Although trolling for yellowfin tuna is very productive, I’d much rather catch them using other techniques such as live baiting, chunking, jigging and using top-water lures. These require some skills and perseverance, and that’s me all over – I just keep on trying until they finally give in and bite!
New Zealand is located at the limits of the yellowfin population’s temperature range, so we only have them in our more northern waters over the warmer months. And while they appear to have copped a hiding from the commercial sector in previous years, we are starting to catch them in greater numbers again.
Another positive for Kiwi anglers is that the tuna’s size and quick metabolism mean they must always be on the lookout for potential meals. However, as they have excellent eyesight, all offerings must be presented on the lightest trace and smallest hooks practical for the circumstances.
Our yellowfin are not the biggest in the world. Most are around 15-45kg, with the biggest recorded reaching the 95kg mark. This means 15-24kg stand-up tackle is perfect for the job, 99 times out of 100!
This modest-sized yellowfin took a small bait and gave a great account of itself!
Mainline: Whether you use nylon or braid is a personal thing, but I usually have a 150-200m top shot of nylon on 300-400m of braid.
The trace and hook: As effective live baits are typically modest in size (i.e., mackerel, juvenile kahawai, squid, flying fish, or pilchards), the terminal setup needs to reflect this. I suggest using the bare minimum required to protect against the tuna’s small rasping teeth – just 0.5-1 metre of high-quality fluorocarbon trace around 50-80lb (24-37kg), armed with a 2/0-6/0 live-bait hook (Gamakatsu HDs and Black Magic GZs have both served me well). As already mentioned, good baitfish presentation is everything when targeting yellowfin, so when in doubt about which hook to use for the different sized baits, it pays to go a bit smaller rather than too big. A hook that is too big is easier to see, injures the bait more and slows its movements, making it much less attractive to tuna and bringing about premature death. A smaller hook can achieve the opposite, especially if care is taken when placing it in the baitfish.
The most common way to hook baits like mackerel and pilchards is through the nostrils. This bony area means injury is kept to a minimum, and ensures the bait is very streamlined and positioned headfirst into the current, enabling good water circulation into the mouth and across and out the gills.
However, I like to let my bait swim around freely – letting line out when it’s pulling hard, and winding in when the line goes slack. I find allowing my bait to have greater freedom of movement gets me more bites. Unfortunately, this type of activity also results in the hook doubling back into the nose-hooked bait’s head or gills, causing severe or fatal injuries and making hook-ups much less likely.
Consequently, I prefer to hook my live baits across the upper shoulder, slanting it so the hook point ends up closer to the head so double-hooking is unlikely to occur. Provided the hook is not placed too deeply, the mackerel can still swim headfirst into the current and stays alive and very wriggly for a long, long time.
There are plenty of effective methods to target yellowfin. This one was caught on a pink speed jig.
While I really enjoy letting my bait swim around unencumbered, there is usually a lot of water below the boat, so it definitely pays to add sinkers and floats to other rigs to cover the water column more effectively.
Unlike the free-swimming live bait, where I like to join the trace and mainline with just a strong joining knot such as an Albright or No Name Knot, a small strong swivel can be knotted here. In addition to holding the sliding sinker in position away from the bait, it dissipates any line twist created by the live baitfish circling under a float.
Sinkers: Sinkers can be anything from 2-6oz, depending on the size of the bait and the depth they’re to be set at (but as is usually the case, the lighter the better). The free-sliding weight sits on the small but strong swivel connecting the 1.5-2.0-metre-long trace.
Floats: These should be of modest size – around 6-8” – and reasonably streamlined. My favourite shapes are turnip/pear, diamond and cigar. There are some good options around, but I like Glitterbugs (if you can find them). They are tough, incorporate high-vis colours and prismatic flash, and have a fish-attracting rattle inside. As they are designed to slide along the line, I suggest tying a stopper knot to the mainline around six metres up from the bait. This gives the bait enough freedom to swim around actively, but upon hooking a tuna, it’s possible to wind right up to the short trace so it can be gaffed, rather than have someone gingerly grab a long, relatively light leader.
A perfect yellowfin specimen - check out those colours!
Then, with your live baits set, it’s time to do a bit of chunking…
Yes, it’s a bit messy, but I love chunking for yellowfin. It amazes me that this often hard-to-catch fish will take a bait that many anglers would use to catch pan-sized snapper!
Suitable tackle: As chunking is done from a drifting boat, reels do not need to hold as much line as those used for trolling. I’ve used spinning reels holding just 300m of 20lb mono and caught tuna over 100lb (45kg), but still recommend reels designed for 15-24kg line with a 400-600 metre capacity, just in case!
Trace: Just enough 24-37kg fluorocarbon trace to handle the tuna’s small, sharp teeth and not much more, ideally joined with a strong knot rather than a swivel to the mainline. Everything needs to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Hook: Choose small, strong live-bait-type hooks that will fit into a large walnut-size bait.
Chunks: The ability to distribute single or multiple fish chunks regularly and persistently is key to chunking success, so stockpile a heap first. Traditionally, we’ve chopped up skipjack tuna or pilchards, but we have converted a small yellowfin into several much bigger models in the past and throwing in three or four anchovies at a time works too. Whatever you use, all work better if fresh or fresh-frozen.
The chunks should be around the size of your upper thumb, with intended baits being a little bigger.
The method: One person is in charge of chunking, and this must be kept up no matter what, or any fish attracted will lose interest and swim off.
Decide whether you have enough chunks to allow a single- or multi-chunk trail. Multi-chunk trails are better if there’s enough, because birds or one greedy tuna can decimate single chunks.
Throw the chunks in, wait until they have completely disappeared, then throw in more. Repeat, repeat, repeat…
Next, hide your small hook into the middle of a skinless chunk and drop it into the trail. It’s important the bait’s drift is as natural as possible, so always feed the line out before it comes tight to the spool.
Let the line out until you become bored – around 70-100 metres is typical – then wind quickly to tighten everything up before giving a hard strike to dislodge the bait. If this tactic fails, the chunk spins throughout the retrieve, twisting the mainline badly and making fishing difficult afterwards.
The bite: Whatever the bait used, live bait or chunk, it will get inhaled by the yellowfin, so no need to wait for them to get the bait down. The moment the line tightens and starts leaving the spool, you can set the hook!
Heavy duty spinning reel outfits are surprisingly effective, especially when loaded with 37kgbraid and wielded by powerful anglers!
Next month: Jigging and top-water lure fishing.
April 2022 - Mark Kitteridge
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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