Tuna Cruise

Some people cruise to Mexico or the Caribbean, but now anglers can ride in luxury to the prime yellowfin grounds of the canyons and Midnight Lump.

I’ve got a buddy who’s a fellow offshore fishing junkie. An attorney by trade, his preference of pursuit leans heavily toward the often excruciatingly heavy pull of a yellowfin tuna. Heck, he’s probably read more on intricacies of capturing yellowfins than any single facet of civil procedure. My muscles and will long ago threw down an ultimatum regarding the tuna’s powerful fight, but before that, we often mused what it would be like should somebody put together a package similar to such vessels as the Red Rooster and the Qualifier 105, huge vessels based out of San Diego designed specifically to usher thrill-seeking anglers to the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean in pursuit, primarily, of huge schools of yellowfin tuna, some exceeding 300 pounds.

The problem with the San Diego boats is time, specifically the time it takes to get to the fishing grounds. Most of the trips for yellowfin are earmarked for at least eight days, with the ventures for the true trophies of the species stretching as long as 18 days, and often including an option of anglers being picked up in Cabo San Lucas by the boat in order to shave a few days from the travel schedule.

California ocean water is cold, forcing long-range captains in search of the reliable and popular yellowfin — smaller albacore and somewhat unpredictable tuna are located closer to the states — to search far and wide for the big bites of trophy-sized sickle fins.

These vessels mainly catch their fish by live-chumming sardines to draw fish near the boat and then having anglers — many of whom are polished veterans and others who have worked their way up the ranks from the two-day to the four-day and so on — lob baits into the fray.

These boats do the job, and are immensely popular, especially the good ones.

But truthfully, Louisiana doesn’t really need them and their intense methods. The largely untouched tuna fishery at the rigs 100 miles or more offshore are wonderfully susceptible to traditional methods such as slow-trolling and chumming with dead bait.

San Diego captains would laugh at distances most around here would find extreme.

Vessels such as the 65-foot Captain Charlie of Hardison Offshore Fishing and the similarly sized four-boat fleet operated by Steve Tomeny are more than adequate for the task, and are capturing an increasing amount of tuna business, but bottom fishing is an overwhelming focus among their client base.

So, there still was a niche to fill, many thought.

Shane Pescay of Crewboats, Inc., and several creative minds in the Venice charter industry recognized the need for a dedicated bluewater fishing vessel. They put together a business plan and a rough schedule, and with the gentle tweaking of a luxury corporate and family entertainment sportfisher, created the state’s first long-range charter boat.

And though the boat won’t approach the astounding range of the San Diego vessels, the fishing has turned out to be every bit as good, with more than enough tuna being brought back to Cypress Cove Marina on every trip thus far in its short career.

The Finatic is a 93-foot custom Broward aluminum hull, though only the trained eye would ID the stunning yacht as an aluminum boat. It’s decked out with almost every conceivable bell and whistle you can think of, with more stuff on the control panel than in any movie on the Sci Fi channel, four bedrooms with their own TV/VCR combo, AC units and baths.

With enough power from its diesel engines to max out the GPS at 22 knots, it cruises at 16, and is smooth enough that inside the salon, you’d barely know it was moving.

I was fortunate enough to take part in the boat’s “shake-down cruise” in July, and was able to see much of this for myself. There was skeet shooting on the way out in between features on the DVD player to break up the monotony of the 100-mile-plus boat ride to some of the far-away oilfield structures south of Venice.

We stopped and caught bait on a grassline on the way out, and soon secured 100 hardtails and bar jacks, which luxuriated themselves in the enormous bait tank located in the cockpit.

We arrived at the massive spar rig lit up by an enormous flare at around 10 p.m. with yellowfin periodically chasing flying fish. While not the wide-open bite of some nights, the fishing was good enough with diamond jigs, poppers thrown at busting fish and by deep chumming with pogies and fresh blackfin cubes that we didn’t need any of the perfect-sized live bait, and pulled up stakes at around 12:30 in search of swordfish.

The next morning, we tested the ability of the Finatic to raise marlin. An hour after pulling the hooks on a suspected blue, we got another shot with a depth charge on a black/purple Moldcraft Super Chugger on the center rigger, and thirty minutes later, an estimated 375-pound blue was tagged and released for the boat’s first.

“We had an average of one marlin brought to the boat per trip,” said Pescay. “The biggest was estimated around 600 or 700 pounds. I know it was at least that big because later that day, we had a fish that got tail-wrapped and died. Back at the dock it weighed 418 pounds. That other fish was a lot bigger than that one.”

In between marlin bites, action on wahoo and dolphin was solid and put a variety of white meat in the immense fishboxes to go with the dozen yellowfins ranging from 50 to 90 pounds.

Also, the 8-knot trolling speed was a pleasure in the searing, windless summer heat.

“That’s generally how we’re going to do it,” said Pescay. “We’ll normally get plenty of tuna at the rigs at night and then we’ll troll for marlin or whatever during the day. The next night will be more tuna or maybe a try for swordfish. The next day is mostly the trip home.”

A sunset surface show was next up to culminate the day which had surpassed all expectations. We munched on lasagna and salad while watching yellowfin alternately pick at and blast the floundering livies suspended by a kite. With all of the tuna we could handle, we tried for swords again before turning for home early that morning.

With the summer deepwater season behind them, the crew of the Finatic is eagerly awaiting the winter Midnight Lump season, where it will be offering 24-hour trips to the famed tuna honeyhole beginning around the first of the year.

With the pressure becoming more and more intense on days when boats of most any size try to give it a go, Pescay is cautiously optimistic that his vessel will be able to consistently make the trip a go when the season’s succession of cold fronts keep many at the dock.

“Except for a really intense cold front, the seas will only kick up to around 6 or 7 feet,” said Pescay. “That’s something that we can handle. It’s not to say that it’s going to be comfortable, because a true 6 or 7 is rough in most any boat, but it’s doable and it should make for some good fishing.”

Research, though largely anecdotal, seems to back up that statement. Northeastern charter captains have found an astounding discrepancy in their overnight trips to the canyons far off of the New Jersey coastline.

As you might have guessed, the fishing was better after the weekend crowd went back to work. What was really amazing is how much better the fishing was on weekday outings, with numbers that make those kept by Hackberry Rod and Gun Club’s Terry Shaughnessy years ago seem paltry.

Tuna fishing has been popular in the northeast Atlantic for many years more than that of Louisiana. Making the long run to the canyons is commonplace for anglers seeking yellowfin and bigeye tuna, and overnight trips are almost the rule.

Adam LaRosa, owner of the charter boat Canyon Runner out of Point Pleasant, N.J., reports in the July/August issue of Big Game Fishing Journal that they have kept records of the past 30 occasions in which they had overnight trips that overlapped from a weekend into a Monday. They found that 10 times more fish were caught on Monday than on Sunday. Similar results were found on Fridays preceding a day in the canyons on Saturday.

Many anglers were also saying at the end of the Lump season last year that the better days were the ones where the weather was almost on the verge of being too rough. Not surprisingly, this was the time when not nearly as many boats were out.

The day of the week is not often an issue for Lump fishermen. For most, it’s all about the short window of opportunity in between cold fronts when the winds calm enough for the horde of small, offshore boats to make it safely to the fishing grounds.

Of course, a forecast of 2-foot seas on a Saturday in February and March sends marinas at the end of Highway 23 into fast forward, not to mention the one square mile of fishing area.

“It just gets insane out there on good weather days,” said Scott Avanzino, who will be handling the booking for the boat and whose crew will be handling much of the work on the deck. Two deckhands handle the expansive cockpit when tuna fishing and trolling, and Pescay says that set-up will likely continue for the Lump season.

“One of the advantages is being able to keep a constant chum line going no matter what else is going on. And we’re going to keep it going all night,” said Pescay, adding that the already-hot early morning bite should be outstanding.

Avanzino says that it will be very interesting to see how good the fishing will be without the intense pressure of upwards of 100 boats or more crammed into the prime area.

“When they’re able to get out there without a bunch of boats and be able to have the chum going at daylight, they’re going to get fish,” said Avanzino.

Hurricane Ivan will most likely have an impact on the Lump season as well. A portion of the large charter fleet out of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores will no doubt be looking to make up for lost earnings during this fall season, which was virtually non-existent due to the clean-up efforts.

Many are predicting that the fleet will migrate west in between replacing man-made reefs, which were undoubtedly displaced by Ivan’s fury.

Pescay says the trips will consist of a noon departure and a noon arrival back at the dock. Staying with the theme of being on location when most boats are not, this timeframe puts the Finatic on anchor for early afternoon, a time when many boats are leaving.

Also, the crew will be ready to go early the next morning before most boats arrive, and will take advantage of the constant flow of chum.

As for the night fishing, Pescay says there’s no telling what the boat’s four 500-watt built-in lights positioned just beneath the surface will bring.

“I know that one night during this summer I could have caught enough flying fish and squid for the next three years. And we’ve seen flying fish on the way out to the Lump many times before. That’s another thing that I’m really interested in seeing.”

The Finatic will be available to charter in January and February for the Lump season and in the early summer for two-day trips far offshore.

 

To book a trip on the Finatic, call Capt. Scott Avanzino at (504) 451-7579.

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