Blue Fin Tuna Off Georgia and South Carolina

2009-01-05 08:46:00
Savannah, Georgia - Saltwater Fishing Report


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January 5, 2009

Saltwater inshore, offshore, blue water fishing report, Freshies Suggestions, and 'Little Miss Judy's story! Thanks for reading! Captain Judy

Part Five

2008 Blue Fin Tuna Sighting

In 80 feet of water

In the afternoon on Friday Dec 26 while bottom fishing in about 80 feet of water Island Cracker better known as Marlin Garrison and crew saw a large blue fin tuna jump twice. During this time of the year the Georgia and South Carolina coast gets somewhat of a blue fin tuna migration. Over the past years these magnificent fish have been spotted off our beaches feeding behind shrimp boats and skyrocketing around our artificial reefs. The blue fin tuna that Cracker saw looked to have weighted around 200 pounds and believe me 'the Cracker man knows his fish.'

Blue Fin Tuna Article

By Captain Judy Helmey

Here's my article on blue fin tuna. It's long, but has lots of information that I have gathered over many years. Please send any comments to Captain Judy 912 897 4921 or e-mail All fishermen will benefit if we throw all of our blue fin tuna information into an information pool!

This article was published in the Big Game Fishing Journal 2006 March/April issue.

'South Carolina/Georgia Blue Fin Tuna migration.'

By Captain Judy Helmey

For Many years I have been hearing sketchy and confirmed reports of large blue tuna sightings off our coast. Georgia and South Carolina aren't' known for having a blue fin tuna migration or let's just say, 'Not until the last few years!' According to my records we have had for at least 15 to 16 years plus a 'blue fin tuna migration off of our coast.' So I am declaring that after years of records and some actual landings during this migration period that we now have what I call the 'South Carolina/Georgia Blue Fin Tuna migration.' From all records the migration can start as early December and normally lasts till around the first of February. Based on sightings and unconfirmed landings mid-December to late January is the best time to get your best shot at seeing 'South Carolina/Georgia's large jumping blue fins!'

This is just a few of the interesting blue fin tuna reports that I have received over the past years!

Over the years I have heard on more than one occasion talk over the VHF radio about large tuna sightings. You would hear fishermen start to talk about it and then a couple more transmissions would take place owning up to the same thing. In this case even actually seeing a blue fin tuna especially in our area doesn't make a believer out of you.

A Sea Tow vessel while towing a disable boat called me from his cell phone to report that he had spotted quite a few of these magnificent fish. His first report was that he had seen the fish from a distance, but could still correctly identify them. However, his next call was even more unbelievable. The school of blue fins actually surfaced right where they were towing putting them in the middle of all of the surface action. The two vessels moving at 5 knots didn't seem to bother the tuna at all. According to the captain it was a sight he won't long forget.

A charter boat while heading to the snapper banks saw quite a commotion on the surface. They decided to put out a few lines so as to do a little trolling. In other words to basically perform what is normally called especially during this non-trolling time of the year a 'Fact finding mission.' They put out 4 trolling lines. For bait they pulled various surface to semi deep pulling lures. They weren't really prepared for this type of fishing. So they pulled what they had on board. What happened next was unbelievable. They had 4 hits resulting in 4 fish on at the same time. The two baits that were set out the furthest were the first to go. The two hooked fish had taken the line off so fast that the customers swore that the 6/0 reels were actually smoking. The other pair of shorter trolled baits was also being emptied at the same time. All lines were peeling off so fast that it kind of hypnotized all that watched. Not one fisherman picked up a rod. The end results were simple to judge 'fish 4 fishermen zero!' Now in the tackle department they were left with two 6/0 reels that were totally emptied of their 50 lb test line. The other two 6/0 reels still had a little line, but not enough to make it to the bottom when fishing the snapper banks. I can only assume that fishermen had to share rods on this particular fishing day.

A small center console reported while bottom fishing for black sea bass and targeting large trophy reds at one of the local artificial reefs that a big fish that looked like a tuna jumped right by his boat. In fact the fish was so close that it almost used his boat as a landing pad. The fishermen described the fish's shape as that of a 'Volkswagen.' According to story the one eye that the fishermen did get a close look at seemed about the size of a 'moon shaped hubcap.' This sighting actually happened at the Hilton Head Reef, which is located about 10 miles in about 50 feet of water off of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. According to this report a tuna was then hooked up on a 4/0 reel, was brought somewhat to the boat, identified, and was released unharmed.

There was also a story that was passed around about ten years ago that proved to be very interesting. A commercial boat supposedly landed 5 tuna off of our area. These fish gladly took them up their bait offering of rigged giant squid. The tuna ranged from 400 to 600 pound each. According to this story of stories these fish were caught during this time frame, but in the distance blue waters of the Gulf Stream. The information that I received from different sources read like it came straight from the movies.

Allegedly these blue fins were caught while using large orange commercial buoy, which were used like traditional trout float rigs without a slipknot. As I heard the story all I could think about was that particular episode in the movie 'Jaws' where the shark towed those oranges cans around for days. In this case this was large orange buoy ball, sort of like bumpers that supposedly had a large hook attached.

According to the story their bandit reels weren't able to hold these big fish. Two of the bandits were pulled right off of the boat and into the water when the tuna were hooked up. That's when they came up with tying the orange balls together and then attaching a large hook loaded with squid. This started a watch, chase, and catch the big fish game plan! The story gets even better. Supposedly the fish were brought to shore, sold for an undetermined amount of money, and then shipped out of the country. I see this story several ways' Someone had a great imagination, saw too many movies, was just a great storyteller, or it's the actual truth. This boils down to the fact that we will never actually be able to prove one way or the other beyond a doubt. (Lairs and Legends) Whatever the case may be in regards to this story it has to be decided by the reader alone.

As I am writing it I had just thought of another interesting thing to report. It was said that one of the fishermen was so excited by the catch that he kept the head from one of the biggest tuna. This he carried around in the back of his pick up truck in a large trashcan. His intentions, at least till he found out that it was illegal was to have the large tuna's head mounted. After supposedly talking to someone he then took the head and sold it to a Japanese Restaurant in downtown Savannah. According to the story he received $150.00 in payment for the removed head. All good stuff, but don't know if it's true or not! You decide!

After this story of stories was passed around, which was about 10 plus years plus ago, federal tuna fish agents knocked on my door. They came with recorder in hand to interview me, because of this tuna-catching story. I answered all questions to the best of knowledge. As I said earlier I didn't see any of this first hand. I only heard about it. Whether or not this 'catch' was true or false is beyond me. I just wrote it from my many sources and fish tails!

During this time frame I also got a report that a mother ship type was holding about a 100 miles off of Georgia's coast. This large vessel of which I labeled 'mother ship' wasn't flying a United States flag. She was foreign flagged vessel. According to sources this ship was the largest of the five others that were fishing in the area for tuna. The schools of tuna were apparently being spotted by air from a plane that had been hired to do their fish spotting for them. All pieces and parts of these stories lead to but one thing, 'tuna and more tuna.'

A South Carolina fisherman while fishing with his grand children saw an amazing sight. While he was anchored in about 55 feet of water fishing and catching black fish he noticed lots of surface activity to the northeast of his position. He admitted that he was very busy trying to help his grand children while they were fishing, but every time he did looked in this direction there was lots of action. After about an hour of being a first mate he finally got a break. He took out the binoculars to get a better look at what he first thought was a school of dolphin feeding. It was in fact a very large school of large tuna that seemed to be passing by. This sighting lasted for hours. The area where this took place was offshore the Hilton Head Tire Drop, which is located in about 50 feet of water.

In the year of 2004 five plus blue fin tuna were landed and several more released. Roomer has it that some of these fish weighted in at around 300 lbs while other tipped the scales at over 700 pounds. For those of you that consider these just big fish stories you had better think again. These fish are here during these times and have been for years!

To this year of 2005 I am still getting reports of sightings, hookups, and so-called landings of blue fin tuna. I can't report that this has been an active year at least as of yet. However, there's still time! Our strongest and biggest part of our so-called 'blue tuna run' hasn't supposedly passed our way as of yet. So therefore there is still time to take a look-see for you're own self!

All sightings and landings came from the same area and time frame!

As you read all of these stories I am sure you are wondering what they all have in common. Most all of these instances happened in approximately the same area at the same time of the year. The time was December/January and the places were as followed: The Betsy Ross, Eagle's Nest, and Hilton Head Reef. These are considered artificial reefs off of South Carolina. The L Buoy and CCA, of which are considered Georgia artificial reefs. All of these areas are manmade artificial reefs, which are located in less than 70 feet of water. They also are all located less than 20 miles offshore. The most important thing and the bottom line is that during this time these areas have what it takes to attract blue fin tuna. In the past I have received reports of tuna feeding on the by catch that is discarded from shrimp boats, which were trawling on the beachfronts of Hilton Head, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. There have been too many of these sightings to think that these fish weren't anything but blue fin tuna.

Our Blue Fin Tuna Migration

Our migration generally starts late December with the last of the blue fins migrating out of our area by the middle of February. Our peak season is late December to middle January. This is when most sightings and landing have occurred. I believe that while the blue fin tuna are moving through our area that the school blues are also so-called migrating. As with the always-asked question, which came first the chicken or the egg? We find ourselves with the same dilemma in this case. I have to ask, 'Is it the blue fish's or the blue fin tuna's migration? At any rate both fish are here at the same time.

Just a little information about blue fin tuna fishing!

Let's take a little time and analyze a few of the fishing tactics used off of North Carolina. As you all know this area is known as the 'blue fin tuna' capitol of the east coast. Real large tackle is used, because it's needed to get control of these big fish. The reel outfit probably falls into the 12/0 plus bracket. According to reliable sources they spool these big reels with no less than 130-pound test line. Now this is a big outfit situation in my book. The drag is set at about 65 pounds, which means that the angler on the rod is in for the fight of a lifetime.

The blue fin in this area can be caught in as little as 50 feet or less and more than 500 feet of water depending on the location of the fish at the time. Large tackle is needed to control the hooked fish especially when it's hooked in deep water. Once a tuna takes the bait and feels any sort of pressure they naturally go into a deep dive mode. Large tackle and a heavy drag will allow you to control your hooked tuna a little more effetely. Let's face it a 600 hundred pound tuna in 500 feet of water would be almost impossible to land on lighter tackle especially if it becomes 'coma toast also know a dead.'

According to my sources blue fin tuna especially off of North Carolina seem to form a tight schooling pattern. Therefore to find these fish they usually troll for them at least until they locate them. Once they locate the school they stop and start continuously chunking menhaden and other fish pieces overboard, which forms a great slick. After the tuna picks up the scent the feeding/catching frenzy begins for both angler and fish. I am sure that these accounts that I have shared with you only touched a few ways to get a blue fin tuna hookup in North Carolina.

Back to South Carolina and Georgia

Let's get down to what is my opinion based on information gathered over the years the best way to target a blue fin tuna in our area. You can start your own looking process in late December or you can wait until fishermen report a sighting. However, even if no sightings have been reported I suggest you start your tuna quest during the last week of December or the first week of January.

For tackle if you have the big stuff I suggest that you use it. However, if this isn't the case I don't suggest for one minute that you go to the expense of purchasing it. Most all blue fin caught and landed in this area was caught on regular bottom fishing gear. In fact most were caught and landed with stand up style rods with a 6/0 reel, which were only loaded with around 50 lb test line.

The good news about out migration location is that most all areas are actually in less than 70 feet of water. However the larger part of the tuna migration have been found in around 50 feet. When a tuna is hooked in a deep-water situation their instincts tell them to dive deep. However in our case a tuna's deep diving instincts are of no use. Your hooked fish is forced to swim parallel with the ocean floor. This is a real advantage to us fishermen in this area. Especially to those of us that are using what is considered small tackle for big blue fin tuna.

Another theory that applies to our shallow tuna fishing area is the fact that when a tuna is first hooked it does in fact make a deep dive. It has been reported that some of the hooked fish seemed to be stunned due to the fact that dive so quick that before they know it they basically plow right into the ocean floor. In other words, the fish dives so instinctively that it actually hits the ocean's sandy bottom. Once this happens the hooked fish takes a short second to re-collect before it speeds into that wide-open forward direction. This gives the one holding the rod and the captain maneuvering the boat a better chance to get the vessel turned around and headed in the direction of the soon to be hooked up wild fish.

In my opinion I believe that the tuna are feeding on the juvenile blue fish that are found in these areas at this time of the year. We have what I call a 'Blue Fish Invasion' during this time at the artificial reefs. Quite often fishermen don't realize it, but schools of blue are actually responsible for all of those bottom rig cut offs during this time. These just eat away at anything that is dropped in front of them. During this time fishermen are usually bottom fishing and targeting black sea bass. However, the blue fish always are schooling over the black sea bass, which means your bait offering sometimes never makes it to the bottom. At this time I usually make my bottom rigs out of 80 lbs test line. However, after about a dozen drops through the schools of blue fish and you have to replace your rig. Any fishermen using any light leader as his bottom rig is basically out of luck. Blue fish have unusually sharp teeth of which move at all times. These fish are known for having an appetite that can't be satisfied. In fact all they do is eat until they are full, purge themselves, and then they start the feeding process all over again. In other words it's a never-ending feeding pattern. I know you must be wondering where all this is going and how a blue fin tuna comes into to play. As I said this is just a theory that I have come up with.

I believe that whatever the large schools of blue fish are feeding on, which is being continuously regurgitated is making a major natural slick. This slick in turn attracts the tuna. I believe that they are following the blue fish for two reasons, which are the scent of the slick and the sport of the chase. This could possibly account for some of the reasons why chunking to our tuna hasn't been too effective.

Most of the tuna that have been hooked-up have been on what I call the 'Old Stand By Lure.' It's a basic and simple lure. A rigged horse ballyhoo of which is pulled with a blue and white Ilander lure. Another Ilander lure, which has been proven, is what I call 'crystal hair color.'

According to sources these rigs work the best when being pulled 20 to 30 feet behind a #3 Planer. I have other sources report better hits occur when the lure is pulled at about 70 feet behind a #4 Planer. According to sources the best trolling speed is around 6 plus knots. I always pull at least four lures plus. Even though there have been no reports of blue fins being caught on surface pulled lures, I still put them. You know the old saying; 'Be All You can be and if you have water behind your boat pull a lure in it!'

Then there was this one report, not even sure where it came from, that blue fin tuna love to eat calico crabs. How anyone would know this other than opening one up is beyond me. However, I like to report all that I have heard even if I don't get to lay my two good eyes on it. I can't say for sure that's it true, but I did a little checking on the 'old calico crab!' It has been reported and is part of the blue fin tuna's make up to migrate near shore during sometime in its life. Well, as we know they pick this area to do that migrating near shore time of their life. Also it has been reported and including part of many records that this fish will eat just about anything that's the underwater near shore sandy bottoms has to offer. Blue fins will and it has been documented that they eat calico crabs, which are basically burrowed down at this time of the year. Not only that, but also sand dollars and starfish's aren't safe either!

I'm not suggesting that you should use any of these for bait. I am only saying, 'blue fin tuna' come here for a reason, which is for a food source. We basically have what they eat, which is blue fish, calico crabs, starfish, and wherever else they can pick up while passing through this area. In other words this could possibly be there near shore watering hole!

Blue fin in our area are sort of scattered and aren't generally found holding in tight patterns. This is your sign that not only do you have to pull your lures you must also watch for any surface action. As all of us fishermen know when the fish feeds the oils and leftover parts float to the surface making anything from a small to a large slick. At any rate the birds will help you located these good fishing spots. So therefore everyone onboard should be watching for any surface activity from below and any birds diving from above.

I do believe and it has been proven that the tuna bite has more active right before dawn. I would suggest if possible being in this area at this time. However, all sightings and landing were reported during daytime hours. So therefore your chances in our areas might be as good early as they are late.

I guess what all of this boils down too is that there is absolutely no reason what so ever to ague with statistics. However, there is still plenty of room for additional reports of sightings and landings, which you certainly can't add to if you don't give this fishery a try! For those fishermen that have sightings that they haven't shared with anyone and would like too, please give me (Captain Judy) a call 912 897 4921 or e-mail Please by all means let me know how your blue fin tuna fishing adventure turns out whether it's good or bad!

For those fishermen wanting information about the current 2008/2009 current blue fin tuna regulations please visit: or call 1 888 872 8862

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About The Author: Captain Judy Helmey

Company: Miss Judy Charters

Area Reporting: Inshore and Offshore Savannah Georgia

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