Trolling for Bluefin Tuna in South Jersey

Trolling for Bluefin Tuna in South Jersey

The Bluefin tuna is the largest tuna in the world and migrates across all oceans. They can live up to 40 years and can dive deeper than 3,000 feet. They are built like a torpedo with a body that is made for speed, eyes are set flush to their body and they have retractable fins. From the moment they are born, they are tremendous predators. The Atlantic Bluefin tuna is the largest but most endangered at this time.

Trolling for Bluefin Tuna in South Jersey

Bluefin tuna fishing is for all seasons. In South Jersey, fishermen are catching Bluefin tuna that weighs from 30-125 pounds. Although it is for all seasons, the best time to fish for them in South Jersey is from late May through December. They are targeted using a variety of methods. The technique that you use will depend on what time of the year it is.

First Arrivals

In late May is usually when they start to show up in South Jersey and are in the 40-60 pound class. You can find them about 20-60 miles off Manasquan Inlet. Later in May, they will start moving up from the south. They are looking for bait such as butterfish, herring, squid, and more. It is traditionally a trolling game to track them down. The Bluefin tuna are drawn to structures like a drop-off, ledges, wrecks, and ridges. They can also be found along boundaries of dirty and clean water and temperature breaks. It is a promising area for Bluefin tuna if you spot forms of sea life like feeding whales or diving birds. 

If you are using smaller baits like sand eels or anchovies, you should use rig trolling with small feathers or Clark spoons. When using larger baits like herring, or squid, drag large jets and cedar plugs with 9-inch Sterling Tackle. Your trolling speeds should be between four and five knots.

Follow the Scallop Boats

During the spring, commercial scallop draggers work the offshore grounds so if you troll around these boats while they drag the bottom you may find a gold mine of Bluefin tuna. As the scallop draggers rake the bottom and the scraps are dislodged, the Bluefin tuna will get behind the boats to eat the scraps. When the ones dragging for scallops stop and start to shuck their cast, tossing the by-catch over the side, the chum slick teases the Bluefin to come closer. When this happens, get your boat as close to the one’s scalloping and start baiting your hooks with fresh scallop guts. 

These should be fished using a 7/0 circle hook with a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader. You should use 80-pound fluorocarbon leaders when the Bluefin tuna weighs in the 80-125 pound range.

Jig and Chuck

This comes into play when the commercial scallop draggers disappear. The chunk and jig become the go-to-technique for the Bluefin Tuna. The surface waters are now in the upper 70s to the lower 80s. It is the start of the heat of the summer months. This type of weather will push the Bluefin tuna down into the deeper cooler waters. Trolling is not as effective. The Bluefin tuna in South Jersey can range from 30-80 pounds. The larger Bluefin tuna are not around. When chunking, use wind-on fluorocarbon leaders in the 40-60 pound range, and if they are over 80 pounds, increase to 70 pounds. Use a circle hook that you have hidden in the bait. 

Pop and Stick

These should be used during the South Jersey prime winter season. Cast out poppers and stickbaits at the surface feeding fish. From the middle of November through the end of December is the prime time for topwater Bluefin tuna, weather permitting. South Jersey is known for some brutal winters and heavy snows. At this time there is generally a southerly migration of Bluefin tuna in the 100-200 pound range just a few miles off the beach. To fish for these large tuna you are going to need large tough reels and specialized spinning rods. You want to make sure that you have the necessary drag to haul them into the boat.

Fishing with a stickbait lure uses lipless lures that are made to slash and dart just across and below the water after the fishermen impart a low sweep of their rod. This is followed up by a quick turn of the reel to take up the slack. Repeat the motions while varying the speed. When a Bluefin tuna bites the stickbait or topwater lure, you will know it for sure. This will be one of the most exhilarating bites the offshore fishing can offer you.

General Tips When Trolling for Bluefin Tuna

  • When looking for Bluefin tuna look for the tuna or bait because baitfish will often show up that can be green, yellow, or blue, indicating Bluefin tuna is nearby.
  • Look for a slick on the surface, especially if there are Storm Petrels in the air. Many times, these slicks are caused by the game fish that are feeding just beneath the water surface. As the baits are shredded and attacked, their oils will rise to the surface. Their oils look like an oil slick.
  • You should never troll more than five rods at a time.
  • Keep the drag set between 18-25 pound of pressure for the strike.
  • The two most effective colors of lures to use are pink and white or blue and white.

If you’re fishing around New Jersey, be sure to also read our Complete Guide to Fishing in Ocean City, NJ.


  • There are just a few fish that fight with the stamina and strength of the Bluefin tuna.
  • The Bluefin tuna is the ultimate big-game challenge.
  • Each time you set the hook to catch a Bluefin tuna it will put you and your tackle to the test. Hook one and fishing will never be the same.
  • The season for South Jersey generally starts when the Makos are around. 
  • Each season the colors and lures size changes.
  • When you are searching for Bluefin tuna, the fishfinder is an invaluable tool.

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