Sunshine Coast Tuna

The day starts pretty early when chasing Tunnies, if fact it starts the day before. It really depends on how seriously you take this species as to how you approach them, they could either be a great fix for the impatient angler with their hard frothing feeding action or a game of the minds for those looking into the intricacies of the species for something a bit more deserved.

Gavin Davis was thrilled to catch this tuna on flyfishing gear.

Gavin Davis was thrilled to catch this tuna on flyfishing gear.

Decisions, Decisions

In my neck of the woods being South East Queensland, we are lucky enough to experience several species of tuna including Mac Tuna, Yellow Fin tuna, Long Tail Tuna, Striped Tuna And to a lesser extent Big Eye Tuna.

All of which are fantastic targets that vary in sporting qualities, and all of which follow the currents and bait very close to the coast making them very assessable from small boats. The most prolific are Long Tail Tuna and Mac Tuna, which I will focus on within this article.

Doing your homework is essential when targeting any species, Tuna are no different.

A Moreton Bay Longtail tuna.

A Moreton Bay Longtail tuna.

Tuna Habits

Let’s put the gear aside for a minute and have a quick look at their habits. Tuna are mini processing factories by that I mean they pig out on bait, in fact they need to consume 1/2 of their body weight a day to survive, they like big tides which can give them a great advantage over their prey, and they also like to hunt during daylight hours using their fantastic eyesight to their advantage. From that snippet we can learn that we need to find big numbers of bait so research the bait, try to work your fishing times around the new and full moons so you can fish the spring tides.

And don’t worry about getting out on the water at the crack of dawn, most species don’t start feeding hard until the sun is fully up and over the horizon.

Kim Strathern is a local tuna expert - here he is with a solid long tail tuna.

Kim Strathern is a local tuna expert – here he is with a solid long tail tuna.

Spin Versus Fly

In all honesty I have only caught a handful of Mac tuna on spin gear but have certainly caught my fair share on Fly, I have never caught a Long tail or any of the other previously mentioned species on conventional gear, only on fly, in my humble opinion, fly is easily the most effective and adaptable way to catch Long tail and Mac Tuna consistently.

The reason, well that’s simple, due to Tuna’s fantastic eyesight, you couldn’t get a better representation of the bait with any other artificial or more of a subtle long distance presentation especially when they are up on shallow flats.

A Closer Look At Baitfish

Upon determining the type of bait that the target species is focusing on, it is time to “match the hatch”.

This is done firstly by profile, and secondly colour. Exceptions to the rule would be reaction bites, longtail on the flats is a great example of this.

When they are up on the flats they are hot and up there to feed in a raid style fashion, get the boat in the right spot, get the cast right and more often than not an eat is the result followed by high fives all round.

Fly selection can vary day to day within the group of usual suspects, there is no magic bullet, so it pays to have your favourites and a few outsiders that can convert on given days, it can be worthwhile to carry a range of profiles appropriate to the moon cycle and therefore the bait size.

Of course when referring to bait schools the above is true yet Long Tail in particular and to a lesser extent Macs will feed on a more diverse diet of Squid, Yakkas, flying fish and Gar fish, and can inhabit a variety of water based and underwater structures.

Popular “go to” patterns include surf candies, polar fibre minnows, Clousers, small deceivers, gummy minnows and even small pencil poppers, with larger flies such as flashy profile type patterns sometimes get the preference when dredging inshore reefs. Natural colours such as all white, olive and white, grey and white are all gun colours but you cannot argue the effectiveness the success of hot pink, I am yet to see a hot pink bait fish, but my fly box always has a full row of hot pink candies.

A yellowfin tuna - an awesome capture on spin or fly gear.

A yellowfin tuna – an awesome capture on spin or fly gear.

It All Hinges On Weather

Gear really is simple, but needs to be suited to the conditions and the fish. It would be great if the wind would be 5 knots and variable all the time but fact of the matter is it just ain’t, and is commonly 15-20 knots with a 2 meter swell (well it is on the weekends) a minimum 9 weight in my opinion is OK for most conditions as far as casting is concerned but there is also lifting the fish around the boat to contend with.

I prefer to fish my GLX 12 weight cross current with a super 11 Abel reel to knock over these smaller fish quickly and to lift the bigger fish when they get closer to the boat, it also helps with long casts into the wind, driving off the Tuna when they do circles under the boat can also get them in the boat quicker, by using the drag of the flyline to your advantage.

A 2 piece or even single piece 10 kilo leader is pretty standard with fluorocarbon being the preferred material, 8 kilo is fine for calmer days and spooky fish, multiple part and pre manufactured tapered leaders are fine but not necessary and often time consuming and annoying when rigging on the water . I like a clear intermediate line and the Scientific Anglers clear intermediate being my preferred line.

I do however wish they would bring back the clear striper intermediate line, it was great for quick casts. Fast sink lines around Mac Tuna Schools can be great for picking up Longtails and even the odd Spaniard at certain times of the year, it also seems to avoid the Mac Tuna when intending to target Longies.

Author Chris Adams with a hard-fighting mack tuna.

Author Chris Adams with a hard-fighting mack tuna.

When It All Comes Together

You know, all of the above info is great but even with all this knowledge of hot spots, bait habits and all the right gear, nothing will undo the inexperienced tuna fisherman quicker than poor boat skills. I could bang on about this for ages for in my opinion this as this by far the most important aspect of Tuna fishing. In its simplest form anglers will get the best results from allowing the schools to adjust to the boat noise ( engine revs, wave slap, the wake, gear noise) the temptation of crashing the schools must be resisted as not only will it make the tuna flighty but will also cut up and divide the bait and in turn the tuna schools.

Allowing tuna to get used to the boat and by just hovering with casting distance and observing can also allow you to see if they are lit up or just keeping the bait herded for when the bite window begins. The angler can often pick off Long Tail in amongst Mac Tuna with a little observation an double hookups are more likely when happy fish remain happy fish.

If you think about it you could crash and burn schools for an hour without an eat or you could steadily follow them for an hour and calmly drop the fly to edge feeding Long Tails when you are close enough to see the whites of their eyes. Tuna often feed into the wind also which the angler can use for their advantage for casting and boat position.

Apex Predators

Tuna are a primal species and an apex predator, they will bully their prey into shallow water and use the surface of the water as a wall to lessen the distance between themselves and their meal, and this will attract birds. As annoying as they are sometimes they are always going to see the fish better than we can and good rule of thumb is the distance the Birds are of the water is the distance under the water the fish are.

Sometimes tuna have no birds on them and are cruising in small pods or singles, these fish are not hard to pick off and a change in retrieve may be needed. Placing the rod under one arm and double handed stripping is the norm for a lot of Tuna fishing but try not to be one eyed about it, single handed stripping when casting at single Longtail is very effective, as is dead sticking when singles are popping up randomly.

Observation and adaptation is the key to most fishing, being one eyed about what worked yesterday may not work the next day.

Tuna can be very frustrating, especially when combined with flyfishing. But nothing will come from throwing your arms into the air and mumbling ” I can’t figure these fish out” . They need to eat more than most fish, so simply put yourself in the best position when they do.


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