Bluefin tuna represent the new Mount Everest for fly-fishers. Considering the skill required to catch one, plus their size, speed, strength and endurance, they dwarf every other fish in the sea.
And there is nothing quite as intense as chasing pods of 100-plus-pound torpedoes as they slash through schools of halfbeaks or sand eels and often leap through the air to pounce on bait. If you manage to get one to eat a fly, brace yourself for a drawn-out battle that you likely won’t win.
More and more fly-anglers are getting a taste of this extraordinary fishery. That’s because there have been more and more bluefin around. Each year differs, but during the last six years, there have been more fish available to small-boat and center-console fishermen than in well over a decade. Plus they appear closer to shore, indicating a possible expansion of the stock. And not just in historically tuna-rich areas — this appears to be a coastwide phenomenon stretching from Maine to North Carolina and somewhat reminiscent of the good old days.
Still, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports, Western Atlantic bluefin (those fish that spawn in the Gulf of Mexico) are badly depleted, bouncing along at around 10 to 20 percent of where they were 30 years ago. The Eastern Atlantic stock (made up of those fish that spawn in the Mediterranean) is in no better shape.