All Hands On Deck
When fishing on my boat, I like every person on the boat looking and watching. All eyes should be on the water. I divide it up like a clock and everyone has their sections. The captain can’t be expected to see everything, watch the sounder, monitor the radio and drive the boat. I find an energetic crew with more enthusiasm will catch more fish. The guys that are sitting on their butt and just having BS time miss most of the signs. If they don’t want to uncross the tangled rods because they don’t want to give up their chair, there won’t be getting a second invite! You have to be a team out there and like any sport we all are working together and this why we all have a part in the success.
Knowing How To Fight A Blue Fin Tuna
Early in the season a lot of the Blue Fin are small fish and can be easily fought on 15 to 40lbs tackle. However if you should ever come across one of the heavy weights while fishing this light tackle, your boat then becomes your best tool and you have to know how to use it. Big Blue Fin need to be under constant pressure. Knowing how to put the most leverage on them is one of the big differences in having success verses pulling a hook.
Good boat driving can aid in this, but line angle is most important. This allows the you to fight, direct up and down from a stationary boat is a bad idea. This just gives the tuna a chance to lie on his side, kick slowly and rest, unless you are good on the rod with some heavy fish fighting experience you will soon tire out in this position. Keeping a high line angle will put less pressure on you and will lead the fish forcing him to either swim with you or away from you burning the most amount of energy in the process. At some point in the fight the Blue Fin is going to make a screaming dash for the bottom, if you are in the shallows, i.e. 400 feet or less, you will be ok, if you’re well off the edge i.e. 1000+ feet, then good luck trying to stop him before you run out of line! When the fish is straight up and down, a good trick is to drive off the fish; this allows you to fight the fish on two levels, one up and down.
I like a 45 degree angle in my line when I’m fighting him and although the fish may still try to get back to the bottom at least I’ve got him working for it. The fish won’t be able to maintain this energy for long and as its swimming away and I pull my rod with a little pumping actions, not big pumps little ones, slowly forcing his head to turn little by little. This helps get him back in the right direction and most importantly get him headed my way. This is not a time to rest, this is where you will win the fight or loose it! So put as much line back on the reel as you can, and as fast as you can. Long fights on your drag are not good for the tackle, nor is it good for you. Once you get worn out then your day is done. I prefer to go hard on the Blue Fin at the first strike. If I’m going loose him, I would rather loose early in the fight then at the end of it. And if you’re going to lose the fish by tackle failure at least it will be quick and allow you to find another fish.
Ok back to how to fight and trust me it’s a fight. If you are not giving all you got, you will lose. I know when an angler is not giving as much as he should be by listening to the reel, the reel should be working all the time. This means either the fish is taking line off or the angler is getting it back on the spool, when neither are happening the fight is in a stale mate. When you rest so does the fish, if he’s trying to rest you have to dig down deep and go the extra mile and now it’s time push. When this happens, the fish is most likely straight under the boat. He is lying on his side and doing what is called the death circle. When I notice this, I drive around and change the pull angle on the fish causing it to run again. Once you have turned the head and can lead them you can quickly get the big tuna to the boat for a gaff shot. But be warned, mess up the gaff shot and spook the fish…it is going to find a whole new reserve of fighting power. So go easy on the leader and gently lift it within gaffing range. Make the shot count.
Stay With The Fish
When I am fishing and as soon as we get a hook up I hit the way point button on my plotter/gps to mark the position. You will be surprised just how far you will move from where you hooked up to where you land the fish. Once all the lures are back out in the water the idea is to make your way back to where you got the hit, not where you finally got the fish on the boat. It’s a good idea to approach the mark in the same direction as you did the first time. Chances are you are going to get hit again somewhere close to the first one. If you don’t, I go back to my grid system. I look at my plotter as a grid and I cover each of the squares until I find them again. Once I do, I mark it with my waypoint and start the process over. You will notice a general direction that the school is moving making each stop easier to find. This method is just called working your territory correctly, and breaking it down in to grid system makes it so you do not waste time covering the same water over and over again. If you are don’t find the school again, stop wasting time and keep moving in the direction they were moving. If you still don’t pick anything up, get back on the plotter and start a new search until you find them.
When To Change It Up
The only way to judge a lure’s effectiveness is by how often it gets hit. The best way to test a lure is when the fish are firing. Take care to note which lures are getting the most strikes. The majority of the time you will find its one or two lures in the spread, this is your chance to do some experimenting. The lures that are not getting any attention can be substituted out, and this is a great chance to find out what the Blue Fin want to eat. I have some favorite lures that have caught hundreds of Yellow Fin but Blue Fin just don’t like them. I have some lures that have never caught anything but are dynamite on Blue Fin. Over time this experimenting will give you all the information you need on lure selection for Blue Fin and you will develop a great arsenal of Blue Fin CATCHING lures.
If I think the Blue Fin are swimming deep I run a Witch Doctor style teaser or if its calm I run an Exciter Bird with a daisy chain of lures for surface splash, sometimes I run both of these teasers; the more action, flash and vibration you can provide, the more interest you will receive from the fish. Running a deep diver just behind the Witch Doctor and a skirted lure in the short rigger position just behind the daisy chain will often result in a strike from these two positions simultaneously.
When everything has come together and you’ve got a strike, you need to keep motoring until the rod that has been hit is fully loaded up and ripping out line. With the first fish firmly hooked, continue trolling forward allowing the other lures a chance to hook up, you will be surprised just how often you can turn one strike into multiple hook ups if you do this. I generally give the other lures about 10 seconds before I stop. So with 2 or 3 anglers hooked up the remaining crew are free to bring the teasers and other rods in. If you can control the situation without tangling often the sinking lures will get hit as well.
The Spread And Speed
Setting an effective spread is where a lot of fisherman will go wrong. Knowing where and how far back to position your lures is something that can only be learned from hours on the water. If you’re just starting out, it’s good to purchase lures where the manufacturer has a suggested position and troll speed on the packaging. This will take some of the guess work out of it and save you time on the water trying to get a lure to swim effectively. When determining your lure position, it’s good to place lures where it is as easy as possible for the fish to see them. When targeting Blue Fin, I like to run deep divers from the inside corners closest to the transom. This puts them below the prop wash and provides a clear silhouette against the white bubbles over them. On the outside along the corner I like to run a daisy chain outside of the wake on the outriggers in clean water, especially when you are turning, I choose sizes ranging from 4 to 6 inches in length. From the middle of the stern with a quick release clamp I run a cedar plug 2 to 3 wakes back right were the prop wash starts to dissipates, the middle long back out lure should be put in the rocket launcher above the helm, I prefer a metal bullet head bubbler with a dark skirt or feather, as it will travel in a circular pattern to the surface and then back down again with a tracer of air bubbles.
Boat speed when trolling is crucial to how your chosen lures will swim. Placing your lures in front of the face of the wakes will help them work and dance better. There is no specific speed that I will troll. I troll at the speed that best allows the lures to swim. Speed obviously varies by what lures you’re running and what the conditions are like.
Many deep diving jigs don’t like to be trolled at high speeds. When these lures surface, skip along and tumble head over heels you are going too fast, and this is called a blowout not to be confused with a lure dancing. This happens when the rod is loaded up and the lure comes out of the water and sling shots across the top of the surface. If this happens you have to check the rig. Sometimes you can overcome this by adjusting the distance between the transom and the lure (either shorter or further from the boat) in the middle of the wakes.
Dancing lures come up for air and go right back down. Generally a skirted lure will have a swim cycle where the lure come to the surface, splashes, takes a breath of air, dives, leaves a smoke trail and then re-surfaces to start the cycle over again; this swim cycle is when they are working best.
Putting lures together that can swim effectively is part of the challenge. Just remember that your direction plays a part as well, and the speed that was perfect heading into the swell against the wind, won’t be the best speed when you turn down sea. Sometimes with Blue Fin a change in speed is exactly what you need to trigger a strike, just a couple of hundred revs more to get the lures working a bit franticly is all that is needed. With Blue Fin in particular, I have found faster is generally better.
Getting The Right Equipment
When purchasing fishing gear that is intended to catch Southern California Blue Fin tuna; the old saying, “you get what you pay for,” rings true. Rods, reels, line, harnesses, gimbles and lures should be of higher quality, which means it will have a higher price tag. “Can you catch big tuna on less expensive or ‘cheap’ gear?” of course. And if you’re targeting school size fish it should be ok. However, should that fish of a lifetime come along the last thing you’re going to want to be using is inferior equipment. Quality game rods with roller guides and conventional reels with a large spool capacity and a smooth and reliable drag are essential in fighting large Southern California Blue Fin tuna. With the comeback of the big Blue Fin, the chance of hooking up to a 200 pound plus monster is a real possibility. For this reason you should try and purchase the best gear your money can buy. I am not saying you have to go out and spend $1000+. If your budget doesn’t allow you to buy new, try and find quality equipment used at a fishing swap meet.
Line & Reels: I don’t run anything less than 50 to 60 lbs. test and at times when I know the big boys are around, I won’t run anything less than then 80lbs. I always have a least one, if not two, 100lbs test outfits ready just in case the radio starts talking of those massive 300+ lbs. fish spooling people on lighter lines. It this is not necessary to go out and purchase these massive reels that you see on Wicked Tuna. Our Blue Fin don’t get to 1000 lbs., but they can reach 500lbs. A quality 50 to 100 lbs. set up will tame most of those monster 200 to 400 lbs. fish, if used correctly. Here in Southern California our Blue Fin are normally 20 to 60 lbs. I will use lighter set ups, when the fish are smaller, and I will go down to 15 to 25 lbs. However, when I hear guys getting bit off, I will not go any smaller than 40lbs test. I have seen guys catch tuna on spinning outfits. I will not use a spinning outfit as it twists the line, but I have seen guys catch smaller tuna on fresh water bass reels, it’s just not the way I fish. I won’t use anything smaller then a Penn 500 or 501 with 15lbs for a couple of reasons. First is line capacity and second is just because everyone is catching footballs, does not mean a 30 to 40 pounder will not show up in the mix; and with the capacity of the 500 or 501, he is not going to spool me like the guy using a bass reel.
When I am loading up my boat and have at least four guys fishing, I will have four rods of each of these test: 15lbs, 25lbs, and 30lbs; and two rods with 40lbs, 60lbs and 80 and then one 100lbs. I tell each person to bring one or two of their favorite bait fishing outfits. Yes, it is nice to have 34 rod holders on my 28’ Chris Craft.
Leaders: I have a lot of friends that like wind-on leaders when targeting Blue Fin and you can make these yourself. Leaders are something I don’t experimented with a lot. I like a swivel with a clamp attached to the main line that attaches to a barrel swivels 150 to 200lbs with at least 6+ feet of leader. I like my bigger weight rigs to be crimped on and not tied on. This is a common practice but some guys like wind on leaders. I have tried both and run them side by side. I didn’t notice one not getting hit when the hitting was going on. This allows me to change out my rigs very quickly when needed and I can change it up to just about any type of lure I want. My colors will change with the timing of day and with cloudy days that turn to bright sunny days.
Lures: When it comes to choosing lures for Blue Fin tuna the options are endless: colors, head shapes, materials and style all differ greatly, yet are all effective in enticing a Blue Fin. The trick is learning when and where to place these lures into your spread to increase your strike rate. Only experience will provide you with this knowledge and if you don’t have it: spend the money and go on charters that do, pay attention, and ask questions when you see them changing out the lures, and each time they change ask again “why”. Don’t ever think you know it all. I have learned from guys that had no clue what they were talking about, but they were repeating what they heard from someone else, and the info was good. Take it all in and add to what you already know. One day it can be the trick that works.
Appropriate lure choice will help solve some of the mystery of why you are catching nothing, but the boat next to you is. Many lures on the market are colored to represent the bait fish that Blue Fin tuna feed on, these colors are a good starting point and when choosing a lure it’s a good idea to keep in mind what the fish are feeding on. Some lures are colored in fluorescent pink or green and bright purples. These lures in no way represent any of the natural bait fish Blue Fin prey upon yet they can prove to be irresistible to them at times. Size is very important when targeting Blue Fin and more often than not smaller skirted lures are more productive. I have had success with Blue Fin hitting 3 inch feathers and to date the biggest Blue Fin that I have landed was 176lbs on a 4” black and purple! There are numerous jig manufacturers to choose from. I prefer Williamson Herring, Tady or Sumo C2 jigs ranging from 3 to 8 ounces, depending on the size of the tuna. For fish less than 30 pounds, I’ll use a treble hook, but fish over 30 pounds I swap out the treble hook for a single hook.
Minnows: Aside from the variety of head shapes, materials and color patterns found with skirted lures, you can also implement some of the east coast techniques like deep diving bibbed minnows, vibes and other minnows into your spread. However, getting them all to swim at the same time can be a difficult task. I like to mark my boxes, so all my 4mph are together in the same box, and then when I troll faster go to my 6mph box or my 7mph box.
Knots: You may need to spend some time learning a few new knots, if you don’t already know them. I have some useful ones pictures to the right. For iron jigs you may want to remove the treble hook and add a split ring, attach to the split ring an assist cord and 8/0- to 13/0- size jigging hooks attached to the split ring. That way, the fish is fought off only the assist cord, not the jig itself. Pictures to the right of split ring, assist cord and double hook.
Finding the Fish
Do your research! Find out as much as possible of where the fish are BEFORE you go, it helps out by also saving you a lot of time and fuel. With social media pages like FishDope.com and other fishing forums you have access to daily reports with longitudes and latitudes, water temps, and temperature breaks and you are looking for those spots where you have highs and lows.
Watch the landing reports, what boats are hitting and what boats are missing. It’s easy to learn who did what, where and when; most fisherman can’t help not brag, don’t be afraid to ask how far out, what temp of water. Keep in mind some fishermen will lie about where they fish, this is why it’s important to find out what temp and how far out they are. Then looking on a good topo map you should be able to locate a close area where the bite is on. Local tackle stores will do their best to put you on the fish. They will even give you GPS locations of the last known schools if you ask. Tell them why you are buying something and often they will just start talking but sometimes you do have to ask.
Knowing what depth the fish are schooling at can be great information. If not you will need to learn how to read the birds and other signs. One of the best indications is the birds. They have the advantage of height and with their view point they can see the feeding Blue Fin in no time. Flocks of birds seen circling and diving are a sure indication that something is happening and this should never be ignored. I like to watch them closely to see how much of an area they are covering. If they are continuously going back over the same area without diving, they just keep going back and forth; they might have found bait that is too deep or they are following tuna that have not found the bait yet. I always drag my spread through them. Most of the time, I do not get anything but I am watching the sounder looking for marks. If nothing happens on the troll, I will stop on marks and yoyo. Birds that are concentrating on each other, sitting on the water or covering too big an area have never produced a strike for me. But I have stopped and shut the boat completely down and put out some bait rigs and the kite, this has worked many times on Blue Fin.
Sea surface temperatures play a part but isn’t something I concentrate on when targeting Blue Fin.
Bait on the surface is an obvious and important thing to look for. If you can find schools of bait fish shallow on your sounder then you’re on the money. If tuna aren’t going after it now, they soon will be. Something that I have found common with Blue Fin and not so much with other tuna is jumping wildly feeding. I have seen this from football size fish to monsters, and it doesn’t always lead to a strike. Blue Fin are shy at times and the more boat traffic there is the more timid they are. When this happens, figure out which way they are going, WITHOUT DRIVING OVER THEM! Get way in front of them and shut down the boat and get your bait out, some on fly line, and some with slip sinkers. This method is highly successful. If you come across paddies or the tuna pins, Blue Fin like to roam sometimes a mile or two off of them. Soak a bait, cut some chum, enjoy the day and drift, I have caught many this way.
The radio while tuna fishing can be your best friend. Let the other captains in on the fun, those guys you put on a hot bite will remember you and return the favor someday. Make sure you use your handle; this is how you make fishing buddies on the water. Ignore the few that don’t have a clue of what being a sportsman is all about, you will learn their voices. Over a little time you will earn respect from the guys that are on the water all the time. These guys are real sportsmen and we help each other out. Sometimes, just knowing that others are catching fish is a great boost for other boats and crew who may be starting to lose faith. There is nothing worse for a crew than doubting that the fish are even there. If you do get down, shut up and don’t get in the captains ear. Some days are just better than others that is why they call it fishing and not catching.
Pacific Blue Fin Tuna are one of the largest and fastest fish that swim in the Pacific Ocean. Here are some helpful tips on catching Blue Fin Tuna.
It takes a trained eye to spot the sometimes subtle hints that these fish leave in their wake as they prowl the canyons and ledges, terrorizing bait fish. Birds can be a great indication that bait fish are present and if the bait is there, then chances are good the Blue Fin are as well. Trolling lures is the most common form of game fishing for tuna here in Southern California. It’s relatively simple, highly effective and is as easy as dragging lures behind your boat until something decides to eat it. The more time you spend trolling lures the more ground you’re going to cover and the more fish you’re going to catch. Hopefully we can help you catch more Blue Fin tuna this season, more often, and save some of the endless miles of trolling seemingly fishless water.
About Blue Fin Tuna
The Blue Fin’s retractable fins and hydrodynamic body produce a streamlining effect, allowing them to reach speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour. Their historic range extends from Okinawa, Japan and Philippines to the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Blue Fin can be found off the coast of California from May through November. Forage consists of Mackerel, Squid, Red Crab, Anchovies, Sardines, Krill and other various small fish. Blue Fin Tuna can reach weights of up to 2,000 pounds.
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