by Capt. Damon McKnight
First thing I want to do is introduce myself. My name is Capt. Damon McKnight and I own and operate Super Strike Fishing Charters. I am a full-time Offshore Charter Captain fishing out of Venice, La. Our boats are moored at the Venice Marina. This April will be my 16th year in the offshore charter business. I've got a lot of stories and a lot of information that I have learned throughout the years to share with the readers. I can tell you that you learn something new every time your out there fishing. Every time you think you have something figured out in the offshore world something happens that changes your theory. Offshore fishing will always continue to surprise everyone that does it.
The offshore fishing out of Venice, La. has just about come to a complete stop due to back to back cold fronts and high winds. The winds started back in mid-October, got worse in November, and here we are in mid-December in the same situation. But, it really isn't that uncommon of a problem this time of the year. The experienced fisherman know this and take this extra time to prepare their boats, tackle, and do some more than likely highly needed maintenance. The good news is that as we move past December and into January the winds will calm down enough to let us get offshore and chase what has now become the most sought after species while fishing out of Venice, La., the Yellow Fin Tuna. The winter months which are one of the best times of the year to catch BIG tuna are just about upon us once again. If you consider yourself a hardcore fisherman than this is the " in thing" to do. If your not chasing Tuna of the coast of La. then your missing out. Also, it just wouldn't be right not to mention that we also get huge Wahoo in the 50-100lb. range. A few wahoo over 100lbs. are caught but it isn't that likely, it has to be your luck day. My next report I will cover the techniques of what and what not to do while wahoo fishing and areas to fish.
There are two major areas that we fish during the winter months. One is the "Midnight Lump" and the other is an area very similar to the Lump but over 70 miles away. These two tuna producing areas have made fishing for Tuna during the winter very productive. I don't think anyone knows for sure why the Tuna migrate to these areas every year but of course there are some theories. The one theory that I can agree with is the fact that they are going where the food is. Menhadden, Flying Fish, Bonita, Bally-Hoo and Mullet are very abundant during this time of the year in both areas and the Yellow Fin Tuna are onto this, and probably have been for who knows how long. The other theory is that they come to these two areas to spawn. The other not so certain ideas are that this is part of their migration route and pass thru this area in big numbers every year at this time for no particular reason or the currents guide them here since there can sometimes be a very strong loop current that pushes just south of this area. It could be all of these variables which would make sense, but one thing for sure is that they are definitely off the coast of La. and are making fisherman very happy.
The most successful style of fishing for Tuna during the Winter is chumming menhaden (aka pogies). One rule of thumb is to never leave the dock with less than 100lbs. Hopefully you won't use but a 1/4 of that but you never know for sure what you will need. 100lbs. seems to do the trick most days. Once you arrive to the area your fishing you will want to try and mark fish on the sounder. It is a lot easier to set up your chum line on top of the fish then to try and draw them in, although that works as well. You just get a faster response if you set up on top of them, makes sense right. Usually, as soon as we stop I throw two handfuls of cut pogies into the water and then get the rods ready to fish. You want to keep a fairly steady line going, so once the chum is out of sight you usually want to throw the next handful in. Using 30 wides most days spooled with 130 lb. braid and 80lb mono topshot and either a 7/0 circle hook (frenzy) or 10/0 (mustad) depending on brand. Usually the tail section works the best when you put it on the hook. You can sink it down deep and it stays on better then the mid-section. Unfortunately not all frozen pogies are created equally and some days you get a bad batch. What that means is they have been unfrozen and refrozen several times. The more times they are refrozen the worse condition they will be in when you use them. If you have a choice only buy frozen pogies with a clear eye. They will hold up much better. If the eyes are cloudy or don't look fresh, more than likely your going to have mushy pogies which are hard to work with and don't stay on the hook well at all. Once you put a section of the pogie on the hook, you then want to try and bury it to hide the hook, I usually try to bury the knot as well. A 100lb. tuna fish has an eye a little bit bigger than a golf ball and they use them. They can see very good, especially if the water is clear, and they will not hit a piece of bait with the hook hanging out about 70% of the time. There are days when they will hit anything but most days you will have to do everything to up your chances of success. Once your baited up you drop the hook with bait into the water and feed the line out. Throw a handful of pogies right where you dropped your bait in and let your line drift back with those pieces of pogie. It is extremely important to let the bait drift back naturally in the current without stopping it. You want it to look just like all the other pieces with no hook in them. Some days the fishi will be feeding on the surface right next to the boat, therefore you may only have to pull five to ten feet of line out. Those days are absolutely awesome, watching several tuna in the 100lb. size range feed next to the boat will cause unbelievable excitement by those involved. Other days they may feed 30-40 yards back, if not further than that behind the boat and you will have to pull a lot of line out. It mostly depends on how fast the current is moving. The faster the current is moving, usually the more line you will have to pull out. You always will want to pull from the end of the rod, not from the spool. 100 yards is usually more than enough. Once you've reached that point, if you haven't gotten a fish on by then, reel it up and start over. Also, very importantly, keep the chum line going. Someone will have to cut pogies while everyone else fishes. This style of fishing does have a little bit of a learning curve involved. You really have to pay attention to your line at all times. Once you see is start to straighten out, you've got something on. A lot of the time it is very fast and you don't have a lot of time to make the hook set, so you've go to be prepared. One of the most confusing things about chunking is knowing the current. Some days you have a surface current moving in one direction, and 30ft. down you have a different current moving in the opposite direction, usually where the thermocline is. So what will happen is once you get you bait in, it may drift 20-30 yards straight out from the boat and down, when it hits the opposite moving current which would be moving back towards the boat and the fish hits it you may get some slack in there and not know it. When the fish hits it it may be even with the boat underwater, you may think it is still straight out there because of the belly in the line, the fish makes a run, the line comes tight and he's on the other side of the boat. So be ready to grab the rod and get on the other side of the boat quickly if you have to. Some days you may want to give him a second to see if he swims back. To set the hook, do not take the rod out of the rod holder. Best thing to do is to slide the lever drag forward to strike and let the fish hook himself. You should be at 20% of the break strength of the line at strike. Depending on how hard the fish is pulling out line you can go to Strike for two seconds to make sure the hook is set deep, then back it off a little until the initial run stops. The first run is going to be the hardest run most of the time. After the initial run, push your drag back to strike and fight your fish. If the fish is 150+lbs. your going to be in for a long fight most of the time.
Fishing during the winter can be very rewarding but at the same time very demanding. You need to make sure all of your equipment is in the absolute best condition it can be in. The last thing you want to do is get out there, have the opportunity for an unbelievable day of fishing only to have all of your equipment fail. You can never be over prepared for a day of Tuna fishing. Most folks can usually judge how good of a day of Tuna fishing they had by how much stuff was broken. Even as a professional fisherman we come back with un-spooled reels, broken rods, lost rods, bent or lost gaffs, straightened out hooks, ripped clothing, and beat up hands. Just be sure to have all of your equipment ready to go without having to try and find it when you need it. Being prepared and organized with everything you need will usually result in a very successful day of fishing.
Here are a few pics. of what we catch during the winter months fishing out of Venice, La.