How to Catch Tuna

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Catching tuna for the first time can be nerve wracking. Most people hire a guide to help them get started. However, being prepared before the day of catching is also important. Learning how to catch tuna makes the experience smooth, fun, and maybe will help you land a large catch!

How to Catch Tuna

Tuna are popular game fish that can vary in size. They are favorites among anglers because tuna will put up a tough fight. If you’re a novice angler, your best bet for catching tuna is using a fishing charter and the assistance of experienced anglers.

An image of a fresh caught tuna

First, you need to gather some fishing gear. The most important ones to bring are:

You also have to make sure that the boat you’re on has the necessary equipment for catching tuna. The most useful among them is a water temperature gauge that can help you determine if the water is temperate enough for tuna to swim on.

  1. First, locate warm temperatures on the ocean map to find your suitable fishing location. Tuna swim around warm water currents. They are generally between five miles to 100 miles offshore depending on the time of the year.
  2. If your boat has it, use an electronic fish finder to search for schools of tuna when you’re at the fishing spot. This will help you locate tuna and see how deep they are.
  3. It’s time to attract the tuna by using chum slick. Chum slick are chunks of bait that tuna are generally attracted to like squid and fish meat. Combine it with fish-attracting oil for a higher chance of attracting tuna. You can also use live baits.
  4. Attach your lure or bait to the hook. The way you hook the bait differs depending on the type of hook and bait. It’s best to ask an experienced angler for assistance. Make sure your hook is durable and the right size for tuna. Attach an egg sinker or a lead weight to keep the hook underwater. Optionally, you can add a feather jig to increase your chance of attracting tuna.
  5. Cast your line near the chum and make sure your hook is in the same depth as where the tuna are. Make sure to lock your reel also.
  6. It’s now the waiting game. Most anglers use multiple rods to increase their chances of getting a bite. Normally, you would wait 10 minutes before checking your bait if it is still there. Sometimes it can fall off or a fish has taken it without getting caught by the hook.
  7. If you get a bite, hold it in first and let the hook settle into the mouth of the fish so it doesn’t jerk out of the tuna’s mouth. Maybe around seven to 10 seconds.
  8. Reel the fish in while making sure to watch the tension on the line to prevent breaking. Make sure you are braced against the rail or you could fall off the boat. Gradually reel it in, depending on how large and strong the tuna is, you might need help from others. The tuna will eventually get exhausted and you’ll need to reel it in to get your tuna catch.

How to Catch Tuna as a Group

When you’re fishing for tuna, most likely it is with friends who share the same interest. Most people go out fishing for tuna as a group to increase their chances of getting one. Hence, people have created techniques for catching tuna as a group using multiple fishing rods and baits.

These fishing  techniques include:

  • Trolling
  • Chunking
  • Jigging

Among the three, most people would recommend trolling as the best method for catching tuna with a higher success rate. You can still try to do other methods so you can experience everything tuna fishing has to offer.

A man fishing

Trolling

The most popular and regarded as the most effective way of catching tuna is by trolling. Trolling is a method of fishing in which one or more fishing lines with bait are drawn through the water. Generally, there are a lot of people watching or holding these fishing lines.

Hence, the more bait, the more chances of getting a bite. The boat usually moves around.

Depending on what tuna species you’re aiming for, you want to maintain a speed of five to eight knots. The deeper your bait is, the slower you want to troll. For catching tuna, you want to spread the tackle from the back of the boat with a variety of patterns.

Baits in Trolling

How deep your bait is when you troll and what type of bait you use depends on the type of tuna you plan on catching. So keep that in mind if you want to use trolling as your method for catching tuna. For general tuna fishing, the best baits (mostly not live) to use for trolling (and even for chunking and jigging) are:

  • Ballyhoo
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Squid
  • Artificial lures

For specific types of tuna:

  • Yellowfin tuna – anchovies and sardines
  • Bigeye tuna – rigged mullet, squid, and artificial lures
  • Bluefin tuna – sea herring
  • Albacore – squid, herring, live mackerel, and anchovies

If you plan on using live baits, these are the most optimal baits to use:

  • Blue runners – the most popular option since they are abundant and durable to withstand a bite from a tuna
  • Herring – A popular prey in the Gulf area so it makes sense that they are good as live baits
  • Mullet – also an abundant bait only in certain times of the year where they spawn
  • Flying Fish – A great alternative for drift fishing

Using Trolling for Catching Bigeye Tuna

The best time to catch bigeye tuna is during the night. The best method for it would be trolling along canyons and edges of the shelf with a trolling speed between six to eight knots. Use large artificial baits as they respond to it better or use live bait as an alternative.

Using Trolling for Catching Bluefin Tuna

Depending on the conditions, you could use trolling or chunking. For trolling, the ideal speed would be between 6.5 to 8.5 knots if they are close to the surface. Slow down to 5.5 to 6.5 knots if you’re trolling deeper.

If you’re planning to fish in the Atlantic, bluefin tunas are active during these times of the year and in particular locations:

  • March – the Canary Islands
  • December to April – Outerbanks of North Carolina
  • Late Summer – Nova Scotia

If you plan to fish in the Pacific, look out for these dates and locations if you want the best chance of catching bluefin tuna.

  • November to May – San Diego, California
  • January to June – Gulf of Mexico (peak season is April to May)

Using Trolling for Catching Yellowfin Tuna

Yellowfin tuna are generally caught in the early morning and dusk and they generally stay above the thermocline. The best way to catch them is trolling. However, you need to spread the baits at different depths, starting shallow and going deeper. You also should use durable and strong rods to hold the yellowfin tuna’s power.

Yellowfin tuna is more abundant than bluefin and bigeye so planning your tuna fishing trip will be easier. Here are the dates to take note of when yellowfin tuna is in season:

  • All Year Round – Kona, Hawaii (May to September peak time)
  • July and August – Canary Islands
  • All Year Round – Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana

Chunking

Chunking is also a popular method. It’s done by taking a fish (live bait) which is generally a bunker, herring, or mackerel, and cutting them into four or five 2-inch pieces which is why it’s called chunks. The chunks are then placed at the back of the boat to act as bait.

Chunking is a great method for catching yellowfin tunas in shallower waters (120 to 180 feet deep). The drifting chunks of bait can attract yellowfin tunas and smaller tunas. Set a troll with live baits and lures mixed with the chunks to get the tuna to bite.

It’s best to do it in groups since you will drop a lot of chunks to attract the tuna, so the more hooks are scattered around with the chunks, the better your chances of catching one.

Using Chunking for Catching Bluefin Tuna

If the bluefins are 150 to 180 feet deep, use chunking while drifting to bring the bluefins up. Use either of the following as live bait in combination with artificial baits:

  • Butterfish
  • Sardines
  • Live squid

Something to note is that bluefin tuna is the most sought after species of tuna. The demand for it is so high that a large black market was formed in Europe to go over the fishing limit. Hence, there have been stricter restrictions implemented for catching bluefin tuna.

In the USA, there are some restrictions on it too so make sure that you check on NOAA Fisheries about laws regarding catching bluefin tuna.

Two men showing how to catch a tuna

Catching Albacore Tuna

Albacore tuna is generally caught by using spinning or conventional tackle. Albacore gets attracted to all types of bait and lures and they feed mostly on squids. Chunking is your best method of catching Albacore tuna. You also can’t go wrong with trolling.

The best times and places for fishing albacore tuna are the following:

  • All year round  –  Oregon to San Diego, Mexico
  • All year round – Nova Scotia to Northern Argentina
  • All year round – Ireland to  South Africa

Jigging

Jigging is also another way to catch tuna, specifically bluefin or bigeye tuna. The boat generally drifts along an underwater canyon or a seamount or ridge. You, along with other anglers on the boat, drop lines with baits at different depths and jig to cover a wide area for catching tuna.

Other Methods of Catching Tuna

There are also other ways to catch tuna. Some of them are large-scale fishing while others use traditional fishing methods. One example of this is the “almadraba.” It’s an annual tuna hunt from the Phoenicians.

Almadraba is a technique where the tuna is caught by trapping it as they are crossing the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean. It is a tradition that is still being used in places like Italy, Morocco, Portugal, and Spain.

Tuna are mostly caught with large boats with their fishing nets, spearfishing, and the traditional fishing rod.

Best Conditions for Catching Tuna

You want to set yourself up so everything is in place for you to have a higher chance of catching tuna. To put it simply, you want to fish for tuna in a place where they are abundant.

There are some conditions in which you will know when tuna will be abundant. Here are some of them:

  • Fish when the sun is down. Tuna, more particularly yellowfin tuna, spend more time on the surface at night. Hence, it’s better to fish for tuna during the night.
  • Use shrimp boats. Shrimp boats put a lot of chum in the water which will attract fish like tuna. Just wait for them to haul their catch and start fishing. Make sure to be mindful of fishermen who do it for a living.
  • Know your water temperature. Tuna generally prefer cooler water temperatures. For example, the yellowfin are often in waters with temperatures between 72 – 82 degree Fahrenheit.
  • Know the area. You should map out and locate underwater formations like reefs, shoals, ledges, seamounts, and other structures. These places are usually filled with fish and along that is some predatory tuna.

Conclusion

Catching tuna is a fun experience. There are a lot of preparations you need to make and certain conditions need to be good if you want to land a catch. With this information, you will have more options and better know what you are doing.