Feature Article: Tuna Time

Tuna time, all the time

By RICH HOLLAND/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Jun 20, 2019

Some tips for enjoying your next tuna trip

SAN DIEGO — What a weird and wonderful world we live in, at least on our beloved ocean. Sure there was some really bad weather this spring but for months, bluefin tuna, white seabass and yellowtail have staged excellent bites offshore, at the islands and even along the beach.

Yet the general good cheer that greeted the news that yellowfin tuna were already in the mix as of early June was a bit surprising. Then again, a fun size of tasty tuna has always been a favorite of the summer sportfishing crowd.

Still, all the tuna out there are catchable with the right gear, right attitude and the help of experienced crews and anglers.


345 POUNDS OF BLUEFIN muscle coming off the Ranger 85 back in 2017. WON PHOTOS BY MIKE STEVENS

The one mistake we can all make is to take the opportunity to catch quality bluefin tuna for granted. This writer has seen everything come and everything go.

When you look at the basic tackle currently recommended for 1½-day trips, the set-ups are eerily reminiscent of days past when albacore were also in the mix. Oh, they were easy to catch, which made them tasty on the grill, since there was so little blood in the muscle and the meat was white.

Both tastes and time has changed. Importantly, so has the level of care provided the catch the minute it comes over the rail. The “product” that results from trips on our modern sportfishers is high grade, indeed, and incredible served a myriad of ways.

But that’s another story.

This is a good news story. The good news is simple. All you need for a tuna trip are three rigs:

A 25-pound bait rig.

A 40- to 50-pound bait rig.

An 80-pound lure rig.

Anything more or less than that is personal preference or tactics for total domination.

Granted, you are not going to get away with a rockcod rod and a 9/0 reel, even if you do troll a feather or plug. (Not that you won’t see one on a boat, garage tackle seems ageless.)

No, the good news is the tackle is so much better these days, and not that much more expensive when, as they say, adjusted for inflation. Even if you don’t own two-speed reels, you must have a friend who does.

And if you want to have fun on a tuna trip, definitely go with friends. (Solo ninja tuna assassins that gobble up jackpots exempted).

What you really want that 80-pound rig for is to fish the Flat-Fall jig (usually at night, so get a glow-in-the-dark version) for the big bluefin.

Braided line on most of the spool of your 50-size two-speed reel topped with 80-pound mono and a heavy tuna rod are all you need otherwise. That and a Flat-Fall lure.

I know that rigging is the sticky part. If you are going to pull anything out of your tackle arsenal, a 50W or even a 70 or 80 loaded with mono would work. Easier is to have the store you bought your two-speed reel from splice or Bimini a loop into your braid and then buy wind-on leaders that already have a loop and do the easy loop-to-loop connection. They’ll help you do it in the store or on the boat.

rachelvonfleckRACHEL VON FLECK with an early-June tuna aboard the Tomahawk.

And therein lies the main point of this tip: the big bluefin have been around for such a good (great) long time now that the community that provides assistance to offshore anglers — whether in the shops or on the boats — is loaded with experts at catching big bluefin.

Seek help and you will find it. Our saltwater tackle shops have already made Flat-Fall fishing much more effective and easy. You can buy your jigs pre-rigged with 200-pound mono or fluorocarbon leaders, complete with improved hooks for big fish and chafing gear.

Yes, that irritating chafing has to be stopped. The leader is going to be up close and personal with your trophy bluefin for a while — which explains the need for heavy leader line.

And dropping down to the other rigs, chafing is the reason circle hooks are recommended for fishing sardines. Currently the landings recommend 1/0 to 3/0 circle hooks on the small side because the sardines available right now are small to medium size.

If you are using the 40- to 50-pound gear, use the largest size hook, fishing the 25-pound, go smaller. It’s all about matching to the tackle and the fish. And by all means use a fluorocarbon leader.

And just like any kind of tuna fishing, when the grade of tuna is 20 to 80 pounds, the 40- to 50-pound is a good choice for other styles of yo-yo jigs. They are too numerous to mention.

In addition, as in the days when the bigeye tuna used to attack the chum line and destroy lesser tackle, your 80-pound rig can be converted to a big fish bait rig as easy as taking off the leader/jig and putting on a hook.

A highly productive method has been sinker fishing, that is attaching a 3-ounce-minimum torpedo sinker to the line with a rubber band. Again, the crew can help. Just bring a couple sinkers, the cheapest investment you can make.

A couple tips on fighting fish.

First of all, relax. Tight muscles filled with adrenaline fail quicker than an albacore.

FLAT-FALL JIGS are now a staple for targeting big SoCal bluefin tuna. PHOTO COURTESY EVAN SALVAY

This also allows you to pay attention to your surroundings and plan your path if the tuna makes you follow it around the rail — and it will. Don’t touch anyone else’s gear, leave that to the pros who aren’t fishing. They are there to help everyone.

Ask for help when you need it. If someone working the deck asks for your rod, give it up. If it’s a really big fish, you might want or need some help along the line. It’s okay.

You might want a good rod belt to protect your groin, but don’t stop turning the handle just to get comfortable. Let someone help you find the hole while you keep fighting the fish.

A simple tip to prevent reel wobble is to control the reel with your left hand when the rod is on the rail. If you have to lift the rod, then with your left arm extended on the foregrip, snug the left side plate of the reel against the inside part of your forearm.

Keep turning the handle.

Keep the rod tip bent, and when the rod tip starts to come up, that’s when you wind it back down. That’s maximum pressure. If you can’t turn the handle, that’s when you put it in low. Go back to high whenever possible, and definitely when you can’t get the line on the reel fast enough. If you can’t manage the shift:

Keep turning the handle.

The only time the rod tip should be above the level of your navel is when the fish has made a long run outside or you have to go over another hooked up angler. Chances are someone will be there to help you.

Maximum pressure with the rod and reel doing the bulk of the work is what you strive for.

And maximum fun and exhilaration.

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