2. Oregon Inlet
Oregon Inlet Fishing Center has been the epicenter of the Outer Banks bluefin run for more than a decade. In winter and early spring when the run peaks, 20 to 30 bluefin charter boats will be idling at the docks at dawn.
Capt. Tony Tillett of Carolinian Sportfishing said the bluefin tuna fishing can be one of the most dependable opportunities in the area, so long as the weather holds.
"The past two years, the fish migrating north have arrived the first of March," he says. "They initially show up farther south, following the shoreline. But once they get here, they move offshore to the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream." Most Oregon Inlet fish cannot be described as "giants," which most captains consider starts at 400 pounds. But an abundance of 100- to 200-pounders still makes fishing this area worthwhile.
Here, there is no early November/December run of larger fish like the more northerly destinations get. This is likely a function of the baitfish movement. The baitfish are going to move and congregate in response to current and temperature patterns. Tuna follow the food, having a wider temperature tolerance than almost any other big-game-fish species. Temperature of the water is a secondary consideration when finding tuna, compared to where the forage fish are schooling.
The Gulf Stream lies about 35 miles offshore; the run time in Tillett's 60-foot Holston is less than two hours. He seeks water between 68 and 73 degrees.
"The fish swim along the edge of the continental shelf, with the Point, at the tip of Diamond Shoals, a good spot to find them," he says. "The fish usually move all the way to Hatteras and back along the 600-foot (100-fathom) curve. But temperature changes can move the fish inshore to water as shallow as 250 feet."
"If there are lots of fish showing, we troll with four rods," Tillett says. "But when we're hunting fish, we troll eight rods. I've had all eight rods hit at the same time. This past season, we hooked up five bluefin at once and landed all five. I have three fighting chairs, so some anglers got a thrill: catching a bluefin with a straight-butt rod set in a standard fighting belt."
Standard bluefin baits include large ballyhoo rigged behind a SeaWitch or Hawaiian I. Tillett allows anglers to bring their own stand-up gear to maximize the experience. A typical fishing trip results in landing five to 15 bluefins. But anglers should pick a two-day weather window because of risky winds.
Highs: Large numbers of smaller bluefin. Warmer weather later in the season.
Lows: Relatively small fish. Wind can force cancellations. Nearest lodging eight to 15 miles from docks.