Catching tuna on topwater

Top water tuna

Fishing for tuna

by Scott Mitchell

top water tuna header image

Any fish you can watch eat your offering adds to the experience in my books. Now chasing pelagics like longtail tuna schooled up on bait balls is already very cool – but then getting them to eat poppers & stick baits off the top is just awesome!

We have had an amazing run of sportfish here in Hervey Bay this last summer which started way back in October with the run of small black marlin. Then the longtails arrived with some really solid models being caught in excess of 20 kilos. We truly have a unique fishery here in Hervey bay up the top of Platypus bay where you can sight fish both black marlin & longtail tuna in gin clear water on bright shallow flats on the right day!
Tarron Jefferys (Strip Strike Productions) is actually putting together an epic fly-fishing film all shot here in Hervey Bay and has footage of a double hook up on both a marlin & longtail tuna sight cast on fly on the flats!!

The best time to chase longtails with poppers & stick baits is when they are already up on top chasing flying -fish or gar fish. You will often see them leaping out of the water in hot pursuit of these tasty treats when about. But I have also thrown large stick baits into bait balls when they are feeding hard on really small bait & still had them eaten. Sometimes having a lure that stands out from the crowd is better than trying to match the hatch.

A surface lure is the best presentation when the longtails are not holding up on bait balls, rather travelling all the time and only stopping to massacre small pods of bait. This is when you need to watch your eyes in the sky and often it will only be one bird that will give away their position. Watch for the bird/s that have a different body language, fluttering erratically with their heads down is a giveaway. Motor along with these birds until you can get a clear shot ahead of the direction they are travelling is the key. Then crank your popper back at a pace that will keep it skipping on top or work the stick back with long sweeps of the rod.
You won’t mistake the take on a popper or stick bait with most strikes being explosive and visual. Sometimes you will have multiple fish in pursuit of your lure launching themselves at it in competition. The trick is to keep cranking until you come up tight and you start losing line.

My favourite lures for chasing top water tuna are Ocea stick/pencil baits and Cotton Cordell pencil poppers. You can work the Ocea stick/pencil baits slower that the pencil poppers which need to have a steady retrieve to keep them skipping across the top. They don’t have to be wound flat out however – just enough to keep them on top and not berrying. The Ocea’s can be worked with long sweeps of your rod and short pauses. 

My favourite combo for top water tuna is a Shimano T-Curve Snapper 701 with Stella 5000 SW loaded with Power Pro Depth Hunter braid in 30lb. I have been using Momoi's new pink fluorocarbon leader material in 30lb as well and have found it knots well and is really tough. The light pink colour is also the most transparent I have seen in the water.

Another trick I have found works well for both releasing fish in good condition and keeping your hooks in when using these top water lures is to switch the trebles over to large single hooks. I have used the Decoy jigging singles with the inline eye and they are perfect for the job. I find I pull less hooks using singles in general and you will have less trouble handling fish safely with single hooks as well.

I often get asked if we eat the longtails we catch and while we release the vast majority of the fish we catch, I can say they are very tasty. During 2009 and 2010, CSIRO led a project in collaboration with recreational fishers, the fishing tackle industry, scientists and fishery managers in the first attempt to gather scientific information on Australia’s newest “recreational only” species – longtail tuna (Thunnus tonggol). You can read the final report plus heaps of other great information on this fantastic sportfish @