When Gloucester-based fishermen sail south to the Outer Banks to compete with their North Carolina counterparts for bluefin tuna, they’ve got to master a very different sort of environment from the offshore New England waters to which they’ve grown accustomed.
For one thing, there’s the weather. In New England, the bluefin season is in the summer and fall, but in the Outer Banks, the huge fish are pursued in the winter months. While the presence of the Gulf Stream 50 miles offshore helps to moderate winter temperatures, the weather can be volatile, winter seas can be very rough.
That difference would make it difficult for fishermen in the Outer Banks to anchor their boats, put out chunks of herring, whiting and other baitfish in chum slicks, and then sit waiting for hours for the bluefin to arrive, as fishermen do up north. The chum would drift away too quickly, and they wouldn’t be able to set their lines to the proper depth or position.
Instead, it’s more likely to see Outer Banks fishermen trolling, with their boats sailing along at a speed of six to twelve knots.
“You probably can expect to see some of our captains just trolling outright for them or green-sticking these fish, but sitting still anchored up is something I don’t expect ,” fishing writer Rob Alderman wrote earlier this year, in an article for the Island Free Press, an Outer Banks publication.
The equipment also tends to be different down south. Outer Banks fisherman have enthusiastically adopted the green stick, a technology which was developed by Japanese fishermen and, as the story goes, first introduced to North Carolina by a Wanchese fisherman named Charles Midgett in the 1980s.
The green stick—named for the distinctive olive hue of early models of the gear—basically is a flexible fiberglass pole that’s 34 to 45 feet long. It’s fashioned from multiple sections, making its length adjustable. A main fishing line that’s 1,000 feet or more in length is attached to the stick, and five to seven lures or baits are attached to the line itself. Each of the leaders for those lures or baits is a slightly different length, and has a drop line attached to it. A “bird,” a device made of spruce wood with wings of aluminum, is attached to the line, holding it taut in the water. That, in turn, causes the lures to bob up and down on the water, just above the surface.
“As we tow [the bird] to the surface, it mimics a tuna chasing our lures, which attracts other tunas to the bait,” fisherman Nick Gowitzka explains in the program.
The motion of the lures also tends to be irresistible to the bluefin, which are particularly aggressive predators. The fish have been known to launch themselves completely out of the water in an effort to strike at a lure, according to fishing author Stan Ulanski.
When a bluefin strikes one of the baits or lures, the drop line attached to it breaks away from the main line. That enables the fishermen to fight the bluefin with a rod and reel.
“It definitely is effective in putting fish in the boat,” Ulanski has written.
The Gloucester fishermen will need to master the technique, or else they’ll be at a disadvantage.