Bluefin tuna fishing around Morehead City is shaping up to be one of the best in years, and last Tuesday, it may have hit its peak. After a grueling battle that lasted 3 ½ hours over nearly 10 miles of ocean, two fishermen trolling near Beaufort inlet hauled in what is unofficially the largest bluefin tuna ever brought to North Carolina scales, weighing 1,005 pounds and measuring 115 inches long.
Capt. Herb Sheades of Newport, fishing on a 28-foot Downeast-style lobster boat, the Fish Bucket, hooked up with the big fish at about 6:45 a.m. in rough seas, with the wind blowing between 20 and 30 knots. His mate, Jonathan Anderson of Morehead City, was on the rod for the entire fight.
After an epic tug of war, the huge bluefin was led into harpoon range, where the deal was sealed. The fish’s size rendered it unable to fit through the vessel’s tuna door, so it had to be towed 14 miles back through Beaufort Inlet.
The fish, which was ineligible for a state record because it was caught by commercial fishermen – and was almost 40 inches longer than the 73-inch maximum size that a recreational angler can keep – was a full 200 pounds larger than the existing recreational record, an 805-pound bluefin caught in 2011 off Oregon Inlet by angler Corey Schultz. The fish dressed out at 827.5 pounds.
The huge tuna hammered a ballyhoo trolled on a blue and white-skirted Ilander about 3 ½ miles southeast of Beaufort Inlet.
“It was right off the beach in 35 feet of water,” said Sheades. “There’s tons of menhaden out there for them to feed on, and the gill-net boats are working close to shore, creating a chum slick that attracts the tuna.”
Sheades believes the larger fish being caught this season are directly related to the cold water.
“The water temperature right now is 48 or 49 degrees,” he said. “Only the larger fish can tolerate it. That’s why up in Nova Scotia and Main, the fish have a tendency to be bigger.
“As long as the bait is here, they may stick around all winter,” said Sheades. “But this is a small body of big fish. It’s one body of fish, and everyday there are three to six of them plucked out of it.”
Anglers capitalizing on the opportunity are using a variety of ballyhoo skirts, including those made locally by Joe Shute Lures. According to Shute, the 3-ounce size is the best seller, followed by the 5 ¾-ounce skirt. The candy apple red head with all crystal hair, the pink/white head with all crystal hair, and the blue/white head with blue/crystal hair have been the most productive colors around the Morehead City area.