Flyfishing for the ‘Other’ Tuna
  |  First Published: December 2010

Mac tuna are hard fighting, solid fish but their erratic and flighty behaviour can drive anglers around. But with a little bit of cool observation and preparation mac tuna will readily take a fly.

Mac tuna are mighty opponents for the fly angler; when hooked they pull like tractors and they will often run well over 100m without hesitating.

When these fish are hooked they give their all during the fight. On several occasions I’ve seen mac tuna run and run and when they are eventually wound in, they are dead, having given their all in that initial run. Not many fish will fight to that extent.

While mac tuna don’t tend to grow as large as northern blues or longtail tuna, which are also encountered at this time of year, good size macs of around 7kg are fairly common in Moreton Bay waters.

These fish are also often more common in coastal waters than other tuna, making them great for beginners to practice tactics for playing strong and hard fighting fish.


I rely on an 8 weight fly outfit for mac tuna, simply to extract that last bit of sport from a hook up. A reel equipped with a totally reliable and adjustable drag and at least 200m of backing is desirable. Intermediate sink rate fly line is ideal, linked to a rod length of fluorocarbon leader in 6-7kg breaking strain at the tip.

I’ve used a Snowbee XS 8 weight line for two years and it’s still going strong. While this not the most expensive fly line on the market, it is certainly great value for money.

Flies can be as simple as a Lefty’s Deceiver, a Clouser or Surf Candy, all of which are best tied on the smaller (size 2, or 1/0) Kamagatsu SL12S hooks.

Colour should resemble a baitfish with combinations of dark or olive green over silver or pearl flash being attractive to these fish.


Mac tuna can be as hard to approach one day as they are easy the next. For some reason these fish will have a total aversion to the boat on one sunny day and then the next sunny day you can drive right up to them, lob a fly into the school and hook up instantly.

Between these two extremes are frustrating times when the fish will come up and chop bait to pieces for around fifteen seconds and come up again about 100m away. Closing in on the school and getting the fly into the action while it’s briefly taking place is the hard part to master when chasing mac tuna.

Having chased these fish from Cape York to Coffs Harbour, I think the best thing to do with mac tuna that simply won’t stay in the one place for long is to cool down, quit harassing them, and just watch the fish in action for around ten minutes or so.

A pattern soon develops. While they sound often after short feeding spells, the macs will usually head in a set direction. Once that direction is established the next move is to ascertain the usual distance between bouts of surface action.

Then the cunning tactic is to quietly (no high engine revs or slapping of water on the hull) get the boat into place somewhere close to where the fish are likely to come up.

It might take several goes before you hit the jackpot, but with a bit of luck the fish are suddenly right there, next to the boat, slashing wildly as only mac tuna can do when hammering a school of baitfish.

Ripping the fly back quickly will usually secure a hook-up. Then once the fish is hooked the only option is to let it run and ensure the fly line does not foul as it is peeled through the runners, particularly if braid is the preferred backing.

After the initial run a pump and wind action is usually required to get the fish back to the boat, but do expect another shorter burst of speed when the boat is sighted. Unpredictability is a trademark of these fish.

Fish for dinner

For the record mac tuna are quite edible if properly bled, iced, and the paler sections of the fillet selected to use in a curry based meal.

Blanch the fillet in a pan of boiling water before frying it and it will come out nice and white. Add a curry mix of onion, coconut cream and curry spices and serve with plain yoghurt and banana and a side dish of rice for a surprisingly tasty meal.

Guests have commented on the great taste repeatedly little knowing they were enjoying a meal of ‘the other tuna’.

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