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Guide Review - Bruce Brothers Fishing Charter

In recent years, there has been an increase of interest in deep sea fishing on the east coast, and in particular fishing for Bluefin Tuna. Those who have seen the television show, “Wicked Tuna,” realize what an enormous fish these are, and how much of a fight they put up. In our area of the world, the resident tuna are Atlantic Bluefin, and they are respected as one of the ultimate challenges and experiences. This is a bucket list fishing trip for many people throughout the world. These fish can often be over 1,000 pounds or more, and once one is hooked it can take well over an hour to bring them in to the boat!

In September of 2016 we decided it was time for us to give it a try, and we chartered a trip with the Bruce Brothers in North Lake, Prince Edward Island. Bruce Brothers is a family-run charter that is in their fifth generation of fishermen, and fishing is in their blood. The picturesque North Lake, PE offers something most tuna charters cannot: the chance to fish for these monsters within an hour of shore or sometimes much closer. In most other areas of the east coast, charters need to go hours offshore to have a chance at tuna. In North Lake, everything is extremely close to shore.

Co-owner Jamie Bruce would be our captain for this voyage, and he shared an interview en route with us about the fishery, the future, and the challenges they face. In addition to my brother and I, we also had my son and wife on board and a friend that we often fish/hunt with (Gordie). The crew for our day would consist of Jamie as captain, and his first mate Blair, himself a multi-generational fisherman as well. The Bruce Brothers charter is one of the largest in the area, running four boats and booking nearly solid every day during the Bluefin season which runs from July to the end of October each year.

A great conversation with Jamie is guaranteed

As we set off that morning, one glance at the equipment they used gave us an appreciation for the fight we were in for should we hook into one of these enormous fish. The fishing had been quite steady throughout the previous week before our trip, and we had great expectations! The annual “Tuna Cup” had been contested on the weekend prior to our trip, and results were solid (Captain Jamie Bruce tied for first place in the tournament this year). However a storm had blown in the day after the competition and they cautioned us that we should find out soon enough how the conditions previous would affect our day.

Another early impression was the importance of this industry to the area of North Lake. That morning, there were literally dozens of other vessels out for the same reason, chasing the king of the tuna… the Atlantic Bluefin. These charters bring in a great deal of money for the area and being catch-and-release should help to ensure it is sustainable. Jamie explained to us how highly regulated the Canadian tuna industry is, both for the commercial fishermen and the charter boats, and it’s something the fishermen appreciate and support! They all want to see this industry continue providing highly entertaining and ethical experiences to chase the Atlantic Bluefin for future generations. Earning their livelihood off the tuna gives them a deep appreciation for the fish.

Our trip started off with some time spent catching mackerel that would be used to bait our fish hooks to catch tuna. The crew of Jamie and Blair hand lined mackerel and we were encouraged to grab a rod and help catch the bait fish if we wanted, something we were quick to join in with. It reminded me of when we used to spend hours catching tommy cod as children in order to use those in order to catch dogfish (see article here). The mackerel in this area were enormous and it didn’t take long before Jamie told us we had enough and we were able to set out to chase the real target!

Jamie Hand-lining fresh Mackerel for bait

We headed out to an area where Jamie explained there were three different currents that joined together, and he often had success there. The trip out took around 25 minutes, and being inquisitive by nature, we asked a ton of questions throughout about everything we could think of. Jamie and Blair patiently explained everything they could and answered our questions well. They set up three hooks in three different ways, each with a live mackerel to try to attract tuna. The first rig was a hook with a large lead weight attached that would go down fairly deep, with weight added or removed depending on the depth intended. The second rig had a bottle attached to keep the fish at a medium depth. The third method was attached to a fishing kite that was controlled by a second rod, keeping the mackerel right up around the surface. Having the three rigs at different depths would enable fish to be attracted wherever they might be swimming.

Unfortunately things were quite slow in that area, and the sonar sounded on some bait fish but we didn’t mark a single tuna. The wind was strong, waves were quite forceful, and we had a bit of rain coming down. One of our fishing group was stricken with seasickness and Jamie decided after an hour or so to go back in toward shore where conditions might be less rocky and the seasickness might subside (it didn’t). Setting up again was a breeze for these experienced tuna fishermen, who could move and be set up with minimal effort. Never being one who wants to sit back and watch, they allowed me to get involved sending out the rig with the kite attached but I mostly just slowed them down. Again they were patient and complimentary.

The tuna charters are quite similar to the experience on “Wicked Tuna,” as the captains do their best to catch a fish with their customers. Jamie explained that when a boat hooks up on a fish, they are often quickly surrounded by other boats who will swarm to try to get in on the action. Tuna are typically a schooling fish, so locating one generally means there are others nearby. In the same way, sometimes lies are told and information is closely guarded to try to get an advantage.

Lobster rolls for lunch leaves little to be desired

Fishing was slow for our boat, and for every other boat out on this day. Out of the several dozen boats out, there were only two in total that hooked up on a tuna (one was a Bruce Brothers boat captained by Jamie’s brother).

Lunch was provided for us on the fishing charter, with an assortment of beverages, chips, fruit, and the main course: Atlantic lobster rolls! They definitely put a great deal of work into making sure their clients go home happy and full, both of stories and food after the experience!

Around mid-afternoon we finally had action. The sonar marked a tuna under our boat. Jamie yelled with excitement as one broke the surface at the mackerel rig, and they both started sending chum down into the water to try to excite the tuna. The atmosphere on boat was electric as they tried to get this tuna to bite. This was a single tuna, and he seemed to have played this game before. We marked him at 50 feet, but he wouldn’t grab the mackerel rig, so Jamie added more weight to drop it down further, and we would then mark him at 80 feet. They did everything they could to keep the tuna interested, using a great deal of chum, changing mackerel and strategies, and the tuna stayed around us for several hours, and we marked him repeatedly on the sonar. Unfortunately, on this day, the tuna got the better of us. Jamie explained that it can be very difficult to get a single tuna to bite. They can see the fishing line, and where there’s no competition for the fish, they don’t get into a feeding frenzy and patiently eat the chum while avoiding the rigs with the fishing lines attached.

chumming for bluefin

They kept us out for nearly two hours longer than originally planned, just trying to get that tuna to bite. Unfortunately for us, in the end the conditions had turned off the fishing. They tried their best but we were not able to hook up on a tuna. Weather is always the biggest wildcard with any fishing or hunting experience, and this trip was no exception.

I can honestly say that despite the fact we didn’t hook a tuna, we will be going again as soon as we can fit it into our schedule. If the experience was that exciting just to have the enormous tuna stalk our fishing rigs, we can’t wait to actually hook one and bring it up to the boat! The crew did an amazing job to make sure all our needs were met and we had a great experience despite the lack of fish caught. These are experienced and knowledgeable fishermen, and you truly get the experience of being a part of the crew for the trip. They even brought us back to shore mid-day to let off one of our seasick group that wasn’t able to get through it on this day. The picturesque setting, the sights and smells of the sea, and being able to experience the excitement and disappointment of a tuna fishing charter was well worth it for each one! For our next excursion we will book for more than one day to give a better chance of the weather not playing such a part in things.

Next time, we just hope the fish are more cooperative for us!

2017-03-18 17:26:53


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