Tuna are prized game fish that can grow to massive sizes, fight hard, and make for an exciting angling adventure. However, tuna species are also highly migratory fish that require specialized tuna fishing techniques and equipment to target successfully.
This guide will explore the most effective tuna fishing methods to help anglers understand the intricacies of tuna fishing. Whether trolling offshore for giants or casting poppers to schoolie yellowfin, we will cover techniques for both recreational anglers and commercial fishermen. Read on to gain the knowledge needed to master the art of tuna fishing.
Tuna Fishing Methods – Key Takeaways
- Trolling allows covering large areas offshore to find migratory tuna species.
- Chumming uses scent to draw tuna in close to the boat for more consistent action.
- Popping takes advantage of surface-feeding tuna willing to hit fast-moving lures.
- Jigging precisely mimics the profile and action of tuna prey at depth.
- Longlining employs miles of baited hooks fished commercially overnight.
- Pole and line fishing selectively targets tuna with minimal bycatch.
- Handlining represents simple, low impact fishing with a single line.
- Matching tackle and baits to techniques is critical for success.
- Employing proper techniques for each method takes experience.
- Sustainability should be at the forefront of all tuna fishing.
- Understanding tuna behavior patterns and regional differences helps locate fish consistently.
- Mastering varied tuna fishing techniques will make anglers more versatile and successful.
Trolling – Covering Water to Find the Fish
Trolling involves slowly dragging multiple fishing lines behind a moving boat to cover a large area efficiently in search of fish. This technique allows anglers to target tuna over offshore waters, reefs, ledges, canyons, and other structure where tuna roam in search of prey. Lines are set at varying lengths using planers, divers, or weights to get lures and natural baits down to different depths. A typical trolling spread may have 6 to 10 rods covering levels from the surface to 200+ feet down.
When a tuna strikes, the angler engages the reel and fights the fish from the moving boat. Once landed, lines are reset and trolling resumes. Species like yellowfin, bigeye, bluefin, and albacore tuna forage widely over deep water and are effectively targeted using trolling methods. Lures, dredges, squid chains, and oily fish like mackerel mimic tuna prey and entice strikes when trolled.
Benefits: Covers more territory to find fish. Allows fishing in deeper offshore waters. Multiple lines increase odds of getting bit.
Drawbacks: Requires specialized gear, spreads, and boat handling skills. Can be less effective in shallow, obstructed areas. Fighting fish from a moving boat can be challenging.
Target Species: Yellowfin, bigeye, bluefin, albacore tuna primarily.
Chumming – Bringing Tuna to the Boat
Chumming, also called chunking, uses ground or live bait to establish a scent trail that brings tuna in close to the boat. Chum consists of oily fish cut into chunks and scattered overboard. The blood and oils induce a feeding frenzy as chunks disperse downstream with the current. Once tuna are in a frenzy and staying near the boat, anglers use live bait or lures on hooks to entice strikes.
Anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and bunker make excellent chunking baits. Using live baitfish along with chunks is called live-chumming and is deadly on yellowfin. The sound and activity of the live baitfish send tuna into a full-on attack mode when they pinpoint the bait behind the boat. Chumming is very productive but requires a constant supply of fresh bait.
Benefits: Brings fish right to the boat. Allows use of live baits for added action. Extends bite windows by keeping fish around.
Drawbacks: Requires a constant bait supply which must stay lively. Can attract sharks and other predators. Limited to areas with moderate currents.
Target Species: Yellowfin, skipjack, blackfin, bluefin tuna.
Popping – Explosive Topwater Eruptions
Popping and surface iron techniques target tuna that are holding higher in the water column and willing to attack prey at the surface. Poppers are floating lures made to splash, gurgle, and make commotions that imitate wounded baitfish on the surface. Casting or skipping poppers over areas holding breaking tuna can induce instant violent strikes.
Walking the dog, spraying water, and varying the cadence of pops mimics wounded baitfish perfectly to trigger savage attacks. Surface iron like stickbaits and metals can also be ripped and cranked quickly across the surface to provoke strikes. Popping is extremely effective on schooling yellowfin when they are holding high and willing to hit fast-moving reaction baits.
Benefits: Visually exciting strikes. Allows targeting tuna near surface. Works well on schooling fish.
Drawbacks: Only effective in calm, flat conditions. Requires accurate casting skills. Missed strikes are common.
Target Species: Yellowfin, blackfin, skipjack tuna.
Jigging – Matching the Hatch Underwater
Vertical jigging uses weighted metal or plastic lures on a vertical line that is worked up and down to imitate struggling baitfish. Jigs can precisely mimic the action, migration, and profile of tuna prey like squid, herring, and anchovies. Jigging works well when tuna are holding deep or suspended off structure.
Anglers work jigs with varying rhythmic lifts and falls until strikes happen, then pause or slow the retrieve to allow tuna to suck in jigs. Jigging is extremely effective in rough, churned up water where bucktail or soft plastic trailers add more action and profile. The ability to finesse lures right in a tuna’s strike zone makes this a potent technique across many species.
Benefits: Allows targeting tuna at depth. Matches hatch precisely. Very effective in rough water and currents.
Drawbacks: Requires practice to master precise jigging cadences. Less effective for tuna near the surface. Often catches less desirable species too.
Target Species: Yellowfin, bigeye, bluefin, dogtooth tuna primarily.
Longlining – Efficient Commercial Fishing
Longline fishing is a commercial method using hundreds or thousands of baited hooks attached to a single long line that stretches for miles. Main lines can be 50 miles or more and have shorter branch lines with baited hooks clipped on every few feet. Longlines use 30-60 thousand hooks and are aimed at catching tuna, swordfish, mahi-mahi and other marketable species.
Lines are set, allowed to soak overnight, then retrieved with winches. Target species are kept while unwanted species are discarded. Longlining is controversial due to high levels of bycatch but has been made more sustainable with strict regulations, circle hooks, and careful baiting and setting practices. It remains one of the most efficient means for commercial tuna fishing vessels to harvest quality tuna.
Benefits: Extremely efficient for commercial fishing. Catches a wide variety of tuna species. Allows targeting migratory fish.
Drawbacks: High potential for bycatch and discard mortality. Perceived lack of sustainability. High cost of gear.
Target Species: Yellowfin, bigeye, bluefin, albacore, other marketable species.
Pole & Line – Selective and Eco-Friendly
Pole and line or bait boat fishing uses short poles with barbless hooks, bait, and chum to catch tuna. It selectively targets tuna, so has very low bycatch compared to other methods. One or two fishermen cast short lines from a small boat and catch tuna as they surround the chum slick.
After reeling tuna in by hand, the hooks are carefully removed. Pole and line causes little habitat damage and the tuna caught are highest quality since they are landed so quickly. This is one of the most sustainable commercial tuna fishing methods and has minimal environmental impact while supporting local fishermen. However, it requires abundant baitfish to stay productive.
Benefits: Extremely selective catch. Low bycatch and eco impact. High quality tuna. Supports small scale local fishermen.
Drawbacks: Very labor intensive method. Requires huge quantities of baitfish. Only effective on some tuna species. Low catch volume.
Target Species: Skipjack, yellowfin, albacore tuna primarily.
Handline Fishing – Pure and Simple
Handline fishing represents tuna fishing in its simplest form. A single fishing line is dropped vertically using a bait or lure on a hook. The line is grasped by hand rather than on a fishing rod and is hauled up when a tuna strikes. Handlining selectively targets tuna and bonito by drifting while vertically jigging lines.
This cost effective, environmentally friendly fishing requires little gear. Handline fishing has been used to sustainably catch tuna for thousands of years. It continues supporting small scale fishermen who take pride in their generations old craft. While not as efficient as commercial techniques, handlining allows catching tuna with minimal impact to the environment.
Benefits: Extremely selective fishing. Low cost, low environmental impact. Preserves ancient fishing traditions and supports local fishermen.
Drawbacks: Very labor intensive. Lower catch efficiency and volume. Only feasible nearshore.
Target Species: Skipjack, yellowfin, bonito primarily.
Key Considerations for Effective Tuna Fishing
Matching Tackle to Technique
- Trolling requires heavy offshore rods/reels, dredges, planers to get lures/baits deep.
- Chumming relies on stout conventional or spinning tackle to handle big fish beside the boat.
- Popping uses longer casting rods and accurate reels for distance and leverage against powerful strikes.
- Jigging outfits utilize specialized jigging rods and reels engineered for vertical fishing.
- Commercial vessels use hydraulic winches, miles of line, and thousands of hooks to set and retrieve massive longlines.
- Pole fishing requires short, stout poles and reels along with an inventory of live bait.
- Handlines use a main line, leader, hooks and sinkers or lures matched to target species.
Selecting the Right Bait and Lures
- Troll with dredges, spoons, plugs, squid chains, or oily baitfish to trigger strikes out deep.
- Chunking relies on blood, oil, and dispersion so baits like anchovy, herring, or sardine work best.
- Poppers should be durable, long casting, and make lots of commotion without fouling treble hooks.
- Jigs must match the profile and action of regional prey like squid, shad, menhaden, etc.
- Longliners use squid and opportunistic fish like mackerel to bait circle hooks.
- Pole and line fishing relies on large volumes of small, oily baitfish like anchovy to draw in tuna.
- Handlining works well with sardines, small tuna, or specialized jigs and lures.
Employing Proper Technique
- When trolling, use outriggers, planers, dredges, and rigs that avoid tangles in the lines.
- Chum effectively by keeping chunks and bait flowing downstream of the boat to hold fish.
- Vary the speed and action of pops then pause to trigger explosive strikes on the surface.
- Master jigging by eliciting strikes with varying rhythmic lifts and falls until tuna attack.
- For longlining, set gear carefully to avoid areas with unwanted species or obstructions.
- Pole fishing relies on coordinating chum dispersal with precisely aimed bait presentations.
- Develop a slow, steady handline retrieve and be ready to stop or set the hook when weight increases.
Using Sustainable Practices
- Avoid areas with high bycatch when trolling and release unintended catch quickly.
- Prevent bait bucket discharge and do not dump unused chum bait when finished.
- Carefully remove hooks and release undersized or unwanted tuna after popping and jigging.
- Stringent regulations, circle hooks, bait, and placement help make longlining more sustainable.
- Pole and line and handline fishing remain the gold standard for low impact methods.
- Supporting well-managed and environmentally responsible fisheries helps sustain tuna populations.
Whether a recreational angler or commercial fisherman, tuna require specialized techniques and equipment to target effectively. Understanding conditions, biology, and regional differences is also key to consistently connecting with tuna. Mastering these tuna fishing methods along with proper practices will lead to success and sustainable fishing. Now get out there on the water and reap the benefits of landing one of the ocean’s greatest gamefish – the spectacular tuna!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best technique for catching bluefin tuna?
Trolling with a spread of artificial lures and natural baits allows covering the wide ranges bluefin tuna travel offshore in search of food. This technique effectively intercepts migratory bluefin.
Do I need a special rod and reel for popping tuna?
A longer casting rod between 7-9 feet with a high-speed reel capable of retrieving line quickly works best. This setup allows casting poppers long distances and reeling fast to avoid cutoffs on explosive strikes.
Why is chunking so effective for yellowfin tuna?
Yellowfin tuna are attracted to the sound of baitfish being crushed in chunks. Chunking draws them into a feeding frenzy. The sight and smell of live baits around the slick is irresistible to frenzied yellowfin.
What is the most sustainable commercial tuna fishing method?
Pole and line fishing has minimal bycatch, small environmental impact, and supports local fishermen making it one of the most sustainable commercial tuna fishing techniques.
How deep should I fish tuna jigs offshore?
In deep water, tuna often suspend well below the surface. Send jigs down 100 feet or more and work them back up. Use sonar and sounders to pinpoint tuna depth. Addting weight gets jigs down faster.