Albacore Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna, & Bluefin Tuna
Tuna fishing usually begins sometime in June with albacore tuna and bluefin tuna usually first appearing in our waters. During warmer water years yellowfin tuna can also be caught at this time. Fishing for each species of tuna is roughly the same so regardless of which tuna species being targeted the same fishing techniques apply. During the early summer months schools of albacore tuna first appear in southern California waters following moderate warm waters and bait fish. Usually albacore tuna are caught farther offshore from 40 - 70 miles from the coast. Albacore tuna are located by several methods including finding sonar marks, trolling jigs or feathers to locate fish, and by spotting birds or other sea life. These techniques hold true for all species of tuna with the chasing porpoise technique reserved just for yellowfin tuna. Fishing for tuna in general is punctuated by relatively calm relaxed periods that can suddenly change within a second to wide open biting tuna. Being prepared for when the moment arrives and understanding how the process unfolds will help to take advantage of the valuable biting time.
When trolling for tuna from 3 to 5 rods may be used. Usually a couple of the feathers or jigs will be trolled father back and the other one or two closer to the boat. Use at least 50 pound test not so much for the size of the fish as getting the fish hooked and to the boat in short order. Typically other tuna will follow and this will erupt into a full bite for all aboard. While a couple anglers will be trolling, make sure that you have your set ups rigged and ready to go. There are several possible set ups that can be very effective and having 2 of these set ups ready is ideal.
The first set up is a standard 20-25 pound test rig (depending on the size of the tuna) with a size 1 to 2/0 hook depending on bait size and the size of the tuna. Fluorocarbon leader can be super effective if the fish are touchy (biting infrequently). This set up will be the primary bait fishing set up. A good drag system and fresh line are a must when fishing for tuna. Also a longer rod will come in handy for casting away from the boat. Our rental gear will definitely get the job done.
The second setup will depend on what has been biting and if fishing is very good or a little touchy. If larger tuna and multiple species of tuna such as bluefin tuna or yellowfin tuna are mixed in with albacore tuna or in the same general area or larger tuna of the same species are mixed in with smaller tuna, it is a good idea to have a heavier set up. The heavier set up also comes in handy when the fish bite aggressively saving time fighting each fish resulting in many more fish landed. 30 pound test is a good line size with many using 40 pound. There are occasions when giant tuna show up and even the heavier set up is not enough. But for tuna up to 100 pounds 40 pound test can do the job. With this second set up you will want a stouter rod and greater line capacity. If larger tuna are not very likely and the fishing is a little touchy a second rod with basically the same set up as the first, 20-25 pound test with a fluorocarbon leader or a artificial bait fish with matching head are two great choices. With the fluorocarbon set up you can get tuna to bite when they are boiling around the boat but not hitting aggressively. Make sure your leader is tied properly and good bait selection is also important. With an artificial bait fish, the technique is to hang out along the side of the boat waiting for a tuna to bite on one of the troll rods or for the captain to announce to start chumming a sonar mark. As the boat comes to a stop you let your artificial bait fish back getting into the prime fishing area. This is called fishing the slide and it takes some practice. If you don’t get bit before the boat stops you either need to reel back in so as not to tangle up other anglers or you can let the artificial lure sink out some and possible get bit deeper. Use your judgment on where your line is going to be to determine whether to continue or reposition. This technique is very effective on albacore tuna as well as yellowfin tuna that are on/under porpoise.
Typical Tuna Fishing | How it Unfolds
So you have your set ups taken care of and you are ready to fish. The typical scenario goes something like this. Trolling will usually start the day off and the captain or crew will say fish on when a tuna hits one of the troll rods at which point the boat will slow and chum (bait fish) will be thrown to entice more tuna to the boat. The key tactic at this point is to get a bait in the water and away from the boat as quickly as possible. Tuna move extremely fast and you do not need to cast where the trolling fish is at. A super lively bait is key just let it swim, keeping contact, but no resistance. So others on the boat are hooking fish, keep your bait out there as tuna will move back and forth feeding in the chum. On slower bites tuna will seem to get into a pattern of boiling in the corner where the chum is being cast. In this case position your bait in that chum by casting where the chum is landing or beyond. Fluorocarbon would be a good bet in this scenario. Once you feel a bite give the tuna a count of three letting line peel of your reel (keep your thumb on the spool some to avoid a backlash) before putting the reel in gear. Setting the hook is really not necessary with tuna as they will hook themselves when they bite. Once your tuna is hooked, constant tension is the key. All species of tuna are very hard fighters with yellowfin tuna and bluefin tuna being extremely tough. They will make hard runs challenging the best drag systems and then sometimes your line will suddenly go slack, which leads you to believe the tuna has gotten away. Don’t be fooled as tuna are known to turn and heads towards you and reeling as fast as you can to keep up with the fish will lower the risk of losing it. Once the first series of runs are complete comes the fun part. Tuna will begin to slowly circle deep under the boat when hooked. When fishing lighter line or fighting larger tuna gaining line during this time can be a very slow and hard fought battle. The key is to lift slowly and then wide down. Many times your drag will kick in releasing line as you pull up only to make no gains for your effort, but that is okay. Eventually you will gain line and this constant pressure will wear down the fish. Well at least you hope it will.
When the fish comes to sight or "color" continue to keep constant pressure and be prepared for another run as when the tuna sees the boat they often do. As you get the fish closer and closer to the boat call for a gaff at which point a crew member will be ready to land your fish. During active bites you may not have a crew member handy to the last second as he is landing many fish in short order. This last bit of the fight is critical part if the fight, line is stressed as well as any connections between line and hook and there is one more trick that tuna have to get free. That trick is to get you caught in the prop or the underside of the boat. If the tuna makes it to these locations or more importantly your line touches these areas your fish is usually lost in short order. So staying in front of your fish and guiding it by pulling continual in a direction away from areas of concern will minimize this danger. As the fish comes into gaffing range try to lay the fish in such a way to give the crew member the best gaff shot. Simply pulling the fish in a somewhat side wards angle usually does the trick. As the gaff hits the fish watch carefully for a secure connection between gaff and fish. If it looks good the fish will be heading over the rail in a flash. During this time put your reel in free spool and keep your finger on the spool. This keeps the rod from loading up, when the fish hits the deck, which can launch the hook or spring the rod either breaking a rod or smacking you pretty good when it bounces back. Also on the off change that the gaff comes loose during the lifting into the boat process, the fish won’t break off as it falls back into the water and you get to have another try landing it. Once the fish is on deck if the hook is visible remove it from the fishes mouth and if it swallowed the hook just sacrifice it and cut your line. You will need to retie more than likely anyways after the long battle.
Whether fishing for albacore tuna, yellowfin tuna, or blue fin tuna knowing a couple basics will make your trips more productive and more fun.
Here are some helpful tips for the standard tuna fishing options:
When fishing with fin baits it is very important to select healthy bait and as carefully as possible hook your bait either in the nose sideways, collar area, or even belly area depending on how you want your bait to swim. Hooking the bait through the nose sideways will cause your bait to swim slightly side wards and at angle to the boat. Hooking it in the collar will also cause the bait to swim sideways as well as slightly downward. Hooking the bait in the belly will cause the bait to swim downward and away from the boat (use when wanting to have your bait go deep). If you are unsure on how you want to present your bait, hook it threw the nose sideways as this will be the easiest and best for the longevity of your bait. Unlike fishing while on the anchor, tuna fishing is done by drifting and keeping your line and bait in front of you. It is very important to always strive to do this, and it means moving with your bait around the boat also known as the tuna shuffle. If there are too many lines in one spot it may be best to reel in and get to area that has fewer hazards than to risk a fish getting lost to either a tangle or being sawed off by another angler hooked into a fish.
Once you have cast your fin bait try to let it swim as natural as possible this means letting it take line out and not pulling on it or creating resistance against the bait. If your bait is staying put and not moving much you can give it a twitch to wake it up. If that doesn’t liven your bait, then it is time to change your bait. Change your bait almost every cast. This is very important as a strong bait will get the most bites. The only time this doesn’t apply if you have limited bait or a limited type of bait in which case try to make the most of each bait.
Lastly fishing iron jigs that run deep, medium weighted and even surface iron can be very effective for tuna. This type of fishing takes endurance and confidence. When there are no visible fish, casting your jig a good distance from the boat and then letting it sink for varying times allows you to cover different depths and with different angles of retrieves creating different presentations. You can cast to moving tuna as well. Typically the boat will be in front of the tuna as it stops, but tuna travel very fast and casting off the front of the boat may actually put you’re lure right in the middle of the moving school of tuna. Regardless the one rule when fishing a jig is to keep it moving. And usually the faster the retrieve the better. Surface iron maybe the exception as there is times when a slower presentation works. Most of your bites will come while reeling it back and you need just keep reeling as you get bit. The reeling tension and the fish should set the hook. Make sure you hooks are super sharp before you start fishing. Remember to always watch behind you as you cast as iron jigs are the number one cause of accidents while fishing.
By far the most important thing to remember when catching tuna is to have fun. The tuna will do their best to not disappoint.