Yellowfin Tuna Fishing - The Inside Story
Page 1 - Article by Mike from Blue Water Charters / Adventure Fishing Safaris
As mentioned before in some of my previous articles, there are many methods that can be used for targeting Yellowfin Tuna. On our coastline the Yellowfin Tuna are usually in small shoals over a very large area, and so trolling lures makes it possible to target these fish by covering a lot of area in a fishing outing or alternatively by Chunking that will get the fish to come and concentrate around your vessel. Should you happen to come across a large shoal, then you can deploy alternative tactics like jigging, spinning and plugging if you like and then work the shoal.
In this article I will cover some finer details that I have found very successful when targeting Yellowfin Tuna by Lure Trolling and Chunking, these are by no means the definitive and only tactics, just what has worked for me in my waters.
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# Fishing Charters
Yellowfin Tuna is one of my favourite species to target when heading offshore, they are abundant, you can catch them using so many methods, they fight hard and they taste good.
The name Tuna derives from the Greek verb “thuno” meaning “to rush, and that is exactly how a Tuna will fight, a local nick name that we give them here is Gas Bottles, because of their compact muscle filled torpedo shaped bodies, and off course when a gas bottles lid blows goes off it is virtually unstoppable.
Tuna are an amazing species and unique when compared to other game fish species and so I usually consider Tuna a species all on their own. Tuna are warm blooded (endothermic) which means that they can alter their body temperature and so control their metabolism according to their environment. This ability allows Tuna to live in a wide range of temperatures from 16 – 28 deg. C, and gives them the stamina and endurance needed to maintain high speeds for long periods of time. This is also what makes them such a worthy opponent on a rod and reel.
Tuna always need to be moving as their body requires large amounts of oxygen in their muscles and blood of which they have at least twice as vessels compared to other species causing their flesh to be redder and darker than other fish.
Yellowfin Tuna have a magnetic sensing organ in their heads, change colour when excited and when cruising swim at around 14-15km/hr with top speeds just below 90km/hr.
You can find Yellowfin Tuna on the warm side of currents and warm spots, on the edge of colour lines, where there is a lot of bait, swimming with Dolphins, on the peripheries of reefs, pinnacles and ledges and more often than not where you find feeding bird activity.
I find that Yellowfin Tuna often come into the shallows early morning and late afternoon and spend most of the day out in the deeper waters, but there are many other factors to consider, especially food source. Yellowfin Tuna can be found along our coast line almost all year.
Just a short note on birds, usually along our coast Tuna are associated with the little birds we locally call “Sterkies” (Little Stars), if you see these birds all moving in a direction usually it means they are heading towards a feeding area. When you find them circling, diving and hovering it means that they have found a feeding area which almost always means that Yellowfin Tuna are in the vicinity. The height that these birds hover from the water usually indicates the depth that the school of Tuna is feeding or chasing the bait shoal.
The bulk of the Tuna we catch along our coast line will vary from 4Kg (9lbs) - 30Kg (66lbs), and whilst a 25Kg (55lbs) plus Tuna is considered a trophy in most circles, there are Tuna in the 40Kg (88lbs) - 60Kg (132lbs) range regularly in our waters, and sometimes even larger specimens, especially out in the deep, my personal best is 86Kg (189lbs).
# Go Tuna Fishing in Durban
# Some Information about Tuna
There are so many lures available in the market and they may all very well catch Tuna, but over the years of having successfully caught thousands of Yellowfin Tuna off Durban, I have a few lures that have performed consistently well and have become my firm favourites. The way I rig these lures has also been crucial to their success. Simply dragging a bunch of rigged lures behind the boat will not give you consistent results. To me lure trolling is a science and an art and requires attention to fine detail to get your lures working at their best.
I prefer the use of short stiff Big Game rods 5’6” (1.67m) long. Rods with eye guides are fine if you fishing lighter, but I much prefer rods with roller guides. I use the Okuma Makaira Big Game Rods with Roller Guides on my 24Kg (50lb) and 37Kg (80lb) tackle, have rods with eye guides on my 15Kg (30lb) tackle.
On my 15Kg (30lb) and 24Kg (50lb) I have straight butts, but I use bent butts on my 37Kg (80lb) tackle.
Whilst one can use 30lb (15Kg) stand up tackle, I prefer using 50lb (24Kg) to 80lb (37Kg) tackle as the chances of hooking up with a really big fish are good and then you have the muscle to be able to handle the fish. Long Rods are not suitable as the do not allow you the leverage that shorter rods with give you.
For reels one definitely needs to have a 2 speed lever drag Big Game Reel in size 20, 30, 50 or 80 size, personally I use the Okuma Makaira reels in size 20, 30 and 50 for this job. The 2nd gear will come in handy when you have a big tuna that is holding deep and circling; and one needs the muscle to pull the fish up before the sharks get to it. I have been using the Okuma Makaira Reels for 2.5yrs now and they have been worked hard and often on my charters and caught many fish with no problems, the drags are ultra smooth and I am very satisfied with them.
As for line, my ideal choice is 50lb (24Kg) line for this type of fishing, however one can scale down to 30lb (15Kg) or even scale up to 80lb (37Kg) line, especially when fishing deeper out. I have a personal preference for Berkley Big Game line, but there are many good lines available on the market that are more than capable.
The lures I mostly use when specifically targeting Yellowfin off our coastline is Bullets and Feathers, and not the little ones. I also like to use Halco, Rapala and Yozuri hard plastic lures. Whilst I have heard many rave about the success of using squid lures, I must say that they have not consistently produced fish for me and so I don’t really make use of them and tend to stay with what is working for me on our waters.
So when buying Feathers and Bullets I try get them un-rigged, but usually these are not easy to find and I am forced to buy them rigged. As soon as I get them home, I take them out of the packaging and immediately cut the line and hook’s off and throw them away with the packaging.
In most cases the line used is too light and too short, the hooks not suitable, way undersized and never positioned in the correct place. When rigged and used correctly these lures can hook-up and land big fish, not only Tuna but also Dorado, Wahoo, Sailfish and Marlin.
My Top Colours for Bullets and Feathers
Black/Purple or Blue/Purple
On the hard plastic lures I pretty much only use 3 types in all their sizes, Rapala X-Raps, Halco Laser Pro’s and Yozuri Hydro’s.
My top colours
Red/White or Red/Silver
Blue/White or Blue/Silver
Orange/Yellow or Orange Black
On the subject of colours, they can be broken in to 3 categories and if you cover these 3 categories you will already be in the running.
Dark like Red/Black or Black/Purple
Light like Blue/White or Red/White
Bright like Orange/Yellow
Of all my feathers colours, Red/Black and Olive have been my top fish producers.
Whilst there are many arguments on colours, I think colours play a secondary role and although it is important, Form and Movement are of utmost importance.
Form is the shape and size of the lure
Movement is getting your lure to swim optimally in your spread
I will start with the Rapala’s/Halco’s/Yozuri’s.
If I can I try avoiding wire and rig with 1.5m of 0.65-0.70mm fluorocarbon joined to the main line with a double fig.8 knot. Line any thicker than 0.65-0.70mm and your lures will not swim properly and keep popping.
When fishing Rapala’s/Halco’s one cannot use more than 24Kg (50lb) main line as then your lures will not swim and keep popping, so with 24Kg (50lb) main line I use no leader, with a 15Kg (30lb) main line I use 7m of 0.65-0.70mm monofilament leader which I connect to the main line as follows, main line doubled for about 500mm with an Aussie Plait and connected to the leader line with a double fig.8 knot, to this I add my 1.5m of fluorocarbon.
Towards the end of summer when there are Wahoo around or when close inshore in King Mackerel (Couta) waters I will add 0.5m of No.7 single strand stainless steel wire joined to my fluorocarbon with a no.6 power swivel. If there are many sharks in the area on a particular day I will also use wire.
Ensure you tie your knots well as Tuna can really test your tackle and your knots to the limits.
Correctly rigging Bullets and Feathers is important, as I mentioned earlier I cut all the hooks and rigging from the purchased lures and then rig them properly so they can work.
The way I rig Bullets and Feathers is the same.
Depending on lure size I will use Mustad Big Game Stainless Steel Hooks in 8/0, 9/0 and 10/0; large hooks increase your chances of a solid hook up significantly when compared to smaller hooks.
My main reason for using the Stainless hooks is that non stainless hooks rust and then stain your feathers or skirts and personally I have found this stain to render the lure useless.
I rig my Bullets and Feathers with a single hook, stiff rig, with almost the entire hook outside the skirt and only the hooks eye inside the skirt; this keeps the rigging IGFA legal, but very effective.
Attached to the stiff rig I use a 5m leader of 200-250lb Leader, I like to use Sportex Line for my leaders, it is a hard, stiff leader line and well priced. Hooks are always fixed be facing up.
In many cases we use birds along with these lures and if your leader is too short the bird will drag the lure instead of letting it swim naturally and I have found 5m to be the ideal distance.
The other reason I like the longer leaders is that I do not like using wind on leaders as wind on leaders have way too many disadvantages and are mostly used by novice anglers.
I double my main line 6m long with an Aussie Plait and attach my snap swivel at the end of the doubled line and this gets attached to the 5m lure leader.
Disadvantages of using a wind on leader are as follows:
You lose almost 30% of the line capacity on your reel making space for the wind on; this is a huge amount of line capacity. E.G. Approximately 250m - 300m of line when using 24Kg (50lb) line on a size 50 Big Game Reel. 300m is the average amount of line that the average fish takes on its first run before you turn it.
By the time your leader is off the reel you have already reached a stage where the drag settings on your reel are affected and your line capacity is already reduced significantly and is at a level where you should be backing off the drag thereby reducing your chances of landing the fish significantly.
The wind on leader connection to your main line is subject to high wear and tear and can fail easily.
The long thick line in the water creates unnecessary line drag in the water and affects the swimming of your lures.
The snap swivel you use to connect to your lure leader is oversized, one can use smaller ones when using doubled line and this also reduces drag in the water.
# Lure Trolling
Tuna can be found around structure, wrecks, reefs, pinnacles, ledges and also areas where bait fish are prolific. You will also find Tuna in current lines, colour lines and in areas where the water temperature has a change, usually the Tuna will be on the warmer side of the temperature line. Terns often referred to as “Tuna Birds” are usually a dead giveaway that Tuna are present and you will usually see them working the area with their beaks pointed down, the Terns are waiting for the Tuna to work a bait ball to the surface, usually the higher the birds fly the deeper the shoal. If you come across them sitting on the water it often means that the bait ball is still very deep and they are waiting, but check the birds closely to see if their crops are full as it could also mean you are too late and the feast has already happened. On your fish finder you will see the thermocline, if it’s too deep the area may not produce as you will not be able to raise the fish towards your lures. In deeper water thermoclines deeper than around 100m are considered too deep, in shallower water the thermocline should be in the mid water. If you see Tuna on your finder, mark the spot on your GPS and start working that area in a widening circle, clover or figure of 8 patterns. If you hook up one Tuna, start to work that area as there are most likely more around, Tuna very seldom swim alone.
Often a shoal of Tuna will work a bait ball and there will be no Birds around, whilst trolling you need to constantly scan the area for any surface action, on my boat I scan ahead and my deckhand scans behind, if we see action then we change course and start moving towards it.
Tuna are never stationary and always on the move, they usually swim into the direction of the wind, but when they are around structures, reefs etc. you will find that they swim around the peripherals and move from one structure to the next.
# Where to troll for Tuna
Setting your spread is a subject that could fill a book all on its own; the type of vessel you are using, and if you have out riggers or not will dictate to a large extent what kind of spread you will be setting.
On my boat we can run up to 9 lines at one time, however I usually only run 5 – 7 lines; and once we working a shoal I rarely run more than 4 lines and there is usually no time to string the riggers between hook ups so then we run our lines straight from the gunnels.
I often like to run a “mixed spread” of feathers/bullets and hard lures, especially in the cooler seasons.
Tuna is the one species where multiple hook ups are common place, so the more lines you run the more fish you can have hooked up at once, if not every line you running, and so you need to be sure you can handle a multiple hook up if all your lines get taken. I have to add that I love the adrenaline rush when all lines go and chaos takes over on deck, it’s one of those exciting moments that are very difficult to describe but exhilarating to experience, and probably one of the main reasons I love Tuna fishing so much.
Always run the shallow running Rapala/Halco further back than the deep runner, doing it the other way around will just cause you tangles and heartache.
Trolling speed is a question I often get asked, and my reply is always the same, when your lures are running properly then you are at the correct speed, wind, current and sea conditions will affect the way your lures swim significantly, especially when you are running Rapala’s/Halco’s.
Bullets and feathers can work well at a wide range of speeds and are not really difficult to work with so when I am running a spread of only feathers/bullets I will usually run a lot faster than when running a mixed spread, having said that slower running feathers/bullets often produce good fish.
A screaming current will make trolling Rapala’s/Halco’s very difficult and the only solution is to slow down, there is no point in running these lures when the keep on popping out. It is also critical that you tune your Rapala’s/Halco’s to run true, and you need to check them after every fish as often the fight will bring the lure out of tune.
When running only feathers/bullets I tend to run at 6 – 8 knots, when running a mixed spread or Rapala’s/Halco’s only I find the best speed range is 4 – 6 knots.
I like to run a large bird on my Shotgun lure, and smaller birds off my riggers, my riggers are very high so my smaller birds have a lot of airtime and then come splashing down.
When setting your spread and you getting the lures out, always send the furthest ones out first and then the closer ones, you don’t want to risk a tangle when one lure passes the other. When retrieving always ring in the closer ones in first.
Typical distances that I like to run my lures are as follows:
Shot Gun – 35m
Outside Riggers – 30m
Inside Riggers – 20m
Outside Corner – 20m
Corner – 15m
With Tuna fishing I prefer running my spreads parallel instead of staggered as normally used for Marlin fishing.
TIP: When letting your lures out, the easiest way to know how far you are letting your lures out is to count them out. The distance from your reel to the first eye/guide on your rod is approximately 0.5m, so 30 pulls would be approximately 60m.
Once your lures are out you can fine tune them, feathers/bullets are best run facing down the slope of the boats wake waves.
I have made two diagrams showing lure positions in the standard 7 line spreads that I use most of the time, from these diagrams it is easy for you to chose which positions will work for you on your boat whether you run 2, 3, 4, 5 or 7 lines. You will notice that I always like to run at least one Red/White lure in my spread.
7 Line Feather/Bullet Spread
Here I like to use a large Luminous Green or Hot Pink bird with either a large Red/Black feather or an Olive Bullet, nowadays I very rarely use anything else in this position.
On my right outside rigger I like to run a Red/White feather or Bullet, and on the left a Blue/White or Olive feather or bullet, if I have Red/Black on the Shot Gun, then I will definitely have Olive here.
On my right I like to run a bright colour like Pink/White and on the left Black/Purple or Blue/White if I am running Olive on the outside. Here I like to run small birds in Pink, Red, Orange or Red/White.
In these positions I like to use the large Pulsator Disco feathers, but any large feather or bullet will also work very well. On the right I like to run Orange/Yellow and on the left Red/Black or Black/Purple
7 Line Mixed Spread
Here I like to use a large Luminous Green or Hot Pink bird with either a large Red/Black feather or an Olive Bullet, nowadays I very rarely use anything else in this position.
On my right I like to run a Red/White feather or Bullet, and on the left a Blue/White or Olive feather or bullet, if I have Red/Black on the Shot Gun, then I will definitely have Olive here.
On my right I like to run a Red/White or Blue/Silver and on the left Pink or Orange/Black shallow running Rapala/Halco. My lures of choice are the Rapala X-Rap 15, Halco Laser Pro 120, Yozuri Hydro
On my right I will usually run a Blue/White or Blue/Silver and on my left I like Clown or Orange/Yellow deep running Rapala/Halco. My lure of choice is Rapala X-Rap 30.
On my riggers I prefer to attach my lines using the old tried and tested method of rubber bands bands, 3 turns forward and 3 turns backward over your line is sufficient to attach the elastic to your line. I am not a fan of rigger clips of any kind.
I also only use one rigger line and attach both rigging points on the one line.
Lever drags need to be set at one third the breaking strain of your line when on strike and when trolling your reels must be set on strike, even when I use star drags I use a scale to set my drag.
# How to set your spread
This is where many fish are lost, right at the hook up, and in most cases it is angler error, knot or line failure or inexperience that causes this.
Always check your line for damage
Make sure your drags are properly set
Ensure your knots are done properly and tested.
Check and sharpen your hooks, I like to use a diamond file to sharpen my hook points.
Make sure, chairs, harness and buckets are ready and set.
Have all tools like knives, pliers, gaffs etc. ready and easy to be taken.
Now you have a fish on the reel is running and the rod is bent down in the gunnels.
DO NOT touch the rod or slow down the boat, if it’s a big fish accelerate the boat a little to allow the hook to penetrate and set properly.
Wait and see if other rods are going to hook up also.
Make sure the angler is in the fighting chair, or ready with a harness or bucket.
This should all be done in less than 10 seconds.
Now you can take the rod out of the gunnels to be given to the angler.
DO NOT STRIKE EVER you will lose your fish.
Once the angler has the rod and he is in control, make sure he is pumping and winding only then you can slow the boat down to about 3 knots, and be sure to inform the angler that you slowing down so he can make sure there is no slack line. If it’s a small fish I never slow the boat down or clear my lines.
AT NO POINT should there ever be slack line. This will cost you a fish 99% of the time.
Now you can clear all lines in the way, and if it’s a really big fish, clear ALL lines.
Keep the boat running straight at all times during the fight, this will give you best control of the fish, and also significantly reduce the chance of a shark taking your fish.
As the fight continues, ensure the angler is feeding the line correctly onto the reel.
At all time the angler must be ready for the fish which will try to run again, especially the bigger ones.
When you get the fish coming towards the boat you can guide it to the back of the boat or the side if you running outboards and then get ready to gaff the fish as it comes alongside the boat.
Don’t wield the gaff around, this scares the fish and makes them want to run, rather hold the gaff flat alongside the boat until you ready to use it and do this in one swift motion and be sure to hit your target first time.
If you have a Multiple hook up, do not try to bring all the fish to the boat at once as this will just end in disaster, one angler fights hard until you get that fish landed whilst the others keep their fish under control and fight it slower, once the first fish is landed the next angler can fight hard and so on until all fish are on deck.
# The Hook up: How to fight and land your Tuna
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