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Damon McKnight

Capt. Damon runs Super Strike Charters in Venice, LA. He has been a full-time captain for 16 years. In June 2009, he was appointed to serve on the Gulf of Mexico fishery management Council and has become very active in fishery management decisions.

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February 11, 2013

Tuna and Technology

by Damon Mcknight

Tuna fishing and Technology.

The fishing these days, it has changed tremendously over the past 15 years. This change has made things much better for the fisherman and to every fisherman's delight, not so good for the fish. The equipment that most fisherman use has certainly come a long way since the mid 1990's, and it starts from the boats and motors all the way down to the leader and hooks. Electronics have become so sophisticated that most people don't use or even know certain features on their own units. When I first started in the fishing business everyone ran twin-diesel sport-fishing boats and now they are just about obsolete in our area, and seem to be heading in that direction in others, but that could be for several reasons, which is a story for another day. We had twin KAMD 42 Volvos on our first boat and we knew they were good for about three days and then you spent two days fixing something that broke, mainly tensioner pulleys, and nothing cost less than one-thousand dollars to fix on a turbo diesel engine. This was actually the case for most charter Captains who ran diesels on an everyday basis. But they sure could raise a Marlin and it sounded great listening to the turbo's kick in while taking off just before light to get to blue-water. Those are now days in the past and today outboards or what some of the old timers call "Clip On's", are definitely the faster, easier, and more economical way to go. Now that they offer center console boats in the 42ft. range with dependable quad or triple-outboards, a portion of the big boat owners are selling their 60ft. Hatteras or Viking, and replacing them with go fast boats. This seems to be the new trend in offshore fishing.

Since 2004, the Yellow fin Tuna state record has been broken 9 times in La. Since about 2002 we started seeing numerous Yellow Fin come into the docks, weighing over 175lbs. Before that time frame, we actually had very few that big come in on a regular basis, but they were definitely out there, it could be because there were less people fishing but there were still plenty of expert Fisherman, fishing the same areas that these big fish were coming from way before 2002, and also stories of the big one that got away due to equipment failure, being spooled, or lack of knowledge. You would always here someone on the radio transmit that they just hooked into a big one, only to come back just as quick to say they got spooled. In the 90's and very early 2000 it always seemed like rods were breaking (Penn Tuna Stick) and tackle failures were very common. In 1992, a company that was developing a line for flying super kites stumbled onto what is now Power Pro. In 1997, Power Pro was introduced and a couple of years later they came out with the larger diameter Power Pro in 80lb. It took a couple of years for it to really catch on, because we were still using 80lb. monofilament on 30 and 50 wide's but we were also getting spooled sometimes on days we were on the bigger fish. So, in about 2003-2004 using a top shot started to catch on and we were filling our reels with 80lb. Power Pro, and using some of the higher priced brand mono's such as Jinkai and Momoi, to put about 150 yards of top shot on the reel. Off the subject for one second, the first time I used Jinkai 80lb. we were in the fish thick, big tuna. Along came a boat that dropped his anchor and I won't mention names, but he dropped right next to us because he saw that we were in the fish. Well, about the time his anchor rope came tight we hooked into a big Yellow fin tuna and it went right to his anchor rope, figures. Well it burned out line so fast, it burned right through his anchor rope and cut his anchor off and we caught the fish. I think he learned his lesson and I was feeling pretty good about it. Turned out to be a 132lber. Here is what happened since the introduction of better tackle. In 2002, the new state record came in at 232lbs., before that catching one over 200lbs. was almost unheard of. So, in 2004, which is about the time when Power Pro and adding a top shot became really popular, the state records started dropping every year to bigger fish. In 2005 (224 and 240lber.), 2006 (229 and 230lber.), and 2007, (222, 229, and 233lber.). These are still in the top ten. There were many Yellow fin in 2007over 200lbs. as well, and more than I have ever seen in the 180+lb. range. This is also the time that fluorocarbon, newly designed circle hooks, and better rods and reels were flooding the market. Without the use of Power Pro, a top-shot, fluorocarbon, and being able to hold 800 yards on smaller but stronger diameter line, in my opinion half of these big fish would not have been caught. We just didn't catch the bigger fish like this on a consistent basis before this type of tackle was introduced. Right now, the top ten fish in the state were all caught in a 20 square mile area since 2002, big fish are still coming from this area but not like they were. In 2012 the new state record came in at 251 pounds, but that has been about it since 2007. In 2008-2011 fishing seasons, we did see a decline in the bigger Yellow fin Tuna in this area, mainly the migrators. They are still out there but not quite as many that use to come to this area. Now don't get me wrong, you can still go out and have a great day catching all 100 plus pound tuna., but it just isn't happening as much as it use to.

The fishing has definitely changed due to the change in technology, and fishermen are changing along with it, becoming much more proficient while doing so. But, so are the fish. They are getting smarter as well. When I first started Tuna fishing all you needed was a couple of Rapala's and a daisy chain and you could catch all you wanted. Now, you have to sometimes have several different species of live bait and possibly some chum to go along with it. Certain top-water lures were a sure thing to catch Tuna while they were busting on the surface. Not any more, you had better have an assortment and try them till you find one they like. You can get satellite weather on your boat to decide more easily if you need to come back to port, or continue fishing for another several hours. Radars are now user friendly and present an unbelievable image to be able to run in fog or complete darkness. The larger center consoles, which have lately become the boat of choice for Northern Gulf anglers fishing offshore can make it out safely and faster on some of the more windy days, when before you may skip a day to avoid the beating. With today's technology, including the internet, those that use to have to learn for a few years how to fish, can now do it successfully in half the time.

Gulf fishermen have certainly come a long way since the mid 90's. However, the fishing today still remains just as strong, if not better, than it was 15 years ago. That shows just how resilient the Gulf and the species that live in it really are.

Capt. Damon McKnight
Super Strike Charters

December 14, 2011

Offshore Fishing in Venice, La. (2011-2012 Winter Time)

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.

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