Mention yellowfin tuna in conversation, and instinctively visions of Northeast canyons, Gulf Coast oil rigs and the long-range San Diego fleet come to mind. Yet, an extremely rewarding yellowfin tuna fishery exists right here off the South Florida coast – an increasingly reliable fishery that continues to bring even the most seasoned offshore veterans to their knees, while putting their skills and tackle to the ultimate test. The explosive fishery I am referring to is often dubbed The Corner. You may have even overheard East Central anglers say they are headed to the other side or fishing the edge of the bank. Whatever the area is referred to, one thing is for certain; it’s a distant stretch of fertile water where few dare to venture. Yet, those who experience The Corner always return for more.
Rigged naked or with the addition of an alluring enticement, yellowfin tuna find ballyhoo hard to resist.
The Corner lies 70-miles due east of Fort Pierce Inlet, and is a spherical body of water situated north-northwest of West End, Grand Bahama. It’s here where nutrient rich seas from the Little Bahama Bank filtering across the shallows spill into the deep. The rich water supports a thriving aquatic food chain. Skippers regularly making the run to The Corner tell tales of well-formed weedlines and thick patches of floating vegetation heavily occupied by monster dolphin – a typical bycatch for trollers scouting for prize tuna. With very little fishing pressure and abundant forage, pelagics flourish throughout The Corner in unprecedented numbers. While, of course, the only guarantee in fishing is that there are no guarantees, faced with the right conditions, the gamble in fuel and time is well worth the potential reward. Sleepy eyed crews rarely return disappointed from an expedition across the ‘Stream with typical catches consisting of yellowfin tuna in the 40 to 80-pound range, chunky blackfin and skipjack tuna to 30-pounds, an annoying number of gaffer-size ‘phins, and the not-so-rare encounter with spool-dumping blue marlin. If this sort of dramatic angling excitement doesn’t get your blood pumping; blue water fishing just isn’t for you!
Trolling for yellowfin tuna is a world of fishing fun loaded with intense adrenaline rushes. Even when the fishing isn’t on fire, periods of boredom spent searching for life are highlighted by short bursts of controlled chaos…
The tactics employed around The Corner are pretty straightforward. Once on scene, search for birds, floating debris, weedlines, current rips, etc., all lead the way to explosive strikes which typically leave an empty hole in the water where your bait used to be. The Corner is also bordered by steep banks plummeting from 50 to 1,550-feet in under a mile where hungry pelagics regularly patrol for unsuspecting meals.
If you’re truly serious about this action-packed fishery, a powerful radar system is a must. Not only for collision avoidance when crossing the Gulf Stream and for tracking potentially dangerous afternoon thunderstorms, but also for pinpointing bird activity – nature’s original fish finder.
The night before a big trip, the best skippers routinely study a satellite temperature chart to determine if there are any pronounced breaks in or around the area they intend on fishing. The pros know all to well that tuna prefer the cooler side of the break to the warmer side, which typically yields better dolphin catches. As a rule, most guys depart in the predawn hours and arrive at The Corner for the sunrise bite, fishing into early afternoon before heading home in time for a late dinner.
While live bait will surely keep you connected once you’ve located concentrations of surface-busting fish, trolling is unanimously the approach of choice as the tactic allows crews to cover maximum ground in the minimum amount of time. As a rule, experienced teams pull as many lines as they can handle, and they always troll the outskirts of any noticeable surface commotion so as not to spook actively feeding predators. Researching this article, I spoke with numerous captains who routinely make the long run and all agree that lures and baits must be presented way, way back in the shotgun position, as keen-eyed yellowfin can prove to be boat shy. James Maley, a Fort Pierce regular visitor to The Corner who consistently brings home impressive catches, drops his rigger baits and flatlines no less than half of a spool on his 50s, and recommends you do the same to achieve maximum results. And when a clicker starts screaming from a runaway freight train, don’t be so fast to pull back the throttles. A one…two…three…four…five count often results in multiple hook-ups.
Trolling for yellowfin tuna is a world of fishing fun loaded with intense adrenaline rushes. Even when the fishing isn’t on fire, periods of boredom spent searching for life are highlighted by short bursts of controlled chaos that leave you wondering what the heck just happened. Experienced captains know that with these brutally strong fish, it doesn’t take much to go from zero to hero, as a single 80-pound yellowfin will adjust the attitude of any jaded angler. Powerhouse yellowfin crush trolled baits with vengeance, not to mention they pull seriously hard with never-ending stamina we mere mortals only wish we possessed. It’s safe to expect hundred-yard, spool-dumping runs right from the strike. Eventually though, the muscular fish will tire and fall into a pattern of diminishing death circles, each slightly tighter than the last. It’s now when short pumps and steady pressure will keep your adversary headed in the right direction – towards the gaff.
Caution should be exercised once the beaten brute approaches the boat as tuna have a tendency to circle one last time, chaffing an already worn leader along the hull in a final attempt at freedom. If luck is on your side, the beaten warrior will succumb to your pressure and present itself for a perfect gaff shot north of the shoulders. Head shot or not, when a quality fish is on the line, I say take the shot as it may be the only one you get. Once on board, swiftly slice the gills with a sharp knife to effectively bleed your fish. It is now time to snap a few photos before packing the unfortunate fellow in ice to ensure delicious tuna steaks for the grill. Catch your breath, reset your spread, push the throttles up and get ready because you never know what lies up ahead around The Corner.
Reaching The Corner is no joke. It’s a long run and you will likely be fishing alone far from the nearest port. Plenty of fuel and all the necessary safety gear are paramount for ensuring safe and successful expeditions. No fish of any size or any species is worth jeopardizing the safety of your vessel and its passengers. Always keep a close eye on weather patterns and pick your days wisely. Even a slight northerly breeze can churn up the Gulf Stream and leave you facing a long, miserable boat ride home.
With extremely powerful adversaries a real possibility, tackle selection should be nothing less than 50-wides loaded with fresh 50lb. monofilament and an extended top-shot of 80lb. fluoro. Two-speed equipment is nice, but not a necessity. Rods should be of the stand-up/trolling variety and sized to match. Lure selection is a matter of personal preference with jetheads, feathers, cedar plugs and smokers all accounting for impressive catches. Chase Cornell, a Vero Beach vet, says he always runs a pair of Braid Marauders with large trolling weights off a set of 80 bent butts. Cornell added, “Not only are the Marauders great on yellowfin, but they’ve accounted for numerous wahoo.”
One thing all seasoned Corner anglers agree on is that day in and day out, ballyhoo account for the greatest number of strikes. Pulled naked or in combination with a Ilander or Sea Witch, everything eats ballyhoo. These baits can be positioned anywhere in your spread with blue/white, purple/black and pink all proven color combinations. All of the captains I spoke to spend a great deal of time brining their precious ballyhoo baits as part of their pre-trip rituals. The last thing any of them want is for their offerings to get washed out while circling a pack of feeding fish.
Get To Know Yellowfin Tuna
Heavyweight yellowfin tuna have a second dorsal fin and anal fin that are both bright yellow, thus the common name, and can be very long in mature specimens, as are the pectoral fins. A yellowfin tuna’s body is very dark metallic blue, fading to silver on the belly, which features about 20 vertical lines. Peak spawning period for yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares, occurs during summer months; however spawning does occur throughout the entire year. Yellowfin tuna never rest, and are always on the move. They get their oxygen by swimming with an open mouth, which propels water jets through their gills. Anglers must be in possession of a Highly Migratory Species Permit to harvest yellowfin tuna (hmspermits.noaa.gov).
To guarantee sushi-grade tuna, fish should immediately be bled and well iced. Ideally, a large, 300 qt. fish box or cooler with a slushy mix of saltwater, crushed ice and kosher salt will keep your tuna firm and in prime condition.
Typically, the yellowfin tuna bite around The Corner erupts by mid-April with fishing remaining strong through the summer. By August, the bite tapers and by September, water temperature is too high and you’d be better off searching for more prolific species closer to home port.