Back in the early 1970s, author Lance Wedlick wrote of commercial fishers catching large quantities of striped tuna along the coastline of Phillip Island.
Back in the day, huge schools of stripies passed Cape Woolamai on their path around the bottom of Wilsons Promontory and were caught for commercial fish markets.
I had heard a rumour in 2008 that some striped tuna had been caught out from Barwon Heads but as there was no photographic evidence to prove such a catch, I was hesitant to believe it.
It was January of the 2009 season when I began to receive many reports of striped tuna being caught by anglers off Barwon Heads and by mid-January vast schools of these high speed pelagics had spread from Barwon Heads right to Kilcunda.
What I find most interesting about having striped tuna a viable catch off Phillip Island is some anglers are still quick to turn their nose up and say ‘they’re only stripies’.
While in other states they become a pest taking lures destined for other highly prized pelagics, I do think in Victoria or at least Melbourne, they deserve some credit as a marvellous sportsfish.
Many anglers make their annual trip to Bermagui in search of yellowfin or to Portland in search of bluefin, but for sheer exhilaration on light line, striped tuna are just as much fun.
What’s best about having tuna so close to Melbourne’s CBD is they are accessible to most trailer boats and can be a lot of fun on ultra-light tackle.
While you can’t accurately put a time on when to go in search for them, past history from the 1970s shows January to March is the prime time. While we have only experienced a decent tuna season once in the last 30 years, it pays to troll small lures and keep an eye out for any surface activity during these months while chasing mako, thresher or just to bottom bounce for flathead offshore.
Finding tuna in Bass Strait isn’t easy, but providing you keep to a few simple rules you may just find success.
The striped tuna of Bass Strait are somewhat elusive and finding them can prove challenging. You may end up doing a few trips without success. Keeping an eye on the water’s surface is the most effective way to locate the schools. Like any tuna fishing, they are usually located by finding large flocks of terns dive-bombing bait from above, while the tuna round up the bait schools from below the surface.
Once a school is found, they are often working on a school of bait and approaching the feeding mass can prove challenging as the sound of any boat approaching will make them disappear and reappear a few minutes later either in the same spot or a hundred or so metres away.
When approaching a school put a waypoint on your GPS. This will give you a reference point to go back to should they disappear. If you don’t notice them reappear after a few minutes move away 100m or so and cut the engine. This technique often draws the school back to the surface and providing you have marked the spot you first encountered them, you will find them again nearby.
When approaching the school set the lure spread 50m or so back. At this point, you’re best to drive right past them or in front of the school cutting them off. This will bring the lures right over the top of the school keeping you at a fair distance away. If you’re not getting a hook-up you may want to try dropping the lures back further or bringing them closer, this is all a learning experience and can change daily.
Striped tuna don’t often get very big and the ones encountered may only be up to 5kg. In saying that, they do fight extremely hard, especially on the first run. To ensure you get a fish in the boat, your standard snapper fishing outfits will suffice but if you want some real fun try the bream gear.
In 2010 we hit them with ultra-light tackle; Wilson Blade N Tails Medium rods rated to 6kg with Twinpower 4000 reels loaded with 10lb braid and 20lb leader. This type of outfit I mainly use when targeting snapper with soft plastics but it’s suitable for this style of fishing. The fight may take 20 minutes or so but is some of the most light tackle fun you can have.
They can take 100m or more of line from your reel in seconds and you’ll feel as if you’re going to be spooled but don’t worry; you’ll still have plenty of line left. Should you be unlucky and not be able to slow one down you can always chase it in the boat.
While striped tuna may take large lures in Southern NSW, in Victoria they are feeding on schools of krill, anchovies and smelt. These baitfish are only 3” long, thus lures also need to be small. We find that 2” and 3” skirted lures are the hot favourites. While we tried a large variety of lures, the standouts were the Apex Predator, Apex Jerk and Pisces squid skirt in the white colour.
These two lures are rigged on a 1m length of 20lb fluorocarbon with a Black Magic KS 4/0 tied onto the end of the leader.
The Pisces skirt is too light to be trolled by itself so a size 1 ball sinker is placed into the head of the skirt to give it enough weight to hold it in the water.
When schools of striped tuna are staying up high and ‘busting up’ on baitfish, it can be more efficient to simply cast at the school rather than troll around it. It this case the light gear comes into its own, as the extra casting distance helps the angler adjust to the moving school.
Soft plastics are great in this situation, as a falling lure can often snare a bigger fish sitting under the school, although don’t expect more than one fish per plastic. Metal slices work well too, especially with plenty of speed.
Having tuna in Melbourne has been almost unheard of in recent years, but fingers-crossed they are now a viable and reliable option.Reads: 3655