BY MERIT McCREA
In the past year, the way bluefin have bit best – the way one could hook and land a big one while not being up to bat in the kite rotation — has been on the iron, with the sinker rig following behind it. It’s been mostly on the glow iron of some sort, after dark. The Shimano Butterfly Flat-Fall has been the best known of the irons in this and the whole method has acquired that name the way Xerox became synonymous with making copies.
But there are many brands importing these Asian irons and there are several basic shapes, with the knife really gaining ground now. In addition, some traditional irons in the glow mode have also been successful.
There are various schools of thought behind how to fish them, including “slow pitch.” But from what I’ve seen, it really kinda doesn’t matter.
You can get a special stick for fishing this way, but a heavy bait stick will do the trick, and you might as well use a rod that puts you in the best position to fight a fish rather than one designed to present the bait well.
It’s nice to be able to get a modest cast off if you’re fishing down wind off the bow or stern, then either following it like bait fishing or grinding back for another toss as it goes straight up and down.
But really, the beauty of this kind of iron fishing is you can drop down on the windy side and just kind of work the iron through the water column using your own style and draw a strike. About the most important part of the technique is getting the iron quickly to the proper depth before the opportunity is gone.
Yet, what skippers are really looking for, the big payoff is when a school will stick under the boat, cycling around out and back, up and down for a good long time, and this can be a multiple-hour event.
When this happens you have the opportunity to vary your approach, watch the rail to discover what’s working best on that particular day and school.
It seems what works is subtly variable from day to day, area to area and week to week. It’s kind of like the maxim “match the hatch” when you don’t really know what’s hatched.
The only thing you can be sure of is that if there are bluefin in the area, there’s something in the zone they’re eating a ton of.
You don’t know what time of day really, nor what critter it may be. But what’s for sure, whatever it is, they are keyed on that, and it takes some seduction to distract them with a different offering.
Fish learn fast. I have 3 mosquito fish that learned to come to the corner of the tank for food whenever I walked by. But they forget fast too.
After a week on their own, they’d forgotten. It took a couple of passes for them to re-learn again — it’s like that movie, 50 First Dates.
That’s how “match the hatch” works. If you’re fishing something they haven’t seen in a while, or maybe ever, you’re really just teasing them with a toy and hoping they’ll pounce.
They tend to grab the thing on the drop, sometimes on a steady wind, and sometimes when it’s just hanging there. If you’re
jigging or jerking the thing around, they tend to grab it on the fall when they can get a good bead on the thing.
Sometimes a steady sweep gets them to charge too. The flash of the doink draws them in, but they tend to whack the jig when it holds still or is moving or falling steadily.
Daytime fishing is usually about the shiny smaller irons, 100 to 150 grams, and it can take going to lighter line, but light line in this game is 50-pound.
In the dark it’s glow, and you can get away with big gear, 80- or 100-pound class. This is in part because you can fish a heavier iron, 300 grams and more.
However, I watched a pro, Capt. Ray on the American Angler, pick up a big SK jig on 100-pound and an Okuma Makaira 50II paired with a Phenix HAX760X3H in the middle of the afternoon. So there you go.
Knife jigs are long and lean. One of the up and comers is the West Coast Jiggerz 200-gram knife. This is one bluefin killer Josh Anguillano swears by — silver with glow bars on one side.
I took a look at it and it struck me. One night last season on the Excalibur there were these fang-toothed long silver lancet fish so thick under the boat they were snagging on the iron — long, skinny, silver… hmmm.
In recent days the 100- gram Coltsniper jigs and similar ones have been top bite getters during the day-time. But these irons push you to go even lighter in order to get them to sink, like going to straight braid with a short leader of 50-pound fluoro, maybe even 40.
However, the shock absorbing quality of 30 to 60 feet of mono as a topshot over your braid is really helpful. The direct connect of straight braid tends to allow the fish to shake the iron right out of their face.
Hooks tend to tear out when fishing straight braid with just a few feet of fluorocarbon leader.
White braid is a lot easier to see in the dark when it comes time to pass between other’s lines. Raw Spectra like Izor Brutally Strong is also easier to mark with a Sharpie at given intervals, making it a lot easier to quickly get to the right depth and work it when the skipper calls out where the fish are showing on the electronics.
Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He serves on the Groundfish Advisory sub-Panel of the Pacific Fisheries Man- agement Council, the Santa Barbara Harbor Commission, The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and the CCA-Cal State Board. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.