Gearing up for Bluefin
Once again it's that time of year when avid game fishermen pull out their gear and give it the once over in anticipation of the arrival of the mighty Southern Bluefin Tuna. These powerhouse fish put both angler skill and product quality to the ultimate test each year and anglers look forward to the challenge.
So what will give you the edge when it comes to getting fish to strike and make your reel scream?
It's common knowledge that some anglers are "luckier" than others and that whilst most people will catch a feed when the fishing is "hot", it is only those "lucky" few that consistently bring home the goods. So what is it that makes these people so lucky?
"Lucky" tip number 1
Many believe that so long as they have a spread of lures out that are known Bluefin takers and they are out there "doing it" then they have as much chance as the next person to take a Bluefin, and yet many anglers, particularly those new to the sport, are merely towing their lures around the ocean for 75% of the time and are in actual fact only trolling them in the manner in which they were designed for the remaining 25% of the time - enter the toothpick and the kebab skewer! Either/or play a great part in ensuring that on quiet days, what few tuna that are around view the lure in the way that it is supposed to look.
What is he talking about you might say? Well, if you think about it, fish are darker on top fading to lighter colours underneath; this is the case with all fish including the baitfish that tuna feed on. Lures are designed in the same way and therefore this is the way your lure needs to appear at that exact point in time when it crosses the path of your intended prey. Now bearing in mind that your lure, due to the forces of water pressure upon it, is going to gradually rotate around the line on which it runs, meaning that it is only in the upright position for 25% of the time it is in the water - the rest of the time it is either swimming on its side or worse, upside down! Because the lures are back behind the boat and basically out of sight, the problem goes un-noticed.
Now for the trick! As with a yacht that has a fixed keel to keep it in the upright position, so too does a tuna lure (in the form of a hook) however the hook is not attached to the lure, only to the line, and so the lure rotates whilst the hook stays in the correct position. Simply hold the lure up and position the hook so that the bend of the hook comes out through the bottom (or lightest part) of the lure and then jam it in place front and rear (where the line runs through) with a toothpick or kebab stick. This will ensure that the lure travels in the correct manner at all times, held in place by the "keel".
"Lucky" tip number 2
On many days the fish seem wary about coming too close to the surface, particularly bright calm sunny days. Bearing in mind the fact that tuna have no eyelids to protect their eyes from the sun it is quite understandable that they will prefer to stay deeper until something entices them to the surface, and sometimes this enticing takes a bit of doing.
A trick that often helps produce the goods is to run a deep diving lure, capable of being trolled at around 6-8 knots, at the front of your lure spread.
Lures ideal for this are the Rebel Fastrac range, Mack Baits and Cairns Swimmers.
This puts a "bait" in a conspicuous position underneath the outboard wash, out of the direct glare of the sun and deep enough that the fish isn't required to come right up to the surface in order to strike. The good thing about this is that it will usually draw more than one fish up from the depths and those that "miss out" will then have a go at the other lures that are now so close - bingo! Multiple hook-up. On days like this it often pays to keep all bar one of your spread "bunched" up fairly tight behind the deep diver, the other lure should be run well back from the rest to represent a lone baitfish out on its own.
"Lucky" tip number 3
Although everyone keeps an eye out for circling/diving birds, particularly Gannets and Albatross, many people overlook the humble muttonbird (Shearwater). These birds spend hours every day cruising the ocean in search of krill, the same thing that small baitfish search for which are in turn sought out by bigger fish and these are in turn being sought out by you! Look for large congregations of muttonbirds feeding on the surface, lifting off and then settling back down again on the water ahead of the main mob - a sure sign that something is going on down below and well worth investigating.
Seals "working" also indicate action below - although they have a bad habit of letting you do the hard work of catching fish and then stealing them off you - bugger!!!
"Lucky" tip number 4
Don't underestimate the power of the teaser! Game fishermen targeting Marlin run big flashy teasers a lot to draw the marlin to the boat and yet many people targeting tuna never ever put a teaser in the water and yet, as the name implies, it is specifically designed to tease the fish into coming up and investigating what's going on at the surface.
A good tuna teaser doesn't have to be big and flashy, it should however create a lot of surface disturbance, lots of splashing etc that represents fleeing baitfish trying to escape a predator. Boone Birds and the Raider Range of teasers are ideal.
Teasers should be run to one side of the boat, in close off one of the back corners where it can be retrieved quickly in the event of a hook-up.
"Lucky" tip number 5
Vary the colours of your lure spread from dark to light and dull to flashy patterns until you find what they are taking on the day. If they are taking light coloured lures and all is going well and then you find that the action seems to have died over the past hour or so there is a strong possibility that they will have switched their feeding habits to a different type of baitfish and the odds are they will now be taking darker coloured lures (or vice versa).
For example, you may find that in the morning they are feeding on Sauri's (which look like a garfish - only without the bill); at times like this fish will most likely take lighter coloured lures - silvers, blues and lumo type colours. Later in the day when the sun heats up and the "Redbait" (which are a bit like a 3 - 4 inch darkish red Pilchard) start to appear you may well find that they are now taking darker colours - black & red, black and purple, green and gold etc.
The only lure I tend to leave out in almost all weather conditions is a true Lumo coloured one, which I run way out the back on its own (as a lone baitfish) and has been responsible for many a fine capture when all else has been struggling.
The main thing is to be prepared to experiment if things aren't going your way, clean your fish as you catch them and pay attention to the stomach contents and whereabouts in the stomach each type of baitfish is found - this will be your early warning signal that the feeding habits are starting to change and give you an indication as to what colours you should now be thinking of running.
"Lucky" tip number 6
Pay attention to boat sizes and their names and what direction you last saw them heading, it's a big ocean out there and you can't cover it all on your own. If you hear a particular boat on the radio and he is having success and you aren't it is handy to know roughly which direction he was headed so that you know where you should probably think about trying - if he is having great success, you can be rest assured that he won't publicize his whereabouts to all and sundry. This doesn't mean you should go troll in his wake either - if you do, you will more than likely cop a mouthful (and rightly so). It's a big ocean with plenty of room for everyone, just use the information to give yourself an indication as to whether you should be out on the edge of the continental shelf, hugging the shore or somewhere in between.
Hopefully these few tips will help to ensure your success. If this season is remotely as good as the past two seasons then you are sure to enjoy yourself no matter what you do.
This season so far has seen numerous Yellowfin tuna taken plus large numbers of big Albacore and "acres" of Stripey tuna plus a number of marlin sightings (including a few hook-ups) and a few early "school" Bluefin have been taken already - what more could you ask for.
Those fishing in this year's "Tom Jenkins Memorial Bluefin Championships" out of Pirates Bay are sure to have an absolute ball and they tell me there are some great prizes on offer once again.
On the subject of radios, don't forget to poke your head in at the weigh station and thank Pauline for keeping an eye on your safety - she does it voluntarily every tuna rally and competition without fail and deserves every thank you she gets - well done Pauline!!
Good luck and stay safe on the water.