SA'S Southern Bluefin Tuna Season

By Jamie Crawford

While a lot of our fish species receive negative publicity for falling stocks and increasing fishing pressure, it’s encouraging to see a species buck the trend and bounce back after being in a slump. Our Southern Bluefin tuna stocks down here in SA are probably the healthiest they’ve been for a long time, and it’s been fantastic to see resurgence a in numbers over the past few seasons.

Obviously it’s too early to predict a full stock recovery and whether the increasing numbers are linked to availability of warmer water or just cyclic we don’t know. But what we do know is that over the past two seasons we have seen a greater number of fish arrive on our offshore reef systems and around our southern islands, with the fish arriving at least six weeks earlier than the norm.

Even the commercial sector (who are heavily governed by a catch quota) are recording increased numbers in their offshore fishing grounds, and what used to take them 4 to 5 weeks of fishing time to secure their quota, has taken them just 1 to 2 weeks earlier this season.

The size of the fish we see in my local waters off Port Lincoln are just school class fish averaging 10 to 12 kilos, with a few fish in the 15 to 20 kilo bracket, but the number of fish has been astounding. It was nothing unusual this season to head out around sunrise, catch 10 to 20 SBT’s for the morning and be back at the ramp in time for lunch – it was fantastic fishing. We would generally take a couple for the table and release the rest – fresh SBT is pretty good!

In my area it’s a reasonable run out to the tuna grounds, at around 50km one way, so fair weather is needed. In previous seasons this distance was even further at around 80 to 90km, which does rule out smaller trailer boats in anything but a perfect weather forecast. I have a 5.8m plate boat, so I still watch the forecast intently prior to heading too far offshore. The past couple of seasons has seen schools venture to within just 5 to 10km from shore at many SA locations, and has been a boon for local trailerboat owners.

This year the fish we found the fish to be fairly responsive at first light, and again late in the afternoon. Early in the morning it was possible to locate large patches of fish feeding on the surface. The diving terns and gannets were a dead-giveaway, with showers of baitfish indicating larger fish below. Some of these patches of fish spanned a fair area, and it wasn’t hard to score a strike on trolled 100 to 140mm minnows, especially in pilchard patterns.

As the sun would rise higher the fish would became increasingly weary and would shy away from trolled lures – the sound of the engine often pushing the fish deep before the lures were in the strike zone. This meant a change of tactic and we spent a fair bit of time this season actively casting to Bluefin. Over previous seasons we would cast to Bluefin for the fun factor, but this season it was out of necessity.

We would approach surface feeding fish, cut the engine and slowly drift towards the fish. Once in casting range we would each fire out a cast, aiming to lob past the surface action so we could work our lures back past the fish. Small metal lures were ideal for this as they offered great casting distance, and you could work them at high speeds, which was often the best way to draw a strike with these school sized Bluefin.

Metals such as 20 to 30g Spanyid Strike It and Spanyid Raider lures were ideal for this scenario; casting exceptionally well and boasting quality hardware that didn’t open up once connected to a running Bluefin. To get the best action out of the meal lure, I found that by dropping the rod tip underneath the water during the retrieve would prevent the lure from ‘skipping’ across the surface, allowing it to work just below the surface where more fish are likely to strike.

Other effective lures include soft plastics that withstand a fast-paced retrieve such as the Squidgy Flick Bait in 110mm. White and also pilchard patterns are effective colour schemes on our SBT’s. I usually match these plastics with a 14 or 21g jig head – something that casts well but importantly comes equipped with a 4/0 to 6/0 hook suitable for Bluefin Tuna.

An ideal outfit for this style of fishing includes a 4000 to 6000 sized thread line reel spooled with 25 or 30lb braid and coupled to an 8 – 10kg rod. My personal outfit for casting to Bluefin is a Shimano Sustain FG 5000, a 6 – 10kg T-Curve T Series Spin 782 and 30lb Power Pro braid. It can handle our school-sized Bluefin with ease, but I’ve been waiting to see how it handles a 50kg barrel… it may be a long fight!