They are known as the ghosts of the offshore canyon grounds. Bigeye tuna, aka Eyeballs, are the Holy Grail of the tuna species. Captain Michael Yocco of the MJ’s, consistently has success targeting and catching bigeye tuna along the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic canyon grounds. Here’s some insight into his bigeye tactics:
DEPTH AND CONDITIONS
“Bigeye are usually found hanging in wolfpacks of 3 to 5 fish, but there could be 4 or 5 pods of them, totaling 20 to 30 fish in the area,” says Yocco. “They are deeper swimming fish that stay in the 400 to 500 foot range during the day, but will migrate up to 100 feet when night falls, following squid schools to the surface.” Environmental conditions play a huge factor in finding fish. Bigeye season runs June to October, with optimal water temps at the lowest range of 65 degrees up to a high tolerance in the low 80s. Bigeye will follow the bait, as it's mostly squid that they feed upon, along with tinker mackerel as well. “Work spreads over notches in canyons that will continually hold bait in pockets,” notes Yocco. “Pilot whales are a major tip off as to where eyeballs are hanging as the pilot whales are always feeding on squid.”
To raise bigeyes during the daytime, Yocco’s prime offerings are bullet-headed, subsurface lures as they track straight in the water. Bullet lures can be rigged with or without ballyhoo. “We’ll take a Joe Shute or Ilander lure, 5 ounces and lighter, and rig a ballyhoo or an 8 to 10-inch Hogytail on it. Then throw out other bullet trollers like Laceration Lure Bob’s Bullet or a 7Strand Green Machine, 8 to 10 inches long and 5 to 10 ounces so it tracks properly.” Ideal trolling speed is between 6 and 6.8 knots. Regarding colors, Yocco says, “During daytime go with darker colored lures for contrast like blue and purple combos or blue and crystal. Night trolling until 11 PM you still have the ambient light from the sunset. During the darker hours we use a crystal skirt Joe Shute with a ballyhoo, glo skirts or bullets with the glo resin in the heads.”
Yocco will also drag spreaders when trying to raise bigeyes. “Spreader bars can be effective during the day, and we will implement them on the short riggers, usually with shell squids in green/yellow combos. The most important squid in that spreader bar is the last one. We rig it 5 to 6 feet behind the rest and load the head with egg sinkers so it trails down and behind the rest of the bar, mimicking a wounded look.”
Put these proven bigeye tips in your backpocket the next time you head offshore.
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