The class of 2004 had definitely graduated. They may have been in schools, but they weren't schoolies.
After a visit to Stellwagen Bank, 25 or so miles off Massachusetts, Scott Salyers, Bonnier's fishing group publisher, could tell you that. So could several fishing-industry players who joined Salyers and me, including Lou Chemi with Navico, Eric Maitland with Daiwa, Jeff Pierce with Mustad and Mark Reedenaur of Airmar.
In two days in early September, all of us brought one or more bluefin tuna to the boat. Not only did the pace of action surprise this group of anglers fishing a mere hour out of Boston, but the consistent size of six bluefin tuna brought to the boat was remarkable. Not one of the tuna appeared to vary more than 10 or 20 pounds from the 160- to 180-pound mark.
Live Bunker = Tuna Takeout
Year class: Fish of the same species and stock that are born in the same year.
That definition of the term from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration applies to the 2004 year class of the bluefin tuna stock that has returned to the Northeast coast, notably Stellwagen Bank, each summer and fall like swallows to Capistrano. And savvy skippers like Boston veteran Chuck DiStefano (www.bostonsportfishing.com) have been in position each season to intercept the growing tuna.
That fishery has been a pretty good bet in recent years from about mid- to late June, when the class of '04 shows, through late fall. Some years, they'll be on the bank into December, says DiStefano, who fishes these waters year-round from his 36-foot BHM cuddy, Skip-a-Dory.
When bluefin are on the feed, they'll hit a variety of offerings, including trolled plugs like a big Rapala X-Rap, DiStefano says. Favoring such lures in a blue mackerel color, the skipper sets them back about 80 feet and runs at 4 to 6 knots. Just as effective as lures: slow-trolling big plastic baits such as SlugGos.
But that's only when he has no live bait. In fact, only a couple of years ago did DiStefano switch primarily from trolling lures to drifting liveys. Now that's about all he does, as long as he can get them.