March is traditionally the start of the peak tuna fishing in the far South West and the 2015 season will be no exception. Early signs have indicated that we are looking at great fishing to come and exciting times for those of us with the ‘tuna addiction’.
South West Victoria and just across the border at Port Macdonnell in South Australia offer some of the best tuna fishing in the country. In terms of sheer numbers of school sized fish through to barrel tuna it's hard to find anywhere else with the same consistency on both counts.
Port Mac offers great facilities for both launching and parking with a safe and well-protected harbour. The fishing in this region can be exceptional with a much shorter run to the shelf than any of the other ports in the South West. Early season tends to see many reports emanating from here as the first build up of tuna (in this region) moves past there before arriving en masse in Victorian waters.
Early season fishing is most productive out on, or over, the shelf with plenty of southern bluefin tuna and albacore on offer. As with most of the South West, mid and late season sees the fish moving in much closer to shore. In fact, the largest barrel tuna are taken in close between 30-70m on average. School fish also push in much closer and it's not uncommon to hear reports of boats being on football field size schools in the 12-25kg size within 10 minutes of launching.
Portland is ‘tuna HQ’ in terms of the majority of the recreational, and indeed, the charter fleet. This can be both a pro and a con with long wait times and big line ups at the ramp to launch. However, this has been vastly improved recently with a view to the 2015 season. Major upgrades to the launching facilities have now been concluded with two separate launching areas giving the ramps the capacity to launch up to seven boats at a time and ample trailer parking. A fee of $10 now applies for parking all day, and automated ticket dispensing machines are located onsite.
Also on the pro side on a large fleet, means that there are many eyes on the water looking out for each other. The southern coastline can be a very dangerous place when the weather gets up and it's very important to understand the capabilities of your vessel before attempting to fish this area.
The general pattern at Portland over the last few years has been slightly different to both Port Mac and Port Fairy with the first reports of school fish coming from very close in. The last week of January 2015 saw fish to 18kg caught around Julia Reef within a few kilometres of shore. Around the same time in 2014 there were fish of a similar size taken around the moored ships off the north shore waiting to come into port. If the pattern holds true then March will see the majority of the school fish caught out on the shelf with the area known as the Horseshoe being the most productive.
As the season moves on, these school fish will become more abundant and push in closer again, particularly after a blow from the west. Late season sees fish anywhere from 40m behind Lawrence Rock, through to 1000m and everywhere in-between. Late in the run seems to be barrel time and again these giant fish seem to be predominantly caught in much shallower water. From Cape Bridgewater through to Cape Grant in 50m of water are the most productive grounds with multiple barrels in excess of 100kg coming from this area in the 2014 season.
Port Fairy very much follows the trends set by both Port Mac and Portland. The launching facilities here are also great although a little more basic with only a two lane ramp and very limited parking for trailers. However boats are launched directly into the Moyne River, which provides fantastic protection and an easy run out to open water.
The shelf is a much longer run from Port Fairy than any of the aforementioned ports but in general the fishing is just as hot.
The shallower water around Port Fairy has certainly delivered its fair share of barrels with 2010 being an outstanding year producing some incredible fish. Potentially, Port Fairy can be the prime location in terms of big fish with Dan Hoey of Salty Dog Charters pulling a fish of 116kg late last season. With a lot less boats exploring this area than Portland and Port Mac, it's certainly a far less tapped resource than other locations.
Gearing up to fish in the South West is no different to any other game fishing destination and well-maintained good quality gear and tackle is a must. The fact is most fish encountered will be in the smaller school fish but every season sees some quality fish in the 70-120kg range taken, so you certainly don't want to be ‘under gunned’ if you find yourself connected to a giant.
Trolling speeds should be kept to around 6-9 knots. A good all round choice capable of stopping fish of all classes is a 50W long range reel matched to 24kg rod. I run 37kg monofilament line with a 5m plaited double and use various skirted and hardbodied tuna lures rigged on 130lb fluorocarbon leader and joined to the double via a snap swivel.
There is also the option of casting lures at busting fish, which is a very exciting way of targeting tuna. Dedicated casting outfits are required with braided line in the 50-80lb line class with an FG knot to form the connection between braid and leader. This allows a good connection between lines of different diameter and is very smooth through the guides when casting. When busting tuna are locked in on a bait profile it is very important to match that bait as best as possible with lure profile. Both floating and sinking stickbaits are deadly and it's hard to beat the thrill of casting into a school and hooking up.
2015 is shaping up to be another great season so get out and enjoy the thrill of coming up tight on some tuna in the South West, who knows it may even be a giant!
When fishing over the SA border remember that traditional paper navigational charts are compulsory on all boats heading offshore. Electronic navigation i.e. GPS units with mapping capability is not enough to meet the legal requirements.