3. Cape Hatteras
Hatteras Harbor is a full-service bluefin destination with lodging, transient dockage and 20 charter boats geared to chase tuna. Capt. Andy Piland of Goodtimes Sport Fishing says he expects the season to kick off with the biggest fish of the year.
"The giants trickle through in late November," he says. "My biggest fish, a 533-pounder, came in December. The best time for large numbers of fish is from February through April when the tuna are in mixed schools of 80- to 250-pounders. In a typical day, we'll land six to 12 of the smaller fish."
Piland's 47-foot Midget makes the 25-mile trip to the Gulf Stream in an hour. He looks for water temperatures of 66 to 74 degrees.
"The fish are eating squid," he says. "That means they're going to be deep enough, generally 40 to 120 feet, that they won't show on the surface, so you'll be finding them with the depth finder.
"One method we use is jigging. An angler with stamina can catch a big tuna with a jig. But we had one fish run through six anglers and the mate before we landed it with jigging tackle."
Piland also uses jigs for attracting deep swimmers to his trolling spread. He drops a hookless jig to a school and works the lure to the surface as a teaser. Bluefin follow and then strike the ballyhoo in the trolling spread drifting behind the boat.
"I only use four lines," Piland says. "Having all four lines struck and four fish landed is not unusual. One angler is fighting from the rail because I only have three chairs. It's always a game of musical fighting chairs when you have multiple hookups. Every angler will be on his feet at some point to keep his line from tangling."
Highs: Gorgeous Outer Banks surroundings, excellent facilities, short runs to the fishing grounds.
Lows: Long drives and or ferry rides from inland destinations. Windy days, common in winter, translate into lay days.