Tuna on the chew… sometimes
  |  First Published: October 2015

By the time you read this, the Coffs Harbour game fishing year should be in full swing. Local charter boat Better Than Vegas got the ball rolling back in late August though, with the first marlin of the season — an 80kg striped to Mark Bain, caught at the South Canyons on 24kg line.

The first marlin is quite a feather in the cap for all concerned, and gives the rest of the fleet the necessary inspiration to put away the snapper gear and head wider looking for pelagics.

Interestingly, the water is a degree or two warmer than it usually is at this time of year, so running 24s for the expected stripes is just asking for a mean ol’ blue to come barrelling up behind a lure. While obviously catchable on 24kg, 37kg is a better option for a healthy release, plus having the requisite drag pressure in reserve if a big one comes along.

After an absence of a number of years, there have been encouraging numbers of yellowfin tuna about too, and well within range of trailer boats. No real monsters, but good, honest fish around 24-35kg, and a couple a touch larger. Getting them to bite has been another matter though! Some days they’re a chewin’, other days not. A few boats have reported seeing hundreds of yellowfin jumping, yet not so much as a sniff on the lures.

Maybe this cussedness is due to us being in an El Niño cycle. Back in the 1980s when I first heard about the El Niño phenomenon, the Bermagui yellowfin were totally fixated on sauries and showing complete disinterest in other forms of live bait, cubes or lures. Sometimes there would be 30 or more jumbos hurling themselves into the air in pursuit of these terrified baitfish, which was great to see, but frustrating because we couldn’t hook them.

The next time we had an El Niño event, the same thing happened, although yellowfin numbers were well down by then (and have never really recovered).

It isn’t just us that sometimes have trouble though. A former longliner I know told me about shooting 1000 hooks through tuna jumping all around the boat and boiling in the wake for a zero result. When asked, he commented that it was in an El Niño year.

So despite this hit-and-miss bite, we have an exciting month or two coming up. Should we fish in close around the Wave Recorder, the FAD, the Lump and down to the Patches looking for stripes, or go wider looking to put some tuna in the boat, with the very good chance of a blue? What a problem to have — and it’s all just starting. Roll on summer!


I might not know much about art, but I’m a sucker for a good gamefish painting, and I love the one that’s pictured with this article. This underwater scenario was painted by fellow columnist Jamie ‘Roc’ Robley, and depicts striped marlin herding up bait, which is a common occurrence in NSW waters during summer and autumn. He’s certainly managed to capture the look, which is all the more remarkable since to Roc’s great shame he’s never caught a marlin!

Measuring 76 x 51cm, it’s acrylic on canvas. Given the number of hours that go into such work, at $700 an original like this is an absolute bargain. If you’re interested (he’s also working on bass and mulloway paintings at present, so his versatility with a brush knows no bounds), Jamie can be contacted at --e-mail address hidden-- .

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