13 Jul 2007

Tricks Of The Trade - Yellowfin Tuna

Most of the lures we run here in Fiji are highly active lures. Marlin, sailfish, wahoo and mackerels all seem to prefer a noisy erratic lure with a strong bubble trail. Yellowfin are different. They will completely ignore a spread of active lures and hit the one lure that is just sitting quietly.

When we are out trolling lures for blue marlin on heavy tackle and one of the rigger lures is sitting quietly rather than smoking a bubble trail, I sometimes leave it alone. More often than not, it gets jumped by a big Yellowfin.

Bait Balls

Tuna heard baitfish into a tightly packed ball and force them up to the surface where they are trapped and attacked from below. When we see a bait ball on the surface we drive around it – not through it. Charging over it usually breaks up the ball and drives the fish down deep. Its very tempting to race straight over the patch of churning water but remember - your lures are behind you, not if front of you. By the time your lures are passing through the area, the boat has already driven over it, broken up the bait ball and driven the fish down deep.

It’s better to drop your lures further back, drive around the ball and then when your lures are on one side and the boat on the other, straighten up so your lures pass right through the area.

Getting a Strike

If the tuna are there on the sounder or on the surface but not striking your lures, put a tiny bullet, pink or black red or blue/pink out in the middle of the spread. Often the tuna are so focused on tiny baitfish that they ignore the larger lures. This little guy will draw a strike and then the rest of the shoal, thinking they are missing out on a meal, will follow the first fish into the spread and hit your other lures. If you can get just one to strike, you will immediately get multiple other hook-ups. You will be surprised at the size of fish that hit little bullets but don’t be tempted to rig them on heavy leader.

Sacrifice a little bullet and get the fish biting in your spread.

Fighting a Yellowfin

Don’t be shy about using butt pads, harnesses or even getting into the fighting chair. Yellowfin have an extraordinary power to weight ratio and unless you are sitting pretty in a harness or chair, you will quickly become tired. You will grip the rod and reel handle too tightly, your fore-arms will cramp up and you will start using bad posture. It’s all bad news for your back.

Patience. Don’t ramp up the drag and try to haul a Yellowfin out of the depths using brute force early in the fight. In my experience, chances are you will pull the hook or break something.

Landing a Yellowfin

When a Yellowfin starts to get tired, it turns on its side and begins to fight in a circular pattern. It is too tired to keep its head down against your drag setting so it keels over and swims round in circles. If you are skippering the boat, now is the time to earn your keep. A circling Yellowfin coming straight up under the boat will drag the angler’s line across the props & rudders and ‘ping’ – there goes your sashimi.

We drive away from tired Yellowfin in order to keep the fish behind and away from the hull. We put the angler in one corner and try to keep the fish circling off that corner as we work it in to the boat. It is also much easier for an angler to fight a fish that is some distance away from the boat rather than straight down.

A Few Tips from the Deck

Always try to gaff a tuna just behind the head – never towards the tail. If you do accidentally gaff a tuna in the tail, get the gaff out immediately because the tuna will take off and you will not be able to hang on. You will look pretty dumb as your gaff steams off away from the boat. We use a flying gaff for any fish over about 90lbs (don’t forget to tie off the end of the gaff rope to a good solid cleat!)

Never grab a tuna by the tail, even a small one. I did once and it is a sensation I imagine to be similar to shaking hands with a jack hammer.

We bleed our Yellowfin by inserting a knife behind and under the gill plate and slicing the tuna’s heart. Some anglers nick the tail and then insert a blade behind the pectoral fins. I have seen several knife blades and tips sheered clean off doing this. If the tuna kicks when the knife blade is inserted, it will snap any type of fine blade filleting knife.

Costly and dangerous for whoever has to fillet the fish later.

Penn - Senator 9/0