Successful trolling for tuna
by Rob Taylor
St Helens is one of the most popular bases for entry into the game fishing waters off the Tasmanian East Coast. Late January heralds the beginning of the tuna season which continues through until May when the water temperature is the highest.
Just a few miles east of St Helens Point is the most popular and accessible fishing locations known at Merricks Reef. In past seasons it has yielded good catches of most tuna species, but fame fish may be caught anywhere off the east coast of Tasmania, the only restriction is the size of your boat and fuel tank. In past years my most productive period has been from late February through to late March. Around this time Albacore and Striped Tuna are encountered readily, and occasionally Striped Marlin and Yellowfin Tuna.
One of the easiest and most popular ways of catching tuna is trolling lures. The main advantage of trolling is that it enables you to cover a vast area of water thus reducing the time taken to locate a school of feeding fish.
Art of Trolling Lures
Depending on the size of your boat and the number of crew, the lines are set in a staggered pattern that reduces the risk of tangles. This is usually one rig per angler. Unlike other fish species, tuna are not afraid of the boat and it is most likely that it is the boat that attracted the fish in the first place, so lures should be set within the wake close to the boat. Don't run your lures out past the whitewash as the tuna will come up to the boat looking for something to eat in your wake and you will miss them.
It always pays to run a larger lure with smaller ones to attract the fish by creating a disturbance in the water. The larger lures create a bubble trail, commonly called a smoke trail, which highlights their appearance to larger fish, which are usually feeding deeper. No speed is too fast to run lures, as long as they stay in the water, as tuna can swim over 25 knots.
There are many types of colours of lures available to catch tuna, and fisherman, but you can roughly categorise them into three types; Skirted Lures, Hard Bodied Bibbed Minnows and Bibbless Minnows. All differ in appearance, action and method of trolling. These are shallow running lures designed to break the surface occasionally then run straight just below the surface. The range starts with small metal or resin headed lures fitted with either feather, tinsel or vinyl skirts of approx. 6" (150mm) in length, up to larger lures of 12" (300mm). The most popular lures of this type are; Zukers, Hitman, Tuna Clones, Hex Heads and Christmas Trees.
Most skirted lures work best at around 8 knots, from 5-25 mts back depending on the number of rigs you are trolling and the size of your boat. The rougher and windier the conditions the less number of rigs you will be able to run without the risk of tangling.
Hard bodied bibbed minnows are the second type and unlike pusher type lures they are available in either shallow or deep diving formats. These are designed to have a bait-fish-like appearance and swimming action. This makes them ideal for fishing reefy areas of when the fish are holding down on bait fish. These lures need to be trolled at around 5 knots which makes them unsuitable to use with other lures. This slower speed generally inhibits the proper working action of other lures but makes the bibbed minnows perform well. The most popular styles are; Rapala Magnums, Rebel Jaw Breakers, Nilsmaster and Mann's Deep Divers.
Bibbless minnows as the name suggests are hard bodied minnows without the diving bib in front. This type of lure relies on an angled head shape with a high towing point to enable it to dive with a realistic swimming action. The main benefit of this is that it allows them to be trolled from 3-12 knots in conjunction with skirted lures. I have had success with these lures, especially on rough days, when surface lures are harder to use due to them "blowing out".
Another alternative to trolling these lures is to use them as a jig. Once a tuna is hooked I have increased my catch by allowing the other lures to sink or by throwing over a metal jig, like a Raider 125 gm or large Halco Chromed lure to a depth around 1-20 mts. You can entice a fish to strike because chances are you are already over a school of fish. The most popular bibbless minnows are; YoZuri Bonita, Masta Blasta and Halco Giant Trembers.
Size and Colour
Generally the larger the lure, the larger the fish you will catch, but of course there are always exceptions to the rules. You never know what size and type of fish will hit your next lure.
For smaller tuna, Albacore and Striped, 6" lures of any type in green/yellow, blue/silver and red/white I have found to be most successful.
The next step up would include 8-10" lures aimed at catching Bluefin, Yellowfin and Albacore Tuna. One popular Yellowfin lure that catches well is the Pakula Lumo Small Spocket. White Bluefin are readily caught on pink, brown and purple colour combinations. If you are after large Yellowfin Tuna or Striped Marlin in particular I have caught well on darker lures in combinations of blue, black and purple, but they tend to go for pink as well.
As with all fish there are no hard and fast rules. If you are not succeeding, change your lure position, colour or alter your speed until you find the right mix. Undoubtedly you will discover the joys of game fishing, as I have done.