Make a Splash: Bluefin Tuna Splash Bar Spread


One of the first places offshore anglers find bluefin tuna in New England is around the 30-fathom line south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, in well-known spots such as the Dump, the Claw, Gordon’s Gully and the Fingers. The tuna typically show in this area beginning in June, or once the water temperatures reach 68- to 70-degrees. They are normally juvenile fish running 60 to 100 pounds, and trolling is often the best way to catch them.

A good, basic bluefin spread consists primarily of four or five 3-foot squid bars rigged behind bird teasers. These so-called “splash bars,” available at Goose Hummock Shops in Orleans and Dennis, are rigged with plastic shell squid, but are not intended to imitate a school of real squid. “They actually represent a bait ball of mackerel, halfbeaks or herring,” explains tuna pro Capt. Eric Stewart. “I’ve never seen a pod of squid leaping clear of the surface, but I have seen mackerel and halfbeaks do it.”

Stewart fishes a basic spread comprising splash bars in black, Chameleon (green/brown), Mad Macks (green/orange), Red Iguana (pink) and Green Machine. The bars should be staggered at different distances behind the boat, and adjusted as necessary based on the fish’s behavior. For example, it may be necessary to drop the longest bar farther behind the boat to coax a strike.

According to Stewart, the best trolling speed for the smaller fish south of the islands is typically 6 to 7 knots.