Are you ready for some football?

No, no, no, not that kind of football. That will come soon enough. Let’s enjoy the summer while we can without worrying when Wes Welker will be back. I am talking about “football” tuna, those football-shaped bluefin tuna that will hit your lures harder than a linebacker.

Maine has long been known as a hot spot for the bluefin tuna, particularly the bluefin giants, those 1,000 pound monsters that make the Gulf of Maine their home during the summer.

Bluefin tuna are a migratory species and each summer, as the ocean waters warm, they leave spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico and migrate north along the western Atlantic continental shelf, reaching Maine generally in June.

Once here, these tuna feast on herring, mackerel, whiting, sand eels and other bait, fattening up before heading south once waters cool. These fish are prolific feeders, and they grow fast. One-year-old tuna generally weigh in the 10-pound range. They are a highly predatory fish that possess torpedo-shaped, streamlined bodies that are built for speed and power.

Once they reach adult size, they can exceed 10 feet in length and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Those, quite obviously, are the giants. It’s the 2- to 4-year-old tuna that weigh 20 to 80 pounds that are the football tuna, as their shape roughly imitates that of a football.

Football tuna have long been in Maine. It’s just been that saltwater anglers always fished for their larger brethren, the giants. And why not? An incredible fighting fish, bluefin tuna is also prized for its sweet, succulent meat. It is highly valued in Asian, European and American markets, both raw for sashimi or for cooking.

Anglers fortunate enough to land one of these giants could expect to sell their fish for thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars.

But giant bluefins have become somewhat scarce in Maine. Some blame the worldwide demand for the tuna; others say that it is a result of the overfishing of bait species in the Gulf of Maine, such as herring.

Without the schools of herring to feast on, larger tuna are not showing up in the numbers that they once did, and anglers have now turned their attention to the footballs.

“The footballs have always been here,” says Captain Cal Robinson, who owned and operated Saco Bay Tackle for years and now operates Saco Bay Stripers guide service.

“The difference is, now that the giants are gone, anglers are fishing for footballs.”

And these football tuna are right off the coast of Maine, not 20 to 30 miles out on the offshore ledges.

“Generally, these fish are within 10 miles of the shore,” says Robinson, “We’ve caught them three miles offshore of Biddeford.”

These smaller tuna arrive after the larger ones, as they do not arrive until ocean temps moderate. Last week’s string of 90-plus-degree weather warmed the Gulf of Maine significantly, and the football tuna are here.

“You really need to be in tune with the weather, as these fish can show up anytime,” explains Robinson, “The smaller fish need the warmer water, and they generally don’t appear until the water hits the mid-50s.”

Once they arrive, they are on the move, searching for food. While they might be near the Isle of Shoals one day, the next day they can appear in Saco Bay.  

Those who want to fish for the footballs need to select a guide who specializes in this type of fishing, and wait. The conditions need to be right.

Robinson’s clients let him know in advance they want to fish for footballs. Robinson will then call them when the fish are here, and the weather is right for chasing after them.

“We get close to the schools, and then fishermen cast into the schools. You need to be fast, because they generally don’t stay up long,” says Robinson. “On a good day, we’ll run into 10 or 15 schools and might get two or three hookups,” says Robinson.

If you are fortunate enough to hook one, hold on, because their runs are incredible, and anglers need spincasting reels with a high-performance drag system to land one.

“Years ago, we didn’t have the equipment you needed to cast to them or land them,” says Robinson, “now you can purchase an outfit for $300 or $400.”

Reels are loaded with 85-pound test braided line, followed by a fluorocarbon tippet.

Popular lures include spoons like a Hopkins, various poppers, butterfly jigs and large nine-inch sluggos.

If you are fishing for tuna, please be aware that they are a highly regulated species and all vessels fishing recreationally for tuna must have an Atlantic HMS angling permit.

To get your permit, visit the National Marine Fisheries Service website at http://nmfspermits.com. Charter boats that specialize in this type of fishing will already have a permit for their vessel.

So even though it’s summer, it’s time to get ready for some football. 

Mark Latti is the former public information officer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, a Registered Maine Guide and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at:

[email protected]