Offshore anglers around the world spend many an hour in search of and a whole lot less hours fighting, the wholly grail of sport and game fishing, the bill fish. Hour upon hour of trolling and scanning the skies for tell tale signs of aerial bombardment of bait schools by frigates, boobies and terns on many occasions pays dividends by way of an altercation with a stick face. More often than not though, anglers find themselves locking horns with a member of the tuna family inhabiting the same area. This in itself is not at all bad and often a welcome relief from the tedious fruitless hours on the high seas.
There are approximately twelve species of tuna that inhabit the waters around Australia’s coastline and that further seaward. All will readily take an artificial lure, provided it is of suitable size and presented correctly. During my fishing travels I have located most of these species with the exception of the butterfly tuna that also uses the alias of scaly tuna and butterfly mackerel, and the big eye tuna. Usually a by catch when targeting bill fish, most of those I catch swim free, with the exception of some of the smaller fish that make really good marlin baits trussed in a number of configurations and used live, dead, whole or dissected.
Skipjack or striped tuna are a commonality to anglers fishing southern off shore waters. Struggling to exceed one metre in length, these fish are generally found in large schools. Reflective metal lures such as Halco’s Twisty, Streaker, Slices and Hexagon lures are hard to surpass as prime tuna takers. With a size to 'match the hatch' on the day, they are great to cast from the rod tip into a boiling school or to tow around the bait balls. Often when tuna are on a bait ball, one must down size the lure to imitate the size of the baitfish that are the being eaten by the predators. Even in the turmoil of a feeding frenzy, these fish can be fussy about what they eat. Often quite large fish gorge themselves on lots of very small white bait. Should you be using a lure that swings a red plastic tab off its hook-ring and have had no success to date, try removing the red tab. This is sometimes all it will take to induce a bite.
Other high-speed surface and sub surface lures will attract this species with productive results obtained by keeping the lure just under the surface and towing it at speeds up to ten knots. Few lures on today’s market are capable of doing this in choppy seas, especially after a ravaging from a large tuna has upset it’s tuning. Halco’s Laser Pro series is one lure that is capable of taking the brunt of most attacks and still swim at the speeds required to elicit a strike from these fish. White red head colored lures are favoured by many pelagic fishers but Halco’s colour code R15 Chrome Pink has been outstanding for my fishing for this fish and has been my favourite for a couple of years.
Anglers in 'marlin mode' happening across schools of skip jack could do worse than abide by one of my rules when bill fishing, and that is, "don't leave fish to find fish". It wont be the first time a struggling albacore has attracted and been stolen off a lure by an inquisitive billfish.
Albacore, as far as eating quality goes, rates as one of the best of the thunnus family and is often encountered by those out wide. It will fall victim to those lures favoured by the skipjack, but will also take some of the larger skirted lures meant for marlin. Red giant Halco tremblers are very effective on these fish.
Surface temperatures from sixteen to twenty degrees Celsius have produced for me, all manner of tuna and mackerel species, but it would seem, the warmer the water, the less time spent on the surface by the fish and the success rate with surface lures is subsequently affected. With the advent of Halco’s Deep Crazy, those deeper fish are now back on the target list. Capable of high speed trolling, this lure put the Lowrance Team on the winner’s dais at the Northern Territories 2001 Barra Nationals after chiseling the snags and rock bars for Barramundi. It then went swimming along the reefs in Vanuatu and pulled reef fish such as coral trout, red bass, trevally, tuna and barracuda from water not accessible by other deep diving high speed bibbed minnows.
Mackerel tuna come in for a fair bit of attention when I'm out and about on the blue. I have never eaten one and don't have a hankering too, but their belly flaps make brilliant baits for sailfish and marlin. Teasing billfish for a fly fishing shot or switch baiting is made easier by using a Halco Giant Trembler with hooks removed and a tuna or mackerel belly flap sewn and attached to the front hook anchor point. A rolled and sewn tuna belly flap up to 20 cm long need only trail a few centimetres back from the ring and is one of the most versatile teasers that you could use for small marlin and sailfish of
Frigate mackerel are more a member of the tuna, than the mackerel family and look very similar to the mackerel tuna. The two are distinguished by the fact that the mackerel tuna has its two dorsal fins almost joined by a low-lying fin, whilst the frigate has its two dorsal fins standing alone. The two are one when it comes to habits and habitat. These fish do not often grow to large sizes, so downsizing your Laser Pro lure to a 120 model will do the job. In choppy seas, opt for the deeper diving bib to get the lure below the trough between the waves. This will prevent the lure blowing out of the water and tumbling across the surface.
Northern blue fin or long tail tuna as they are correctly referred to, spend most of their time in the tropics along with the mackerel and frigate members of the family. They would appear to be slightly superior in eating quality and are definitely ahead of the mackerel tuna when it comes to fighting ability. This species is a sucker for Halco’s Twisty lures and Halco’s 190 Laser Pro. Using a high-speed spinning reel, the Twisty lure is cast from a distance and quickly retrieved the minute it lands in the school. Hookup is usually instantaneous.
Yellowfin tuna are probably the most sought after of the tuna family by those fishing deep. It has the potential to reach a backbreaking one hundred and thirty kilos plus in Australian waters. Yellow fin tuna respond well to Halco Giant Tremblers. Towed at between 5 and 8 knots, a wide circle around a feeding school of yellowfin tuna will allow the lure to cut the corner and cross through the bait and feeding fish. I have had striped marlin and a school of yellowfin attack the same red Giant Trembler simultaneously which makes for quite a commotion. I have caught them on Halco’s Laser Pro lures but the most successful hard artificial yet is the Halco Giant Trembler. I have watched on numerous occasions as yellowfin have swum past a succulent swimming mullet, oblivious to its presence, homing in on the Trembler. This type of behavior has happened on too many occasions to be coincidence. I now include a hook less red Halco Trembler in my teaser kit when chasing billfish and tuna with lures, baits or fly rod. Run it short and down the middle so that it swims under the prop wash, silhouetted against the white surface.
Rick Huckstepp spent his early fishing years in the southern parts of Australia before moving to the Northern Territory to run a fishing charter business. He has fished extensively around Australia, into New Zealand and through out the South Pacific writing for many of Australia’s fishing and boating publications about his escapades.
Rick fancies any sort of fishing for any species but leans heavily towards lure fishing, a legacy of 14 years fishing for tropical species in the north. He has captained a winning team in the NT Barra Classic and in 2001 was part of the winning mixed team at the NT Barra Nationals, fishing exclusively with Halco lures but in particular, the new and deadly ’Crazy Deep’.
Having moved to Brisbane he now works the National fishing and boat show circuits from his home base, while still maintaining his presence in a number of National and State based fishing and boating publications.