Tuna On Fly: Part Two
  |  First Published: February 2012

In this second part of Tuna on Fly we will be talking tactics.

One of the first things to understand is that tuna, longtail and mac tuna, in the shallow confines of Moreton Bay are always going to be a lot more wary than their cousins in the Sandy Straits or out off the Sunshine Coast. While blue water fish will cut the angler a bit of slack their counterparts inside Moreton Island quickly shut down if a noisy or splashy approach is tried. Therefore, tactics will alter depending on your location.

First job: find the fish

To locate tuna requires a fair amount of travel and a keen eye on the boat’s horizon. Following bird activity is the biggest signpost that tuna, or mackerel, are below.

If you see birds, especially terns or mutton birds, concentrated in an area then you are very close to the action. Even if the activity seems unconnected or haphazard, stay in the area until the birds start to scatter.

With some practice you can learn to ‘read’ the bird’s activities and know what’s going on: Circling birds 20-30m above the water indicate they are watching a school below, ready to swoop at the first splash; When a few birds (or all of them) suddenly move off quickly in a given direction it means they have spotted surface activity and are on their way for a feed – My advice is follow them!


Once the surface action is located and is within a couple of hundred yards, slow the boat down and keep just on the plane until around 70m or so from the melee. At that point, slow to an idle and allow the boat to approach within casting range. This is where team work between skipper and caster comes to the fore.

There’s no point in the angler firing off a cast into a school of working fish if the skipper is still driving the boat forward as the angler cannot get any decent sort of retrieve into play. There’s also a good chance the fish will take fright at the boat and then it’s really all over. It’s best to take the boat gently and slowly to the side of the action and allow the fly to land in the work up, sink a little, and then retrieve it at the fastest possible speed.

Once a hook up occurs (and with tuna it can be nothing more than a slow draw – at first) and the fish wakes up to the fact that he has been hooked and can’t go on feeding with his mates, he’ll take all the fly line and a lot of backing in one spectacular burst of speed. If the fly line or backing hangs up or tangles en route then both fish and fly will be gone. A handy hint to remember is to do up all buttons on sleeves to keep them away from the fast departing backing and make sure the shirt or blouse is tucked in so the rapidly turning reel’s handle does not catch on it..

Assuming you’ve managed to keep the fish on after that first gallop he’ll likely be some considerable distance from the boat, and in no hurry to come closer! Pumping and working the rod held to the side and down low should bring him back, slowly but surely, but keep alert for any sudden run as he sees the boat.

If the fish circles under the boat – and tuna are notorious for this tactic – don’t let it go on for long as the fish will be just mooching about gathering strength for a further fight; his big pectoral fins out like wings, tail beating slowly. To stop the circling, ease the drag and then drive the boat off for around 50m. Remember to repeat this tactic if the fish tries to circle again but most times doing it once will be enough to bring the fish to the surface, put him into confusion, and from that point on the angler should be in charge.

Hopefully, by now the runs and lunges will be all over and it’s time to reach for the net or gaff. If you want to take the fish home for a feed of sashimi then make sure it is bled thoroughly and then kept as cold as possible prior to being cut up.

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