May is the month when bluewater fishermen flock to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for the year’s best chance at doing battle with big yellowfin tuna and their blackfin cousins. The waters from the northern end of the Outer Banks offshore or Oregon Inlet to the southern end at the famed fishing ports of Hatteras and Ocracoke.
Bruce Amstrong, who runs the Sea Angel charterboat out of Hatteras Landing Marina in Hatteras, said bluewater anglers see their first big showings of tuna in late April and early May.
“The blackfins have been out there in the cold water, on the rocks, down deep, all winter, and they start getting to the top, following the baitfish,” said Armstrong (252-904-7385). “The first ones we see are the citation blackfin. The yellowfins do migrate in, and sometimes, you get a mixed bag early. They’ll be in the same kinds of places, even mixed in.”
Armstrong said most of the early season action on the south side of Diamond Shoals takes place in areas where offshore rockpiles or other high-elevation bottom structures cause current upwellings that attract baitfish and predators.
“Along the 230- to 280-lines (LORAN lines, northeast of Hatteras Inlet), you’ve got a series of rocks and ledges, where you get current upwellings, and those are places the tuna hang out. The water there is mixed with the colder waters from the northern Labrador Current; it’s the kind of habitat tuna love,” he said.
Tuna will be ganged up for much of May, so multiple hookups on the same trolling run are common.
“When you get one, you should get them all, becaused they’re schooled up,” Armstrong said. “If you get one, you should get two or three. It’s all about when a school comes up to the surface to feed. I got 11 out of 11 in one school one time. I didn’t have enough people on the boat.”
Big, gaffer dolphin also show up in spring, so captains like Armstrong have to run a spread of ballyhoo, sea witches and other baits that appeals not only to tuna but to big dolphin.
“I like the little squid-head lures that run in front of the ballyhoo; I like crystal/purple, and blue/white is good,” he said. “I don’t like to have a lot of my hair on my sea witches.
“I like to run a green-yellow lure behind a bird, maybe a Green Machine, for dolphin, because we get a lot of big, gaffer dolphin early.”
The bigger yellowfin tuna largely leave the waters south of Diamond Shoals when June arrives, but boats out of Oregon Inlet can still catch plenty on a big, rocky offshore ledge southeast of the inlet known as “The Point.”