clients caught six yellowfin weighing more than 100 pounds, including a pair of 150s, a 130 and a 120.
“It was a pretty hectic weekend,” Davis said. “Friday there was a late bite and I ended up with a 130 and a 150. But Saturday and Sunday, I was done tuna fishing and back at the dock in time to eat lunch.”
From Venice, it’s about one hour and 30 minute ride to the East Lump in Davis’ 36-foot Contender, so that’s about a three-hour round trip. Leaving between 6:30 and 7 and being back for lunch is a pretty solid indication of how strong the bite’s been lately.
“It’s almost like you want to tell people to start doing pushups to get warmed up and ready,” Davis said. “You run an hour and a half out there, it’s two or three hours of mayhem, and then you turn around and run back.
“We typically try and fish the outskirts because on top of The Lump, there’s a lot of king mackerels and sharks that are really thick on top,” Davis said. “So we stay away from that stuff and we stay out in deeper water to target the yellowfin. On Monday, I pulled the boat off step, and before I baited the last rod, the first rod was hooked up. I literally stopped the boat, put a bait in the water and hooked one.”
Davis said he’s noticed lots of Portuguese man o’ war in the area — usually a good omen for yellowfin this time of year.
“It seems like when you see those Portuguese man o’ war and the little minnows that live up under those things, more often than not, the tuna bite seems to be really good,” he said.
Davis said wintertime fishing is as simple as drifting and chumming with cut up chunks of king mackerel and bonita.
“It just floats out into your slick, and your’e just hoping they eat the one with the hook in it,” he said.
His tuna rig consists of a Penn International 30 reel, a Penn Ally bent-butt rod, 80-pound braid top-shotted to 80-pound mono then 80-pound fluorocarbon, and a 9-aught Mustad circle hook.
Unlike summer fishing when depths can reach 1,000 feet-plus, Davis said wintertime tuna don’t have the option of rocketing straight down when they’re hooked.
“Whenever it eats, it just starts screaming line off the reel and they’re running across the surface,” he said. “They may go to the bottom, but they really can’t go any deeper than 300 feet.
“We had a couple the other day that ate and ran real hard and we got them up and they had mud on their faces. They ate and ran straight to the bottom and stuck their heads in the mud.”
With so many big fish in the area now, Davis said most clients are happy to land a single triple-digit fish.
“The limit is three per person, but when you’re getting fish of that quality, we don’t keep more than two, and typically we try and limit it to one,” he said. “The amount of meat you can get off of those fish is ridiculous — they say it’s supposed to be 60 to 70 percent yield on the meat. So you’re talking about a 100-pound yellowfin yielding 60 to 70 pounds of meat.
“We try to preserve our fishery and not take more than we need.”
Davis said weather through the weekend looks pretty solid, and he expects the hot bite to last at least a few more weeks.
“Usually it starts getting really good around Valentine’s Day, and then it’s good for like a month,” he said. “As long as the water stays right, it should be good through mid-to-late March.
“Once this bite is over, we’ll transition back to fishing rigs in deeper water.”