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Let the bluefin games begin
  |  First Published: March 2014



There has already been southern bluefin tuna caught on the west coast as early as late January. In fact some anglers found and caught fish not long after Christmas. Incredible, my mate and well-known west coast angler Scott Gray saw and hooked tuna as far back as November!

So what does this say about the fishery, is it getting better? You would have to think so, however it’s also got other factors attributed to it. Anglers are spending more time on the water and definitely venturing further offshore, which has come about through more capable.

Either way you have got to love it, as nowadays the autumn tuna run is as much an anticipated part of the angler’s calendar as the snapper each spring. By all the reports coming from the west and what has been seen so far, it looks like the 2014 season will be a great one.

Where to Find ‘em

The answer to this is, ‘how long is a piece of string?’

For the most part bluefin love to congregate along the edge of the continental shelf along the west coast of Victoria and SA. The closest points for anglers to reach them are well known locations such as Port MacDonnell, Portland, Port Fairy Warrnambool and Apollo Bay. However the one interesting thing about bluefin is that they also make their own rules with the depth of water being lees important than other pelagic species. In fact in many cases the truly giant tuna are often found in less than 50m of water.

For the most part however the edge of the shelf and beyond hold the bulk of the fish with nutrient rich water and plenty of food, but when conditions are right and the bait moves inshore some great fishing can be had much closer to port.

Areas to begin looking for tuna out wide are the smaller sections of the shelf where there may be a steep drop-off, a canyon or a kink in the shelf line, such as the Horseshoe off Portland. These areas cause changes in the current creating upwellings and congregating the baitfish.

While in the shallower waters look for drop-offs and reef systems as these will also congregate the food source.

Gear of Choice

The great thing about the bluefin schools of similar sized fish is that it allows you to target them with the according tackle. This however can at times become badly unstuck, as the next monster that decides to get in on the action among a bunch of small fish wont be the last.

The majority of anglers run 24kg gear, which you will need for the really big fish. For the most part, I find that 15kg tackle is perfect for the average fish, which in reality are in the 12-20kg size, but still offers enough grunt on the bigger tuna as well.

If you are really keen then some of the lighter end 6, 8 and 10kg outfits are a ball to use on the same sized fish.

As for spinning reels versus overhead tackle, I still like my big shiny gold reels. However, spin gear does well and are easier for kids and beginners to use rather than a big game reel. Best of all these days you don’t even need to spend huge bucks on a spin reel for it to be any good, with perfect choices being the new Salina 3 from Okuma and the Saragosa from Shimano.

If I could give you a few tips on the spin gear. They are perfect for trolling diving minnows in close to the boat as nearly every reel will have braid, which being thin in diameter helps the minnows to dive deeper and run better.

Additionally, don’t run the spin reel as your shotgun ‘longest lure back in the spread’ as in most cases the spin reels hold far less line than the game reels so you can find yourself easily getting spooled by slightly bigger fish.

Lures of Choice

I hate choosing lures as they all work on their day, however it’s fair to say some catch more fish than others. Some catch small tuna, while there are definitely a few lures that catch huge bluefin on more than the odd occasion for it to be coincidence.

One thing I love about having a tackle shop is that you get to speak to a lot of anglers and find out what is working.

Minnows

Theses are an essential part of your tuna kit, and really do help to pull the school of fish up into the lure spread. At the top of the tree in popularity would be the Rapala X-Rap Magnum 20 and 30. Their colours are amazing and this year the new Aussie patterns that have arrived are sure to smash the tuna, especially the new Real Redbait that was designed for the west coast.

While all the colours work there are some definite standouts, with the silver blue, purple mackerel and the green mackerel always being popular, however the silver blue mackerel has a reputation for catching several tuna over 100kg

Other great lures and one that seems to have a bit of a following is the Halco 190 Laser Pro, especially in the H58 pattern, not surprisingly it looks a lot like a redbait.

New on the scene for this season is the Williamson Speed Pro. Available in three sizes, the larger two in particular are going to definitely become favourites in the tuna angler’s arsenal. The colour range is great with all the good old favourites and a few new and exciting ones, which include a pink and white pattern – to me it makes total sense as how good is a pink skirted lure.

As an added bonus to the Speed Pro lures, as the name says you can tow them fast and they create minimal drag, while diving down to their running depth of 3m.

When it comes to rigging the minnows, often anglers have trouble getting them to swim consistently or at any speed. For the best results I prefer lighter leaders with 80-130lb Black Magic Tough Trace being perfect. I have all the leaders with a solid split ring on the end, that way I can change lures over in seconds with split ring pliers and change leaders when they need it. This way also makes storage much better as you don’t have a leader on every minnow.

As for the hooks, singles are far better with a dynamite hook up rate and much better for staying connected during long fights.

The Decoy JS1 has a big following. This season however VMC have also just launched their new in-line single hook. It’s 30% wider in the gap and tough as hell. I have tried them and they are insanely good.

Another great option and one that I use most days is the single Jobu 8/0 and 7/0, with just one of these run off the belly of the lure. This way you can run a larger hook as it doesn’t throw out the action of the lure. I find it also has as good a hook up rate as twin hooks on a lure.

As for lure positions with minnows you can run them anywhere but keeping them short will prevent them from tangling with the skirted lures and also have them swimming in the clear water below the prop wash.

Skirted Lures

So many to choose from it’s like being in a lolly shop when you are confronted with a wall of pretty looking skirted lures.

I tend to use slightly larger lures with a lot of my spreads in the 7-9” size with favourites being the Black Bart Pelagic Breakfast, Coggin Small Tado, Richter soft grassy, and other similar patterns. All of these run nice and straight and leave a great bubble trail. Saying that, it is also important to have some heavier straight running bullet style lures with my favourite being the Bart XXX.

One thing that can be a handy tip and was once again proven last season is that the big fish often eat really big food with big arrow squid, scad and mackerel being high on the menu. It can be worth pulling some larger marlin sized lures. This tactic helped several anglers to catch some very big tuna last year.

Other notable lures that catch lots of tuna, and big tuna, are the Billmark Dougal in big dog and paris colours and Richter Soft Grassy. The Richter was probably the most standout lure last year with lots of fish caught on it with several over 100kg, especially in the UV blue, evil and black and purple patterns. Meridian Demon No5, especially in the rainbow runner and secret squid patterns have also been catching plenty.

Smaller straight running bullet style lures are very popular and for good reason. They catch tuna on every consistent basis and can be placed anywhere in the lure spread; getting them to swim and surface is not as importance as it is with a cup- or angle-faced lure.

As for a range of colours to have on hand, I would definitely recommend some black/purple or black/red combos. In the brighter side of things green patterns such as lumo are always good on the sunny days, however I love lures with a good amount of pink in them as it relates back to the redbait they love to eat.

When it comes to the natural patterns there are a few colours I wouldn’t leave home without. The first of which, and one I have mentioned many times before, is the petro – it imitates the arrow squid perfectly. Another variation from this is the yakka pattern, which has a lot of yellow and gold in it. While the big dog pattern or any blue and silver skirts are the perfect thing for when the tuna are on the sauries or pilchards.

Finally, and a colour that doesn’t get much of a mention in the bluefin circles, is evil. It’s the perfect baitfish imitation and has taken multiple big fish over the past 8 or so years.

Either way it really pays to have a range of skirts on board as the tuna will often at times really lock in on one or two lure colours and styles depending on the baitfish they are feeding on at the time.

To Wind on Or Not

As for whether to use wind-on leaders or not in tuna fishing, for the most part they make life much easier, allowing you to run a shorter leader on the lures.

Take into account with wind-on leaders that if you keep them on the lighter side (80-150lb, with 100lb being my favourite) and by cutting them back to 10-12ft you will get far less drag in the water and get your lures swimming better.

When it comes to leaders on lures, keeping them on the lighter side will get you more bites. Nearly all of my lures are rigged on 100-130lb leader, and the biggest ones on 150lb. Sure a lot of people may worry about getting a really big tuna on 100lb leader, however on the heavier leader you may not even get the bite, especially when they are being fussy while chasing small baitfish.

Tips

• Tuna see UV colour. It is well worth taking note of what lures have some UV colouring in them as this can get you more bites, especially on the high UV index days.

• Tuna aren’t always in the warmer water. Take note of the water temperature and if it starts to cool off, the centre of it will have less current and this is where the bulk of the fish will be.

• When you get a bite, keep trolling for a few more seconds as this will get you multiple hook ups.

• Always be aware of the tide changes. They are just as important on the inshore waters as they are out on the wide blue.

Multiple rods are definitely the key to getting lots of tuna.

Lures with pink in them are a must-have in tuna season. Christian Styles nailed this bluefin and several more on the Bart XXX.

Jules Coyne shows how effective the X-Rap is with just a single hook on the belly.

UV colour in lures is important when targeting tuna. The Richter UV blue is one of the best.

Just like in all game fishing – find the bait and birds and the tuna won’t be far away.

The end result for a lot of hard work. The boys prepare to lift Steve Taranto's 120kg bluefin over the side.

Spin tackle is a sure favoured method for catching tuna. Quinn Scott got this one on a Wax Wing.

Using a split ring connection is one of the best ways to run minnow pattern lures.

AUTHOR: Kelly Hunt

TITLE: Bluefin – the apple of their isle

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Tasmania had a crazy southern bluefin run last year. Just plain crazy! School fish were big in the early part of the season but quite sporadic. Then Victorian NAVICO representative Bill Milonas came over from the big island and plucked a 127kg specimen right from under ‘the rock’ early. This set the Island on fire and the game fishing community was all awash with ‘what if?’

The Hippolyte rocks are well known for holding bait that draws tuna in and holds them for months. Big and little Hippo are home to school size southern bluefin tuna that roam between Tasman Island, the continental shelf and back to the rocks.

The small township of Eaglehawk Neck swells to the numbers of recreational fishers who take advantage of the unique topography and short run to the fishing grounds. The ramp at Pirates Bay is a short 7nm run to some of the world’s best southern bluefin fishing.

Big 3-figure bluefin are the target around the colder months as the redbait school up in and around the many underwater haunts stretching from the picturesque Tasman Island to the big and little Hippo. Traditionally they are thin and far between and take a bit of finding from the wise and canny fishers who have spent years compiling some local knowledge.

last year

The week before the Tom Jenkins Memorial Bluefin tournament big schools of jumbos came to town and tore the place up. There is a mindset that the bigger jumbo fish travel and will only be found in smaller groups – rubbish. They came and they came in big numbers and those that found themselves in their way had better have come prepared.

There were many fish in the 80-100kg range. It was not unusual in that month or so to see large areas of southern ocean alive with big powerful bluefin feeding hard and getting their backs out. In a hard blow with a bit of chop and sea spray they would take a lure and turn for the bottom. Looking to join the school again they took some stopping. Long battles well over an hour yielded some very good fish.

These fish took up residence in and around the Tasman peninsular for a number of weeks. The excitement and word soon spread and locals and mainlanders alike made the journey to Pirates Bay for a chance to hook and land that fish of a lifetime.

The weather was not always conducive to helping anglers out. In the nicer, calmer days the big tunny would still come up, get their backs out and feed hard, but were very selective on what they would inhale. In this sort of mood they were tough to hook. Feeding on the smaller redbait, they often snubbed the customary-sized skirted and bibbed lures. This proved to be very frustrating to all that witnessed the spectacular scenes.

Bucket list

The weigh station was peppered with anglers that ticked the big bucket list item and managed to weigh that fish of a lifetime. Pictures of bluefin pulling the scales down near or past that magical 100kg mark alongside anglers with big smiles were quite common.

Equally as common were the stories of hardship and lost fish. I had my butt handed to me by a fish in a stiffening southwesterly. That fish came up and flossed his gills with a Sebile Bonga Jerk we had not long pulled out of its box and wet. Just north of, and pulling up along side the little Hippo, he was in a massive rush to head back to the pack. He screamed line off the 24kg outfit at an incredible rate, had me bent over like a 90 year old man and the rod had a curve on it Charlie Sheen would have been proud of!

This was not going to end nicely and in the shallow water I was busted off with such force the rod come out of the gimbal and back into my leg. The next morning I looked like I had taken a Brett Lee full toss flush on the inner thigh.

The weather and conditions were kind and thankfully we set things right by landing a big fish 3 hours later. The big Bonga Jerk did the job again and in deep water, and wide. Adrian Morrisby managed to get the fish boat side in just under an hour. Ten seconds later and Clinton Howe and I supplied 121kg of southern bluefin on the deck at his feet.

The 3 day Tom Jenkins Memorial Bluefin Tournament was the very next day and there were some very excited anglers arriving to hear of Adrian’s fish.

FRUSTRATING

“Very tough, very tough indeed.” It was the only way to describe the event. The tuna were there and they would show and feed a number of times a day but getting them to take a lure was driving most nuts.

Graham Purton from Wynyard was one of the lucky ones that managed to hook, battle and land good fish, but alas the seals would ruin his chance to take the glory. Graham’s fish was good enough to take the prize, but seal damage ruled it ineligible and the trophy for biggest fish of the competition went to Stephen Fitzallen on Shanta.

Marc Largerewskij captain of the Risky Rider crew battled a fish for 4 hours only to have the hook pull and get the old school Zuker Grass Skirt back fully intact. Marc is a seasoned angler with plenty of experience and on the helm was long time tuna wrangler Johnny Jaws. The drag on the reel checked out later that day and this battle further suggests that there were some serious fish that may have gone well over the 120kg mark.

The madness continued for nearly a month and crews mixed great frustration with immense joy as the fish appeared and fed at will.

The word managed to travel across Bass Strait and we saw an influx of mainland crews that were amazed at how close our fishery is to the boat ramps and the cover the coastline can provide in most weather situations. The well set up and experienced mainland crews did a few things a little differently to what we might commonly do here in Tas.

Slightly different

Fishing lighter leader material seemed to provide much better hook up rates for those fish that were stubborn to hit lures. The lures themselves were also a touch smaller than the traditional size we might always go to. This is a combination that is not new to other styles of fishing of course, but is something worth trying when the tunny are being very selective.

I noticed a couple of the crews that were doing well were also trolling that little bit quicker than the 6-7 knots that is the norm. I didn’t get a chance to speak to them to ascertain speed, but it makes sense if something you have done ‘all the time’ is not working, try some variables.

As always with fishing just when you think there may be a system and a train of thought to matching the hatch and downsizing the lures to match the redbait being fed upon, something throws a curve ball.

The third and final day of the Tom Jenkins was called off because of heavy 50+ knot winds from the northwest. Some of the bigger boats were still able to fish in and around Tasman Island. One such vessel was South East Charters skippered by Michael. They managed to pick up 2 nice tuna that went 101kg and 128kg; one of which had 2 mutton birds and a little storm petrel in its stomach. I happened to see these and they looked like they were eaten 5 minutes before capture.

That was the 2013 season in a nutshell really– crazy, but in a good way. Let’s hope season 2014 is even crazier.

AUTHOR: Ross Winstanley

TITLE: Southern Bluefin Tuna – what’s the recreational fishing impact?

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The southern bluefin tuna fishery is, “Sustainable and rebuilding” according to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority in its September AFMA Update.

The federal Minister for Environment, Heritage and Water has agreed that Australian exports of SBT should be allowed to continue, based on a rigorous assessment showing that the fishery is sustainable. The fishery is being managed under national and multi-national harvest strategies designed to ensure that the global population continues to increase.

Since 1995, annual aerial surveys in the Great Australian Bight area have provided estimates of yearly recruitment or spawning success. After a succession of poor years in the early 2000s, overall recruitment in the past five years has improved.

These harvest strategies are based on stock assessments that rely on complete and accurate catch data from all countries that engage in SBT fishing. Unaccounted sources of mortality include recreational catches and death rates of sub-market size fish released by Japanese long-liners. This is where it gets interesting for Australian anglers and challenging for the Australian Government.

In 2009-10, the Total Allowable Catch for Australia’s commercial fishery was reduced by 23.7% to 4015 tonnes. The landed commercial catch value for 2011/12 was $40.6 million; the improved value resulting from farming most of the wild catch adds around $100 million to this, making SBT one of Australia’s most valuable commercial fish species.

Australia’s annual TAC is set as part of the global TAC through an international management process overseen by the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna whose members include countries that account for most of the catch: Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Set in 2011, the CCSBT’s immediate aim is to rebuild the stock to 20% of the original unfished level by 2035. The global TAC for 2013/14 is 12,449 tonnes of which Australia’s share is 5,151 tonnes.

To comply with the CCSBT’s decisions and to implement our national harvest strategy, AFMA manages Australia’s commercial SBT fishery under a combination of Commonwealth legislation, the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Management Plan 1995, regulations, licence conditions and fishing permits. These management arrangements apply in all State and Australian offshore waters where commercial fishing for the species is allowed. Responsibility for managing recreational fishing for SBT rests with the States, which use combinations of bag and size limits. Currently in Victoria, the combined bag limit for SBT, yellowfin and big-eye tuna is 2 per day per person.

Now, over the years Australia has taken a tough line in demanding full and accurate disclosure of SBT catches by other nations. Today, their compliance has improved significantly but the spotlight has been turned back on Australia. While our commercial fishery data are world-class, the lack of credible catch data from the growing recreational fishery is proving to be challenging – if not embarrassing – for Australia’s negotiators.

As presented at the 2013 CCSBT’s October meeting, the summary of data on Australia’s SBT fishery shows recreational catch estimates rising from 16 tonnes in 1994 to 85 tonnes in 2002. The entry for the 2003-2010 period is “insufficient data”. The summary goes on to refer to joint efforts between southern States to come up with a national recreational catch estimate through a project due to end in February 2014 (in time for the next 4-yearly full stock assessment).

Despite the uncertainty shown here, there are recent published reports that indicate that recreational catches now total in the order of 300 tonnes. For example, a Victorian study – funded from the Recreational Fishing Licence trust account – estimated the retained catch to be 240 tonnes in March-July 2011. A Tasmanian study estimated that anglers retained 75 tonnes and that seals/sea lions took a further 25 tonnes of SBT released by anglers.

For several years anglers, fishery scientists and managers have known that the day of reckoning for incorporating the growing recreational catch into national and international stock assessments and TAC arrangements cannot be delayed forever. The just-released Fishery Status Reports 2012 published by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics continues to list the SBT stock among just four biological fish stocks that are overfished in Australia, meaning that “the biomass is inadequate to sustain the stock in the long term.”

What has changed is that the level of commercial fishing under the current National Harvest Strategy is no longer listed as “overfishing” after many years at that classification. This means that, in terms of the Australian fishery, the SBT stock is no longer “subject to a level of fishing that would move the stock to an overfished state.”

With the national recreational SBT catch running at perhaps 7% or more of the commercial TAC – but unaccounted for in national and international assessments – the credibility of this upgraded assessment needs serious reinforcement. Australian anglers will be looking to their representative bodies and their State fisheries agencies to protect their ongoing access and investment in this fishery.

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