With the annual summer run of southern bluefin kicking into gear down south, it's again time to dust off the tuna tackle and brace for some serious braid peelin' chaos.
The most widely used tactic to locate and catch these blue bullets, by a country mile, is trolling. Trolling lets you cover vast areas in search of these fish, and oftentimes even on the hardwater days you'll rustle up at least a few tuna. When the going is good though it can be a way to have non-stop screaming reels and keep you on the fish as long as you wish, while also creating opportunities for those who enjoy casting lures as well. There's a lot to like about it!
Bluefin can bite at any time of the day, although they're generally most active in the morning and afternoon. This said, if you can locate schools of fish just 'sunbaking' or basically treading water during middle of the day and not actively feeding, then trolling lures past their noses will often wake them up.
When it comes to the areas you should be towing your spread of lures through, many tuna holding zones are well-known, with bait and/or structure often the common threads between them. More sizable reef systems, abrupt changes in contour lines in known feeding depths, and offshore islands are just a few places you may want to prospect.
Bluefin can be where you find them though! A good practice when trolling, or even just cruising to the tuna grounds, is to always have your crew scanning the water looking for any hints of life. Diving birds are the most obvious giveaway, but patches of ruffled water on a calm day can be schools of fish, while debris, current lines and essentially anything out of the ordinary could be worth a closer look. Subtle clues can at times point to hundreds and even thousands of fish.
Guiding your efforts further, and narrowing down the water you'll likely have to cover, is the effective use of your electronics. Many switched-on fishos will log previous strikes and tracks where success was had, and some days it can simply be a case of retracing your movements for action. Your sounder can also reveal bait and tuna holding well below the surface, and if spotted it could be worth hanging out in the area to see if they surface, or even dropping a jig to the tuna, or berlying them up. Studying sea surface temperature charts (SST) is also common practice for some anglers, although when the tuna run is in full swing they fish are typically widespread, especially down south.
A trolling speed of 8 knots is fairly standard for many crews using skirts and hard bodied divers. Lure placement in your spread is something to master and will make your time on the water both more enjoyable and productive. The use of outriggers or extended angled rod holders, can help avoid tangles and present lures well.
Commonly deep divers are set close where they tend to track straight, while skirts are deployed back several pressure waves behind the boat. There's no firm rules here and some crews swear by a shallow diving minnow way out the back and even setting a skirt well behind the boat to target any fish following at a distance. Swapping lure colours, sizes and diving depths around is something you can do all day long, and it can pay to mix it up until you find a bite pattern for the day. It's a good excuse to buy more lures as well!
Basic trolling lure sizes for targeting typical school bluefin from 5-30kg are minnows (bibbed and bibless) anywhere from 10-20cm, and skirts up to say 7 inches. If you can, fit tuna hard bodies with single hooks for easy release of fish, a good hook-hold and for the safety of all aboard, as trebles and a thrashing bluefin really is asking for trouble.
Bluefin tuna aren't always revealed by a frenzy of diving birds however, and blind strikes are common where no fish sign was spotted beforehand at all. Using teasers and running a good mix of lures covering different depths can work in this situation to help raise fish.
If jumping fish are spotted try and troll the edge of the school rather than driving straight through it first up, as it can keep the bite going longer. Also those anglers quick off the mark with a casting outfit can be at the ready at this point to lob lures into the frenzy if they like before the troll rods go off! Trolling is a great way to locate schools of fish to then actively throw lures like Coltsniper Rockslides at from a stationary boat if you want.
Bluefin tuna are exceptional sport and demand the use of quality gear if you want to come out on top. The X factor of chasing blues on the troll is the various sizes you could encounter in a day. The reality of chasing bluefin in the southern states over the warmer months is that 99% won't be monsters and you can drop back your gear a touch and have some fun if you wish, or stay heavy and make light work of them.
Standard trolling outfits for bluefin are based on a preferred overhead or threadline combination. At the heavier end of chasing school bluefin would be something like a TLD 20 or 25 on a 10-24kg rod, with possibly a roller tip, but this isn't essential. The threadline equivalent would be say a Stella 14000 on a heavy jig rod running 50lb braid, with a Shimano Wind-On leader also handy to have tied on for tracing fish.
Dropping your gear size down will really show you how hard these fish can fight. A 5000 to 8000 sized threadline reel like a Saragosa SW running 20-50lb is a bit more sporty when used on a 6-7ft rod. The beauty of these setups is they can be trolled or cast and are quite versatile if you need to swap between techniques. Going much lighter again is doable on the smaller fish although a half decent tuna could have you wrapped up for an eternity - if you like epic fights then this might be for you! The drawback being light rods aren't the best for trolling unless you're towing small skirts or little minnows that don't have a lot of drag. All in all trolling for bluefin is highly effective and will put you in the thick of the action!