Tuna Fishing Tips and Techniques


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Bluefin Tuna Fishing Tips and Techniques


Most of you probably know and use the following tuna techniques. Our goal is to assist new bluefin anglers in their pursuit of this great gamefish. If one of our tips or tackle suggestions helps lead to a successful fishing trip we will be gratified. Since most recreational fishermen troll that will be the thrust of our effort.

  • Never leave the dock without the proper safety gear or permits for the NOAA category you are tuna fishing in. Why? Number 1 your own well being. Secondly, we have seen numerous Coast Guard boardings on the grounds with many boats either fined or sent home with warnings for failure to meet regulations. Even though your fishing tackle is up to par your boat may not be. A free Coast Guard examination in the spring is a great way to start the season. Most charter boats have an inspection. If boarded, you can save a lot of time by showing the boarding party your sticker and inspection paperwork.
  • If you are serious about tuna fishing, be there at false light before sunrise and plan to stay until dark. Why? On many days the tuna bite is very early and not dependent on the change of tide (slack). And there may not be another bite all day until the magic hour. The "magic hour" is from sunset 'til after dark. We all know that slack should be the best time with the bait rising in the water column. But don't bet on it. As Dave would say "you snooze, you lose".
  • Make sure your trim tabs are up. Why? A great number of fish are lost at the boat leadering the tuna. Most fish will try to run under the boat at the end of the fight. Make it a habit to put your trim tabs all the way up while putting your riggers out.
  • Be prepared to offer the tuna whatever they want. It can change daily. Why? The cost of a well-equipped arsenal pales in comparison to the cost of your fishing platform, dockage and fuel. We don't leave without spreader bars in all sizes and colors, Tuna Trains in all colors, teaser birds, multi-size ballyhoo with teaser rigs as well as lures. If we are trolling for giant tuna, we will start with 13" squid spreader bars and go to smaller squid rigs if there is no action.
  • Match the hatch. Why? When we start the day we put out a generous five rod spread including 9" and 11" squid rigs. The 9" inside (50' back) with the 11" back (100') in the spread. Many boats run seven rods or more to create greater interest. We include Tuna Train green machine rigs with a bird teaser as the last offering in the spread down the center. Last but not least, we put a ballyhoo bait rigged on a Bluefin Tuna Rig in the wash. We have caught our biggest school or medium tuna every year on the ballyhoo. Whatever size, color or type of rig catches first we immediately switch three of the five rods to match. If we see halfbeaks, we emphasize ballyhoo. If sand eels are prevalent, green machines always work. And we keep a keen eye on the size of squid when cleaning fish. That determines the squid size on our spreader bars.
  • Space the spread. Why? Regardless of how you set up your spread you should have at least 20' of separation between any lure, unless you are running a swimming bait under or near a spreader bar. Our preference is to run the green machine rig at least 50 yards back. If seas are rough, we shorten it to 40 yards. We lengthen to 60+ on calm days.
  • Ladies love diamonds. So do tuna. Why? Your squid bar should be in a diamond shape while being trolled. It simulates the formation that many baitfish swim in as well as many pods of tuna. They draft in formation similar to geese. Back in the late eighties the Maine trolling fleet perfected the pattern. Since then, it has been copied by everyone.
  • Troll in the trough on rough days. Why? Your rigs and baits won't jerk, fly out of the water, and look unnatural to the tuna. The motion is not as comfortable but you're there to catch fish.
  • Troll with colored line. Why? On multiple hookups, weeding or setting the spread it is much easier with colored line to identify direction and distance. We use red, blue and yellow and have not found that it inhibits hookups in any way.
  • Add flavor to your offering. Why? We never touch a ballyhoo without surgical gloves. All leaders are rubbed with alcohol before presentation. Using floss, we sew fresh squid tentacles on the hook of every hook bait (stinger) on a squid bar. If we don't have squid, we will put a shmeg or pork rind on the stinger hook. We also change the color of the rind or shmeg while weeding, if we're not getting a bite. It has made a big difference in hookups versus boils.
  • Weed, Weed, Weed. Why? Even if you don't see salad on the water, it is usually there. We are constantly checking from one end of the spread to the other all day long. If you are fishing a tide line, rip or temperature edge, I guarantee weed is there somewhere. This is especially true if there are draggers working in the area. And if you get a boil or two without a hookup, weed is usually the culprit. When weed is heavy we use un-weighted stingers and tie dental floss from the hook eye to the barb to act as a weed guard.
  • Troll fast, troll slow. Why? We have found 5 to 5-1/2 knots has brought the most bites on school to medium bluefin. 3 to 4 knots is best for giants. We change speeds up and down based on conditions but these have been our averages.
  • Follow the whales. Why? They are the smartest hunters in the ocean. And the tuna know that. If whales are sagging with the tide stay with them. The biggest whale concentration will usually have the most tuna in the near vicinity. Most of our double hookups happen by giving the whales their space and dragging rigs in front of their movement.
  • Give busting fish space. Why? When anglers see a feeding frenzy, their first inclination is to run right over them. That action puts the school down. We stay outside and try to bring the rigs over the outside edges. The bigger fish are on the edges. If you don't get a bite, you haven't put the tuna down. You can continue to work the school from different angles on the tide. We get more bites trolling with the tide. And when baits are presented on a turn versus straight.
  • Don't follow the crowd. Why? When a boat hooks up everyone knows. They either see it or hear it on the radio. The next thing you see is Grand Central Station. And the boat cluster puts the fish down never to see your rigs. Attempt to find your own fishy space and work it. Years of harpoon boat pressure have made these fish boat shy. Some of our best days have been totally out of sight of the fleet.
  • Never leave fish to find fish. Why? It is an old saying with a lot of truth. You may be marking fish at 60 - 90' in an area with life but can't get a bite. Don't leave. The grass isn't greener somewhere else. Either your spread isn't raising them or the conditions aren't right yet. Have patience. In September we were marking a ton of fish in whales on the south tide with only a couple boils for our effort. We thought they would cooperate  when the tide slowed down on the slack. No luck. After the tide started running to the north all hell broke loose. We caught four fish and pulled the hook on another in an hour.
  • Fish the warm side. Why? When fishing a temperature edge we have found the warmer side produced more fish. Years ago chumming behind Block Island we enjoyed great fishing on the cold side of the edge. But east of Chatham the eastern (warmer) side of a break has produced the most fish for us.
  • Choose your days. Why? During moon tides and easterly winds, fishing slows down. If you can fish on a southerly or westerly wind preferably northwest you have a better chance of a banner day.
  • Tuna hate Porpoise. Why? I have found this to be an "old wives tale". We have caught many tuna swimming with Flipper. The spotter plane we had with our harpoon boat confirmed this. Tuna swim with whales, dolphin and basking sharks. If they are not right in with the whales they probably aren't too far away.
  • Don't chase moving schools. Why? We have all seen the terns and hags bunched up following a school of bluefin moving at 10 - 15 knots. A couple of boats try to get ahead of them. These fish are moving from one school of bait to another. Our experience has been that the fish move too fast and boat pressure will turn the fish away. We have all gotten lucky with the school swimming into our spread, but this is usually the exception. Stay where you are and work the area. There are always other fish around.
  • No Hags, No Tuna. Why? Shearwaters (hags) are the best indicator of life and tuna in an area. There can be exceptions but they are rare. One comes to mind. Steve and I were fishing alone 10 miles east of the BB Buoy in 2005 drifting and chumming using stick mackerel for hook baits. We were on a temp edge, tide rip with weed all around the boat. No birds no whales, but we saw an occasional scratch at 90'. We hung in and were rewarded with a double hookup. Got them both - 740 and 660#'s. But most other days, I don't set up to troll or chum unless I see shearwaters. They can be flying or sitting on the water. It doesn't matter. It means something just happened or is about to.
  • Stick with slicks. Why? If there is very little life but a lot of slicks pay attention. Keep an eye on your recorder. The fish could be feeding deep. The life and tuna will show when the tide slows down and the bait rises in the water column. In the interim try jigging at the depth you mark fish. Start the jigging above the fish and drop to their depth.
  • Use detachable stingers. Why? All Carlson squid spreader bars are built with detachable stingers. Many squid rigs are one piece. A bluefish attack will leave the rig unusable requiring a rebuild. More importantly there are usually giants mixed in with the school fish. If you are lucky enough to hook one of the big boys, you will want a heavier stinger leader than is needed for school tuna. On rough days we start with a 280# fluorocarbon mainline on the stinger and it doesn't seem to bother the school or medium bluefin. But if it does, we quickly switch to 130 or 150# and even lighter on the days you have to be sneaky. It is very easy to keep switching colors and sizes to find the right combination with detachable stingers.
  • Use titanium bars versus stainless steel. Why? We find that SS works fine on the short bars in the spread. The outriggers hold the bars up and they swim just fine. Plus they are cheaper. However, we find the bars in the back of the spread swim better with the lighter titanium bar. The bar doesn't bury. Titanium also works better with the smaller 9 and 11" squid.
  • Use a bird on the spreader bar. Why? The bird gives the bar more flotation and splash helping to camouflage it and resemble busting bait. The bird also allows you to place the rig further back in the spread without it plowing. We use Carlson Birds that are manufactured with a reinforced hole for the bar.
  • Put floats in the teaser squids. Why? We all know the fire drill on a hookup with five or seven rods out. With flotation you can leave the other rigs out while fighting the fish, only having to clear a line that might create a tangle. We have had many hits on the other rigs being towed during the battle. Also, when marking at 60' to 90' with no action you can use trolling valves to stem the tide, leave the rigs out, and start jigging. I suggest the boat be heading upstream into the current before you start jigging. You can order rigs with or without flotation.
  • Hottest spreader bar color? Why? If you ask ten different fishermen you will probably get ten different answers. Supposedly fish are color blind. My guess is that it is the way color reflects light. If you look through a squid into sunlight you will see a different color than the actual squid. This is what the bluefin sees looking up at your rig. The word different seems to be the key. Dark color bars with a light color glow stinger worked very well last year. Black with glow green was hot early in the year. By mid season rainbow and pink were catching well. Every day is different and that includes light conditions. We find that early in the morning and late in the day dark bars work best while the lighter, brighter rigs fish better during mid day or on bright days.
  • Above all experiment. Why? If you know there are tuna in the area and you can't get a bite, keep changing until it happens. Change rigs, size, color, spacing, speed, direction, but above all, don't quit. It could be your offering, wrong time of day, wrong conditions or all of the above. Some days peanuts and some days shells.
  • Thanks and good luck. Why? Because you deserve a great day on the water with family and friends pursuing a true warrior - the bluefin tuna.

We hope one or two of these tuna techniques helps your angling success. If You would like to add one of your own with a link to your website please contact Capt. Jack at maverickfish@verizon.net.

Bluefin tuna photo.



Graham and Capt. Jack with giant.

Regal Sword tuna.

Capt. Jack loading a bluefin tuna.