by Rocky Carosi
It is probably an appropriate time to talk about a pelagic gamefish, which, in gamefishing season 2000 is showing up in good numbers all the way down Tasmania's eastcoast, "the yellowfin tuna."
At present this season brings back good memories of 1989 where a terrific run of yellowfin tuna (40-55kg) occurred in very close off St. Helens. This run of solid fish peaked in late april , but extended from early March to late May. One of the most vivid memories of that year was aboard the family boat "Magnum" with Bruno and Simon on the infamous "Merricks Reef" one mile east of St. Helens point, on April 25th, Anzac Day. Several hours had been spent trolling around the bait schools which were being hassled by large seal packs. Out of the blue a school of at least 200 yellowfin tuna (40-60kg) erupted from under the bait school with many fish clearing the water by 2 metres. The tightly formed bait ball that the seals had formed up, was gate crashed and scattered by the hard feeding yellowfin tuna. The seals were bobbing around, heads out of the water, wondering where that juicy school of red bait had disappeared to. For us, the result was a double hook-up on 50 kg Yellowfin, which almost seemed incidental after what we had just witnessed. To see so many large fish clearing the water simultaneously from under our boat, was hard to put into words, but it was a fishing day all three of us will not forget.
So far this season has produced good numbers of yellowfin tuna in the 18-25 kg bracket, however there have been fish caught from 50-85 kg and it appears that there is an increase in the larger fish as the season draws on. A similarity we can compare to 1989 is the presence of a certain baitfish call red herring (red bait), not that the fact that they are here but they seem to be in large quantities. All season we have found such massive concentrations of baitfish and have been in situations of seal and dolphin feeding frenzies, half expecting to catch a yellowfin tuna but not able to. In 1989 it was not until some of this bait has been thinned out, that the best yellowfin fishing occurred late in the season. Certainly the yellowfin tuna we have caught this year, after inspecting the stomach contents, red bait is by far the most common food source with the oceanic Sauries on the menu.
Much gets spoken about what lures catch yellowfin, but the most important part of the equation is fishing in the area where the yellowfin are most likely to be. These fish are going to be where the bait concentrations are which most often is in areas of hard or reefy bottom, ledges or drop-offs and these areas need to be worked over. The fish will hit the surface at different intervals during the day in that general area, the trick is being able to have the boat as near the school when they hit the surface so your surface lures can be easily spotted. From our experience a cup faced, vinyl skirted, pusher style lure with green and yellow colours that leaves a large bubble trail will be successful on yellowfin tuna when set on the outriggers well back. Having said this when passing a spread of lures through a yellowfin tuna feeding frenzy they can be fairly unselective in this situation, with multiple hook-ups often the case. Bibless minnows and chrome jet heads are also worth mentioning when talking about lures for yellowfin tuna.
Having spoken about lures for catching yellowfin, most New South Wales anglers will tell you that cubing is the best way to catch large Yellowfin. However location is ultra important, otherwise a lot of time and effort can be wasted. The red bait mentioned earlier can be easily caught with a bait jig and be kept alive in the live bait tank. Often on charter we will incorporate berlying for a shark combined with cubing and the placing of one or two live-baits in the trail just to complete the trap. The process of cubing does require preparation, patience and team work. Basically a bucket of cubes, consisting of cut up striped tuna, Mackeral or pilchards has to be dropped over the side one by one at regular intervals. At the same time a cube is placed onto a 6-0 or 7-0 short shanked hook and fed over the side. This cube must be able to free fall with the other cube pieces, assisted by the angler, stripping the line off the reel in free spool with the ratchet on. After stripping 100-150 metres of line, the cube is then retrieved slowly and the process started again.
Certainly lure fishing for yellowfin tuna in Tasmania has worked well and continues to work well, but I also believe that on those sunny calm days when the fish often stay deep, other methods need to be considered and tried. Striped Tuna would be one of the best cube materials available and they can be prolific at times off our eastcoast of Tasmania.
As winter approaches and sea surface temperatures start to cool, these fish will spend more time down deep, maybe this is a good time for you to start some cubing and set the trap for that fish of a life time (thunnus albacares) the yellowfin tuna.