Southern Australia has been privy to one of the best runs of southern bluefin tuna (both school sized fish and barrels) seen in a long time. Starting in November last year on the west coast of SA, the fish have now extended right across South Australia, western Victoria and Tasmania. East coast fishos, while they may be feeling a tad left out at the minute, will also soon get their chance to lock horns with these hard fighting, great eating blue bullets.
While many people have had a chance to target these fish, there's still a lot of newcomers to bluefin tuna fishing that have yet to sample the fun possible, and gearing up for their first tuna assault can bring a lot of confusion with it as to what gear to be using.
Below I've tried to simplify things to point punters in the right direction when trolling. Casting tackle and all the extra gear you'll need is a whole other piece. Of course opinions on tackle always vary, but here's some of the basics that have proven solid for me personally when looking to troll up southern blues.
A majority of southern bluefin caught aren't those keg shaped monsters around or over the 100kg mark, but instead are more school sized fish in the 10-35kg class, particular for fishos down south.
If you're setting off to troll for bluefin for the first time, common pitfalls are firstly not having enough line on the reel; secondly using inappropriate tackle that has no stopping power whatsoever; and finally using inferior quality tackle that's simply not up to the job of holding these speedy, yet tough-as-nails fish.
A good general purpose trolling outfit for the smaller bluefin mentioned will hold around 250 to 500m of 10-24kg mono or braid, and will be a reasonable quality threadline or overhead. Something like a TLD 25 or 8000 to 10000 sized threadline, fished on a 10-24kg rod with a medium to fast taper will knock over most smaller bluefin swimming without worries. There's no need for rollers on your rod for fish of this size, with a roller tip okay if you want. Jigging rods work a treat if you're fishing with threadlines also and offer plenty of leverage and are generally lightweight and super strong.
Spooling up with either braid or mono is personal. Starting out I'd use a high visibility mono for the ease of setting your lure in a spread and removing tangles, and a bit of stretch does mean less pulled hooks when going hard on fish. Threadline tackle is starting to nudge overheads out when it comes to smaller to medium sized bluefin, as it's easy to use, lightweight, and more than capable of taking these fish, but again there's no concrete rules here and both will work fine.
A medium spin outfit will get a lot of use on bluefin, both for trolling and casting if you wish. Low resistant trolling lures like small skirts, narrow bib hard-bodies or bib-less minnows have minimal drag and can be fished on quite light gear even at reasonably high speeds. A castable, lighter outfit is also well worth having in your arsenal if you need to throw topwaters or metals at a surface bust-ups also. A 5000 or 6000 sized threadline spooled with 10-15kg braid on a 6-15 kg rod around 6' 6" to 7' plus will fill this role.
Going even lighter again is at your own risk, but heck it's great fun fishing 4-6 kilo gear on bluefin! Again stick with quality tackle, with something like a 7ft rod and a 4000 sized reel fishing 5-8kg braid great if you want to play around with these fish. Admittedly when bluefin get over that 50lb mark, they are no pushovers and you'll be tested to the max on this tackle - all I can say is try and go down swinging!
So far this year has seen unprecedented numbers of barrel sized bluefin over the 100kg mark landed. These fish are unbelievably tough, with stamina to burn, and fight times can vary between 10 minutes to over 10 hours! Needless to say to consistently catch these fish you need specialised gear that's aimed at stopping these blue brutes.
A major concern when chasing big bluefin is your line capacity. So many of these fish are lost through reels getting emptied and there's always a risk when you err on the smaller side with your reel selections of getting clean spooled. Overhead gear dominates the big bluefin scene, mostly as you can harness yourself in with it and take the strain off your arms over long fights. Also the leverage factor is increased considerably when you can get your body weight into the equation.
Most people targeting 'barrels' use a minimum of 24kg line, and commonly 37kg is employed. Something like a TLD 50 or Tiagra 30, 50 or 80 is a good place to start when fitted to a rod to match. Recently we landed a 136kg bluefin in the SE of SA on a Tiagra 30 spooled with 24kg line, and the reel did the job nicely. We needed a lot of speedy boat work at times to keep line on the spool, but it was doable. To play it safe a 50w or bigger with 24kg or 37kg is probably a better bet. These fish will test your tackle, technique and physical strength to the max, so it doesn't hurt to have a bit of extra security where you can!
This year you'll hear of a lot of barrel sized tuna caught on threadline gear I'm sure. Recently we had a 100 kilo plus bluefin boatside on the Stella 30000 on a jigging rod and it handled the strain without any worries at all, although without a harness setup it did test our arms and backs out! Still it's more than doable.
Whether chasing big or small bluefin, it's important to have a secure leader setup, with wind-on leaders commonly used, although attaching a length of heavy leader with your favourite joining knot is fine for lighter tackle.
Good luck when you're next out wide after these great fish, and as always, pick the brains of your nearest tackle store staff should you have any doubts about your approach.