A Longtail to tell on Fly
  |  First Published: November 2010

Each year around this time I start to get very excited about the prospects of catching tuna on the fly rod. Few fish fight as hard or as doggedly on the long rod as do longtail (or northern bluefin) tuna and they are deserving of a lot of respect. And if a prolonged fight isn’t enough to keep you happy there’s always the prospect of some very tasty fish to cook or eat as sashimi.

But before we cook our tuna in sesame oil and wholegrain mustard or slice it finely into very small pieces ready to dunk into soy and Wasabi sauce there’s the need for some preparation of gear.

Tackle Preparation

Tuna can be taken on fly tackle from 7wt through to 10wt depending on how much patience the angler has. A 7-8kg longtail on a 7wt fly rod is going to see the angler on the job for a very long time. With this in mind I prefer to go a bit heavier.

The use of a 10wt outfit should see the fish ready for the net or gaff 15 minutes. 10wt tackle is the way to go. The 10wt rod should be matched with an equivalent weight intermediate sink rate fly line set up on a reel with a reliable, adjustable drag and with at least 250m of backing in reserve. A bimini twist (made from doubled braid or backing) will connect backing to fly line. If the fly line comes with a pre-formed loop as do the Rio Saltwater series lines, then trust the Rio loop. I even use these on big barra without hesitation.

If a loop is not present a braided nylon sleeve (Gudebrod material) needs to be formed to connect to the backing to the tail end of the fly line.

A tapered nylon or fluorocarbon leader of 7kg breaking strain around a rod’s length will be ideal to connect up to the small fly representing a baitfish. If possible put the fly on a loop so it can swim on the retrieve with more freedom.

Finding Fish

This is the fun bit: The hunting part.

The boat needs to leave early with the crew on the alert for a flock of diving or wheeling birds that are always going to be in attendance over a school of feeding longtail tuna. Being prepared to travel far and wide is the name of this game so a calm morning with very little breeze is going to make it very pleasant indeed. Experience indicates that tuna seldom stay on the surface for long in rough conditions so I avoid going out in choppy conditions, writing it off as waste of time and fuel.

Once the fish are sighted (tuna are always half leaping out, showing their backs in exuberance as they feed) the trick then involves getting in close enough for a shot with the fly. The conundrum is that the average fly casting angler can only cast around 25m from the boat while the tuna don’t want the boat within about 50m, sometimes more on the fickle bay tuna.

Every so often, however, things work out with the fish suddenly surfacing right by the boat and the fly is out among them. A few quick-as-possible strips and a small tug or draw will be followed by a screaming run that makes the very early start, the cost of the gear, the driving around searching for fish all well and truly worth while.

Playing Tuna

At the first powerful run from a tuna the angler is going to find out if things are properly prepared. A loose shirtsleeve or button will readily foul the backing and result in a break off, as will the 2,000rpm spinning reel handle catching in any part of the clothing. A loose loop of fly line or backing heading up through the rod’s runners at warp speed is also going to cause grief in one form or other.

If it all goes well and the fish is then well clear of the boat it then becomes a war of attrition to wear the fish down. Eventually, a tuna will allow itself to be pumped back close to the boat but it’s then very important to avoid letting the fish dictate the terms of the encounter by getting under the boat and circling endlessly. Once circling starts, and trust me it will, the idea is to back the drag off quite a bit and drive off around 60-70m. After this tactic has been employed a couple of times the tuna will be pretty well disorientated and can be tired out on the surface and brought to the net or gaff.

It’s your call as to whether the fish is to be eaten or released. If the fish is to be kept, bleed it thoroughly before it goes into the ice.

Longtail tuna on the fly? Yes please.

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