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Tuna on fly Tackle
  |  First Published: December 2011



Now that summer is thoroughly established we can look forward to opportunities to head offshore or into our respective bay playgrounds at the first hint of light and stalk schools of tuna on fly.

The concept of taking big hitters like tuna on fly gear has a good ring to it but emails from readers have hinted that while taking tuna on fly tackle makes great a YouTube video, the actual process is a lot harder!

For this reason I’m going to expand on the subject to see if I can cover more bases to make it a bit easier to get started for those who are new to this game and take away some of the frustrating hit and miss guess work.

While these flighty fish are never going to be pushovers on fly tackle, there’s one huge variable that dictates whether or not a fly will be cast in the first place: the weather.

Sorting out the weather

There’s hardly a fly fishing scenario that is dominated by weather more than targeting such fast moving pelagic fish. Whether heading offshore, where the fish tend to be more easily approached or within Hervey or Moreton bay areas where they are only too readily spooked by a clumsy or noisy approach by the boat, success depends totally on what is happening on the wind and wave scene.

Finding the tuna and usually involves a fair bit of boat travel in the first place and if the weather isn’t calm enough this can be very difficult. Secondly, if the water is covered in white caps the tell tale splashing of fish and wheeling of birds is mighty hard to detect.

Looking at the vagaries of weather during our summer months reveals a trend towards southerly winds, usually with rain, which is bad for business. But in between these events will be some of the best tuna fishing opportunities going in the form of light easterly weather.

If the forecast indicates that a southerly system is dying out to be replaced by a few days of light easterly or light northerly weather before the next system exerts its influence, that is the time to get the tackle organised and get onto the water at first light. The fish seem to feed like crazy during these weather breaks.

Using the interNet

For those wishing to fish Moreton Bay or other easily weather affected areas there is a way to avoid the frustration of trying to race the sun and set up your tackle and the boat before the sun rises. The good old Internet can save the day.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology site (bom.gov.au) is the trip saver. Once on the screen a series of links will reveal all.

First select Queensland the left hand side menu bar, then under the subfolder that opens, click on Weather Observations. In the main body of the page click on Queensland Observations, then you have the option to view a map to click on your specific location to see the latest updates, or you can simply click Queensland again to see a full list of locations across the state and the weather in certain areas.

The last bullet point under the Weather Observations is specific to coastal areas and from there you can see weather for the entire coast of Queensland, from Mornington Island in the north to Coolangatta in the south.

This is a vital tool and clicking on a chosen location (eg. Cape Moreton) will reveal exactly how strong the wind has been blowing at that location for the last 12 hours.

Once you find out the wind strength, the day can easily be planned accordingly. Either get ready to head out, or if the wind has been blowing more than 15 knots through the night, then you might opt to leave the boat in the shed.

The right Tackle

Tuna are demanding fish on fly tackle and have a reputation for breaking things, which is a bit misleading; it’s the nut behind the butt that breaks gear, not the fish. Tuna are incredibly strong and dogged fighters that don’t want to come near a boat under any circumstances once hooked.

The first job is to select the right sized fly rod. While tuna can be overcome with #8 gear, it’s a long, drawn-out process – and almost certain to invite sharks to the party – which can be made much shorter by using a #10 in the first place.

The #10 rod needs to be set up with a well balanced large arbor reel with serious drag capability and capacity for at least 200m of backing (mine are set up with 300m of 50lb bionic braid) plus an intermediate sink rate fly line. A clear fly line is best, as tuna will spook at the shadow of a fly line being cast over them.

A store bought 3m long tapered fluorocarbon leader with a tip strength of 7kg is about right for these sharp-eyed fish, which are quite leader shy.

If you roll your own leaders – I make mine from 150cm of 20kg fluorocarbon, knotted to 1m of 15kg fluoro linked to a tippet of 50cm of 7kg Siglon or similar material – make sure your leader does not exceed the length of the rod or there may be issues with the fly line to leader knot (and the rod tip runner) when a fish is at the boat, which seems to be when most breakages occur.

When it comes to flies, tuna can be very demanding in this regard. A baitfish sized imitation is the best and I tie my Surf Candy style flies on size 2/0 hooks. Note that small Clousers and Crazy Charlies also work quite well. The clue is in the colour: keeping it fairly flashy without over doing things is sensible and I’ve noticed that a fly with a dark green or grey back will often be taken more readily than an all silver fly.

Lastly, a hint on tactics that I’m going to cover in much more detail next month. If you find a weather window that suits a run out wide in search of tuna AND you find some fish working the surface approach as slowly and gently as possible. Don’t roar up to the school and expect the fish to keep on feeding because they won’t. Slow and steady is the way to go with tuna.

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