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Tunas on the Rail, Party Boat Fishing from Coast to Coast

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

Check out this article to see how one angler utilized the party boat scene in New Jersey and now California to make some epic catches and put himself on the map. Hayati Dirim discusses the origins of his fishing roots and how he's moved up the ranks to post some impressive tuna pictures on his instagram. Please feel free to share this article and subscribe to Blue Ocean Magazine (for free!) at the bottom of the home page by clicking here.


By: Hayati Dirim

Edited: Patrick Martin


I was named after my grandfather, Hayati. My love of fishing began at age 7 when my grandfather took me out on his boat for the first time. I was too young to grasp the fundamentals of fishing, but I loved being out on the water just listening to my grandfather’s stories as I watched him elegantly tie his fishing lines.


Growing up in Izmir, Turkey, a city on the coast of the Aegean sea, I learned how to fish using a fishing line on a spool with a hook at the end. My grandfather, an old school fisherman, hated seeing people out on the water using long fishing rods to fish as he felt they were not getting the full experience. You see, when fishing by hand using just monofilament line wrapped around a spool, you can feel by touch when a fish pulls at the hook at the end of your line through every single bite and tug. When I landed a good-sized fish, it was even painful from the line cutting into my fingers from the battle by hand. To combat this wear and tear, my grandfather taught me to cover my fingers with small pieces of bicycle inner tubing that he’d cut as a finger guard. Since moving to the United States, I have inevitably traded in my grandfather’s spool for a fishing rod, but his love of the ocean and all of its inhabitants lives on through me and I often feel that he is with me in spirit when I am out on the water.




I am pictured on the left holding an old photograph of my Grandfather on his boat "Torunlar" that is shown on the right. As my first fishing mentor, I'm motivated to carry on his legacy.


FINDING MY NEW JERSEY FISHING ROOTS:


When I first moved to New Jersey, I had to learn a whole new way of fishing so instead of going to Walmart for all of my fishing gear, I went to the local tackle stores so I could find out more

about the fishing scene from local fishermen. The first store I visited was Tackle U.S. in Laurence Harbor where an employee set me up with my first Penn rod and reel for surf fishing. He also explained the importance of the tide schedule and gave me advice on how to take advantage of the incoming and outgoing tides with the natural structure of the beach. When I first walked into the store, I honestly didn’t even know what surf fishing was, but by the time I walked out I felt ready to go.


My first few weeks out in the Jersey surf I did not manage to catch anything decent. I was disappointed, but instead of giving up I started using fishing groups on Facebook to learn more about the local fisheries. Mainly looking to catch blue fish and striped bass from local fishing reports, I would look through the fishing pages for general areas and reports as to where these fish had been sighted recently. Facebook is a great place to find out more information about the local fishing community as many anglers are willing to share tips, general locations, and even offer to have you tag along on their next outing.


After fishing off of a pier in Perth Amboy for a few months, I made friends with a local fisherman who taught me how to catch peanut bunker (Juvenile Menhaden/Pogy/Bunker) to use as live bait. He showed me how to tie up and use a fish finder rig for these live baits to catch fluke, blue fish, and striped bass. (Click here to see how to tie up this rig!) One day out on the pier he told me about the “party boats” in New Jersey that pretty much sail daily full of fishermen having a good time, drinking beer, and catching fish on the water. Chasing a bigger and better bite, I took to the party boat scene investing many hours into learning unique and effective fishing techniques as well as meeting some awesome people along the way.






A pool winning striped bass I caught in the late fall on the Gambler off of the Jersey coast (left). A feature of my 22 pound bluefish that made the February issue of The Fisherman Magazine in 2020 (right).


NORTHEAST PARTY BOAT FISHING:


Over the course of the next few years, I went on a bunch of party/head boats to try out all of the different routes as certain boats offered different trips. I found boats only make trips to the Raritan bay area, while others do mid-shore and offshore fishing based on the season. The largest and fastest of all the boats I fished on is the Big Jamaica 125 (www.bigjamaica.com), owned by the Bogan Family who have been fishing in the area for over 80 years out of Brielle, NJ. The Jamaica quickly became my favorite party boat because of how knowledgeable the mates always were and the amazing atmosphere they created on the boat. I first fished with them on a night where no other boat would sail due to poor weather conditions. Even with the heavy winds and waves, the crew was awesome and we crushed bluefish to 20 pounds that night, I'll never forget it!


Offering a wide variety of trips from bottom fishing to mid-shore, and offshore voyages, it's one of the most versatile boats in the fleet. On their mid-shore and offshore trips when the captain locates a school of fish, frozen bait like sardines, butter fish, and anchovies are cut up into small cubes or ground into little bits and released into the water by the mates on board. This attracts schools of fish to the boat and improves the anglers’ chances of consistently catching fish. The Big Jamaica will run trips into the winter for bottom fish such as black sea bass, blackfish, ling, and cod as the boat is equipped with heated handrails for comfort from the cold weather. For the serious fisherman, there is an opportunity to fish through all seasons.





When the boat starts to chum in the mid-shore to off-shore grounds you never know what species will start to show up under the boat. Typically the skipjacks, false albacore, bonita, and mackerel are common game, but off-shore the mahi and tuna will come in to feed.


Party boats can also be an excellent option for beginners or those looking to connect with other fishermen through the social atmosphere. The price is considerably cheaper than a private charter as it’s offset by the increased number of anglers and can typically be booked according to your schedule. The crew on board a party/head boat also helps out fishermen by providing bait and assistance as needed. Mates on board also know all about utilizing the current direction to help anglers get the bite depending on whether the boat is anchored or drifting so it’s wise to

take their advice. For an experienced fisherman, you may not need anything but ice cold beer and great company of other fishermen. However for beginners, the process can come across as a little complicated. Instead of tangling lines and causing problems, don’t hesitate to ask questions and get rigged up properly by the mates for a successful day of fishing. Fishing gear is not cheap, especially for the hard core anglers, so tangling with their lines is a quick way to upset the local boat crowd. As a total beginner, rod setups are typically $5-$20 to rent max on the boat, and this is the best route to ensure you have a rod and reel that can handle the targeted fish by the boat that day. Also with beginners luck, be sure to enter the boats "pool" where a side bet is placed for whoever hauls the top catch over the rail that day (I've been fortunate to win the pool 7 times).


Trust me, fisherman, for the most part, are quick to share their knowledge and discuss their tactics so be sure to start the conversation. Before going into how I caught my first yellowfin, solid 70 lb fish while undergunned on a 5000 Penn fierce with #40lb braid, please remember to tip your mates when leaving the boat after a long day on the water. These hardworking men and woman are there long before you arrived in the morning and will be there long after the boat docks as they scrub away for the next day of fishing.

The crew of the Jamaica 125 preparing chum for a day on the fishing grounds. I'd like to give a shout out to the captain and crew Jason Harzhold, Jess, Jay, Joe aka Bubba, Mike, Brad and the other mates who work endlessly to put together a great trip every time.

OFFSHORE PARTY BOAT FISHING NEW JERSEY:


I first entered the offshore fishing scene in New Jersey in 2018 when tuna trips were on fire and every boat was coming home with a limit. So, I decided to book a trip with the boat Gambler (www.gamblerfishing.net), as I was late to schedule a trip with the Jamaica 125. The Gambler typically runs an inshore schedule for fluke and sea bass and is an awesome boat in the fall for striped bass with a great captain and crew. We steamed to the Hudson Canyon roughly 100 to 120 miles out from Point Pleasant inlet. This was a full day, 24 hours trip and cost me about $370 dollars. I was beyond excited as I spent weeks preparing for this type of trip. I had my offshore set up ready, an Okuma t50W spooled up with fresh 80# monofilament matched with a standup, 100lb test rated Penn rod.


After a whole night waiting on tuna to show up, the bite turned on in the morning and by 8 am we started to pick at yellowfin tuna in the healthy range of 50 to 100lb fish. I waited patiently, but I could not get a bite. It honestly felt like everyone caught their limit but me on the trip. Instead of throwing in the towel, I started small talk with the more successful anglers about their rod and reel setups to see the pound test of line and leader they used so I could approach my next trip differently. I found out that all of them were using 30# test leader and 60# braided line. I came to the conclusion that having a few extra, lighter spooled setups can be a huge advantage on these tunas and as a result, you’ll never see me get on a boat with less than 2 rods. Watching practically the entire boat limiting out and not getting a single bite was quite a painful, but I learned the tuna tactics from the experienced fisherman on board and was ready for my next opportunity.


During the covid season of 2020, of perfectly timed great tuna fishing, I decided it was time to redeem myself on the offshore grounds. With limited boat capacity and trips fully booked, I had been in contact with one of the mates on the Big Jamaica for a last minute cancellation. It was early Friday evening in October when I received the text message from one of the mates with instruction to be at the boat 10:00 pm sharp. I packed my stuff as fast as I could and hit the road. The boat docks about an hour from my house and there was only limited time for me to pack and get my gear ready. By the time I came to the dock, I only had roughly 30 minutes left before the boat departed. With a sigh of relief from rushing to the marina, I loaded my rods and gear for the trip and the boat left exactly on the hour.


Having this fish on light tackle made for an epic battle that I'll never forget. I was stoked to earn redemption and put this yellowfin on deck. Having the opportunity to gaff my first tuna made it even better.


We arrived to the tuna grounds at first light to find the ocean was boiling as bait fish were everywhere being hassled by whales, dolphins, and birds. I was extremely excited and confident this would be my chance to catch my first tuna. During the rushed packing process, I didn’t realize that I accidentally grabbed my smaller sized spinning reel, a 5000 Penn fierce, go figure. I trusted my 40# braided line would get the job done though, and started drifting my first chunk of the day on 30# fluorocarbon leader with an egg sinker. Before my bait was at 5-10 fathoms, my reel started to scream and I was hooked up. After 45 minutes of fighting the fish, I tangled the angler next to me who was reeling in a decent sized skipjack tuna. All the while the captain and mate were laughing as they definitely had their doubts about me landing this fish on my undersized setup. The angler fighting the skipjack wasn’t happy with me, but by the deep color in the blue water it was obvious my fish was significantly larger. The mate took my rod to navigate the tangle and I grabbed a gaff as the fish presented an opportunity on the surface to get whacked a moment later. I ended up sinking the hook in the head of my tuna, pure joy as I was exhausted from the fight. Ironically, I grabbed another gaff as I transferred the tuna to another set of hands and gaffed the once frustrated angler’s skipjack who was next to me. Both fish hit the deck at the same time and I was beyond stoked to land my first tuna under some stressful boat side conditions.


A solid Jersey bluefin on a Nomad Streaker Jig aboard the Jamaica 125 in the fall of 2020 (fish was released with a full limit).


The boat went on that day to set a record for the year boating 95 yellowfin tuna to 100lbs and over 100 skipjack tuna. I was fortunate to come prepared this trip and went 3/7 on yellowfin tuna and crushed the skipjacks landing roughly 20 of them. Needless to say I was humbled on my last tuna trip, but on this trip I learned to navigate the rail as the fish runs about the boat, stay calm when tangles happen (common with bigger fish), and always take the mates and captains advice.

EAST COAST TO WEST COAST PARTY BOAT FISHING:


To start 2021 off, my wife and I relocated to Southern California from North Jersey and it goes without say I was eager to step onto the fishing scene. I booked my first tuna trip with Pacifica out of San Diego (www.pacificasportfishing.com) in early April with the understanding I would need to bring my passport so we could steam to Mexican waters south of the border. I wasn’t very familiar with the style of fishing, so I packed the basics and a few of my rods determined this would be a trip to learn the ropes.

My first pacific bluefin somewhere south of the border in Mexico waters on the Tribute out of San Diego, California.


We left around 8:00 PM with our first stop at the floating bait pens just offshore. There must have been over fifty, large bait pens just floating all filled with live sardines that were transferred by a scoop net. I had never witnessed anything like this back in the Northeast, but we filled the boat with live sardines quickly. After a long, 7 hour run into Mexican waters, we started to fish throughout the night without any tuna. I was told it was early in the season, but that boats were having some success and we would target yellowtail on the way in. One thing I noticed that there was no sitting outside the boat as compared to boats I would fish back in the Northeast. When I asked the mates, he said the live bait style of fishing was not ideal to have bench seats outside the boat as it limits the mobility of the crew and fishermen especially when casting surface iron lures. I agreed in that sense, which explained the no cooler policies which would definitely throw off some East coast anglers who always pack large coolers. I also noticed that on most party/head boats in the Northeast you claim a spot on the rail and typically fish that area for the day while the West coast anglers move as a unit for fresh bait to drift as no spot on the rail is

reserved.


In the morning, we stopped by to check out some kelp paddies (floating kelp beds that drift down from Northern California) to search for mahi and yellowtail. Some anglers were using live bait, and others were casting surface iron jigs which I am learning are unique to the area. With my

Northeast arsenal, I tried on a tried and true epoxy jig and hooked into my first California yellowtail. Overall, it was a great trip and I met many great west coast anglers. That’s something that doesn’t change from coast to coast. The passion of swapping fishing stories and conversations over certain tackle tactics that is deeply rooted in the genes of the fisherman and fisherwoman who you meet and have the pleasure to fish alongside on these trips.


A sure change from the East coast, I am stoked to start off my 2021 season catching yellowtail and getting my fair share of the Southern California bluefin bite.


My next trip was on board the Tribute (www.tribute-sportfishing.com) a few weeks later, and unlike my last trip to the southern waters that was rather quiet, this one was action packed. From the start, the boat found a 50-75lb class of bluefin tunas along with a larger sized class of yellowtail readily eating our live sardines. We also hooked into many jumbo sized bonitos that made the ones I had caught in the Northeast seem juvenile. The captain and mates on the boat were top notch, finding plenty of fish and keeping us on top of them. Overall, I give Tribute a 5 out of 5 and the California style cheeseburger they make was all time. I look forward to spending more time on the party boats in Southern California and will be sure to check back with more detail on the unique and effective West coast style of fishing.


As this article was submitted, I went on to have some banner trips on the Southern California bluefin grounds and look forward to sharing stories from this epic fishery soon. Thats me with the biggest tuna I've landed to date pushing 150lbs on the Aztec (https://www.fishaztec.com/). Capt. Greg and crew run a top notch fishing operation out of San Diego.


Author's Acknowledgements:


I would like to thank Patrick at Blue Ocean Magazine for giving me this opportunity to submit a piece and tell my story. I'd also like to thank my grandfather (RIP), my Dad who continuously taught me more fishing tricks as I grew older, my Mom, my brother who always motivated me, as well as my wife and daughter for supporting me in my journey in life and fishing world.

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