Trolling for Big Tuna

It may come as a surprise but trolling is a sensational way to target tuna as the waters start to cool and Autumn takes hold.

As Al McGlashan explains in this illuminating piece, apart from fast-running tuna you might also hook high-jumping marlin or hard-fighting mahi-mahi.

Tuna fishing really has changed over the last few years. In the past all my big tuna, especially yellowfin, were almost solely caught on the cube – especially right now during the autumn months.

Fishing along the continental shelf we would set up and cube all afternoon hoping for that electrifying moment the rod comes to life in your hands. Throw a few live baits into the mix and it was the best way to catch big yellowfin.

That’s dramatically evolved and now it is all about trolling this time of year. The good news is that trolling suddenly opens up a whole lot more options and can also produce marlin and mahi.

Mind you, when I look back over my records my biggest bluefin, yellowfin and even bigeye tuna in the last decade were all taken on the troll adding further weight to this argument.

There is no doubt that numbers of yellowfin have distinctly dropped. This depletion is not because of the local commercial fleet instead it is being driven by the demand for canned tuna in the supermarkets. Industrial fishing, be it the dreaded purse seining or even poling tuna, is decimating stocks to our north and Australia suffers as a consequence.

Sadly we are a victim of multinational companies filling supermarket shelves with cheap tuna – but at what cost?

In essence what this means is there are less tuna and as a result we have to travel further and search harder to find them. This is not really conducive to techniques like cubing and live baiting which only works if you are right on top of the fish. Instead the trick is to cover the miles and this is where trolling comes into its own.

The key to finding tuna or any surface action at this time of year is the presence of seabirds. This obviously indicates the tuna are up on top feeding especially yellowfin. It really is that simple and I have been amazed how the exact same scenario prevails every time we find the yellowfin. The birds start to stack up and then the yellowfin blow up. No birds, no yellowfin on the troll.

It’s not just any birds either. In particular it’s white birds or more precisely terns, gannets and to a smaller degree albatross. Last season we spotted a huge patch of mutton birds and, racing over, soon found a heap of big albacore. In the distance I spotted two other patches of birds, only one had a white bird, so I headed straight over and hooked up to a 83kg yellowfin while everyone else got albacore.

Trolling really does give you the advantage to cover the ground and seriously search for the action.

Keeping your eyes peeled is paramount. A patch of birds way off in the distance and barely visible could mean a massive feeding frenzy. The key is to have crew up on the gunwales at all times and searching.

A single tern fluttering in one spot could mean a big bull dolphin fish or a couple of alba-tross figure sighting might reveal striped marlin working a bait ball.

Anything found floating at sea, for example an old wooden pallet or barnacle covered float, is well worth investigating for some school mahi-mahi as well. If you’re not actively looking you’ll never know what you missed and in my opinion you would have been better off staying in the pub.

When it comes to trolling we’ve traditionally used skirted lures. This is not because they are the best but instead because in most cases we have been chasing other species like blue marlin. The first step if you want to target tuna you need to downsize to smaller 8inch skirts. However if you’re like me and still won’t say no to passing blue marlin the trick is to downsize the long rigger but always leave your favourite marlin on the short rigger, just in case!

With the rigger positions filled the long corner, which doubles as a shotgun, is home to the most reliable tuna lure I know of – the Laser Pro 190. To catch big tuna you’re going to need to beef up the lures so get rid of the trebles and replace it with a single J hook on the belly position. Interestingly I have been testing two single hooks but seem to get a much better hook up rate with the single.

Changing the hook is imperative and nowadays I simply don’t use trebles for big tuna. The lure also works a treat on mahi mahi and the last thing you want is a one of them going mad and throwing trebles about on the deck.

Tuna are shy at the best of times and prefer lures run well back away from the boat’s wash. However, last season they were thick as taking advantage of the prolific whitebait schools and as a result were extremely fussy.

Finding the fish was easy but getting a bite took a lot of patience and persistence. The trick was to run the Laser Pro back on its own so the long corner became the ‘distant’ shotgun some 150m behind the boat.

This puts the lure well beyond the boat’s wake so it’s well and truly on its own and very obvious. The key was then to get in front of the school and cut across so the lure ran across right under their noses. I should also add that the use of fluorocarbon like Momoi or Ande was imperative.

Aside from tuna working the edges of these schools also happen to produce a stack of blue marlin bites, what a great bonus!

The short corner also runs well back on my charter boat Strikezone so that it sits behind the prop wash. We mix it up with a Laser Pro occasionally but mostly it is home to a Halco Max. Though only a small lure, it’s often the wildcard that produces when all else fails.

When you locate surface activity don’t ever troll through the centre of the feeding fish. Instead read the school and work out which way they are going and then get around in front of them. This is not as easy as it sounds as tuna often feed sporadically and chop and change direction at will.

Once you get it right and are in position turn the boat at right angles so you pull the spread right across the fishs’ noses. This approach will not spook the fish and will put the lure right in front of them. What happens next is the most exciting part of fishing!

This time of year trolling can be a real lucky dip. Sure we may be targeting tuna but the chance of a big blue marlin, a pack attack from stripes or a big dolphin fish for the table just adds to the excitement of offshore fishing in autumn.

Al McGlashan

About Al McGlashan

Al McGlashan is one of Australia’s best-known fishos and has built a reputation on catching some of the nation’s biggest fish. A father of two, Al spends more than 200 days a year on the water. He doesn’t take the easy route on charter boats, instead getting out there and doing it all himself on a trailer boat just like 5-million other Aussie anglers.

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