The southern bluefin tuna bandwagon seems to just keep rolling on! This summer, yet again, SA was invaded by vast schools of these fish on their annual migration run and they were met by well geared-up fisho's keen to cash in on this ever-increasing run of fish.
In typical fashion, it was in the State's far western waters where reports first filtered through, with locations like Fowlers Bay, Ceduna and Streaky Bay getting an early taste of the action. Thankfully the bluefin have now spread out right across SA, and even metro anglers can get a slice of the fun only an hour from Adelaide at southern hot spots like Cape Jervis and Victor Harbor. As we get even deeper into the season south east towns such as Port MacDonnell, Robe and even Cape Jaffa and Kingston come onto the radar as well. As will be briefly looked at there's numerous tactics to get onto these fish.
You could dedicate an entire book to trolling strategies for bluefin tuna, however here's a quick grab of a few key elements for those keen to pin a few fish with this productive tactic.
Trolling is by far the most popular approach to southern blues, and for good reason, as the 'ground' you cover generally allows you to find fish on most occasions. Trolling does require a fair bit of thought put into it, and to be proactive if you want regular results.
Sea surface temperature charts (SST) are utilised by some fishos to find fishable pockets of water, however general tuna holding areas/depths are well-known, with larger reef systems/banks, offshore islands, and sharp changes in contour lines at a likely feeding depth good places to start. All theories can be thrown in the trash can though some days as these fish push into crazy shallow water to feed.
Diving birds make life easy with this fishing, although in recent times especially, expect to do a lot of blind trolling, and to be paying close attention to your sounder for bait and tuna alike. This is where having a good history of your success can really pay off and guide efforts on those hard days where the ocean isn't giving away an easy indicators. Most tuna fisho's will mark any hook-ups on their charts for example and use any history they can when the going gets tough. With mild sea conditions schools of bluefin can commonly be spotted 'sun baking' on the surface, often appearing as quite distinct ripples on an otherwise calm ocean. The take home message is to keep your eyes locked onto the ocean and anything remotely out of the ordinary, as it could mean literally thousands of fish.
Having a functional, well set spread of lures that are all swimming in harmony is also vital. Be sure to mix up your lure sizes and colours and patterns to try and find a bite pattern. We generally run a combination of small to medium skirts and deep divers when targeting the smaller fish, and oftentimes a clear pattern emerges as to the best lure option(s), although some days they'll attack your entire spread with equal gusto!
Don't overkill these fish when it comes to selecting trolling tackle, as the majority of SA summer run bluefin tuna are in the 10-35kg size range, with a smaller population of fish in the 40-60kg class. You'll really appreciate the experience more if you don't go for the old school 'stump puller' outfit. If you're just looking to harvest fish and put them in the esky and don't really give a hoot about the brilliant sport possible, then by all means lockup the heavy gear and bring them in cross-eyed. Reduced fighting times do equal improved eating with bluefin if there's a positive to this heavy-handed approach. Mostly though a medium sized threadline or overhead outfit running 10-24kg mono or braid will handle your typical warm season bluefin.
Personally speaking, casting to bluefin tuna is way more fun that trolling them up. Creeping in close to a bust-up and launching poppers, stickbaits, soft plastics or metal slices into the frenzy is the recipe for near-instant hook-ups and screaming reels! This fishing isn't only highly entertaining and effective, it's also a great go-to method on those hard-water days when the fish are flighty and boat noise is 'putting them down'.
Try and match the size and colour of your casting lure option to the bait in the area. SA has a range of offshore baitfish that bluefin will be munching on, and anything loosely resembling these prey items tends to be eaten on sight. If the fish aren't responding to what you're throwing at them then reduce the size of your offering, even drop back trace strength to create a more stealthy presentation, and try a mixture of retrieves.
Casting tackle is all about having fun in my book, and I tend to fish with a medium and a light outfit when flicking lures for bluefin. A Shimano Saragosa 6000 on a Terez 7'2" rod running 30lb is the heavier option, which still provides plenty of thrills and spills, with a 4000 threadline on a 7 ft rod running 7kg the lighter of the two used, and some days you will not easily stop fish on this, if at all. Sensibly, if the fish are too big and mean always err on the heavy side of things to give yourself a realistic chance of landing them.
Finally, chumming these fish up with pilchards is the way to have an absolute ball! Bluefin are highly receptive to a berley trail, and if you can sound up a school of fish, or spot a visible school, then get your mate to dump over a heap of pillies and keep a steady trail going, and sooner rather than later you'll have the school feeding out of your hand!
When you have tuna in a berley trail the fish can stay with you as long as you keep the food coming, giving you ample opportunity to play around with soft plastics, micro jigs, dead baits drifted down to them, and even surface offerings like poppers and stickbaits. It really can be champagne fishing and a true sight to behold, especially when you're talking hundreds and even thousands of hyped-up bluefin snapping at anything!
SA's bluefin tuna are in full swing now, and the news only gets better. As conditions cool the brute-sized barrel bluefin up to and over 100kgs will hopefully be back on the job and putting anglers under pressure. More ridged tackle and game plans will be needed to consistently catch these fish, and a strong back also helps! Good luck!