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Flylining with sardina and chunking on the drift: It's an exacting method, used by many pangeros and in-the-know Americans on the Cabo area banks, especially the Gordo. It's one of many ways to get ‘em to bite on an often touchy bite, and it can work in variations for other species of tuna like bluefin, and closer to home, too.

BY PAT McDONELL
WON Staff Writer


BEST DAY EVER -- Team Buckeye Tuna is shown here on the Caliente in 2011 and the guys from Dayton, Ohio are always in the running, and as many in the event know, landed the first 300 pounder in the tourney, back in 2006 when they won $152,620 on Ni Modo with a then-event record 318 pounder. These photos are from the 2011 event and the day before (the arch shot). "It was our best day ever in Cabo," said team captain Jamie Greer, who is shown pulling on the fish. "We stopped fishing at 11 a.m. with 16 tuna in the box. These were our best two. The big one taped out at 220. We had one that took a live bait right behind the boat that was much larger, 300 plus. Broke through 130 fluorocarbon after 20 minutes at the Finger Bank."

There's a lot of people going to be upset by this story but my job is ferreting out new and old methods, and the beauty of them is that these "Mexican" tactics for big tuna will work anywhere. However, they are killer when the cow tuna come calling October, November and December. The Tuna Jackpot was scheduled smack dab in the middle of the big fish season off Cabo.

This story is about drifting on the bank, using live or dead sardina, and getting hooked up when the bite is touchy in a crowded area. The problem, before we get started, is often that you are fishing light line and smaller hooks. Getting bit can be the start of a grueling battle. In a tournament setting, I always recommend the heaviest possible line, big bridled or nose-hooked baits, heavy drags and 50W reels, 100 to 200-pound fluoro leader and a standup harness. Pull hard, kill the fish and weigh it.

That said, the fish don't always corporate and when a 200 to 300-pound tuna -- a lot of them -- are crashing on the surface and you can't get bit, the flyline sardina method works beautifully. That said, especially in a tourney, the method will work on lines up to 130 pounds.

I've fished the method six or seven times and been chided by the Mexican crewmen when I do it wrong. After a while, you learn it is a very specific method. The name of the method to some is Cerralvo Island Chunking, likely because anglers on pangas have used it many times on trips out of La Paz at Cerralvo Island, outside Muertos Bay, and on a prolific tuna ledge outside the island called the 88 Fathom Curve. It's a notoriously picky tuna bite on the 88, and light line will get you bit -- and make you suffer in the summer heat.


BEST DAY EVER -- Team Buckeye Tuna is shown here on the Caliente in 2011 and the guys from Dayton, Ohio are always in the running, and as many in the event know, landed the first 300 pounder in the tourney, back in 2006 when they won $152,620 on Ni Modo with a then-event record 318 pounder. These photos are from the 2011 event and the day before (the arch shot). "It was our best day ever in Cabo," said team captain Jamie Greer, who is shown pulling on the fish. "We stopped fishing at 11 a.m. with 16 tuna in the box. These were our best two. The big one taped out at 220. We had one that took a live bait right behind the boat that was much larger, 300 plus. Broke through 130 fluorocarbon after 20 minutes at the Finger Bank."

It's quite a simple method if you get it dialed in, says Floyd Sparks of Olivenhain who fishes the Gordo several times a year, and this past year caught six tuna over 200 pounds in a four-day span -- some of them in the middle of the fleet of boats during the Cabo Tuna Jackpot. He was not entered because his teammates flaked on him, yet he still fished that week caught fish on his father-in-law Bob Black's 26-foot boat Black Fly. Sparks isn't stupid. There's lot of ways to catch a tuna, especially on heavier line. He uses small parafoils (not kites) to skim Yummy Flyers on the surface with heavy leader and main line, and will slow-troll, flyline or drop down with heavy weights the beloved chuilli ("chew willie") bait when they are available via handlining on the Gordo. But the Cerralvo Island Chunking method taught to him a few years earlier is a go-to method to get bit with a type of bait, sardina, that is second only to the chuilli as a candy bait for the cow tuna on the Gordo and other banks near Cabo.


BEST DAY EVER -- Team Buckeye Tuna is shown here on the Caliente in 2011 and the guys from Dayton, Ohio are always in the running, and as many in the event know, landed the first 300 pounder in the tourney, back in 2006 when they won $152,620 on Ni Modo with a then-event record 318 pounder. These photos are from the 2011 event and the day before (the arch shot). "It was our best day ever in Cabo," said team captain Jamie Greer, who is shown pulling on the fish. "We stopped fishing at 11 a.m. with 16 tuna in the box. These were our best two. The big one taped out at 220. We had one that took a live bait right behind the boat that was much larger, 300 plus. Broke through 130 fluorocarbon after 20 minutes at the Finger Bank."

So here's how it works.

First off, you need $100 worth of classic 3- to 4-inch sardines, and don't throw them out day to day. Put them on ice for the next day. You need a bunch in a bucket. The high spot is where you want to drift over, and you need to know where it is, or hire someone who does. In a crowd, the boats' setup and drift will be a telltale sign, and wind and current will dictate your starting point.

Floyd's tackle is a Demon Mustad 4/0 circle hook. He doesn't like a ringed hook because of the weight and it screws up the presentation of the drift. A 4/0 is the biggest. Strong, light and sharp. For line, braided 100- pound Spectra with a Sato Crimp (his choice) is used because it's cleaner through the guides. The Spectra and a 100 to 150 feet of 80-pound mono top shot are connected by the Sato crimp, with the end game 6 to 8 feet of abrasion-resistant leader. Seaguar Blue Label big game is their most abrasion-resistant. "Eighty-pound works best," he said "If you can, go bigger, but the Mexicans like 80-pound to get bit."

The 80-pound fluoro to the mono is connected via a double unit know, said Sparks, and the hook connection is a single San Diego Jam Knot. Not a double. You want the hook and bait to drift smoothly. With two rods in the holders, you pin the sardine by burying the hook in the body of sardine. There's 30 ways to do it, says Floyd. Just hide it. Why the long mono leader? "Mono has a tendency to sink, and Spectra floats," said Sparks.


THE AUTHOR scored this 75 pounder on the sardina flylined on 30-pound Seaguar fluoro leader on a touchy bite before the 2011 tourney at the Gordo on a Yamaha-powered private skiff owned by Brian Solomon. The crazy part of flylining a chunk or live sardina is you never know how big the fish is, you just deal with it.

Have 35 feet of line at your feet or on the rail, the reel in freespool/clicker mode. Reach in for 20 to 30 dead baits, put the hooked bait in the middle of the dead mass of baits in your hand, and flip it in the water near the boat, creating a cloud. You want the hooked bait and cloud to sink out together, so all 35 feet IMMEDIATELY goes over next, making sure when tossed over the cloud not slipped down and away, there will be no tangles.

"Strip out more than you think you should need. Fifty yards is good, and pull it off THE TIP ONLY. More current, more line. Maybe 100 yards, dumped beside the boat. The idea is to get the hooked bait to drop down to the pinnacle as naturally as possible, without ANY tension or resistance on the line and bait.


BOB BLACK AND his son-in-law Floyd Sparks scored several tuna over 200 pounds on the Gordo Bank before, during and after the tourney using live and dead sardina (for chum) on the drift last year.

"Last year using that method, we had three days in a row when we had two fish over 200 pounds and one day we had 4 fish over 150 in December. Bob had a 200 pounder and a black marlin was trying eat it! It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen."

Oh yes, when the coils disappear, grab the rod. The coil can disappear REAL fast. That's a good thing. Get ready and have a harness on. And make sure your reel is at 40 percent drag based on your lightest line test. Why does the method work so well?

"The theory is that the cloud of sardina with the hook bait starts small but expands," he said. "The fish will see it from a distance with the flashes of light on the fish scales. It's not like a single chunk."

All that said, Floyd said 80-pound is the lightest flouro he would use. His buddy Jim Mitchell, an experienced hand for the big tuna using this and others methods, is a heavy tackle guy, 130-pound is his choice. "I have those ready to go if it goes wide-open," said Sparks.

He likes stiff, standup graphite composite rods, 6- to 6-1/2-footers, two-speed 30 or 50 wide reels, and a standup harness. He uses a Braid Butt Buster. He does warn though, that "If you hook a big fish you have to have strong legs to stay in the boat in a small boat like ours. Not so much on a long range boat."


BOB BLACK AND his son-in-law Floyd Sparks scored several tuna over 200 pounds on the Gordo Bank before, during and after the tourney using live and dead sardina (for chum) on the drift last year.

THE MOST CRITICAL stage is the end of the game, when line is frayed, props come into play, and the hook is grinding a hole in the tissue and the tuna is taking wide circles at new angles from the boat.