Pro Talk: Small Jet Trolling Techniques for Martha's Vineyard Tuna

Posted by Capt. Ross Gallagher on

15 Minutes with: Capt. Shaun ruge

Here’s what we learned…

Location: Inside Fingers – S. Vineyard

Approach: Successfully finding concentrations of fish south of the Vineyard is primarily dependent on temperature breaks. It’s best to utilize a temperature chart service and monitor conditions often during the season. The most productive breaks tend to be around 3° – 5° changes from nearby temps. Once you’ve reached these temperature breaks, begin running a line along them in search of areas of life. This could include, whales, birds, bait, weeds and obviously breaking fish. It’s highly recommended that you continue to search these breaks for signs of life before deploying the spread.

Rigging Selection: SI Tinkler & Jet Chains

Why this bait: These chains work excellent during slick calm conditions where fish may respond better the smaller and more subtle presentations. During summer months, slick calm seas allow small boat anglers to reach nearby offshore waters. Using small, subtle baits like the SI Tinkler chains offer the perfect presentation for finicky fish honed in on small baits.

Colors: The rainbow color pattern is a classic producer, while the green pattern works excellent as well.

Retrieve: I run a 23’ center console with outriggers so I typically run 7-9 rods in a trolling spread depending on the conditions.  I often start my spread with a “confidence spread” consisting of Rainbow, Mexican Flag (green/yellow), green and pink 6” squid and tinkler spreader bars, 2 or 3 Bird & tinkler jet head chains or skirted Ballyhoo, and a bird & chain shotgun.  If conditions permit I will run additional rods with a cedar plug chain pinned to the transom, a Rapala Mag 30 diver, or a center rod in the “diamond” position with Hootie head chains or some other like lures.  I typically run 2 Play Action Big Kahuna teasers 5-10 ft off my transom so they dart in and out of the prop wash.

I start my confidence spread at what I would call a medium distance and adjust accordingly as the day goes on.  My 2 short corners are approx. 10-20 ft behind the boat in the first 2 waves off the wake.  These are generally the larger, louder spreader bars.  My short riggers will be another 10-15 yards behind them in the 4th or 5th wave and are generally lighter, softer spreader bars or tinkler bars because they do not cause a lot of drag on the outriggers.  My long riggers are again another 10-15 yards back and will be skirted ballyhoo on islanders or Hootie heads or bird & Chain combos.  My shotgun runs out of the T-top and goes to the end of the 100 yrd top shot with a Bird & Chain combo.  If conditions allow I’ll run a deep diver or cedar plug chain pinned to the transom and a rod in the diamond position centered in the prop wash between the short and long riggers.  As the day goes on I rotate lures, try new tackle, and change distances and positions.  This not only helps you learn, but keeps the spread clear of weeds.  ALWAYS check for weeds, even in clear water.

If fish eat the lures further back I will drop the spread back, if they eat off the transom I will pull everything in tight.  I’ve had days where all my rods were dumped 100 yards to the backing and days where the closest spreader bars hung out of the water a few feet from the engine.  In general on calm days I run my spread with smaller, more subtle lures further from the boat while on rougher days I use “louder” lures up closer to the boat or more teasers (birds, bird chains, splasher bars, etc).  Don’t be afraid to experiment with lure placement to tune your spread.  Anglers with the Ron Popeil “Set it and forget it” mind set will catch less fish more often than not.

There are two other variations in retrieve I employ, both to “tease” fish.  Always keep an eye on your spread, when a tuna misses a lure the strike is often visible with a boil, splash, or subtle change in the water pattern behind the lure.  When this happens you need to jump to action by speeding the lure up with 2-3 cranks of the reel, drop back to free spool for a 1-2 count, then go back to strike drag and crank again.  Do this several times, sometimes upwards of a minute or so to get that fish or its friends excited to come back to eat.  Changes in motion trigger strikes.  You can sometimes do the same with the boat and the entire spread rather than just one rod.  Quickly giving the boat some throttle and then chopping the speed while turning left and right can replicate the same action provided your crew is paying attention.  Throughout the day I will often give lines a tug with my hand to make the lures jump a bit.  It’s not uncommon for tunas to track a spread for extended periods of time and a change in motion can draw their attention which is also the reason why I don’t troll in a straight line.


Rod: 6′ 30lb Class Aluminum Butt Calstar Rods.

Reel: Shimano TLD30 2 Speed

Line: Most anglers run 50lb mono on these 30lb outfits. I choose to run 80lb Suffix Braid as backing with a 100yd top shot of 50lb Momoi.

Topshot: 50lb Momoi Mono

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