Yellowfin Tuna is one of my favourite species to
target when heading offshore. They are abundant, you can catch them
using so many methods, they fight hard and they taste good.
The name Tuna derives from the Greek verb "thuno"
meaning "to rush", and that is exactly how a Tuna will fight, a local
nick name that we give them here is Gas Bottles, because of their
compact muscle filled torpedo shaped bodies, and off course when a
gas bottles lid blows goes off it is virtually unstoppable.
Tuna are an amazing species and unique when compared
to other game fish species and so I usually consider Tuna a species
all on their own. Tuna are warm blooded (endothermic) which means
that they can alter their body temperature and so control their
metabolism according to their environment. This ability allows Tuna
to live in a wide range of temperatures from 16 – 28 deg. C, and
gives them the stamina and endurance needed to maintain high speeds
for long periods of time. This is also what makes them such a worthy
opponent on a rod and reel.
Tuna always need to be moving as their body requires
large amounts of oxygen in their muscles and blood of which they
have at least twice as vessels compared to other species causing
their flesh to be redder and darker than other fish.
Yellowfin Tuna have a magnetic sensing organ in
their heads, change colour when excited and when cruising swim at
around 14-15km/hr with top speeds just below 90km/hr.
You can find Yellowfin Tuna on the warm side of
currents and warm spots, on the edge of colour lines, where there is
a lot of bait, swimming with Dolphins, on the peripheries of reefs,
pinnacles and ledges and more often than not where you find feeding
I find that Yellowfin Tuna often come into the
shallows early morning and late afternoon and spend most of the day
out in the deeper waters, but there are many other factors to
consider, especially food source. Yellowfin Tuna can be found along
our coast line almost all year.
Just a short note on birds, usually along our coast
Tuna are associated with the little birds we locally call "Sterrietjies"
(Little Stars, Larus novaehollandae hartlaubii). If you see these birds all moving in a
fixed direction, it
usually it means they are heading towards a feeding area. When you
find them circling, diving and hovering it means that they have
found a feeding area which almost always means that Yellowfin Tuna
are in the vicinity. The height that these birds hover from the
water usually indicates the depth that the school of Tuna is feeding
or chasing the bait shoal.
The bulk of the Tuna we catch along our coast line
will vary from 4Kg (9lbs) - 30Kg (66lbs), and whilst a 25Kg (55lbs)
plus Tuna is considered a trophy in most circles, there are Tuna in
the 40Kg (88lbs) - 60Kg (132lbs) range regularly in our waters, and
sometimes even larger specimens, especially out in the deep, my
personal best is 86Kg (189lbs).
There are so many lures available in the market and
they may all very well catch Tuna, but over the years of having
successfully caught thousands of Yellowfin Tuna off Durban, I have a
few lures that have performed consistently well and have become my
firm favourites. The way I rig these lures has also been crucial to
their success. Simply dragging a bunch of rigged lures behind the
boat will not give you consistent results. To me lure trolling is a
science and an art and requires attention to fine detail to get your
lures working at their best.
I prefer the use of short stiff Big Game rods 5’6"
(1.67m) long. Rods with eye guides are fine if you fishing lighter,
but I much prefer rods with roller guides. I use the Okuma Makaira
Big Game Rods with Roller Guides on my 24Kg (50lb) and 37Kg (80lb)
tackle, have rods with eye guides on my 15Kg (30lb) tackle.
On my 15Kg (30lb) and 24Kg (50lb) I have straight
butts, but I use bent butts on my 37Kg (80lb) tackle.
Whilst one can use 30lb (15Kg) stand up tackle, I
prefer using 50lb (24Kg) to 80lb (37Kg) tackle as the chances of
hooking up with a really big fish are good and then you have the
muscle to be able to handle the fish. Long Rods are not suitable as
the do not allow you the leverage that shorter rods with give you.
For reels one definitely needs to have a 2 speed
lever drag Big Game Reel in size 20, 30, 50 or 80 size, personally I
use the Okuma Makaira reels in size 20, 30 and 50 for this job. The
2nd gear will come in handy when you have a big tuna that is holding
deep and circling; and one needs the muscle to pull the fish up
before the sharks get to it. I have been using the Okuma Makaira
Reels for 2.5yrs now and they have been worked hard and often on my
charters and caught many fish with no problems, the drags are ultra
smooth and I am very satisfied with them.
As for line, my ideal choice is 50lb (24Kg) line for
this type of fishing, however one can scale down to 30lb (15Kg) or
even scale up to 80lb (37Kg) line, especially when fishing deeper
out. I have a personal preference for Berkley Big Game line, but
there are many good lines available on the market that are more than
The lures I mostly use when specifically targeting
Yellowfin off our coastline is Bullets and Feathers, and not the
little ones. I also like to use Halco, Rapala and Yozuri hard
plastic lures. Whilst I have heard many rave about the success of
using squid lures, I must say that they have not consistently
produced fish for me and so I don’t really make use of them and tend
to stay with what is working for me on our waters.
So when buying Feathers and Bullets I try get them
unrigged, but usually these are not easy to find and I am forced to
buy them rigged. As soon as I get them home, I take them out of the
packaging and immediately cut the line and hook’s off and throw them
away with the packaging.
In most cases the line used is too light and too
short, the hooks not suitable, way undersized and never positioned
in the correct place. When rigged and used correctly these lures can
hook-up and land big fish, not only Tuna but also Dorado, Wahoo,
Sailfish and Marlin.
My top colours for Bullets and Feathers
Black/Purple or Blue/Purple
On the hard plastic lures I pretty much only use 3
types in all their sizes, Rapala X-Raps, Halco Laser Pro’s and
My top colours
Red/White or Red/Silver
Blue/White or Blue/Silver
Orange/Yellow or Orange Black
On the subject of colours, they can be broken in to
3 categories and if you cover these 3 categories you will already be
in the running.
Dark like Red/Black or Black/Purple
Light like Blue/White or Red/White
Bright like Orange/Yellow
Of all my feather colours, Red/Black and Olive have
been my top fish producers.
Whilst there are many arguments on colours, I think
colours play a secondary role and although it is important, Form and
Movement are of utmost importance.
Form is the shape and size of the lure
Movement is getting your lure to swim optimally
in your spread
I will start with the Rapala’s/Halco’s/Yozuri’s.
If I can I try avoiding wire and rig with 1.5m of
0.65-0.70mm fluorocarbon joined to the main line with a double fig.8
knot. Line any thicker than 0.65-0.70mm and your lures will not swim
properly and keep popping.
When fishing Rapala’s/Halco’s one cannot use more
than 24Kg (50lb) main line as then your lures will not swim and keep
popping, so with 24Kg (50lb) main line I use no leader, with a 15Kg
(30lb) main line I use 7m of 0.65-0.70mm monofilament leader which I
connect to the main line as follows, main line doubled for about
500mm with an Aussie Plait and connected to the leader line with a
double fig.8 knot, to this I add my 1.5m of fluorocarbon.
Towards the end of summer when there are Wahoo
around or when close inshore in King Mackerel (Couta) waters I will
add 0.5m of No.7 single strand stainless steel wire joined to my
fluorocarbon with a no.6 power swivel. If there are many sharks in
the area on a particular day I will also use wire.
Ensure you tie your knots well as Tuna can really
test your tackle and your knots to the limits.
Correctly rigging Bullets and Feathers is important,
as I mentioned earlier I cut all the hooks and rigging from the
purchased lures and then rig them properly so they can work.
The way I rig Bullets and Feathers is the same.
Depending on lure size I will use Mustad Big Game
Stainless Steel Hooks in 8/0, 9/0 and 10/0; large hooks increase
your chances of a solid hook up significantly when compared to
My main reason for using the Stainless hooks is that
non stainless hooks rust and then stain your feathers or skirts and
personally I have found this stain to render the lure useless.
I rig my Bullets and Feathers with a single hook,
stiff rig, with almost the entire hook outside the skirt and only
the hooks eye inside the skirt; this keeps the rigging IGFA legal,
but very effective.
Attached to the stiff rig I use a 5m leader of
200-250lb Leader, I like to use Sportex Line for my leaders, it is a
hard, stiff leader line and well priced. Hooks are always fixed be
In many cases we use birds along with these lures
and if your leader is too short the bird will drag the lure instead
of letting it swim naturally and I have found 5m to be the ideal
The other reason I like the longer leaders is that I
do not like using wind on leaders as wind on leaders have way too
many disadvantages and are mostly used by novice anglers.
I double my main line 6m long with an Aussie Plait
and attach my snap swivel at the end of the doubled line and this
gets attached to the 5m lure leader.
Disadvantages of using a wind on leader are as
You lose almost 30% of the line capacity on
your reel making space for the wind on; this is a huge
amount of line capacity. E.G. Approximately 250m - 300m of
line when using 24Kg (50lb) line on a size 50 Big Game Reel.
300m is the average amount of line that the average fish
takes on its first run before you turn it.
By the time your leader is off the reel you
have already reached a stage where the drag settings on your
reel are affected and your line capacity is already reduced
significantly and is at a level where you should be backing
off the drag thereby reducing your chances of landing the
The wind on leader connection to your main
line is subject to high wear and tear and can fail easily.
The long thick line in the water creates
unnecessary line drag in the water and affects the swimming
of your lures.
If the snap swivel you use to connect to your lure
leader is oversized, one can use smaller ones when using doubled
line and this also reduces drag in the water.
Where to troll for tuna
Tuna can be found around structure, wrecks, reefs,
pinnacles, ledges and also areas where bait fish are prolific. You
will also find Tuna in current lines, colour lines and in areas
where the water temperature has a change, usually the Tuna will be
on the warmer side of the temperature line. Terns often referred to
as "Tuna Birds" are usually a dead giveaway that Tuna are present
and you will usually see them working the area with their beaks
pointed down, the Terns are waiting for the Tuna to work a bait ball
to the surface, usually the higher the birds fly the deeper the
shoal. If you come across them sitting on the water it often means
that the bait ball is still very deep and they are waiting, but
check the birds closely to see if their crops are full as it could
also mean you are too late and the feast has already happened.
On your fish finder you will see the thermocline, if
it’s too deep the area may not produce as you will not be able to
raise the fish towards your lures. In deeper water thermoclines
deeper than around 100m are considered too deep, in shallower water
the thermocline should be in the mid water. If you see Tuna on your
finder, mark the spot on your GPS and start working that area in a
widening circle, clover or figure of 8 patterns. If you hook up one
Tuna, start to work that area as there are most likely more around,
Tuna very seldom swim alone.
Often a shoal of Tuna will work a bait ball and
there will be no Birds around, whilst trolling you need to
constantly scan the area for any surface action, on my boat I scan
ahead and my deckhand scans behind, if we see action then we change
course and start moving towards it.
Tuna are never stationary and always on the move,
they usually swim into the direction of the wind, but when they are
around structures, reefs etc. you will find that they swim around
the peripherals and move from one structure to the next.
How to set your spread
Setting your spread is a subject that could fill a
book all on its own; the type of vessel you are using, and if you
have out riggers or not will dictate to a large extent what kind of
spread you will be setting.
On my boat we can run up to 9 lines at one time,
however I usually only run 5 – 7 lines; and once we working a shoal
I rarely run more than 4 lines and there is usually no time to
string the riggers between hook ups so then we run our lines
straight from the gunnels.
I often like to run a "mixed spread" of
feathers/bullets and hard lures, especially in the cooler seasons.
Tuna is the one species where multiple hook ups are
common place, so the more lines you run the more fish you can have
hooked up at once, if not every line you running, and so you need to
be sure you can handle a multiple hook up if all your lines get
taken. I have to add that I love the adrenaline rush when all lines
go and chaos takes over on deck, it’s one of those exciting moments
that are very difficult to describe but exhilarating to experience,
and probably one of the main reasons I love Tuna fishing so much.
Always run the shallow running Rapala/Halco further
back than the deep runner, doing it the other way around will just
cause you tangles and heartache.
Trolling speed is a question I often get asked, and
my reply is always the same, when your lures are running properly
then you are at the correct speed, wind, current and sea conditions
will affect the way your lures swim significantly, especially when
you are running Rapala’s/Halco’s.
Bullets and feathers can work well at a wide range
of speeds and are not really difficult to work with so when I am
running a spread of only feathers/bullets I will usually run a lot
faster than when running a mixed spread, having said that slower
running feathers/bullets often produce good fish.
A screaming current will make trolling Rapala’s/Halco’s
very difficult and the only solution is to slow down, there is no
point in running these lures when the keep on popping out. It is
also critical that you tune your Rapala’s/Halco’s to run true, and
you need to check them after every fish as often the fight will
bring the lure out of tune.
When running only feathers/bullets I tend to run at
6 – 8 knots, when running a mixed spread or Rapala’s/Halco’s only I
find the best speed range is 4 – 6 knots.
I like to run a large bird on my Shotgun lure, and
smaller birds off my riggers, my riggers are very high so my smaller
birds have a lot of airtime and then come splashing down.
When setting your spread and you getting the lures
out, always send the furthest ones out first and then the closer
ones, you don’t want to risk a tangle when one lure passes the
other. When retrieving always ring in the closer ones in first.
Typical distances that I like to run my lures are as
Shot Gun – 35m
Outside Riggers – 30m
Inside Riggers – 20m
Outside Corner – 20m
Corner – 15m
With Tuna fishing I prefer running my spreads
parallel instead of staggered as normally used for Marlin fishing.
TIP: When letting your lures out, the easiest way to
know how far you are letting your lures out is to count them out.
The distance from your reel to the first eye/guide on your rod is
approximately 0.5m, so 30 pulls would be approximately 60m.
Once your lures are out you can fine tune them,
feathers/bullets are best run facing down the slope of the boats
I have made two diagrams showing lure positions in
the standard 7 line spreads that I use most of the time, from these
diagrams it is easy for you to chose which positions will work for
you on your boat whether you run 2, 3, 4, 5 or 7 lines. You will
notice that I always like to run at least one Red/White lure in my
For leaders I prefer using fluorocarbon lines simply
because of their high abrasion quality, and these should be matched
with tackle that you are using.
For 30lb (15Kg) Main line, I use 55lb-80lb
For 50lb (24Kg) Main line, I use 55lb-80lb
fluorocarbon (This is what I use most)
For 80lb (37Kg) Main line, I use
My personal preference is the 55lb-80lb fluorocarbon
Circle hooks are the correct kind of hook to be used
for this kind of fishing as they are ideally suited in the way that
they work to give you solid and secure hook ups and reduce chaffing
on your line by the Tuna’s fine teeth.
On my big boat I usually make my leaders 1.5m long,
but if you fishing off a smaller boat, you may want to reduce the
length to 1.0m-1.2m long. These are connected to the main line via a
strong power swivel I usually use the Japan or Centro brand. For
30lb main line I use size 6 power swivels, for 50lb main line I use
size 4 power swivels and on 80lb mainline I use a size 2 power
Hooks need to be sized according to the size of bait
you are using. For circle hooks, for leaders up to 100lb I like to
use the Owner Light Game hooks or Mustad Ultra Point Circles 7/0,
8/0, 9/0, mostly I use the 7/0 and 9/0 hooks, for the 150lb leader I
will use their heavy gauge circle hook in a 8/0, 9/0, 10/0. With the
10/0 being my hook of choice
For J-Hooks I like the Mustad Hoodlums in size 6/0
or 8/0, but I still recommend Circle hooks and they are my first
It is important to ensure that you are using good
quality terminal tackle on the business end, cutting corners here
will result in lost fish. Make sure your hooks are always sharp; I
use a diamond file to dress the hook points before use.
Knots are also of utmost importance, and I like
using knots that give two strands of line over the hook or swivel,
so the knots that I prefer to use will be a doubled figure of 8 knot
where you pass your tag end through the eye before going through
your 4 loops, and another knot that also works well is a Palomar
knot with 3 wraps. On Circle Hooks I like to Snell them with the
line coming out the eye on the hook gape side forming your complete
I use no leader or doubled line on my main lines
with the exception of 30lb class where I use a 0.65mm (50lb) mono
filament leader of 7m. On my 50lb to 80lb class tackle I tie the
main line directly to my swivel. Double line or thicker lines will
cause excessive line drag and interfere with the natural drift of
Also bear in mind that the possibility of other Game
Fish or Bill fish can and will take your baits and so one needs to
be prepared for these.
Preparing your Chum Chunks
I use the 5Kg bulk packed sardines, typically one
will use 5-8 of these boxes in a day, take each sardine and cut off
the tail and the nose (from centre of the eyes), then you cut the
balance of the sardine into 5 equal pieces. Tullen Snips are the
best tool to be used for cutting as you can cut over your bucket and
let your pieces fall straight into your bucket.
I like to have 2 buckets for this and mostly I
prefer the galvanised 10 litre steel buckets, but plastic buckets
will also do the job. The 1st bucket is for all the nose and tail
pieces that you cut off because you do not want these in the water
as they float and then you will get birds into your chunk line, and
by leaving them in a bucket they are out of the way keeping the deck
clean, we usually dispose of these over board at the end of the trip
before we run home. The 2nd Bucket is for the chunks. I cut up one
5Kg box at a time, when this gets to about 10% we start cutting the
next box. You keep all your boxes of bait frozen until you are ready
to use them during the day. I use a 2 litre coke bottle, cut in half
at a 45 degree angle to scoop the chunks out when we deploy them.
Preparing your Bait Chunks
Here I like to buy the 1Kg individually packed
Sardines, and one would normally need 5 – 8 of these, here we take
about one third of the Sardines out of the 1Kg box at a time and
prepare them giving us around 25-35 bait blocks, the rest we keep
frozen until needed.
The idea is to now cut these sardines whilst still
frozen to match the size of the chunks from your chum. We are going
to cut these sardines into 5 pieces, try keeping the stomach area as
1 piece and cut off the tail and half the head. These must be
prepared and ready before you start your chum line. Whilst the norm
is to keep your bait chunks the same size as your chum chunks, there
are times that one needs to deploy half or even full sardines into
the chum line to get results, the half pieces we cut at a 45 degree
angle to make a shovel.
Oil and Glitter
Concentrated anchovy oil can be mixed into your
block baits, but I do not like to use this when in shallower water
due the amount of sharks that we have around as this will attract
them also, but it does give an extra scent to the chum line
attracting more fish into the area and is more effective in deeper
waters where there are not too many sharks around.
Glitter is a visual stimulant to fish and can bring
the fish out from the deep, but one needs to mix this with sand to
get it to sink into the water otherwise it just floats on the water.
I like to use silver glitter most times, but if the
water is a little turbid then gold glitter does have an advantage.
Glitter can be obtained at most party shops and we take 1 large
packet of glitter and then we mix it with beach or river sand in a
10kg bucket, again I prefer a galvanised bucket. This is something
you prepare at home and be sure to mix it evenly and thoroughly.
When using the glitter/sand mix we utilize one of
those small gardener’s shovels to cast the mix into the water, l
lightly loaded shovel at a time and we drop this over before we
deploy the chum blocks.
Once in the water the glitter will go down with the
sand and then separate from the sand which falls, and hang in the
current making many flashes which can be seen from far and deep to
get the interest of hungry and inquisitive fish that will then come
and inspect and find your chum and baits.
Rigging your Bait Chunks
Whether using a circle hook or a J-Hook the
procedure is the same and very simple.
On the thinner side of your chunk push your hook
point into the centre of the chunk next to the spine about 50% of
the way and then push the point of the point out through the skin.
Then pull only the bend of the hook out and turn it
the opposite way around and push it into the thicker end completely
hiding the hook.
You want the hook hidden so that your bait chunk
looks just like the chum chunks, and the hook is laying flat against
Every time you deploy your bait, use a new chunk.
and Where to Chunk
The kind of areas for chunking would be much the
same as when you are trolling, and so one would look for the same
things. Tuna can be found around structure, wrecks, reefs,
pinnacles, ledges and also areas where bait fish are prolific. You
will also find Tuna in current lines, colour lines and in areas
where the water temperature has a change, usually the Tuna will be
on the warmer side of the temperature line.
My favourite area by far is on a distinct current
line. Chunking requires current and wind to work so your boat is
moving, and whilst one can hope for perfect conditions, the truth is
you will have to make the best of the conditions of the day to get
it working for you. You cannot chunk if your boat is not moving as
your chunks will just sink down. In our area currents are usually
around 2-3knots and we mostly have current and wind in the same
direction, typically a N-S current and a NE wind, or the opposite a
S-N current and a SW wind. The perfect day would be the 1st day of a
SW wind when the current is still running N-S, but these days are
few and far in between.
Be warned, that in summer when the Dorado are at
their peak and you are chunking it is common place for a hungry pack
of Dorado to take every bait in the water and a mixture of
adrenaline and chaos sets the mood on the boat.
Working your Chunk line
Once you have all you tackle and bait ready, and you
have arrived at the area where you want to chum, you need to do a
test drift 1st to enable you to check you drift on the GPS and an
once you have a track that you can see you can now go and position
your boat for your chunking, whilst doing the test drift all the
tackle and bait can be made ready for action.
One rod per angler, I usually don’t like more
than 4 rods to be used on my boat when chunking.
All rods get put in the gunnel holders and
enough line is pulled out so that the bait and leader can run in
the water when deployed. The rods will stay in the gunnel
holders for the entire process until you get a fish on.
Drags must be on free spool and only the ratchet
Every angler baits up his hook and gets ready
before the chunks are deployed.
Once every one is ready, we take the half 2 litre
coke bottle and deploy the first chunks.
At the same time as the chunks are deployed the
first angler deploys his bait and pays out approximately 50m of line
into the water, as soon as he is done then you deploy another scoop
of chunks and the next angler deploys and so on until all the lines
are out and drifting naturally in the water. Be sure to set you drag
on light as soon as you have finished paying out your line.
Once the 50m of line has straightened out leave it
for about 1 minute and then retrieve the line, until each angler’s
line is back and then repeat the procedure again and again until you
get a fish.
You need to be vigilant and continuously watch your
lines and work your chunks.
The hook up: How to fight and land your fish
This is the exciting part, but you need to contain
yourself and think about what you are doing in order to get the hook
As soon as the reel starts running and the ratchet
starts to scream, be sure to thumb the spool to prevent an
If using circle hooks, leave your rod in the gunnel
holder and wait about 10 seconds, then slowly tighten up the drag
and allow the rod to set the hook, once the hook is set you take the
rod out of the gunnel and start your fight.
If using a J hook, leave your rod in the gunnel
holder for about 5-6 seconds, then tighten up your drag quickly and
take the rod out of the gunnel give one hard pump to set the hook
keep your rod straight up after the pump and wind down and be sure
to have no slack line when you do this, and then you start your
Leave the other baits in the water as there may be
more fish around and you can get more fish on.
As soon as the first reel starts running mark that
point on the GPS.
Once the angler or anglers are well set into the
fight we clear all the lines and start up the boat and engage gears
in idle, this now gives us control over the fish and also
significantly reduces the risk of having your fish taxed by a shark,
we then start to fight the fish one at a time and get them to the
Once all the fish are landed, we go back to the
point where we got the first hook up and we begin the drift