We spent 15 minutes on the phone with Capt. Brian Suschke to discuss trolling for big game tuna with custom skirted ballyhoos. Here's what we learned...
Capt. Brian Suschke
Facebook: Brian Suschke
Targeted Species: Offshore Game Fish (Big Eye, Bluefin Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna) – This set up and method has also worked for Mahi Mahi, White Marlin and Blue Marlin
Location: Ocean City, Maryland
Between inshore and offshore tuna fishing, Capt. Brian can run any distance between 15 miles for the inshore bite (bottom contours and lumps inshore) to 70 miles for the offshore bite (canyons).
Tides: If one thing is consistent between these fish it’s that they bite in accordance with the moon phases rather than the tides. For big eye specifically, they’re usually found in depths anywhere from 600 to 1500 feet and if marking fish on the finder, Capt. Brian will stay in the area and troll. The best times to target these fish are dawn, dusk and well into the dark. He will troll in complete blackness if the big eye fishing is good.
If you’re waiting on the big eye bite, you might have some luck targeting Yellowfin in the meantime as they bite all day (when they’re biting, of course.) And as for the big trophy fish, Bluefin tend to bite best in the morning and in the evening. Capt. Brian will change up his spread (below) for bigger BFT by using long fluoro leaders and dropping the lures back further than normal.
Approach: The most common way to find fish in any given situation is looking for life, tells and fish finder markings. For offshore and inshore tuna, Capt. Brian looks for birds, whales, porpoises, current breaks and temperature breaks to indicate that there might be fish in the area. He utilizes satellite temperature charts to show temperature breaks, gulf stream eddys and chlorophyll shots.
Rigging/Lure Selection: Capt. Brian has a trolling set up that is a unique combination of Hogy products. Similar to a ballyhoo set up, he uses the head of a 3oz Joe Shute and pairs it with a 10-inch or 14-inch Hogy Original, substituting the ballyhoo for the Hogy tails. He will troll these closer to the boat and sometimes droll the Deep Drop Eels further back in the center of his spread behind the Joe Shute custom rigging. Depending on the roughness of the seas, he will sometimes use heavier heads up to 8oz to accommodate.
Why This Bait? If the fish are offshore, they’re likely feeding on squid and tinker mackerels but if they are inshore, they’re likely fishing on sand eels. Capt. Brian always tries to match the profiles of the bait fish in the area by using smaller lures for smaller bait and larger lures for larger bait but he’s found that it’s not only about the imitation, it’s also about the action of the lures.
Colors: There are a few color combinations that Capt. Brian will use. His favorites are either a white Joe Schute paired with a bone Hogy Original or a blue and white Joe Schute paired with a silver Hogy softbait. For overcast days, dawn or dusk, he will use a purple and black Joe Schute paired with a black Hogy Original.
Retrieve: At 6 to 7.5 knots (depending on conditions), this trolling spread is very effective. The speed allows for the lures for be trolled just under the surface with the intention of drawing the fish up. For BFT, if the fish are holding deep, Capt. Brian will run a planer which is designed to bring the lures down in the water column.
Rod: 50 – 100-pound class trolling rods, 6-foot (custom designed)
Reel: 50-wide to 80-wide reels (Shimano and Penn)
Line: 130-lb Hollowcore topped with 100 to 130lb mono topshot
Leader: Capt. Brian uses a 20 to 30-foot wind-on fluorocarbon leader anywhere from 90 to 130lb test depending on conditions.