No other fish excites anglers quite like tuna, especially big Tuna. I am not sure whether it is that awesome power as they scream off on that first run or the excitement of simply watching a school of barrel sized tuna exploding out of the water as they crash bait on the surface while excited seabirds wheel about above. Either way when the tuna are running everybody gets excited.
There are more than a dozen species that inhabit all major oceans of the world. As a continental island Australia is in the lucky position of being completely surrounded by tuna rich waters. Offshore you will find yellowfin, bigeyes, bluefin and albacore while inshore there are skipjack, bonito, longtails, mackerel tuna and on the reef drop offs you will find the infamous dogtooth.
Favouring deeper offshore waters yellowfin are common right along the East and West Coasts of Australia. A schooling fish they can grow to more than 100kg, although fish over 80kg are considered a trophy these days thanks to over fishing from the canned tuna fisheries. The biggest fish traditional come from NSW waters, especially the Far South Coast where the record stands at 124kg. A fast growing fish yellowfin can reach the 100-kilo mark in less than 8 years in the right conditions.
Trolling has long been one of the best techniques for catching yellowfin. Anglers used to troll skirted lures but these days there is always a hard body in the mix. Our biggest yellowfin off Sydney on Strikezone was taken on a Laser Pro 190 set really long in the shotgun position, especially the King Brown colour. Another lure having a huge impact is the Max 190 run short off the outrigger it is really performing well, especially in the Chrome Pink.
The Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT) on the other hand is a much slower growing fish living for twenty odd years. They also grow to well in excess of the 200 kilo in Australian waters and fish over 100kg are relatively common. Once a rarity good management has seen the population explode and now they are back in force from South Australia to NSW. Hotspots include Eagle hawk Neck Tasmania, the Shipwreck Coast in Western Victoria, southern NSW and even Sydney.
Trolling is by far the best technique for bluefin and most anglers run a mix of skirted lures and hard bodies. All my big jumbo 100kg plus fish have all been caught on a Laser Pro set in the shotgun position and interestingly they have all been on the Blue Mackerel colour. I should also add that when chasing big fish you need to replace the trembles with a single hooks. For me I only run one larger single hook on the belly, which has produced a really high hook up rate.
The Albacore is often seen as the poor cousin in the shadows of their bigger brothers however they are still a great tuna in their own right. Found right around the world albies can grow to 30 kilos or more but average less than half that size in Australian waters, although Western Victoria has been producing some studs. Preferring temperate waters well offshore they are most common in southern NSW, Tasmania as well as Western Victorian waters. Less fussy albacore love hard bodies especially Laser Pro‘s in the Pilchard colour and Max 130 and Max 110 bibless minnows.
Bigeye tuna are a bit more enigmatic in nature since they spend their lives in the depths they are tougher to catch. However there are fisheries for these tuna elsewhere in the world where anglers do well trolling at dawn and dusk. In Australia this fishery is still in its infancy but has potential, especially when you consider the best we have landed on a lure is more than 90kg!
When it comes to catching the smaller tuna the most exciting technique is casting, especially to surface feeding fish. Casting small metals especially Twisty’s and Outcasts and cranking flat stick is a sure way to get an explosive bite and is bloody good fun. The Outcasts in particular cast like a rocket, which really gives anglers an edge, especially land based fishers.
When it comes to finding tuna offshore understanding the currents is the key. Like an aquatic highway the tuna use the currents to travel and off course find bait concentrations. The good news is reading the currents has never been easier with the advent of sea surface temperature (SST) charts have become invaluable. These days we have a wide range of charts available from free versions right through to subscription services worth several grand. However access is not the key instead it is being able to interpret the information that is gold. In a nutshell the temperature breaks often see a concentration of plankton, which is the start of the food chain. This in turn attracts bait species like slimies, sauries, redbait and squid who feed on the prolific life and they in turn get added to the menu for the big boys, thus completing a basic form of the food chain. And with the SST charts you can see exactly where they are taking the guess work out of where to fish.
Tuna have the remarkable ability to conserve heat that is produced while they swim. This makes them a highly adaptable and efficient predators, who hunt the temperature breaks making them ideal targets for lure trolling.
Modern technology is great but the old fashioned technique of spotting and identifying birds is also important. Like ‘sign posts in the sky’ seabirds can often guide you directly to the fish. Different birds will tell you different things and just by watching their behaviour you can learn a lot about what is going on beneath the surface.
Tuna are very messy eaters and leave a lot of scraps when they feed. Seabirds are well aware of this fact and are always ready to take advantage of an easy meal. Tuna push bait to the surface, trapping it and making it easier to feed on. Somehow the birds are always there ready and waiting.
Two of my favourite indicators are Gannets and Terns. Whenever I encounter these two its pretty much a sure thing especially out wide. Gannets are easily visible when they circle about high up making them true signposts in the sky. When they start diving in then it is on for young and old!
Tuna are most active early morning and late afternoon, so not surprising some of the best fishing has been in the late afternoon, so I highly recommend you stay out till last light. Anglers shouldn’t be afraid of traveling at night with modern electronics and reliable four strokes means it is a breeze these days.
Trolling is a high effective technique for tuna, especially big ones. The fact that you can troll as fast as ten knots so you can really cover the ground. Alternately casting is to surface feeding fish is just bloody exciting, no that’s just tuna fishing.