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September 16, 2013

Chunking Techniques for Tuna

Three experts reveal their chunking methods for chumming up tunas.

Be sure to click through all the images in the gallery.

We really should thank tuna. Yellowfin, bluefin, albacore and bigeye travel distances that make marathon runners look pedestrian. Because of that, they always have to eat.

September to November, anglers target the Atlantic species along offshore canyons that make up the Eastern Seaboard’s continental shelf.

May through July, southern bluefin and yellowfin feed aggressively off Australia’s southeastern coast over current-swept seamounts, says Al McGlashan, an Australian fishing TV host out of Sydney, and contributor to Sport Fishing.

Fortunately, the same tactics — chumming, or chunking — dupe them no matter their location. I talked with three highly regarded anglers from Rhode Island, New Jersey and southern Australia to learn their top chunking techniques for tuna.

Prep Pays

Before these expert tuna-chunkers even leave the dock, significant efforts are put into preparation.

“The day before a trip, we start to prep,” says Capt. Dave Bender, a New Jersey canyon ­fisherman. “We’ll load up to six flats of butterfish [for chum baits], 1,000 pounds of ice into five giant coolers, and tackle rigs made the night before.”

Chunkers pay special attention to ocean ­forecasts, sea surface temperature maps and chlorophyll charts before ever getting to the dock. Sites like,, and offer valuable forecasting and up-to-date conditions.

“We’re looking for eddies that spin off west from the Gulf Stream, toward the continental shelf — that’s what holds the tuna,” says Bender. “The chlorophyll charts are used to help find clear blue water and signs of life; higher concentrations of chlorophyll mean more baitfish.”

The best depths to fish range along the 600- to 1,000-foot drops that form areas such as Wilmington, Baltimore and Hudson canyons, says Bender.

“Some of these areas became popular back in the day because lobster gear marked the same areas,” explains Bender. “Even back then it was illegal, but boats would tie up to the gear, using it as an anchor.”

Bender ports out of Brielle, New Jersey. That’s a 76- to 112-mile shot — he has to maximize fish-catching potential while he’s out there.

“One mistake I see made all the time is drifting out into 3,000 and 4,000 feet of water,” he says. “The tuna gather near the bait, and the bait’s at the structure.”

In other words, don’t fall off the shelf.