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October 03, 2013

Crashing Bluefin Tuna on the Cape

A first-time jigging trip for tuna off Massachusetts produces lifetime memories

(Be sure to click through all the images in the gallery above.)

That first, pretty September day hunting bluefins off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, started slowly, as we jigged the shipping lanes near Chatham Cut. But things were about to change. Peering through his binoculars toward the horizon, Capt. Bobby Rice had just seen something he liked. “Whales,” he muttered, quickly instructing us to bring in our lines and hang on as he throttled down toward the breaches. Soon we were dropping the 10-inch soft plastics again, now within plain sight of two massive humpbacks that rolled on the surface, blowing big mists.

I looked over at one of my fishing companions, Ron Poirier, a beloved local lure manufacturer. Poirier was locked in. He engaged his spinner at about 150 feet and began working his trademark RonZ fish-oil-infused soft plastic in a tap-tap-tap jigging action. Suddenly, Poirier’s Van Staal rod doubled over in a deep U-bend and he hollered.

Twenty minutes later, Poirier beamed like a child as the fat, 80-pound bluefin came aboard. He and Rice pulled the jig out of the fish’s mouth and — boom — just like that, we had our dinner for the evening.

A Bittersweet Personal Journey

I was 8 years old the last time I visited Cape Cod; this fall 2012 trip marked my first-ever tuna experience here. Unfortunately, it was one of Poirier’s last. The 58-year-old had been suffering Stage 4 esophageal cancer, though you never would have known from his sunny disposition and infectious laughter.

On May 3, 2013, just before this year’s tuna season, Poirier passed away, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most popular tuna fishermen on the Cape, and a person I was proud to have fished with on this trip.

Says Rice: “He was one of my best friends. We took a lot of tuna trips together. He was incredibly knowledgeable.”

Organized with pals Craig Cantelmo of Van Staal and Chris Littau, director of marketing at Zebco, the trip had been two years in the making. We had initially hoped to find a topwater bite that week off the Cape, but that wasn’t happening.

There were plenty of tuna around, and they were up near the surface. But they never showed themselves. Worse, as we approached likely bluefin pods in Rice’s 26-foot SeaCraft, the fish would scatter rather than dive deep, where we could have seen them on the fish finder. This made the jig bite a tough sell too.

All in all, we were met with difficult conditions, yet our confidence remained sky-high. “Bobby is the man,” Cantelmo told me repeatedly leading into the trip. “He finds fish, period.”

As usual, Cantelmo turned out to be on-point.