114 tuna oliverPresented from Issue 114, February 2015

Tuna season is well upon us and as Matt Byrne writes, with some preparation, a Tuna out of your tinnie is a real option proving that you do not need all the top end gear to get amongst the action.

Every single angler has a new goal or something they aspire to, whether it be catching a wild 10lb Trout, a Tasmanian Snapper or more recently perhaps even hooking a Broadbill swordfish. Yes, with the right amount of money you could indeed hire the top guide or the big boat with the gun crew and probably shortcut a lot of time and effort in achieving your dream fish, but would it be truly as satisfying I ask as having done it in your own boat, in your own backyard and with your own tackle?

For me, there is something incredibly satisfying about doing all the hard work in researching your target species, knowing its habits, preparing your gear, learning from your mistakes and of course in the end experiencing the thrill of landing that target fish. Small boat tuna fishing has all of that and much, much more and in this article I will detail everything I have learned about what is arguably one of the most adrenaline filled forms of fishing, targeting high speed Tuna out of your tinnie.

114 tuna bluefin
A nice little bluefin.

Timing and species

Before we get carried away talking about boats or even tackle, targeting any of our Tuna species in Tasmania is all about timing and weather, given they are a seasonal species in Tasmania. While we can traditionally expect the first of the Tuna (Albacore) to be caught around Christmas time at St Helens and well off the continental shelf, the inshore action for small boat anglers really doesn’t heat up until early to mid February. At this time, the inshore water temperatures will have warmed up significantly to around 17-18 degrees plus and with those temperatures will be inshore concentrations of baitfish activity and arrow squid which are prime food items of our Tuna species. Come February, Albacore, Striped Tuna and Yellowfin Tuna are the key target species, yet within a matter of weeks, the first of the Southern Bluefin Tuna will often be caught. A week or two can be a long time in Tuna fishing in terms of increased action and as we then head into March we are ready for that period of the Tuna season where literally anything is possible, including a Striped Marlin!

Your boat, the weather and where So the Tuna have arrived and there is hype in the air about getting in on the action out of your own boat. Stop right there! Firstly and most importantly, consider the size and capability of your boat. While a few may disagree, I personally consider anything below 15ft to be too small for inshore Tuna fishing and whilst I have seen smaller boats out in the elements, I personally think they are best suited to fishing the bays and estuaries. The east coast of Tasmania is really not a place you want to be if the weather takes an unexpected turn. It is only you that can know the capabilities of your own boat and you simply need to be realistic about what you can or maybe can’t do.

Whilst by law you must have all the necessary safety gear on board your boat, before you plan a trip, make sure it all works! E.g. Stormy life vests recently serviced, radio and bilge working etc etc. Make sure you have appropriate clothing on hand and aside from your Stormy life vest, a good set of waterproof overalls are worth their weight in gold in keeping you both dry and warm all day, which is very important when you will be putting in long days trolling in the elements. Other important preparation as far as your boat is concerned should be that you attempt to have a clutter free work space in your boat where everything has its own place of storage including rods, gaff, tackle boxes, fish bins etc. The last thing you want is to be tripping over things or trying to clear things out of the way when you get that double hook up! Take more than enough fuel is the other point and take note of how much fuel you use in order to gauge what is a sensible amount to have as ‘reserve’.

As far as weather patterns go that are mostly conducive to small boat Tuna fishing, it will naturally depend on where you fish but my general rule of thumb is that any wind of around 5 – 15 knots blowing from south west, west or north west is just about the safest wind to fish any of our east coast hotspots. Combined with a 1-2 metre swell and taking into account a sea breeze, you will be more than comfortable in these conditions. Any other wind direction on the east coast should be handled with a lot of caution with a close look at wind speed and swell before organising a trip, but mostly anything blowing around 15-20 knots means you won’t be fishing. Naturally, those clear days with consistent 5 -10 knot winds will be fine from any weather direction. Again, you have to know what weather is fishable and not fishable for your boat. In terms of locations, the two prime small boat Tuna fishing bases are really St Helens and Eaglehawk Neck.

A short run of just a couple of miles in either of these locations and you are right amongst possibly some of the best Tuna habitat there is in Tasmania. As far as St Helens goes, launching at Burns Bay boat ramp is your best bet to quickly and safely reach the inshore grounds, whilst off Eaglehawk neck you may either launch from Pirates Bay or my personal favourite, out of Fortescue Bay (despite the rough gravel road in!). All areas offer quick protection from the weather if the wind did happen to turn unexpectedly.

114 tuna tinny
A tinny does not stop you tuna fishing.
Ensure it is not too small though, watch the
weather, take no risks and ensure you have all
the safety gear and more.

Tackle and techniques

When it comes to tackle, 15 kg set ups are a good all round option and give you that bit of extra strength and line capacity if you do happen to hook something big. By all means, have some lighter 5-8kg outfits on hand such as we do, but be choosy about at what times you use them e.g. when you have located some schools of small Albacore or Striped Tuna.

Overhead rod and reel combos from brands like Shimano (TLD range) and Penn are exceptional value for money and if well looked after, will last for many years. That said, there are some great threadline reels on the market these days that will also do an amazing job on all Tuna species, with brands like Penn, Finn Nor, Daiwa and Shimano all offering quality reels in the 6000 – 9000 size. When matched with a 10-15 kg spinning rod, you have a very versatile combo which also offers you the option of casting lures.

When it comes to line, I do like the 15kg monofilament from Playtpus but any of your favourite mono will do the job fine. The most important thing is that you have plenty of line on your reel, 200-300 metres minimum. You also have the option of using a quality braid like Finns, but remember that braid has zero stretch which makes pulling a hook on a hard fighting fish like Tuna, a greater possibility.

It’s at the business end that seems to confuse some people and here I mean lure choice. The first point is that you do not need a tackle box full of Tuna lures but it is essential to have a range of both skirts and deep divers. I find it often pays to keep your lures on the smaller side in the 12 – 16 cm category as this is predominantly the size range of our baitfish. As far as skirts go, Boone or Williamson brands in lime green, pink, purple/silver combinations are a must have especially for Albacore and Striped Tuna. As far as deep divers are concerned, Halco Laser Pro’s in the 120 – 160 size range are hard to beat in the King Brown, Pilchard and Red bait colours, as are Mac Bait lures in green, blue/silver and purple/ silver combinations. All of these divers get down to that 2 – 2.5 metre range and are simply dynamite on Tuna in all manner of weather conditions. One word of advice on these deep divers however is to replace the treble or dual hooks with single hooks, as like other anglers, we have had problems with well hooked fish dislodging particularly the trebles all too easily. In relation to leader size, you want to keep some movement about your lures so keep your trace in the 100 – 150 lb size. Too heavier trace material and you will affect the performance of your lures.

When small boat tuna fishing, set up of your rod holders and where you run what lures is very important. If the weather is not too breezy I will run four rods, a skirt on each of the side rods (positioned near horizontal) with the lures ran well back out to 30 metres. I will also run another two rods (positioned vertical) just in from each gunnel and attached to those will be two deep divers with these run in closer at 15 metres. This configuration results in no tangles and enables me to determine what the fish are taking. If the deep divers are working best (as they often do), then we run all 4 deep divers and vice versa. Sometimes, the wind will allow you to run a lesser amount of gear but in a small boat, two or three rods working well is far better that a four way tangle up! Often the conditions will determine what you can do, but if I am restricted to using less gear then I will run the deep divers every time as they are definitely a standout performer.

The greatest tip when tuna fishing is to use your sounder to locate prime water temperature breaks and in turn baitfish presence. When you locate good concentrations of bait GPS it, fish it hard and fish persistently. You will not catch Tuna if you aren’t prepared to do the trolling miles that are required on some days.

114 tuna organised boat
A well laid out and organised
boat is essential.

On that point, some say Tuna fishing is often best described by long periods of boredom and short bursts of madness and I was reminded of exactly this last year, two days before the Bluefin Tuna championship at Eaglehawk neck when we had trolled 4-5 hours solid without turning a reel and in fact from our observations, the other 30 or so boats out that morning hadn’t done any better, things were quiet despite a lot of bait being about. Nevertheless we persisted and at 12.30 pm on the dot after all the boats had cleared off for lunch and the sea had literally flattened out to a mill pond, we trolled across yet another bait ball when the fish struck out of nowhere. Struck it did (breaking the rod holder in the process) and in the first few seconds that fish made a blistering run of 200 metres before we could even turn the boat! Gaining some line on occasions but never really in control, we wrestled that fish for 40 minutes and backed up chasing it for a mile and a half when the line went slack. That fish stayed deep the whole fight and although we didn’t see it, we both agreed we had lost a very big Bluefin, just how big we will never know, 100kg or more quite possibly. Lamenting a lost opportunity but feeling happy about matching it with the big boats, we went back to the same bait ball and had a further 6 hook ups on smaller school Bluefin and Albacore. The whole point is that persistence is definitely key and you will eventually find what you are looking for if you stick at it.

The great thing about Tuna fishing is that at some point Tuna have to feed. By nature they can’t stop swimming which means they are forever burning energy and in need of regular protein. If bait is hard to locate elsewhere, persist your trolling efforts around structure as the fish won’t be too far away from hunting out prey. St Helens has some wonderful reef systems like Merricks and Pulfers, Whilst Eaglehawk Neck has the Little and Big Hippolyte as well as sheer cliff faces like the Lanterns where many a fish has been captured including some world record fish. All of these areas are well within reach of the small boat angler and what’s more while you are waiting for a strike, you will not find more picturesque surrounds to be doing it in.

2015 season ahead

As I write this, news filtering in of more Albacore being caught near the shelf from St Helens, Bicheno and off Eaglehawk Neck has me excited about what is in store for the season ahead. If it’s anything like the 2014 season, we will be catching Albacore and Striped Tuna well into May/June and Southern Bluefin well beyond that!!

This season there are more boxes to tick out of the tinnie including tuna on soft plastics. Fortunately Purefishing have recently sent me some 13cm Berkley Jerk Shads that I’m sure albacore and striped tuna would only be too happy to climb all over and I can’t wait to try deep dropping them. Then of course there is a Eaglehawk Neck kingfish. They are on the bucket list.

Our 17ft Powercraft dinghy is ready to go, so is our crew and as soon as we hit February we will be out there chasing Tuna out of our tinnie. It’s great fun so get prepared, do your research and have a go at this adrenaline charged form of fishing, but beware, if you’re a keen trout angler like I was, once you experience this, there is no going back!

Matt Byrne

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