Up in the Air
First in the water goes Nitta’s three-foot-long bird, designed both to attract tuna and tension his whole rig behind the boat.
Forty yards up from the bird, he attaches his first drop line and squid. The next three squid are spaced 18 yards apart. “Tuna think the bird is chasing the squid,” Nitta says. He trolls the closest squid 34 yards from the boat.
These distances vary with each green stick, but Nitta says the length of each squid drop line takes the most tweaking — even changing with a new bird.
With the rig deployed, Nitta attaches the last loop-to-loop connection to the 700-pound monofilament line coming off the tip of his green stick. “I use 200-pound Dacron. That’s what breaks when fish are hooked,” Nitta says. He ties the Dacron to the green-stick line with an improved clinch knot, and attaches the other end of the Dacron to the main fishing line with a longline clip. Letting line off the reel shifts tension to the green stick, raising the rig.
Thin nylon rope attached to the green-stick line at this intersection allows Nitta to retrieve the green-stick line once it breaks away, and also allows him to jig the squid down into the water. “Use anything that’s light and comfortable to hold in your hand,” Nitta says.
“I like to troll my bird right at the front of a pod of porpoise,” Nitta says. At 5 knots, he angles ahead of the predictably moving pod using his fish finder to ensure that tuna are present. “Porpoises usually stay within 120 feet of the surface,” he says. “I’m looking for marks from 150 feet down to 400 feet.”
“My drop lines hold my squid about four feet in the air while trolling,” Nitta says. He pulls down on the jig line every few seconds to bring the squid down to the water, allowing them to touch the surface only briefly. “You can put the fish off by dragging those squid in the water. Yellowfin are used to tracking things in the air. They hit as soon as their prey hits the water,” Nitta says. “They don’t miss often.”
Once hooked up, the angler reels while Nitta detaches unhooked drop-line clips as they come in, ready to leader hooked tuna to the gaff. “I like to fight them off the side of the boat from a dead boat,” Nitta says.
“It’s not unusual to have multiples,” Nitta says, recounting a memorable triple. “One fish took the squid closest to the boat. It jumped 10 feet in the air. Another took the squid closest to the bird. As those two landed in the water, a third fish blew up in the middle.”
With three ahi hooked, the mainline broke — normally drawing the curtain on any fishing show — but Nitta rigs a couple of two-foot-long bullet-shaped fishing floats about eight feet behind his bird, providing an encore by retrieving the other end of the line.
What tops such aerial acrobatics? Fresh sashimi with the show!
About the expert: Russ Nitta grew up fishing with his father offshore of Oahu. He’s since fished both coasts of North America but prefers Kona’s calm waters and big fish.
Tuna photo by Capt. Josh Temple