Pro Se­crets for Beat­ing Tuna with a Green Stick

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS - By Ric Burn­ley

Bluefin tuna sur­rounded us far off the coast of North Carolina. While hold­ing on to the hard­top, I watched an acre of mon­ster fish boil on the sur­face. Marks on the fish finder were so thick that the screen dis­played a false bot­tom read­ing. Line­backer-size bluefin tuna scat­tered left and right as the boat cleaved the riot.

I turned around, an­tic­i­pat­ing an ex­plo­sion on one of our trolled baits. The SeaWitches and Ilan­ders popped and skipped be­hind the boat. Our bal­ly­hoo were swim­ming pretty, but the tuna were not in­ter­ested. Mean­while, boats to our left and right had stopped to fight fish.

We’ve all been there: that guy who isn’t catch­ing, sur­rounded by those who are.

The boats around us, fish­ing com­mer­cially, were out­fit­ted with a 40-foot ver­ti­cal pole called a green stick. At the time, only a few com­mer­cial boats rigged this way. By the next sea­son, half the char­ter fleet had joined the stick fight. Lately, green sticks are pop­ping up on pri­vate boats, and smaller ver­sions are avail­able for boats less than 30 feet. But in­stalling, rig­ging and us­ing this deadly tac­tic is a ma­jor in­vest­ment of time and money. Here’s how to do it right.


A week after our frus­trat­ing, fish­less tuna trip, I was rolling in the swells 40 miles off Ore­gon In­let in the cock­pit of Good Times, a 46-foot Carolina boat sport­ing a 40-foot-tall green stick.

While Capt. Andy Pi­land mo­tored the boat at a steady 5 knots, I watched Capt. Tim Hagerich ready the green stick.

The green stick works like a 40-foot, ver­ti­cal out­rig­ger that el­e­vates the main line to dan­gle lures over the wa­ter. The fiber­glass and car­bon-fiber pole bends like a gi­ant fish­ing rod. At the tip of the pole, a tether is at­tached to the main line with a 200-poundtest break­away. A big trolling bird stretches the main line to the wa­ter. Be­tween the break­away and the bird, three to six rub­ber squid dance on the wa­ter.

As the boat moves for­ward, the an­gler pulls on the re­trieve line to make the squid bounce and splash on the sur­face some 30 feet be­hind the boat.

A fish doesn’t stand much of a chance pulling against the poly­ball and hauler com­mer­cial fish­ing gear. Even a 1,000-pound bluefin can be beaten in min­utes. For a more sport­ing ap­proach, re­cre­ational an­glers are us­ing the green-stick main line as a gi­ant out­rig­ger. The com­bi­na­tion of lighter sticks and a mul­ti­rod spread has made green-stick fish­ing, or “green stick­ing,” red hot.


To make green-stick fish­ing more fun for the crew, Hagerich and Pi­land rig the green-stick main line on Good Times with break­away con­nec­tions snapped to the line com­ing from 50- and 80-pound-class out­fits. Hagerich showed me a long­line clip snapped to the main line. He threaded a light zip tie through the ring on the long­line clip and the loop at the end of the 200-pound-test wind-on leader com­ing from the rod. The loop is at­tached to a 500-pound-class snap swivel that is clipped to a 16- to 25-foot leader sport­ing a rub­ber squid.

“The length of the leader de­pends on the dis­tance from the main line to the wa­ter,” says Hagerich. Each boat will have dif­fer­ent ge­om­e­try on the main line and drop­pers, so there are no ex­act mea­sure­ments.

When a fish hits, the zip tie breaks and re­leases the line. “The zip ties put about 15 pounds of pres­sure on the line,” Hagerich points out, just enough to set the hook on an ex­plod­ing tuna.

The guys use their stick rig to tar­get bluefin, yel­lowfin, bigeye and black­fin tuna. With the po­ten­tial to hook an 800-pounder, green-stick en­thu­si­asts beef up the drop­per leader to the squid, called a dan­gler, to 400-poundtest monofil­a­ment.

“Find­ing a good hook has been the big­gest chal­lenge,” Hagerich adds. “A 12/0 Mus­tad 7691 is the best choice for big bluefin.”

For yel­lowfin, bigeye and black­fin, he goes with 9/0 to 12/0 Mus­tad 7698-DT hooks. In the spring, he’ll switch out the rub­ber squid for rub­ber fly­ing fish. He’ll even pull a flat-line bait while he’s work­ing the stick to in­crease hookup.

The break­aways also serve a prac­ti­cal pur­pose.

“I’d rather fight two tu­nas on sep­a­rate rods,” Hagerich says. In­stead of hav­ing a pair of mon­ster bluefin at­tached to the same main line, he can fight one off the 130-pound rod con­nected to the main line, called the hauler, and one from a sep­a­rate rod.


For years, guys in mid­size boats have wanted to get in on the green-stick ac­tion. But stick­ing a four-story pole in the mid­dle of a 25-foot boat de­fies the laws of physics. So the en­gi­neers at Ha­m­aguchi, the Ja­panese green-stick mak­ers, de­signed the Kona Stick, a slimmed-down ver­sion of the orig­i­nal.

“Re­sponse has been huge,” says Neil Kanemoto, tech­ni­cal ad­viser at Pa­cific Ocean Pro­duc­ers (POP) in Hawaii, a clear­ing­house for all

things green-stick fish­ing.

Not only has the Kona Stick opened the tech­nique to more an­glers, it has made the tac­tic more user-friendly.

The Kona comes in sizes of 24 and 32 feet. The shorter, nar­rower, lighter Kona Stick is a great op­tion for boats less than 30 feet. The Kona also uses a smaller, lighter bird that pro­duces less pres­sure on the stick.

Mount­ing the Kona Stick is eas­ier than with tra­di­tional green sticks too.

“It doesn’t put as much pres­sure on a T-top,” Kanemoto says. “And it can be mounted on a base that al­lows it to be low­ered or re­moved for eas­ier travel.” A se­ries of col­lars and sup­ports at­tach the stick to a T-top or hard­top. The sim­plest in­stal­la­tion uses U-bolts to hold the stick to the ver­ti­cal sup­port, but most skip­pers go for a cus­tom in­stal­la­tion.

“We’ve had cus­tomers mount them to T-tops and rod hold­ers and in the gun­wale,” Kanemoto says, stress­ing that the green stick must have solid sup­ports to with­stand tremen­dous pres­sure of gear, wind, waves and fish.

Un­for­tu­nately, the shorter green stick is not as pro­duc­tive as the longer, stiffer Hy­brid model.

“We find that the Kona Stick pro­duces about 70 per­cent of the bites you would get on a Hy­brid,” Kanemoto ex­plains.

A shorter stick lim­its the num­ber of drop­pers, and the softer bend doesn’t give the baits as much ac­tion as the stiffer Hy­brid stick. But when you’re sit­ting in the mid­dle of a tuna blitz and the green-stick boats are catch­ing, 70 per­cent sounds pretty good.


The green-stick phe­nom­e­non started in Ja­pan and spread to Hawaii when green-stick de­signer Yuki­nobu Shi­bata and friend Mikio Takuda brought early mod­els to Kona in the 1970s. One of Shi­bata’s dis­ci­ples was leg­endary Hawai­ian lure de­signer and tour­na­ment skip­per Bom­boy Llanes. “Shi­bata showed me what to do, and in three months I was a master,” Llanes re­calls.

“The stick is most ef­fec­tive around schools of tuna un­der por­poises and around FADs,” the long­time Kona cap­tain says. That’s be­cause the tech­nique al­lows the skip­per to dan­gle baits over break­ing fish or struc­ture.

In fact, when the boat is in a turn and piv­ot­ing around the bird, the an­gler can bounce the baits di­rectly over the school of fish. “If I mark fish at 40 fath­oms, I can get them to come up to the squid,” Llanes says.

Keep the baits danc­ing to draw in the fish. “You can re­ally pop and jiggle the main line to get a bite,” Llanes says. He trolls at 5.5 knots but will add or sub­tract speed to pull more bites. Llanes tries to keep the sun at an an­gle so fish can see the squid. He likes to ap­proach a school or buoy up-cur­rent to tempt the big­gest fish.

Llanes uses four or five dan­glers end­ing with a rub­ber squid. His fa­vorite col­ors are oil brown and dark green, but he’ll switch to white, neon green or hot pink de­pend­ing on the fish. “I watch the other boats with binoc­u­lars to de­ter­mine my lure color,” he says with a laugh.

The key to the sys­tem is a bal­anced rig that spreads the drop­pers out for op­ti­mal ten­sion on the main line, Llanes in­sists. “If the rig is bal­anced and the drop­pers are the cor­rect length, the mate will only have to move the ac­tion line 5 or 6 inches to make the baits jump.” Ad­just the length of the drop­per and the boat speed to get the cor­rect

bal­ance. “Start with the lures high off the wa­ter,” he in­structs. “Then pull the ac­tion line to bounce the squid off the waves.”

An­other trick Llanes likes is at­tach­ing the hook to the leader with Dacron. “That keeps the con­nec­tion soft so the fish doesn’t feel the leader if it misses the bait,” he ex­plains. This en­cour­ages the short biter to come back for an­other try. “Ev­ery­one fishes the green stick dif­fer­ently,” Llanes says. He en­cour­ages an­glers to ex­per­i­ment and dis­cover what works for them.


After green-stick fish­ing was es­tab­lished in Hawaii, it moved half­way around the planet to the sto­ried wa­ters of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. “A long­line boat that had spent some time in Hawaii ended up in Wanch­ese,” re­mem­bers Mark Cordeiro, owner of Sea and Sound Tackle. The boat still had a stick, but the cap­tain didn’t use it. “Some lo­cals looked up in­for­ma­tion and fig­ured it out,” Cordeiro says. The rest is his­tory.

The tech­nique spread like wild­fire through the tuna-fish­ing com­mu­nity. First com­mer­cial fish­er­men, then char­ter cap­tains and now re­cre­ational small-boat an­glers are jump­ing on board. “They’re sell­ing like hot­cakes,” says Cordeiro, who’s the North Carolina dis­trib­u­tor for POP Hawaii.

Many of his cus­tomers pur­chase the stick and rig­ging but have no idea how to use it. “They see it on an­other guy’s boat and they want one too,” Cordeiro says, laugh­ing. He’s been us­ing a green stick for 25 years. Cur­rently, he has a 32-foot Hy­brid rigged to his 25-foot boat. “I fish solo, and the sys­tem is easy for me to op­er­ate.”

To rig a new sys­tem, Cordeiro rec­om­mends tak­ing the gear out on a calm day. Ad­just the length of the drop­pers and the main line un­til the squid dance off the sur­face. The squid should dan­gle, even when the boat is in a turn. “If the squid drop into the wa­ter, you de­feat the pur­pose of the green stick,” he points out.

Once he gets the drop­pers the cor­rect length, Cordeiro marks each on the gun­wale of his boat. When he needs to re­place a drop­per, he uses the marks to mea­sure out a new leader.

Cordeiro says a smaller boat ac­tu­ally has an ad­van­tage. “The boat rocks more in the waves,” he ex­plains. “And that gives the lures more ac­tion.” He ad­mits the the­ory holds true un­til seas get too rough. A smaller boat and short stick also keep the bird closer to the boat so it tracks bet­ter.

A “kill zone” is the best way I can de­scribe the airspace be­tween the wa­ter and the squid. That’s be­cause the first time I watched a big tuna ex­plode from the wa­ter to snatch a fake squid, I damn near had a heart at­tack.


After sweat­ing and curs­ing for two hours while crank­ing in a 500-pound bluefin tuna 20 years ago, Ric Burn­ley re­tired from the fight­ing chair and took up pho­tog­ra­phy and writ­ing. He cur­rently lives in Vir­ginia Beach, Vir­ginia, where he teaches high school stu­dents and fishes for any­thing that doesn’t re­quire a har­ness.

In­spired by com­mer­cial tuna fish­er­men, a new gen­er­a­tion of re­cre­ational an­glers now tar­gets tuna with a green stick.

Right: Green sticks get their name from the color of the orig­i­nal fiber­glass and car­bon-fiber pole brought from Ja­pan. Be­low: Ev­ery­one can get in on the fun with break­away drop­pers and down­sized teasers.

Smaller green sticks of­fer more mount­ing op­tions. An­glers are at­tach­ing green sticks to T-tops, gun­wales, tran­soms and bridges.

When a tuna hits the squid, the bait breaks away from the main line, so the an­gler fights the fish di­rectly from the rod.

An an­gler de­ploys a heavy trolling bird, a vi­tal piece of green-stick rig that keeps the main line stretched across the wa­ter.

A line from the tip of the green stick holds the main line high off the wa­ter [a] to dan­gle squid baits. The line from the green stick is at­tached to the main line with a sec­tion of 200-pound mono [b]. A heavy trolling bird and poly­ball stretch the...

Heart at­tack! When a big tuna clears the wa­ter to grab a fly­ing squid, watch your pulse. Such ex­plo­sive bites are ev­i­dence that hooks must be su­per sharp and con­nec­tions tight.

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