Popping Tuna on the Surface

How to Pop Tuna on the Surface. They were all fleeting and all failures, as the fish never stayed up for more than a few seconds. A quarter of my spool was gone before I could get out, “Holy s - - t, I just popped my first tuna!” Tuna popping is not a new game. Charter captains who specialize in the tactic abound. Berosh’s and Veneziale’s boats are perfect examples. Neither Berosh nor Veneziale popped another tuna the rest of that season. That’s why it’s good to have friends in this game, and it was a good friend that called us in to a yellowfin blitz that spanned a half mile that August morning. I got offshore eight times during the 2016 season. I caught fish trolling, but not once did I cast to a boiling tuna, although other locals got on popping bites. A quick dip in boiling water softens the UR‑Cut’s rubber handle.

Total boredom. That’s what I was feeling. It was July 2014, 50 miles off the New Jersey coast, and my friends Nick Veneziale and George Berosh and I were listening intently for the unbroken scream of a trolling reel. So far, all we’d heard for nearly six hours was the monotonous drone of the outboards. All day, the sonar showed red tuna marks below the boat—“meatballs,” as they’re often called. These meatballs, however, refused to rise and dine on the multicolored rubber calamari dancing in the prop wash. Considering the cost of fuel, this was looking like an expensive bust. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a 30-pound bluefin roll 100 yards away. Then another. Then in a matter of 30 seconds, an entire school was waking across the surface in front of us.

In seasons past, I’d gotten a couple of cracks at tuna on topwater lures. They were all fleeting and all failures, as the fish never stayed up for more than a few seconds. But this school was different. In the time it took to rip in the trolling lines and reset for casting, the tuna were getting more aggressive, boiling on some unseen forage. As Veneziale nudged the boat into range, my heart was jackhammering in my chest. I silently begged the fish to please stay up. They did, and when my popper hit, I only chugged once before it was sucked under in a vacuum. A quarter of my spool was gone before I could get out, “Holy s – – t, I just popped my first tuna!”

hot wings
Hot Wings: Birds pick at the scraps left by a pod of blitzing tuna.

Tuna popping is not a new game. As a young editor at Salt Water Sportsman in 2005, I drooled over stories by writers like Al Ristori who documented tuna popping quests that took them as far as Panama and Australia. I knew that Gulf and Atlantic captains had been doing it for many years, but at that point, and having only ever trolled for tuna, I had yet to see these fish present themselves in a popper-friendly scenario. A topwater tuna eat was something mythic, something reserved for the lucky. Judging by the popularity of tuna popping today, one might assume that luck is easier to…

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