Experienced anglers who love fishing in the Mid-Atlantic region understand the tricks and best tackles of chunking for tuna. While some anglers may say it’s a messy and tedious adventure, trolling is a simplistic art of fishing. In fact, you’ll be surprised to find a few captains running out of the Indian River and Ocean City who won’t have nice things to say about chunking for tuna. Interestingly, most of them know that chunking catches massive tuna fish, and they’ll do it at some point. This guide will motivate you and help you learn everything you need about the art of chunking for tuna and how to perfect your next fishing outing.
What Hooks For Tuna Chunking?
Most anglers rely on 4x strong-ringed live bait hooks to get the most from their fishing expeditions. We do recommend using 2x or 3x circle hooks because the profile is smaller than the J hooks, and fish that are timid will be easier to catch when you’re using these hooks.
If you want to target Bluefin tuna, do some homework on how to do it best. Sometimes either method can be successful. Furthermore, Bluefin and yellowfin prefer smaller baits to bigger baits. It would be best if you did everything possible to ensure you properly hid your hook in the bait.
Hook up with one 8/0 large and attach it to a long leader, like a 5-foot fluorocarbon line. The size of the leader can vary drastically because tuna fish are usually very finicky when it comes to heavy leaders. Sometimes it’s possible to use 100-lb. or 80-lb. fluorocarbon to bait fish, allowing you to work them around pretty well.
But, often, tuna fish won’t touch heavy leaders, and you may be forced to go down to around 30 pounds of fluorocarbon leader before the fish starts taking it without any hesitation. You’ll be surprised that in one of your chunking for tuna escapades, you land a school of 40-lb. to 80-lb. Bluefin and sandfish, and just stay with the catch, next to your boat, most of the day.
Flexibility is Key
When fish start to bite, you’ll start with an 80-lb. test and then drop them to 60, 70, and so on. So, until you tie on the 30-Ib test, the fish will keep swimming up to your baits and eventually veer away at the eleventh hour. Therefore, knowing exactly what to use on a particular day can be daunting, especially if you’re a first-timer. If the fish don’t bite very quickly, try a few lines of light leaders.
If they bite, you can change the rigs in a matter of seconds. If any of the lines gets taken, the other gear will be changed accordingly. Use small hooks with light leaders to trap the fish in the jaw area. J-hooks can get trapped deeper in the tuna’s mouth, and you may lose your line if it becomes too big for your bait. Now, place a small chunk of whitefish or a butterfish on a heavy leader and immediately check to see if the bait is spinning.
If it spins, rip the hook and rig a different bait. If you have no swivel on your line, one spinning bait can cause you to have enough line twists in your reel to freak out. Even if you have to re-bait five times before you get one that bites – do it! In other words, simply hook and lead.
Most chunkers secure their leaders to their main lines by tying on a double line and swiveling quickly to tie the leader to the main line. Fish often take light leaders to stop them from spinning, but this will require you to tie a swivel to the main line to stop it from spinning. Interestingly, too many fish get lost in the process, so you need to tie a loop in each of your leader wires to create a trap that would allow you to double the line.
It’s easier to reel in the lead without any problems, and your failure rates will be lower than when tying directly to a swivel. Take heed of the big flat fish and the fish that went through the center hole while you were sitting on the deck!
How Do You Rig Sardines For Tuna Chunking?
Take a butterfish, shave it open, and then thread a hook through its mouth and into its gills. Next, put the hook under the fins of the bait to ensure it stays suspended. Cut off the fins on the back of the bait so it doesn’t spin when it is retrieved.
Sardines can be hooked in the same way as a big fish. However, it’s better to hook them directly through their eyes. When you place the baits in the water, ensure they are above the thermocline, about 80 or 90 feet, and in the water below, about 100 to 120 feet, and at least one about 50 feet down. You can also use one as a floating bait and cast it backwards into the water at a depth of about 100 feet. When it reaches this depth, the bait is hooked.
When you chop up a large bunch of butterfish and put some bait in the middle of each to attract tuna, your entire tuna fishing process becomes pretty simple. You simply need to hack up a bunch of butterfish and put some bait in the middle to attract your catch. Many things go into how you catch big fish, but all of these details combine to produce an outstanding catch.
First, you’ll need an excellent large baitfish weighing about 25 pounds, and one flat of butterfish will allow you to keep the tuna in the water for four hours. If you are planning on fishing for a full day, you may need at least two flats of butterfish. Too often, you’ll be sold bad quality butterfish. Therefore, you can check the quality by removing the plastic top of the box before leaving the store and carefully inspecting your new baits.
You may find some fish lures are not very good, so you’ll be compelled to go to the store again and buy some better bait. You can employ a few tricks to know whether the fish bait is good enough for your fishing trips. For example, it’s common for fish to turn yellow because rot first develops around the dorsal and anal fins.
Check for deteriorating, or dried-out eyes that indicate the fish are of poor quality. Also, note that the size of the baitfish is less important than the quality of the fish. Even tiny baitfish can be good for catching a good chunk of tuna. Add a few sardines to your bait box. You’ll want to use it as bait for the next few days. Mixing a few sardines with your chunks of butterfish is good, but using the sardines as bait is more important. Sometimes, tunas seem to want sardines more than fish.
Now that you have some excellent baitfish, it’s time to begin cutting them. If you bought some butterfish on a chilly morning and tossed them in your cooler, the fish will be as hard as a rock. You won’t start cutting anything for at least several hours. Once you have your baitfish, you can either use the shear method, the knife method, or the chopper method to cut the fish. It’s pretty simple; you simply slice up some butterfish and put them in a bucket while you continue chopping the other fish.
If you use this method, it will take you about half an hour to slice through a quarter of a flat. It’s very common to get sick while you’re slicing through a flat of butterfish. That’s because rough seas can make it impossible to breathe freely, and the entire period can take so long. You can also get a blister from cutting through the flesh of a good-quality butterfish and need help from someone else to take over. It’s really painful to chop butterfish by hand; the process is especially painful for your back.
Anglers with more experience will have large hooks and large shears in their hand. As a result, they can hold a huge butterfish in their hand while they cut it into chunks. That works better than a sharp knife, even though the cutting will still leave some very painful scars on the hands. Some extremely strong and effective chunkers look like giant egg slicers and work just as efficiently. They also fit in a five-gallon bucket easily.
These baits will do the job much more easily and quickly than a knife or shears. If you have a big bucket full of butterfish chunks in your boat, it would be best if you tied some leaders around them to hold them. If the process somewhat confuses you, cut some bait to hook a fish. If that doesn’t work, use a smaller lure that resembles a larger chunk of a butterfish. Sometimes you need to remove more than just the head and tail of a big yellowfin, and sometimes you just need to cut the whole fish in two pieces to get some bait.
Fresh Bait Offers You The Best Action
Being ready with good fresh bait is the first step when chunking for tuna. Catching your own fishing bait the same day you head out for your fishing trip is the best way to get lots of fresh bait. In fact, at the right time, when there is an abundance of bunkers in your region, many casters can be able to cast nets to catch their own bait fish.
Due to the abundance of bunkers along the coast, tackle shops can keep a supply of bait on hand, and some shops receive fresh bait daily. It is best to pick bunkers that look good— they should be firm, bright, shiny, and have clear eyes. Stay away from red-eye bunkers and other baitfish with soft bellies.
Having some good baitfish is very important; you will have to take care of it to keep it fresh. Place two or three bunkers in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, and try using a mixture of ice and bags of bunkers to keep the bait fresh. Fishing with baitfish like bunkers is a popular way to hook big fish, but it is also possible to catch porgies (small fish) using oily menhaden.
Big bass, tuna, and bluefish love to eat porgies, and scup is super plentiful along some parts of the coast. There are many places where you can throw a worm- or clam-baited hook and catch a few porgies while fishing for stripers and blues.
More Tips for Cutting Bait
While fishing for tuna, ensure you have plenty of baitfish ready to go. We recommend you start by cutting off the head of a baitfish by placing the fins just behind the head so you can leave the contents of the gut intact.
When you cut baitfish down the middle, change the thickness of the fish from 1/2 inch to 1 inch, depending on the bait’s size, the fish you’re targeting, and the distance from the boat to where you’re fishing. It is important to have a sharp knife that can make very clean cuts. Boning knives are the best tool for the job.
Big stripers seem to have a particular thing for big heads. We believe that both baits produce a big catch, and you can keep fishing for a long time. You may find that your target fish prefers one bait over the other at any time. Use the baitfish’s head and body parts to catch big bass. If you have a large bunker, you could use the front or the head section of one of them to make a very effective bait for big bass. Eventually, you decide to cut up your baitfish as needed and put them in a cool place to rest while you fish.
What Is Chunk Bait?
At first glance, chunking seems simple in that you buy a small amount of bait and slice it up into chunks that you can fit onto a hook. A fish such as a blue or trophy striper will likely find the bait and take it as a quick snack.
Chunking is a very effective fishing strategy that can connect you with big blues and stripers in the fall surf. Most successful chunkers pay attention to the quality of their baitfish. It’s easy to imagine landing that big fish on a piece of an old, frozen bunker – but those kinds of catches are sporadic. When chunking for tuna, it’s best to go for fresh, quality baitfish.
Raymond Smith is a fishing enthusiast who has been obsessed with fishing and boating since childhood. He used to accompany his father to every weekend fishing escapade along the banks of the Madison River, where they would try to catch as much fish as possible, each time targeting different species to add to their belts. Smith loves angling, travel, and exploration and has amassed more than ten years of experience in trout and steelhead fishing techniques. He shares all his fishing experiences and tips on this website and other online outdoors magazines.