Chasing chooks

Tim Anderson takes a look at one of the mainstays of Tasmania's gamefishing. Albacore are not as regal as marlin, yellowfin or bluefin, but they are fun to catch and great to eat.

The build up
What smells like fish and tastes like chicken? This question has so often been asked by the likes of Cheech and Chong and although the very term conjures up images of "hedgehogs" and alley cats, rarely has the question been posed in this arena.

The answer I am looking for in this forum is obviously albacore tuna.

They are often called "Chicken of the sea" due to their white flesh and table qualities and are accessible to nearly everyone with a boat. In Tasmania, fortunately, they can be found close to land, unlike in NSW where they are rarely found closer than the continental shelf.

I don't by any means profess to be the guru on the subject and I don't intend to tell those who target these fish what they already know. I do however hope to give a little guidance to those willing to have a go a better chance at catching a fish.

I must digress momentarily to mention that this article was born on short notice as my original article on "Land Based Game" was bumped out and should come to fruition in a future issue of this esteemed publication. My own custom game boat is now on the trailer and at fitting stage with a wishful return to the water prior to the "St Helens Classic'.

To make matters worse the "significant other" decided a renovation was in order and completely removed the kitchen and a wall or two for good measure. So hopefully I have risen to the occasion.

Been smoking
This is one occasion where a boat is quintessential even if it is a smaller trailer boat of around 4.5 metres or so. The notion you need a large, fully rigged specialty game boat to catch tuna is incorrect. Recently my wife, caught the largest tuna for the competition we were in, just out in front of Elephant Rock at St Helens, within 1km of the shore. We have been close to other ports between Eddystone and Pirates Bay and repeated similar catches on a number of occasions.

I have also on occasions found larger Albacore in close and have had friends catch sizeable yellowfin inside of Merricks Reef (also at St Helens). This proves that when the fish are running tuna will come in close to feed and like most other pelagic species can be found anywhere the bait is.

Another misconception is that you need large specialty overhead rods and reels loaded with the best line money can buy. This very notion has been completely destroyed by Tasmania's very own Nick Duigan of Hook Line and Sinker fame where he took an Albacore tuna on less than $20 of rod and reel combination, which was designed for only a couple of jaunts in the bay. I was also witness to a competition winning effort by Jamie Harris where he landed several very good specimens simply dangling a gold and black barramundi mauler out the side of the wash of Terminator on 3kg line. I must say that he was smoked on several occasions however his persistence did pay dividends.

Albacore can come in jumbo numbers at times up to around 20kg plus, although the average size is around 4 - 8kg. So I suggest that a reasonable quality 6 - 8kg overhead combination or 80 series egg beater loaded with either 20kg braid or 10kg mono is ample to take most fish. Notwithstanding this there is always the possibility of a large yellow fin lurking in the same territory so don't be over surprised if you get smoked, just lay back and enjoy the ride.

Bare necessities
Lures can be a range from $5 hard body "Barramundi Maulers" and either expensive skirted lures or pushers such as "Meridian" lures or similar cheaper versions found in budget bins of good tackle outlets. I found that Albacore are partial to the "Zuka" straight running lures run close to the wash and Christmas type jet head lures. The hook size varies from a 10/0 to a 6/0 depending in the type of lure. A good guide to choosing the right hook is that the hook gape should slide over the lure head. A short mono 100lb trace is ample for leader material.

Trolling the lures is the best way to cover enough ground to locate the fish and most lures work effectively between 6 -10 knots. Also try a variety of lures at different distance behind the boat starting right on the wash to the end of the bubble trail which could be up to 20 - 30 metres behind depending on your outboard. Trolling a flashing teaser in the wash can also add to your catch.

I have caught Albacore in a variety of ways including with bait floating back in the burley trail, live bait and have seen them jigged up from the depths with a fast retrieved lure. They are a fast, tenacious pelagic and on light gear give a great account for themselves and like all tuna they don't give up until the fuel tank is empty.

When trolling for Albacore tuna you are in the areas where you could see, (all be it on very rare days) a marlin or yellowfin tuna. However the most common other species encountered are striped tuna. These tuna fight well and are excellent bait for other species due to their very oily dark flesh, but the table qualities are not the greatest. You may also encounter salmon in close or the dreaded lure shredding couta so you may need to push out just a little further to avoid these species.

If you're in a smaller craft, although only within relatively short distances from shore check the weather and sea conditions and make sure you cover all the safety necessities for going to sea. Again if you are catching these tuna take only what you need for a feed as all pelagic stocks are under pressure particularly from the commercial sector.

Once caught you should bleed the fish by inserting a knife through the fish in the pit of the long pectoral fin on both sides and place the fish in a kill tank out of the sun and immersed in ice or salt water to keep it cool and fly free.

The best way of preparing these fish is to fillet them, remove the blood line and then the flesh, with some degree of skill and dexterity, can be pulled from the skin to give a clean boneless fillet. The best time to target these fish is from February to late April. The best period of settled weather being the March period. So grab a rod or two and get out there and give it a crack.

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Tim Anderson