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May 21, 2008

Break on Through to the Otherside

Head to the pelagic playground of the Gulf Stream's eastern edge

A wonderful sight occurs at the beginning and end of a day's fishing Florida's famed Otherside. You typically get double the pleasure of running toward a  brilliant sunrise over the Atlantic and then a spectacular sunset on the way home.

I clearly remember those images from an outing last June with members of Team Hydra-Sports. It had already been a memorable spring off Florida's central Atlantic coast. Reports of 100-pound-plus yellowfin tuna had been rampant, and I'd fished the Otherside twice already with magazine colleagues. Each time, we enjoyed banner days on dolphin and yellowfin.
 
So when presented with another opportunity to run back to the fishery with Hydra-Sports national sales manager Alex Leva, Allen Winchel, owner of Blackfin Rods, Jim Ladner and Troy Nelson, I jumped at the chance. I was especially curious to see how their sleek 29- and 33-foot center consoles would handle the long run. The Otherside is a long-range fishery that historically has been restricted to big sport-fishermen. But the flood of smaller, high-performance fishing machines of recent years has opened up a world of possibilities for anglers.
 
The boats performed flawlessly, though we were a bit late for what turned out to be an early yellowfin season. Still, we managed to nab several other species of tuna and a host of big, wily dolphin. And truth be told: Watching a day begin and end from the beauty of the sea is always worth the price of admission.

Take a Ride
To clarify, we're not talking about a Doors concert here. The "Otherside" is a nickname for the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream along Florida's central and north Atlantic coasts. Capt. Eddie Dwyer, who operates the Ticket (www.ticketfishing.com; 321-631-3321), a 60-foot Paul Spencer, out of Port Canaveral, coined the term. Dwyer learned of the great fishing in 1987 from mariners aboard NASA recovery ships who ran out to pick up the solid   rocket boosters dropped during space-shuttle launches.
 
Each spring, these distant waters - which typically range 60 to 80 miles out, depending on the location of the stream and launch points - churn with a host of ravenous pelagics. Nothing short of adventurous, an Otherside trip is typically an all-day affair. Our outing from the Fort Pierce City Marina began about 4:00 a.m. and ended close to midnight. After a long run to the edge, we began fishing about 20 miles north of the Corner - just north of Bahamian waters - and proceeded north all the way to Sebastian Inlet. By the time we returned to Fort Pierce that night, we had logged a whopping 312 miles!

That kind of day will wear you out - physically and mentally - and it begs the   question: Why go so far?
 
The answer, of course, is for the fantastic fishing. Noted primarily as a yellowfin      fishery - and rightly so - the Otherside holds such a wide variety of species that you never know what you'll find on any given trip. We caught several species of tuna on that June day and enough big dolphin for everyone to go home with a cooler full of fillets. Game fish here simply are not  pressured to the same extent as those on the inside edge of the stream and, consequently, grow larger and more plentiful.
 
"Plus, there's a real romance to fishing where other people haven't fished before," Leva says. "It's cool to go that far! Those waters are usually alive with fish."

Tuna the Top Dog
Leva's right - there most certainly is a romance in fishing far-off places. And chasing tuna at the Otherside is about as exciting as it gets.
 
Over the years, Dwyer has made his mark as the master of the fishery. He's spent more time in these waters and has caught more big tuna, marlin and dolphin than most. He also hosts an annual tournament, the Otherside Invitational, in early July.
 
Dwyer actually began most of his  long-range tuna fishing around NOAA's 120-mile weather buoy off Canaveral. But in the early 1990s, he also found plenty of fish at the edge of the Gulf Stream, some 40 miles closer. These fish feed in the cooler, nutrient-rich waters just outside   the warm stream, and Dwyer was able    to locate them by tracking flocks of     birds with advanced Furuno radar systems of the day. This same basic premise of chasing birds has held up over the years and is still the most common method of fishing.
 
"I had it to myself for a long time, and nobody could figure out what I was doing," chuckles Dwyer. "Of course, word got out and next thing you know, everybody was running out there."
 
Still, even today, the Otherside doesn't receive too much pressure. Fishing it requires at least a 24-foot craft with dual outboards, reliable radar and a crew that's willing to dish out the gas money to make such a long run. It ain't for everybody.
 
Then again, tasty yellowfin tuna aren't available too many other ways off Florida's coast. And last year proved a banner season for Dwyer, who caught numerous 100-pound fish, including a 142-pounder.
 
From March through September, Dwyer likes to troll for tuna with 50- and 80-pound outfits at 8 to 10 knots. During the first two months of the season, he finds fish to the south around the Corner. As the season progresses, yellowfin move in from the east and are plentiful in the more northerly regions. Dwyer typically pulls dark-colored, 9-inch Todd's lures from his outrigger and shotgun lines and Braid Marauders on flat lines.
 
The trick is not necessarily what you're pulling, though; rather, it's your angle of attack when approaching a school of birds and tuna.
 
"You've got to determine which way the birds are flying, and try to cut around them and let them cross your spread," Dwyer says. "You want them to cut across the boat and the baits. That's the key right there, to work the edge. You don't want  to go through the middle or behind the school. It will drive the fish down. And never try to fish a school with two boats. It just doesn't work."
 
Over the years, Dwyer has found that tuna have become more line-shy, and he often drops down to 80- and even 60-pound fluorocarbon leaders in the 15-foot range. He has also eliminated swivel connections in his rigging, relying instead on line-to-leader blood knots.