Tuna Tactics

They pull like freight trains, fight till there’s absolutely nothing left in the tank and hang out in huge schools – if there’s a better fish in the ocean I haven’t met it yet.

A few days ago my mad-keen 12-yo apprentice was watching old Rex Hunt videos on YouTube. Looking up asked ‘what’s your favourite fish ever and why?’ The answer came easy. “Tuna,” I replied before drifting back a few years in time, remembering some of the incredible action clients and I used to enjoy when I ran saltwater charters out of Hervey Bay and Far North Queensland. With a decade of guiding experience before ‘getting a haircut and real job’, I don’t recall a single angler who didn’t want to catch a tuna.
Longtail tuna have earned a well-deserved reputation as a sensational inshore target species.

Longtail tuna have earned a well-deserved reputation as a sensational inshore target species.

Regardless of where we were fishing – Mooloolaba, Hervey Bay, Hinchinbrook, Weipa or the incredible waters of Haggerstone Island – clients always had their personal bucket list of species but tuna were always a very welcome addition to that list. And why wouldn’t they be?
Cliff & Lisa Booth enjoyed a double hookup with a mack and long tail tuna.

Cliff & Lisa Booth enjoyed a double hookup with a mack and long tail tuna.

The tuna species are found in all oceans but a are particularly well represented here in the best fishing spot in the world, Australia. From the massive 100 or more kilogram Southern Bluefins we see and hear of ‘down south’ to jelly bean bonito chomping their way through inshore bays up north, the species is accessible to a wide range of anglers.

The Big Boys

Just this week in the Kaydo fishing reports those monster fish of the south coast of New South wales get more than a mention with a whopper fish of 180kgs caught on Thursday. Steve Cooper has documented these monsters well in another article here on Kaydo.

And Their Little Brothers

Bonito are spread far and wide - they are a fun light-tackle target.

Bonito are spread far and wide – they are a fun light-tackle target.

So let’s start with the little fellas and work our way up. Tuna – regardless of size – would have to be my number 1 all-round species. If I could only catch one family of fish forever more that would be them. With my home waters of Pittwater full of bait over much of the past winter, locals have been blessed to enjoy some great fishing for bonito. Far from the fighters of their big brothers out at sea, these little ‘bonnies’ are sensational scrappers and pound for pound – fantastic fighters in their own right. Like many species, these fish are best targeted on suitable sized tackle. Down size your gear to say 2500 sized reels with a matched and well-balanced light spin rod and you can have an absolute ball with these fish.

Match the Hatch

Have a close look at the bait being eaten and match your lures accordingly.

Have a close look at the bait being eaten and match your lures accordingly.

Tuna – from Bonito right through to their big brothers – can be extremely fussy feeders. Although a feeding frenzy might be taking place within a very short cast of your boat, the fish will quite often be very hard to hook – ‘locked in’ on a certain size or colour of baitfish.
A triple hookup on tuna ... not uncommon when big schools of these hard fighters are on.

A triple hookup on tuna … not uncommon when big schools of these hard fighters are on.

With this in mind it pays to have a wide- range of both metal and soft plastic lures in your arsenal. In those previously mentioned charter days I had a regular client, a crazy-keen Japanese angler, who used to change from a 10 gram chrome slice up to a 12 gram in pewter. And the change would often make all the difference! Our little local bonito here in Pittwater have been eating tiny glass looking bait known by some as ‘eyes’. Impossible to match due to its extremely small size, we have been lucky to be having success on small slices and plastics retrieved at high speed.

Where to Look

Find the bait and there's a fair chance you will also find the fish!

Find the bait and there’s a fair chance you will also find the fish!

On the local front those school of bonito have not been making themselves obvious but that’s not to say they are not there. Find either the bait, or other feeders such as tailor of salmon, and you will often also find the tuna. Casting into the schools and letting your lure sink underneath prior to a medium-fast retrieve is how we have been producing the goods. But bait is key – scan the surface or your sounder – find the bait and then start looking for the fish.

Frigates

Not to be confused with bonito, frigates are equally voracious inshore light-tackle screamers. And talk about speed – their pace, acceleration and the speed they can beat their tale is phenomenal. Similar to bonito the secret is to match your lures to the approximate size of the baitfish. That said, in my experience frigates can be a little less fussy. While bonito are fair eating ( I’lll admit to loving the taste of a fresh fillet or two) frigates are deeper, bloodier fleshed fish and best released after capture. Found inshore along the coast right around Australia, frigates grow to 1kg / 50 or so centimetres. They often venture into very shallow inshore waters and like to school en masse.

Keep Watch On Top

So called 'Jelly Beans' such as bonito and frigates are a fun little inshore target species.

So called ‘Jelly Beans’ such as bonito and frigates are a fun little inshore target species.

If you are fortunate enough to be fishing a total glass out and there are tuna or bait in the area, keen a close watch on the surface. Small inshore tunas such as the bonito or frigates mentioned here – will often scout around, just below the surface, as they cruise looking for bait. Casting toward or ahead of these ‘bow waves’ of fish will often result in a chase down and hook up. This is sensational sport fishing. As I’ve taught the previously mentioned 12-year-old apprentice, look for ‘nervous water’ and there’s a fair chance you’ll find the fish.
Mack tuna are one of the most easily accessible sport fish for small boat anglers. They also provide a stack of fun on the right tackle.

Mack tuna are one of the most easily accessible sport fish for small boat anglers. They also provide a stack of fun on the right tackle.

Mack Time

Mack tunas – also known simply as ‘macks’ are a personal favourite. Nowhere near as popular as their big brothers the long tail tuna, macks give a great fight and awesome account of themselves once hooked. Voracious feeders, they are found right around the coast from mid NSW to Western Australia, the common denominator being the feed hard whenever they find bait. Most days they are very hard feeders but macks can sometimes be extremely difficult and frustrating to hook. ‘No run no fun’ is an often used line. What this means is the less tide or current, the less tight the bait and therefore the less active fish will be. On the calm days and during the neap tides (ever noticed how often neaps correspond with light winds?) macks are often seen ‘sipping’ bait off the surface. While this looks spectacular, particularly when you see it happen close to the boat, the macks can be very difficult to target in theses conditions. That doesn’t mean a hell of lot of anglers continue to try, and so they should. ‘Macks’ prefer deeper water but that said have been encountered in shallow bays of Pittwater and similar inshore waterways. In Hervey Bay and other super-shallow waterways they occasionally venture onto shallow sand flats in search of food – either shoals of bait or hunting down individual baits such as gar, long tom and the like.
Longtail tuna are the cream of the inshore tuna crop.

Longtail tuna are the cream of the inshore tuna crop.

Longtail

‘Longies’ as they are so affectionally known, would have to be one of the ultimate inshore and blue water targets. An extremely fast and hard-running fish, they eat fast, run fast and never give up once hooked. Found in similar waters to their cousin the mack tuna, long tail tuna feed right through from shallow water to deep. “Shallow water, how shallow,” you might ask. Well it’s no secret that in certain waters around Australia, Hervey Bay, the east and west sides of Cape York, and in Western Australia, longtail often feed on sand flats – extremely shallow water indeed.

Tuna in the Shallows

Simon Runting hooked up to a big tuna in the shallow waters of Hervey Bay.

Simon Runting hooked up to a big tuna in the shallow waters of Hervey Bay.

Some of the best inshore fishing I’ve seen has been in the north of Hervey Bay, on sand flats alongside Fraser Island, where in mid summer tuna chase bait fish right along the beach. These black torpedoes are on a mission.
A prime shallow water mack tuna ... it doesn't get much better than this.

A prime shallow water mack tuna … it doesn’t get much better than this.

Totally out of their comfort zones, they are on the flats for a mission. They want to get up there where the bait is, eat as quickly as they can, and get back to the safety of deeper water. This is some of the most exciting fishing in Australia and something all keen tuna fishermen should try at least once. A word of warning – it is completely addictive. Once hooked long tail tuna tend to rip line from your reel very very quickly! They are rickets of the ocean and one of the fastest fish easily accessible to the everyday angler.

Deep Circles

Unlike that tend to stay doggedly deep in the later stages of a fight, long tails tend to run out, away from the boat. Once reeled closer they often swim in a circular style, going deeper when near or under the boat but swimming higher in the water, sometimes on the surface, when away from the boat. Reel angles and fish fighting skills help a lot, not just for the angler but the fish as well. Like most of the fine sport fish we include here on Kaydo, long tails should be carefully released to live another day.

That’s not to say they are not a sensational eating fish … I love absolutely everything about them.

 
Nat Bromhead

About Nat Bromhead

Nat Bromhead’s fishing journey has come full circle over the course of his life. His father remains adamant that with assistance, a year-old Nat first wet a line while sitting a stroller perched upon Mackerel Beach on Sydney’s glorious Pittwater. An exciting fishing journey lay ahead - one that would include moving to Queensland as a teenager and ‘doing his time’ with lures and bait on the Sunshine Coast.

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