J uly was usually a special month for me because I would attend ICAST and marvel at the different and vast examples of innovation that the fishing industry had to offer.
These days, my health prevents me from venturing too far from home (although I guarantee that I will be at ICAST next year, so save a seat for me at dinner, Ron Stallings). I have to now focus on other avenues for my innovation. For example, this month I will look at colors.
Red was the primary color summer and fall on the Texas Coast for years, with most offshore focus directed at the red snapper fishery. When the National Marine Fisheries began to tighten groundfish regulations and impose shorter and shorter seasons for the vermillion fish, many anglers up and down the coast took notice of the black and blue speedsters that swarmed warm Gulf waters.
When July rolls around, big blackfins become really thick offshore starting around 150 to 180 feet, You can pull up on a shrimper on the way out to troll and catch 15 to 20 very quickly.
These are larger than average fish, averaging a brawny 17 to 20 pounds and a few brutes pushing 25 to 30 pounds. Blackfin numbers become so thick that offshore party boat captains switch their attention from red snapper after Federal Season is closed and begin long-range and overnight trips for blackfin and yellowfin tuna.
Texas’s blackfin tuna fishery is a year-around proposition, but the peak season is from July through fall, when they congregate to spawn. The Western Gulf Coast’s relatively close proximity to the Aluminos Canyons, where a variety of tuna and billfish species spawn, draws the fish; and the opening of the Gulf shrimping season means that flotillas of shrimp boats dumping bycatch provide structure and cover that concentrate these schools within accessible range for anglers.
They come in pretty close in July. If you find a shrimp boat in deep water (150 foot or more), you should find some blackfins around it. Even if the (shrimper) crew isn’t culling, the blackfins will usually stay around the boat.
Most captains and offshore anglers usually make a quick stop first thing in the morning at any shrimp boat anchored at the correct depth, especially if the boat is culling by-catch after a night’s trawl. It doesn’t take very long to see whether any predatory activity is taking place around the boat.
If no blackfins turn up in short order, or the sharks and schools of bonitos are too thick to negotiate, move on and look for another shrimp boat, or move further offshore to troll.
The playbook is straightforward and familiar to tuna anglers. Draw the fish by chunking diced baitfish into the current ,and once they are feeding, send out a chunk with a hook such as a 3/0 Mustad 39950.
Bury the hook in a chunk large enough to float in spite of the hook, and let the bait drift back as far out as possible until a fish grabs it, then put the reel in gear and start winding. The fish will hook itself in almost every case.
If you aren’t able to score blackfins around the shrimp boats early in the day, return to the boats later in the day when the action from other species settles down. The blackfins will hang around in the shade of the boat and will respond to chunking (only don’t wake the shrimpers that are sleeping below deck. They can be a salty lot if you aggravate them).
Fishing around the shrimp boats also means that anglers can use lighter tackle for blackfin tuna. Small reels like the Avet LX reel spooled with 60-pound monofilament and an 80 to 100-pound fluorocarbon leader work well. Spinning reels in the 6000 to 8000 size, spooled with 40-pound braid work well, too. Spinning tackle also allows you to drop down to lighter leaders and smaller hooks if the blackfins get picky about things.
If the easy score is not available around the anchored shrimp boats, anglers can go long and spread the field for Lone Star blackfins. The floating oil and NG rigs such as Boomvang and Perdido Spar that grace the Continental Shelf and offshore canyons are reasonably accessible to Texas offshore anglers and are crawling with blackfin tuna in summer.
Southern passes such as Aransas, Mansfield, and Brazos Santiago are close enough to the rigs for anglers to plan day trips. Fishermen headquartered farther on the Upper Gulf Coast, where the curve of the Gulf Coast makes a more north-northwestern turn and away from the Shelf and Canyon rigs, usually make overnight runs.
You can just get into the blackfins on those overnight trips that some party boats offer. The rigs are thick with them, with a lot of the bigger ones hanging off them. It isn’t uncommon to score over 100 a night around the floaters.
The most effective technique for night games with Texas footballs is fishing with Knife and Butterfly jigs. Blackfins as well as yellowfins blitz the frenetically worked pieces of metal as they dart through the black water. Effective colors are blue, green, and yellow (which also fluoresce after exposure to light). Diamond jigs are also effective, especially if tuna are down deep.
Texans loves their football, whether it is an early start before the day’s action begins, or a night game when the anglers can really light up the scoreboard. The price of admission is a big bag of chum, a collection of jigs, and a willingness for some hard contact.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]