When one fantasizes about an angling escapade to a foreign fishing destination it is highly unlikely Nova Scotia comes to mind. Equidistant from the Equator and North Pole, Nova Scotia is the second smallest province in Canada, yet one of the most densely populated. However don’t let statistics fool you. Anglers willing to venture off the beaten path won’t be spending much time at the capital city of Halifax.
Instead, you’ll be all by yourself at the desolate fishing towns that extend beyond the city center. During the fall months all the attention turns to giant bluefin tuna that roam area waters in search of huge schools of herring. With a developing recreational fishery, the local commercial fleet is starting to realize the economic benefits of catch and release tuna fishing, knowing that giant bluefin are worth much more alive than dead. As you read this editorial crews up in Nova Scotia and nearby Prince Edward Island are making their best attempts to subdue and ultimately release these giants all in the name of sport fishing.
Encompassed by water, much of Nova Scotia’s economy relies on fishing, with cod, lobster and swordfish popular commercial targets.
An emerging big game destination for anglers looking for the ultimate thrill, Nova Scotia is a large peninsula that is encompassed by the expansive Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Fundy and Gulf of St. Lawrence. This far north giant tuna aren’t the only freaks of nature, with the weather at times proving to be some of the harshest in the world. However during the summer and early fall it can be quite the opposite, with sunny skies and relatively calm seas the norm. Encompassed by water, much of Nova Scotia’s economy relies on fishing, with cod, lobster and swordfish popular commercial targets.
It’s now in the fall when huge shoals of herring migrate through the narrow isthmus at Cape Breton, with hungry bluefin hot on their tails. In Nova Scotia the epicenter of the action takes place at Ballantyne’s Cove in Cape St. George. While giant tuna begin to show their presence as early as June, the fishery doesn’t really get going until August and lasts until fishable weather persists. What’s neat about this fishery is the relative shallow depth of water, which is a reason determined anglers have a slight chance at winning a fight against such a monstrous target. Hook an 800-pounder in deep water and the fish will sound until you run out of line or stamina.
From the wharf at Ballantyne’s Cove the fish can be found anywhere from 2 to 20 miles out, with diving birds and commercial herring harvesters pointing anglers in the right direction. Fisherman’s Bank is where most of the action takes place, which is a high spot that rises to about 80 feet. The surrounding waters are no deeper than 200 feet, which is the game changer and reason these fish are capable of being tamed on rod and reel.
While the recreational tuna fishery in Nova Scotia is still in its infancy, there has been a good amount of press on the incredible abundance of giant tuna in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There are some who claim that fighting giants on stand-up tackle is feasible and the ultimate accomplishment. The truth of the matter is that these fish are too powerful for even the most experienced anglers. Ron Kawaja, president of Pelagic Gear clothing company, has been visiting Nova Scotia for years in search of the most epic battles and has this to tell us about fighting giants on stand-up.
“We’ve tried the stand-up thing, but we got our butts kicked. We broke rods, reels, line and even some bones. I’ve seen a lot of stand-up catches in Nova Scotia, yet none have been caught by IGFA regulations. Nearly every fish subdued on stand-up was technically illegal, with anglers being held in the boat so they don’t get ripped into the ocean, and others taking to their knees and using the gunnel to rest the rod and gain leverage. Catching these fish using IGFA tackle and a heavy duty fighting chair is the way to go,” commented Kawaja, “Its still extremely challenging, yet at the same time it is realistic and feasible for most experienced big game anglers,” added Ron.
Up until recently giant tuna fishing in Nova Scotia has been strictly a kill fishery, but in the last few years big game anglers have teamed up with local commercial fishermen to demonstrate that there is money to be made with catch and release charters. With less pressure on the resources it seems there’s a wave of change and many of the locals are catching the drift.
“The fish average between 800 to 1,100 pounds and our objective of fighting the fish out of a chair is to shorten the fight time, which ultimately increases bluefin post release survivability. Captains have also begun tagging bluefin so they can get more concrete evidence in regards to surviving the fight. After a few trips we’ve since mastered the technique, releasing most fish within an hour. We fish 130 class reels loaded with 130 lb. monofilament. Once we come tight to a fish we bump up the drag to a wrenching 80 pounds and we own them, well sort of…!” continued Kawaja.
Since the recreational release fishery is relatively new the rules are continuously evolving, but Canada fisheries regulations only allow four hookups and one release per day. There are also minimum tackle requirements and maximum fight times. However, since many of the recreational charter captains are also commercial harvesters they have a quota they can fill and are allowed to harvest a fish if a kill tag is purchased.
“Words alone cannot describe how incredible the fishery is. Once on location with the commercial herring boats, diving birds and busting fish are all over the place. And since you’re only allowed to release one fish we often sit there for hours hand feeding giants! Once we’re ready to go to war we put a hooked bait in the water and it’s game on!” Kawaja explained.
After speaking with anglers who’ve experienced this epic fishery, it is believed that the commercial herring boats ring the dinner bell for hungry tuna. The theory is that the bluefin respond to the equipment pulling up the nets and the associated sound of the clanking chain. The herring that fall off the nets are quickly gobbled up by bluefin hanging just feet off the transom. Bluefin have even been known to hit the nets with their tails to knock herring loose in an attempt to snatch a free meal.
A popular topic among die-hard big game anglers and fishery managers worldwide, once prolific bluefin tuna populations are at historically low levels. Amongst other issues, the bluefin tuna’s global decline is a result of the increasing popularity of sushi. Coupled with modern tackle, electronics and techniques, and mighty bluefin don’t stand much of a chance against overfishing. As a result stocks are nearly depleted in the world’s oceans, yet NOAA’s most recent report listed bluefin as a species of concern, not endangered.
Thankfully, not all tuna hunters are looking to hang dead bluefin from the scales. In Nova Scotia commercial captains are realizing there’s plenty of reward in the catch and release of giant bluefin tuna and it seems that recreational sport fishing is having a great impact. It’s all about preserving the fishery so passionate anglers can get the chance to experience these magnificent game fish before they disappear forever or the fishery is closed.
Before you pack your bags, be sure to touch base with a few charter operations. Lots of captains fight these fish out of rod holders, and some boats aren’t even equipped with fighting chairs. Make a few calls and be sure you have a good idea of what you’re getting into before making the long journey to Nova Scotia.
Notes of Interest About Nova Scotia
- Capital: Halifax
- Area: 21,345.3 sq. miles
- Population: 921,727
- Government: Constitutional Monarchy
- Language: English
- Currency: Canadian Dollar ($1 CAD = .975 US)
- Latin for New Scotland, Nova Scotia was named by Sir William Alexander in 1632.
- The Bay of Fundy has the world’s largest tides, which range from 11 feet to 53 feet—twice a day, every day.
- Bluefin tuna are one of the ocean’s elite game fish that regularly eclipse 1,000 pounds.
- Unlike most fish, bluefin tuna are warm blooded.
- Bluefin larvae have a 1 in 40 million chance of reaching maturity.
- The largest bluefin tuna ever recorded was caught in Nova Scotia and weighted 1,496 pounds.
- In January 2012 a single giant bluefin was sold in a Japanese market for $736,000.
Giant Bluefin Tuna Charters
Captain John Gavin
Captain A.J. Francis
Captain Dale Trenholm
Prime Time Adventures
Captain Josh Temple